From Venezuela to Ecuador with a pair of shoes

by Martin Fuentes, CARE Ecuador

Milagros Rincon, a 31-year-old mother of three, and her partner Julio fled from Venezuela to Quito, the capital of Ecuador, seeking a better life for their new family. It took them days to travel from Venezuela to Colombia and then to Ecuador but Milagros remembers every stop, every detail, and every hardship they had to overcome. This is her story.

After crossing the borders between Venezuela and Colombia, it took them two days to travel across Colombia. Selling packages of chocolates they brought from Venezuela, they paid for the bus tickets and everything else that came up on the way to the Colombian capital, Bogota. There, they used some of their savings to buy items that they could later re-sell in the street and gather money to continue their journey.

As Milagros describes, they took buses or walked. Sometimes they were allowed to pay only half of the ticket’s price. Sometimes they received help from passers-by who found them walking on the road. Some gave them a ride for several miles and others gave them food and drinks. One thing that Milagros will never forget though is that one day some Italian tourists offered them $55 in exchange for recording them telling their story. They wanted to take this recording back to their country and raise awareness for the humanitarian crisis in South America.

The journey was long and Milagros saw a lot: “Many people traveling by foot, mothers, children, and pregnant women. Many walking with painful blisters. People having to endure the severe cold and then a wave of unbearable heat.” She and her family had to make several miles on foot as well and this kind of journey leaves you many marks. The kids’ cute faces have scars of rough skin burns and Milagros took off her sneaker to show me the wounds caused by the several miles she had to walk despite the pain.

"On the way things get lost but we must continue with what we have at hand. We lost a pair of shoes, clothes, a bit of everything"

Once they reached the border between Ecuador and Colombia, they had to wait another two days in line to cross the bridge of Rumichaca, which leads to Ecuador. Since she is a mother of two children, one of them being just 6 months old, they gave her a pass right away. The first night they arrived in Quito, Milagros recalls they had to sleep rough in the park of El Ejido, which is known as a dangerous place to stay when the night comes. Only after a few days they were finally able to pay for a hotel in the town of Cumbayá, a small city close to Quito.

Today they spent the day standing at the junction of two busy streets in the commercial area of Quito every day since nine o’ clock in the morning. Around them you can see several packages: suitcases, bags, a sack of potatoes and a few blankets. Julio and their 11 year old son, Daniel, hold a sign that reads:  “We are from Venezuela. We just arrived. We have nowhere to live. We need your support for our children. We find it hard to get a job because of our origin. Thank you. God will pay you back.”

Milagros said that across this journey “you hear and see everything”. She remembers the recovery of three children who suffered from hypothermia but she later found out they died. However she is grateful to have finally reached Ecuador, because "here, the people have been kind. Here, by asking for help we have managed to collect something for food and for the night".

Milagros has left back in Venezuela her mother and 14-year-old daughter. Both reside in a house owned by Milagros, but the young girl suffers from cysts in the ovary and the lack of health services in Venezuela are very dangerous for her health, as she is suffering from heavy bleeding. Milagros priority is to find a job and send her daughter money so that she can afford the medicines she needs.

She couldn’t take her with the rest of the family to Ecuador as this journey would be very dangerous not only because of her unstable health but also because she is a young girl. After making this trip, Milagros said they have now confirmed that women and young girls are often being harassed and even offered to cross the border without waiting in the long line in exchange for sexual favors. “With my daughter I wouldn’t have been able to sleep in the park as we did the first day”, she said and burst into tears.

Milagros is dreaming to reach Peru. Even though she does not know what to expect when she is there, she heard from other Venezuelans that there is work in Peru. Now she is searching for work so that she bring her daughter in Ecuador and then take her to Peru with the rest of the family.

How You Can Help

CARE established the Venezuela Humanitarian Response Fund to support ongoing fundraising efforts for the crisis.  We seek to raise an additional $4 million to meet the immediate needs of 25,000 people displaced as a result of the escalation of humanitarian situation in Venezuela and its borders. 

Learn more about our work in Ecuador.