October 21, 2021

AVSI's "Welcomed Through Work" project celebrates two years with photo exhibit and impact study

With images taken by award-winning photographer Antonello Veneri, exhibit highlights the journey of Venezuelan refugees and migrants towards social integration in Brazil

By Colin Murphy in Brasília

Antonello Veneri could not hide his excitement as he led groups of patrons through the halls of the new exhibit, Welcomed: A Journey from Venezuela to Integration in Brazil, at the Banco do Brasil Cultural Center (CCBB) in Brasília. Veneri, an award-winning photographer from Italy, seemed to pulse with energy as he described the process and decisions behind each brilliant photograph. He took hundreds of pictures of Venezuelan migrants and refugees along every step of their path to integration in Brazil, from their first days in the reception centers near the border to their new jobs, houses, and communities around the country. Veneri spoke passionately about the “intense gaze” each subject shared with him and how we must see the refugee as our brother or sister, regardless of what country they are from. 

"The portraits are my favorite because when someone looks into the camera, there is a frank exchange between the photographer and his subject. Looking at these people is a way of listening to what they have to say. Each person gave me something, and that's what you can see in this exhibit," says Veneri, who recalls one particular day. "When I went to the reception center of Pricumã, which receives people with disabilities, everybody got in line to take a picture. It was the first time something like that had happened to me. They wanted human recognition through my portraits. It was an amazing experience."

The photos provide a striking visual documentation of AVSI’s project, “Welcomed Through Work,” which partners with private companies to secure formal employment for Venezuelans in Brazil and helps them settle into new communities through housing support and social services. The opening of the exhibit marked two years since the project began. “Welcomed Through Work” is funded by the US Department of State’s Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration (PRM). It has now been approved for an additional two years.

So far, 465 Venezuelans have achieved formal employment through the project, and almost 1,000 have received resettlement support. While these numbers are impressive, the photo exhibit captures something not quantifiable – the real human faces and spirits experiencing this jarring transition. 

Such a large undertaking requires the collaboration of many different groups. This was clear from the diverse representatives who spoke at the exhibit’s inauguration ceremony. Speakers included Fabrizio Pellicelli, President of AVSI Brasil, and Sister Rosita Milesi, director of the Migration and Human Rights Institute (IMDH – an implementing partner in the project). She spoke about a “shared dream” for the initiative and the “welcoming embrace” that must be offered to the Venezuelans. Jose Egas, the representative of UNHCR in Brazil, also spoke, as well as Bernardo de Almeida Tannuri Laferte, General Coordinator of Brazil’s National Committee for Refugees, who talked about how immigrants from Lebanon and Italy shaped the culture of his hometown. 

"The work that AVSI Brasil develops is part of a broad alliance, where several partners, with different institutional missions and responsibilities, enable a path of integral development for Venezuelan refugees and migrants," says Pellicelli. "Every person is welcomed; has his/her documentation regularized, and receives help to find new resources and a new home to restart life."

The photo exhibit wasn’t the only event that demonstrated the project’s impact. AVSI also hosted a seminar where political scientist Bertha Maakaroun presented the findings of her extensive study on the project’s effect on various social and economic indicators among the beneficiary population. In the seminar, Bertha explained that she had found that, post-relocation, Venezuelans who had received jobs and social assistance from AVSI were much more likely to have enough money to pay for their basic needs and access social services. On average, they exhibit a steady increase in family income over time. They were also much more likely to express feeling happiness and satisfaction with life. 

Looking at Veneri’s photos, it is easy to see why. Through their jobs, these people have gotten back some of the dignity that they lost as refugees. Those photographed in their work uniforms have pride in their eyes – they are proud to go and work for a living to support their family. 

AVSI is proud to have helped open the door for these people, who have been through so much, to find a new outlook on life. We are excited to keep working to give even more Venezuelans this opportunity in Brazil.