In Boa Vista (Roraima), Venezuelans and Brazilians construct a temporary hospital for the monitoring and treatment of COVID-19.
The site will have 1,200 hospital beds and a thousand more vacancies for possible cases. Supported by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other UN agencies, it is being built by Operação Acolhida (Operation Welcome), in response to the flow of Venezuelan migrants and refugees.
Meet Diego, Yosley and other Venezuelans who are proud to contribute to the Brazilian efforts against the new coronavirus.
At a construction site located near the headquarters of the Federal Police in Boa Vista, days begin and end in a symphony of hammers, drills and saws. The tools are handled by workers who speak different languages but who are jointly engaged in the urgent task of completing a temporary hospital for the monitoring and treatment of COVID-19. The facility is known as APC, the Área de Proteção e Cuidados (Protection and Care Zone ).
Pleased to see that the Brazilians are welcoming their countrymen who have fled to Nothern Brazil, the Venezuelan workers express the satisfaction that comes from helping their brothers. The APC assists both refugees and migrants who came from Venezuela to Roraima, as well as vulnerable Brazilians from local and state-wide communities.
Among these workers is Diego, a 33 year-old Venezuelan, who came to Brazil as a refugee in 2019 and has lived since then in one of the shelters provided by peração Acolhida. This initiativewas created by the Brazilian government to respond to the flow of refugees and migrants from Venezuela, and is supported by the Office of the United Nations High Commisser for Refugees (UNHCR) ), partner organizations and other UN entities in Brazil.
“I feel proud for helping in the fight against the new coronavirus. This place can save the lives of my Venezuelan friends and the Brazilians who welcome us in Roraima.” says Diego.
Built by the Logistics and Humanitarian Task Force of Operação Acolhida, the APC will have 1,200 hospital beds for the treatment of infected persons and another thousand vacancies for the monitoring of possible COVID-19 cases. Building these shelters is also an opportunity for Venezuelan workers to make a living, when so many economic uncertainties have resulted from the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Here in Brazil I know we will be taken care of. But I am afraid for the people who remain in Venezuela, I fear for my children who are there.” Diego’s main income comes from construction, and although he always sends money back home to his four children, he is still worried about them.
Diego is among the 25 Venezuelan workers who have joined the efforts of Operação Acolhida to build the shelters provided in the APC . Many of them are managed by the Brazilian entrepreneur Samuel Pereira da Silva, 59 years old, a Rio de Janeiro native who has established himself in Roraima. Another 24 Brazilian workers complement the team of builders.
“Feeling the gratitude of these men who have families and who are doing everything to provide the best for the Brazilians and Venezuelans who are here, and also for those who remain in Venezuela, is what motivates me to continue.” said the entrepreneur who employs 13 of the Venezuelans involved in the construction of the hospital, all of them with an authorized work permit.
In addition to the established team, Silva makes a daily request for eight other Venezuelans who live in any of the 11 Operação Acolhida’s temporary shelters in Boa Vista to join, so that they can also earn a day’s pay.
“This is a clear demonstration that Venezuelan refugees and migrants can join locals to promote peaceful coexistence between communities to the benefit of everyone,” said Arturo de Nieves, coordinator of UNHCR’s field actions in the Roraima and Amazonas states. He believes that the initiative will also serve the Brazilian population, by strengthening the national response to ensuring access to healthcare for all..
The mixed feelings between gratitude for being protected in Brazil and apprehension about relatives who remain in their country is common among the Venezuelans who work tirelessly to install floors and ceilings of the struct which are expected to house both possible and confirmed cases of COVID-19 among the refugee and migrant population in Roraima.
This is also the story of 21-year-old Yoslay Jose and his family. Yoslay and his brother Jackon Jose, 33, together with their 59-year-old father Jose Antonio, have been working in the construction business for the last couple of months. With support from their current contractor, they were able to to bring part of their family from Venezuela to Brazil, including Yoslay’s mother and sister, as well as Jackon’s wife and children.
“The three of us came first to try and achieve something before bringing my mother, sister and sister-in-law,” said Yoslay, whose family is still in Venezuela. “We are very happy that we are helping people, both Venezuelan and Brazilian, who may be in a vulnerable situation because of the new coronavirus. I am very grateful for the opportunity to build something that will assist people. It’s as if we’re giving back for what we received here in Brazil”, said Yoslay.
Entrepreneur Samuel, who follows the safety measures needed to protect his team from the new coronavirus, . believes that money will not be enough to over come this crisis. “Seeing these stories motivates me to stay here,” said Samuel, who teaches civil construction techniques to his team while providing training and professional experience. “If we can help, why not do it?”