When Eucaris (37) fled with her children from Venezuela for Brazil almost three years ago, little did she know the challenges of caring for her family in a foreign country would persist so long. She and her children are one of nearly 74 families who have received shelter and support as they transition to a new life.
Instead, like many Venezuelan refugees, Eucaris found herself on the street.
“My children and I were homeless for two months,” she says bluntly while breastfeeding her five-month-old baby, Bruno. “The most important things are food and shelter. At least I have that now.”
She's been living at the SOS Children’s Villages shelter for Venezuelan families in the city of Sao Paulo, where she receives economic support and guidance as she looks for work.
Eucaris is one of the almost four million Venezuelans who have fled economic distress and violence looking for opportunities in neighboring Brazil. The single mother left her hometown in Venezuela on August 2019 with her two oldest children.
They arrived in the border with Brazil and walked for a day and a half until they reached the Brazilian city of Paracaimba. There she purchased bus tickets to go to the state capital of Boa Vista, about 138 miles from the border. Eucaris then traveled back to her home country to pick up her third born, Laura (3), leaving her older two with another Venezuelan family.
When Eucaris and her children first arrived, they had nowhere to live and slept in the streets for two months. After being identified by the United Nations’ refugee agency, UNHCR, they entered a refugee shelter where Eucaris could leave her children alone, giving the two older siblings the responsibility to care for their sister.
“The hardest part is to be alone with my children and having to care for them and work,” she admits. In December of last year, she gave birth to Bruno, who is now five months old.
Brazil without borders
Brazil hosts the second largest population of Venezuelan refugees, after Colombia. In total, four million Venezuelans have fled that country since 2018, with more than 260,000 now in Brazil. Despite searching for a better life, many still face desperate living conditions, according to SOS Children's Villages in Brazil’s Program Director, Michele Mansor.
“These families arrive in a country with no reference or a support network,” says Mansor. “The biggest challenges for them are adapting to the language, the revalidation of their diplomas if they have higher education and inclusion in the formal market.”
In January of this year, the Rivera family was transferred to the SOS Children’s Villages in Sao Paulo, along with four other families, to give Eucaris a proper environment for her children and newborn baby.
SOS Children’s Villages in Brazil has been working for four years in partnership with UNHCR in a project called Brasil Sem Fronteiras, or Brazil Without Borders. The four houses opened for refugees in the SOS Children’s Village have separate bedrooms and share common areas such as a living room, kitchen and laundry. They can host up to 13 families, who typically stay from three to six months, and leave when they have a home and stable source of income.
While offering shelter and protection to Venezuelan families, the SOS Children's Villages team is providing guidance to access basic services, support their job searches, help them integrate into the community and provide counseling and coaching on parenting skills. So far, the project has supported almost 300 Venezuelan refugees, including 74 families and 80 children.
“The aim of Brazil Without Borders is to empower and strengthen Venezuelan families for intercultural adaptation, as well as political, social and economic development for the exercise of citizenship and self-sufficiency,” says Mansor. “Our desire is to provide them with tools and support so that these families can be autonomous and have a better life in our country.”
Eucaris’ next steps
Eucaris and her children arrived with few clothes, no hygiene habits and poor diets that endangered their health. Once they were given shelter, proper food and clothing, the SOS Children's Villages team started working on the Eucaris' parenting skills. She receives guidance from the SOS Children's Villages team of psychologists, educators and social workers to offer better care for her children, while providing them with access to basic services. She also gets UNHCR’s economic support of $240 USD every month.
Her oldest children, Melissa and Daniel, are currently going to school. Eucaris is looking for a job but being a single mother while caring for a baby makes it difficult for her. While she has neighbors who can sometimes help her, the SOS Children's Villages team is looking to build a network of single mothers so that they can support each other. She is now learning Portuguese so she has a better chance of finding a job.
Meanwhile, Eucaris says her relationship with her children has grown stronger and puts in practice everything she learns.
*Names changes to protect child’s privacy.