March 20, 2020

From starving to supporting their families: the journey of two Venezuelan refugees in Brazil

A year ago, Jon and Alberto could not afford to put food on the table for their families. They each decided to cross the border to Brazil in search of opportunity. Now, thanks to AVSI, they work for a beverage company in Salvador, Bahia. Jon and Alberto were the first beneficiaries of the project Welcomed Through Work, now funded by U.S. Department of State Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration (PRM)

Jon's journey: "I knew if I could get to Brazil there would be an opportunity"

When Jon left Venezuela, a carton of eggs cost 35,000 Bolivares. 

His monthly salary was 30,000. 

““It was unbearable. My family was starving,” says Jon.

He owned his own business as a bus driver, a job that in the past had earned him and his family a decent standard of living. Now they, like most people in Venezuela, were struggling to get by, unable to afford even the most basic goods due to the country’s tanking economy and skyrocketing inflation. 

In March of 2019, Jon sold parts from his bus to pay his way out of Venezuela. He took 3 different bus rides, making his way across the country, and crossed the border into Pacaraima, Brazil. “I knew if I could get to Brazil there would be opportunity here,” he says, but the outcome was far from certain. 

Jon spent almost 2 months in a reception center run by AVSI Brasil in Boa Vista. As part of the pilot project “Welcomed through work,” Jon interviewed for a job at Indústria São Miguel, a beverage company with a large operation in Salvador, Brazil. ISM saw potential for a good fit in Jon, and they offered him a job at their distribution center. 

Once he arrived in Salvador, AVSI helped Jon find housing and connected him with social services in his community. Jon contacted his brother, Francisco, and got him a job at São Miguel too. 

At first, the language barrier was hard. “You hear your coworkers laughing, and you laugh along, but you don’t know if they are laughing at you,” Jon says. But now he feels comfortable with Portuguese, and he likes his coworkers. “It’s a good place to work. They treat us well here.” 

Jon and Francisco send money back to their families in Venezuela, and they hope to bring their family members to join them in Brazil soon. It’s hard for them to be away from the people they love.

“We will always keep smiling, because that’s how the Venezuelan people are. No matter how bad things get, we have hope for the future and God’s plan for us.”

alberto's journey: "Most people cannot even imagine what is actually happening in venezuela"

With AVSI’s help, Alberto was also hired by Indústria São Miguel, in Salvador, Brazil.

“A year ago, I was living on the streets. I believe that if we had to go through this hardship, there must be a reason, a reason for us to improve, to learn, to become a better person,” says Alberto in the video below.


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