“I have no limits when it comes to work. I take the opportunities that I find”

32 years old Gregoris del Valle Camacho Figueroa, a Venezuelan migrant, lives in Huaquillas (on the border with Peru) in Ecuador with 2 of her children while her other 2 children remain with her mother in their home country of Venezuela. As the breadwinner of her household, Gregoris never shied away from work, taking daily labor options and working as a stylist over the past year, before the pandemic hit.  

“Everything was so different before coronavirus, because I could go out and work and you were able to make ends meet. Now with the pandemic there is not much you can do, because in my case, I can no longer work.”  

With her livelihood coming to a halt, she went back to her idea for a small food business. She planned on preparing Hallacas (a traditional Venezuelan dish consisting of corn dough stuffed with a stew of meat and other ingredients) and selling them to restaurants or on a food stall. She had originally parked the idea due to lack of start-up funds. However, with cash assistance from CARE Ecuador she was able to buy ingredients for her business and to deliver Hallacas; a recipe she brought with her from Venezuela.  

“If there is no way to work as a hairdresser, I will find something else. If I must workday shifts in the kitchen and night shifts as a hairdresser, I will do it. I have no limits when it comes to work. I take the opportunities that I find,” she says. 

She has now started her Hallacas delivery business on Sundays. A cornmeal dough stuff with chicken, folded in plantain leaves and boiled, the dish is well known in the region and considered a delicacy.  

Her Sundays begin at 4 AM, when she wakes up to organize the ingredients and start chopping vegetables. By 7 AM, her children are awake and start helping her. By noon, the Hallacas are ready for delivery, she hops on a motorcycle to her customers’ houses and personally delivers her product and is usually done by around 3 PM. 

Her diet since the pandemic began relies much more on starchy foods such as the Venezuelan staple Arepas (corn pasties), rice and lentils. Options like pork and meat, a staple before, are now out of the menu for her because she cannot afford them. Gregoris describes having headaches as she changed her diet and eats about twice a day, not the three meals she ate before COVID-19.  

She used to send money on a monthly basis to her two children who are living in Venezuela with her mother but since the pandemic began, she has not been able to do so. Her goal is to be able to resume sending money to her family, who rely on her financially.  

All she feels that she needs to push her business to the next level is an investment that will allow her to expand. In the two Sundays she’s made deliveries she’s had over 30 orders. “I started by telling those I know, and word of mouth has helped.” Her challenge is to expand and make enough profit to make ends meet. She says the profit margin is minimal and she hopes she will get more deliveries in the coming weeks. 

She is well aware she is not the only one suffering; “not only foreigners are struggling with this disease, Ecuadorians, Colombians…we are all facing hardship. There might be things than slipped government control … there are so many things that go through one’s mind that one cannot know. This has been a very, very hard situation.”