I started working at Save the Children a few months ago on the project ‘humanitarian response to the Venezuelan crisis’. My job focuses on ensuring that children have complete access to their rights and that they have spaces for it.
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I was born in Medellín, which in those years was considered as the most dangerous city of the world. I think it was for that reason that I wanted to dedicate my time to work with people and give them all the knowledge I have. I’ve always liked children’s issues because they are very optimistic and they never look sad even in the worst situations. They have great resilience abilities and I feel like I can learn a lot from them. That’s what pushed me to take this job.
I’ve been working for 8 years with the most vulnerable and marginalized communities, but the first time I visited the border affected me so much. In the past I worked with children in Chocó and the Pacific coast where they lived in really hard conditions, but with my mental capacity I was able to move forward. However, after the birth of my first daughter, the situation of children coming from Venezuela made me feel deeply sad.
When I visited Arauca, I found a reality that I knew was hard, but I was not aware of how difficult it was until I saw it with my own eyes. There was and there is still a lot to be done. But that only motivated me even more. I remember that there was a 4-year old girl seated and she was drinking a juice beside her father. She did not talk to me but the way she looked at me with those bright eyes…She seemed happy but at the same time she seemed sad. That look expresses a lot and it really hit me.
One of the hardest things of this job is to manage helplessness. I would like to do more but the possibilities don’t allow it. I know that I can’t improve everybody’s life, but I do know that every Save the Children´s action promote better life conditions for a lot of children and their families. The reality is huge, but we have to take care of at least a small part of it so we can at least be reassured.
To overcome those bad times, I have other good memories. When I arrive to the communities they say: “What are we doing today? Is there any activity in the Child Friendly Space?” I never have listened “What are you giving us today?”. It´s very important to change the ways of thinking from assistentialism to strengthening of social processes. I really like it that communities recognize us in the region and you can notice that when they say hi to me or invite me to take a cup of coffee. These details fill me with pride and convince me about what I´m doing right at my job.
Humanitarian Aid has to focus on making the difference and achieving real changes in society. In a human settlement called ‘El Refugio’ (Arauca), Child Friendly Spaces were a strategy to involve communities in this process of change with Save the Children and other humanitarian organizations. It’s essential that any humanitarian aid project continues to have communities as the main focus.
I think a happy child is a person who has enough food to grow, who studies at school, who sleeps in an appropriate house and who plays in a healthy way. Once, I saw a little girl seated while her father was building a canal so that the water could flow and they wouldn’t get flooded. At that time, I felt like she had a lifeless gaze. That look was completely different from my daughter’s. She always has bright eyes with that spirit of a child who is safe and protected. But this little girl didn’t have it. I love what I do because I work to give children reasons to smile again.
Written by Juan Henao, Child Protection Officer. Project ‘Venezuelan Migrant Crisis and its impact on children in Colombia’. Edited by communications area.