Back to school in Aruba
The sun shines brightly over the small Caribbean island of Aruba. It is ten o’clock and Jorge’s face is once again full of smiles, as he watches his children practice Dutch lessons and do their homework, something he thought for a long time, they might not be able to do again.
“My kids are going to school. We don’t have to worry about their safety while we go to work,” he said, relieved, adding that they continue working hard to rebuild their lives after fleeing their country.
It has been two years since Jorge Vasquez* came to Aruba from his native Venezuela. With only the clothes on their backs and a few savings they had collected over time, he, his wife Carolina* and their two young children; Pedro*, 13, and Veronica*, 10, fled their home, leaving behind the life they had built together. The lack of access to basic services and rights, including to food, medicine and water, along with repeated threats to stop Jorge from making reports, finally drove the family to flee. They knew they may not be able to return in the near future.
Over 5.4 million Venezuelans have left their homes in one of the largest external displacement crises in the world. Like Jorge and his family, some 17,000 Venezuelans have found a haven in Aruba; hosting one of the largest number of Venezuelans displaced abroad, relative to the national population. Here, agencies and organizations work together with the government to help respond to the pressing needs of people like Jorge and his family, under the response for Venezuelans platform (R4V).
Integrating in Aruba has not been an easy task. Without any family or social support networks, limited information on available services and procedures, and notable differences in language, customs and practices on the island, they struggled to get by.
Jorge and Carolina remembered seeing their savings become depleted, worried about not being able to pay rent or the fees and insurance to register their kids at school, leaving the children out of school for several months.
Through fellow Venezuelans in Aruba, the family reached out to organizations working under the R4V platform, including public institutions, that offer lifelines to refugees and migrants like them, in particular, people facing specific needs or especially difficult circumstances.
Through this support, the Vasquez family was able to enrol the children in school, and received assistance to pay school fees, insurance and uniforms for the two kids. This allowed the family to prioritize the rest of their resources for rent and food.
Country-wide, the R4V platform strives to help Venezuelans integrate in local communities, providing support to help them become self-reliant and to contribute to their hosts. These responses have been particularly necessary during the COVID-19 pandemic, which has significantly impacted Venezuelans and local communities alike. For Jorge’s family it has meant they can once again have dreams of a future.
“My children are so motivated to learn, especially because they know how it feels to be out of school. They both feel so lucky now,” said Carolina as she prepped her children’s uniforms. “We are so grateful; it means a lot that our children can go to school and be happy.”
Though the family continues to struggle amid compounding challenges, they remain hopeful. Jorge keeps smiling - he doesn’t say a word, but Carolina understands. They know that they can work towards rebuilding their lives, one day at a time.
*Names changed for protection concerns.