Five million Venezuelans have fled their own country since 2015. Nearly 2 million have entered Colombia.

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Samaritan’s Purse is there to provide food and shelter for those who’ve left everything behind.

Hungering for More: Helping Venezuelan Migrants in Colombia

Colombia Relief
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Desperate need drives this historic exodus. Many of the migrants are young people, in their teens and 20s, who should be filled with hope. But ask them why they're leaving Venezuela and they'll tell you similar stories of want and woe.

The economy is in shambles, they say, the currency is worthless, and we can’t buy anything. There are no jobs. Our kids don't have enough to eat. The medical system collapsed and no one can help our sick children. Women and babies are dying in childbirth, even at the hospital. Crime is rampant and the police can't—or won't—do anything about it.

Map of Colombia

Those fleeing Venezuela often travel by bus to the border with Colombia, at the city of Cúcuta, where they make a dangerous crossing to the other side. Criminals lurk in the tall grass by the river, ready to extort money or worse. Once across, the migrants start walking. Some for an hour or two; others for days; some for weeks.

They're often searching for a spouse, relative, friend, or neighbor who's already made the journey. Sometimes, they're just looking for work, any kind of work—selling flowers and candy in the street, picking up recyclables, hairdressing, fixing cars, butchering meat. They have a vague hope their lives will improve, but not much else.

Our kids don't have enough to eat.
The medical system collapsed and no one can help our sick children.
Women and babies
are dying in childbirth,
even at the hospital.

Feeding the Multitudes

Hope, however, doesn't fill their hungry child's belly. That's why Samaritan's Purse plans to feed close to 300,000 Venezuelan migrants in Colombia this year.

Like our namesake, the Good Samaritan in Jesus' parable (Luke 10:25–37), we see hurting people by the roadside and are bringing help to them.

Some are offered a mercado, or food basket, to feed their families as they struggle to settle in a new country. Some are given shelter for a night and a hot meal or two as they walk on to their next destination. Others are served three meals a day at our residential shelter. Our programs look different based on when and where we find those in need.

Mercado
What's in a Mercado?
  • White Corn Meal: 3kg
  • Sugar: 500g
  • Salt: 500g
  • Rice (white): 2kg
  • Flour: 3kg
  • Powdered Milk: 380g
  • Black Beans: 2.5kg
  • Cooking Oil: 900ml
  • Total Weight: ~28lbs

For those migrants who've already established themselves on the Colombian side of the border, Samaritan's Purse provides food baskets. These packages help sustain a family of four for up to a month and include cornmeal, flour, rice, black beans, salt, sugar, oil, powdered milk, and sometimes canned tuna. Whether in a church, school, or neighborhood, Samaritan’s Purse team members also deliver a Gospel message at each distribution—physical bread accompanied by a word on the Bread of Life.

Sometimes we eat just once a day.
Diana
Diana
The mercado has been such a blessing to us, because we don’t have regular jobs.
Diana, her husband,and two daughters recently received a food basket. They left Venezuela in fear four years ago after their home was invaded twice, once at gunpoint.
Osmerys
I have joy to see people giving to people like Jesus did, giving from the heart without expecting anything.

Osmerys, a 31-year-old mother of five, is one of many recent Venezuelan migrants who has started a new life in Cúcuta over the past couple years. “It's no secret—the situation. It was difficult to live in Venezuela,” she said crying. “It was hard to find food and medicine.”

Osmerys' family

After her husband was kidnapped twice, the family decided they had no choice but to leave for Colombia. Osmerys' husband left first with two kids and then Osmerys joined him with the remaining three. “I left Venezuela because my husband was at risk,” she said, “and he may have ended up dead.”

She sold coffee and arepas—savory or sweet cornmeal pastries—on the street to make money when they first got to Colombia. Things didn't go well, so her husband started recycling or waste picking. They are stable now but vulnerable. They make use of a rancho—what many would call a wood-and-metal shack—as their new home, a far cry from the brick home they had back in Venezuela.

Osmerys cooking

Osmerys cooks basic meals for her family, combining creativity and discipline. She controls portions and makes sure no leftovers go to waste. The food basket she received not long ago from Samaritan's Purse brought tears to her eyes. “I have joy to see people giving to people like Jesus did, giving from the heart without expecting anything.”

Osmerys and her daughter
Osmerys
Osmerys' family
Osmerys and her daughter
Today the heavens opened for these people.
Pastor Yahir Perez
Pastor Yahir
Most of them think they're not worth anything, but when I come here and talk about Jesus, they understand they have value.
Pastor Yahir often visits the community where Osmerys lives—to preach, pray, sing, and counsel. The Samaritan's Purse ministry team recently partnered with him to distribute food baskets to more than 70 families.

Walking to Find a Better Life

The journey is very dangerous, especially for the children.

Other Venezuelan migrants set off on the caminantes or walkers trail, the path of roads that lead from Cúcuta over the high mountains and deeper into Colombia. Sometimes better opportunities await in Bucaramanga, Bogotá, and other large cities. Often relatives or friends have gone before them and are waiting for their arrival.

Map of Colombia

But, the roads are steep and perilous. And the Venezuelans usually flee with very little—certainly no extra clothing for cold nights. Bogotá, Colombia's capital and a popular destination for migrants, lies 350 miles to the south. That's quite a hike. Of course, in addition to nature's elements and the speeding cars, there are very real human threats along the way—thugs, thieves, and traffickers.

On their first day on the trail, many thousands of Venezuelans stop at the Samaritan's Purse shelter in La Donjuana, about 18 miles outside Cúcuta. Hundreds each day find a Christian welcome here and a treasure trove of helpful resources. High on the list of needs is a hot meal.

