“I try to find work on the street,” Felipe confesses. “That’s why I grab a broom to sweep my neighbors’ houses. I pick up their garbage, and they give me some food in exchange.”
Being a father and grandfather in Venezuela these days can be crushing.
“My son left the country and now I have to take care of [my grandchildren]. I’m not going to lie, they eat little. Feeding them is hard, but taking care of them when they’re sick is even harder. The money I earn isn’t enough, it is only enough to eat a little.”
Venezuelan migration statistics reinforce Felipe’s experience. Thousands of families are separated due to the humanitarian crisis. More than 5 million Venezuelans–refugees and migrants–are scattered around the world, and that number is growing. The majority, nearly 2 million, live in Colombia. The rest are spread between Peru, the US, and other Latin American countries.
“I love my four grandchildren as if they were my own children. Their mom left them, and their dad is working in Colombia, but he’s not doing well. He sends me money sometimes. I take care of my grandchildren—that’s why I came today because they are sick.” Felipe and more than a hundred of his neighbors came to our medical clinic in Venezuela the day we spoke. “They have fever, vomiting, diarrhea, they even have parasites. And their tummy is swollen from malnutrition. It is very sad to tell you this. The need we live in is intense. It breaks me,” laments Felipe.
Illness and hospital crisis
Jose (age 6), Andres (age 5), and Agustin and Tomas (both aged 4) were recently treated by our doctors. “The children presented symptoms of parasitosis and malnutrition, in addition to symptoms associated with pneumonia, anemia, visual problems, tooth cavities, and scabies,” adds Dr. Rensy, a surgeon in the Venezuelan medical services program.
Healthcare is now a luxury in Venezuela, and the situation in public hospitals is dire. In a 2018 survey of hospitals and private clinics, there was an 88% shortage of medicines, 79% shortage of medical-surgical supplies, and an 84% shortage of catheters and probes. Due to the global pandemic, hospital facilities are more vulnerable than ever. A single city in the state of Zulia lost 120 doctors, and more than 700 have died nationwide.
Vaccines of Love
We checked in with Felipe as he got ready to leave the clinic. “I’m carrying a big bag of medicines for my grandchildren, but the biggest thing I’m taking home is the great heart that you have for people, for helping selflessly.” For Felipe, seeing his grandchildren get the medical care they needed gives him the strength to go on. “You gave me a better vaccine than the one that fights COVID-19. You gave me a vaccine of love for people. Nobody cared about my grandchildren, and today you treated them with a lot of kindness, service, and good care. I am happy for what you do,” concluded Felipe.
This is what a global community of peacemakers makes possible: doctors get the supplies they need to work, children get the medical care they need to thrive, grandfathers get the encouragement they need to carry on, and communities that would otherwise be decimated by disease are being healed.