After I started working with Save the Children, I had a unique opportunity to participate in the Somos Panas Colombia initiative promoted by UNHCR. This project is based on raising awareness and combating the xenophobia that Venezuelan migrants are suffering once they pass through or stay in Colombian territory. This type of discrimination has begun to reach the youngest, even in spaces such as schools and I, being Venezuelan, happily agreed to get involved in the project.
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I was born in Valencia, Carabobo state, Venezuela and lived in Caracas since I was 6 years old. It have been 8 years since I set foot on Colombian soil and I’m very grateful for it. I had never thought about working with children or vulnerable communities, but thanks to my faculty I was able to do my university internship at Save the Children and everything within the foundation has changed my perspective of the world.
In May, together with Luz Alcira Granada, Director of Advocacy and Communications, we had a meeting with UNHCR to be part of this initiative which we quickly accepted. The participation in this project would be part of Save the Children’s own project of attention to the population coming from Venezuela, one of the proposals that came out with this project and to commemorate the World Refugee Day (June 20) was to carry out a campaign with children as these are also being affected.
During the filming of the short I had many mixed feelings, not only was I helping children but I was helping Venezuelan children who, like me at the time, left the country in uncertainty without knowing what would happen, if they would live the same, better or worse than in Venezuela, without really understanding the reason for the abrupt change. Because of the proximity of the two countries one would think that there is not much cultural difference and that this difference is based only on accent and the use of some words, but it is not so. There are many differences between a Caracas native and a Bogota native. When I saw the Venezuelan children involved in the recordings and enthusiastic about them, for wanting to help more children like them; and the Colombian children touched by the sentences, shocked by the cruelty of them and eager to change the situation of their new friends, I just cried.
Yes, I cried during the recordings because I couldn’t believe that we had to come to these instances to protect innocence and happiness. I realized that, among all, I was very lucky. I didn’t really receive much bullying when I entered school in Colombia, I made friends very quickly and they accepted me as I am, even though now I confuse accents and use words from here and there, it is still my brand and it is my pride to be Venezuelan. I never imagined going through all of what these children have gone through, and even so, there they were commenting on their experiences with smiling faces from being on Caracol Television (many said they were in a dream) but still with a hint of sadness in their eyes.
There’s one particular kid who made me breakdown because he reminded me of my older brother. A 14-year-old Venezuelan boy with Asperger’s syndrome* who has even had to face a weapon just because he is Venezuelan and has a behavioral disorder. And yet, he was one of the strongest of all the children there and the one I felt closest to. Angelo, he was happy to participate, he felt like a little hero to his family and together with his mother they expressed their desire to be ambassadors of this initiative. The Colombian children were also interested in continuing with this, in bringing awareness to what was happening and fighting against it, they all think that xenophobia is wrong and that no one should suffer discrimination because of their origin.
If children can fight against xenophobia, why can’t we? Once again I express my gratitude to Colombia and I hope that we will be more and more people who join this initiative so that more Venezuelans feel the Colombian warmth.
*Asperger’s syndrome: is an autism spectrum disorder that is usually less severe. People with this disorder may have unusual social behavior and a deep interest in specific issues.
Written by Eugenia Cabello, Advocacy and Communications Intern. Edited by communications area.