It's been a long time since we've eaten like that.
Yansy
Yansy
The journey is very dangerous,
especially for the children.
Yansy, 25, fled Venezuela while four months pregnant. She traveled with her 4-year-old daughter and several friends. They were thankful for the food at our shelter.

In addition to food, at our La Donjuana shelter we also provide hygiene kits for men, women, and children; face masks; new shoes; new backpacks; cloth baby carriers/wraps; water bottles; snack packs; reflective tape bracelets; hats; limited clothing for kids; and Gospel literature and Bibles.

Walkers find a plethora of services too: shade and shelter for the night; hand washing stations; clean bathrooms and showers; referrals for transportation; a child-friendly play space; counseling; assistance for pregnant/lactating mothers; legal information; and protection education services.

What I love most is to share the Gospel with these people: to let them know that you can rest with Jesus in the middle of the storm.
Melvin Gonzalez

Prayer and spiritual counsel are also offered. As he helps fit shoes or hands out other things, ministry assistant Melvin Gonzalez prays with, encourages, and teaches those he meets. “What I love most is to share the Gospel with these people: to let them know that you can rest with Jesus in the middle of the storm.”

Jose Tamara coordinates our work at the La Donjuana shelter. He says his goal for those who stop at our welcome center is simple: “The important thing is they leave filled”—with food, with resources, with love. “We welcome the migrants. We serve them with dignity,” he said. “When we treat people with love, we are reflecting Jesus' love.“

“We tell them they must have faith,” he continued. “This situation will pass. God will be with them and their families.”

migrants walking
migrant family
girl washing hands
fitting shoes
Melvin with migrants
Katherine
The best thing we've eaten in a long time.

That’s how 27-year-old Katherine described her family's two meals at our shelter. For dinner, they had rice with tuna, carrots, and sausages. For breakfast, they had arepas, eggs, sausage, and an oatmeal drink (avena).

Katherine and her three children, along with her mother, two nephews, and a niece were headed for Cali (18 hours away by bus), where her husband went six months earlier. He now sells coffee and candy on the streets. One of their sons has epilepsy and asthma. Finding no jobs and no medical care in Venezuela, the family made the difficult decision to head to Colombia.

Katherine's sons

“I hope my children can see their father,” she said. “The most important reason (we left) is to get good medical treatment for my son.”

Katherine

Shelter for the Desperate

It's a difficult journey from La Donjuana to reach Bucaramanga. For those who make it, there is relief.

Some find jobs and start life over; others keep moving. Some, though, get there and find nothing. They end up on the streets. For those in dire need, Samaritan's Purse has helped to convert a 23-room hotel into a shelter.

Map of Colombia

Many who stay here are women with young children. Guests can stay up to two months or so. Before they leave, we want to confirm that they have a source of rent; or transportation to the border of a neighboring country, such as Ecuador or Peru; or a support network ready to receive them in another city in Colombia.

In Venezuela, sometimes we didn’t eat anything.
Maria
Maria
Coming to the shelter was the best for me and my children. They helped us a lot.
Maria, 32, is a single mother of four children, pregnant with her fifth child. She recently left Venezuela and made her way from Cúcuta to Bucaramanga.

We provide many of the same services that we offer at La Donjuana, except on an extended basis. Everyone gets three hot meals every day, for instance. We also have medical care available and provide structured activities for adults and children each day. Over their stay, our staff build strong, encouraging relationships with guests.

Young girl eating
Young boy with a paper airplane
Teacher and children painting
Milagros
I feel very well. We are supported in the situation we're going through.

Milagros, 26, came to our Bucaramanga shelter with her two sons, one 4 years old and the other just 2 weeks old.

She originally fled from Venezuela to Cúcuta and stayed there for a few months. After a series of bad experiences, she left and set off walking for Bucaramanga—about 125 miles away—with her older child. Also pregnant at the time, she slept on the streets, even on the cold plateau high in the mountains. Finally arriving in Bucaramanga, she lived outside a grocery store for a couple weeks. She eventually sold lollipops at traffic lights and rented a room for about a month before going to the hospital to deliver.

After her second son was born, a local NGO referred her to the Samaritan’s Purse shelter. She stayed for several weeks until an appropriate transition was arranged.

“First of all, I think we need to be thankful to God for everything's He's given us,” she said while staying with us, “health, the love I have for my children daily.”

When asked if she'll go back to selling lollipops, her reply was clear: “If I have to, that's what I'll do, so I don't have to go back to sleeping on the streets with my children.”

Her sentiment sums up the thinking of so many Venezuelans as their country crumbles: Whatever I have to do to save my family, that's what I'll do. That's the spark that fires the tragic migration to Colombia and beyond. Seeing so many in need, Samaritan's Purse is feeding the migrants' hunger physically and spiritually as they figure out their next moves.

For more on Milagros and other migrants in Colombia, listen to our recent On the Ground podcast, “Feeding Families in Crisis.”

Milagros

Please pray for Samaritan's Purse teams in Colombia as they seek to help the hungry and hurting day in and day out. Ask God to provide everything that Venezuelan migrants are seeking and truly need.

I was hungry and you gave Me food; I was thirsty and you gave Me drink; I was a stranger and you took Me in.
Matthew 25:35
I was hungry and you gave Me food; I was thirsty and you gave Me drink; I was a stranger and you took Me in.
Matthew 25:35

For under $10, you can help feed a Venezuelan family for one week or more.

Hundreds of migrants stop at our shelter each day. More than a quarter of them are under 18. Would you help offer a family a hot meal?

Imagine walking more than 100 miles while pregnant. Help provide for these young mothers who have so little.

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