In Roraima, Brazil, Venezuelan volunteers help keep refugees and migrants safe from COVID-19

Giving life and colour to the shelter in which he lives is what gives joy to 69 year-old Venezuelan Juan Batista Ramos. Like him, another 480 refugees and migrants sheltered in Roraima, Brazil, found a way to contribute to the places they temporarily call home. “Every time the shelter needs me, I’m happy to be able to help”, said Ramos, who arrived alone in Brazil in October of 2019 and has lived in the shelter since January of this year.

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Giving life and colour to the shelter in which he lives is what gives joy to 69 year-old Venezuelan Juan Batista Ramos. Like him, another 480 refugees and migrants sheltered in Roraima, Brazil, found a way to contribute to the places they temporarily call home. “Every time the shelter needs me, I’m happy to be able to help”, said Ramos, who arrived alone in Brazil in October of 2019 and has lived in the shelter since January of this year.

He works as a community volunteer, one of several who assist with the distribution of food, maintenance, cleaning, healthcare, education and security for more than 5,800 refugees and migrants living in 13 temporary shelters in Roraima. With the outbreak of the pandemic, the work of volunteer leaders became essential for prevention of the spread of COVID-19.

Artist and musician, Ramos has painted 15 panels at the Tancredo Neves shelter, in Boa Vista. “Now, everywhere you look here in the shelter there’s a landscape to remind us that there’s beauty in the world”, he said.

His most recent task was to paint a new sink built for people with disabilities – an initiative of the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) to expand the access to water as a preventive measure for COVID-19. Currently, Tancredo Neves shelter has 14 wheelchair users.

In the most populous shelter in Boa Vista, the Rondon 3, volunteers organized in committees serve three meals every day for more than 1,200 people without creating crowds and risk of contagion. “Only those with clean hands and a mask will receive lunch”, said the Venezuelan volunteer Jennimar Itriago, who works to raise awareness among the sheltered population.

While serving food, she advises people to wear masks, wash their hands several times and respect physical distance. “I am grateful that they accepted me at the shelter. As a way of giving back, I collaborate with enthusiasm and joy”, said Jennimar.

Indigenous Warao – Among the shelters – 11 in the capital, Boa Vista, and two on the border of the state, in Pacaraima – one of them receives indigenous people from Venezuela. There are 254 Warao people sharing the Janokoida shelter (“big house”), in Pacaraima.

Isidro Pacheco, 43, is a Warao nurse who guides and monitors the sheltered population. “We check the whole community daily, to identify anyone who might be symptomatic. We provide guidance on cleaning and hygiene for children and adults”, he explained.

In Venezuela, Isidro worked for six years as a nurse, providing preventive care and prenatal examinations, as well as childbirth and vaccinations for children from a Warao indigenous community. Today, Isidro focuses on preventive measures. “We implement the health guidelines that the shelter managers give us”, he said.

Amarilis Jimenez, 26, is a member of the volunteer committee that promotes educational and sport activities for the children. “Here, the children speak three languages: Spanish, Portuguese and Warao. It’s important to speak Spanish and Portuguese, so they can continue in school in the future. But we’re also doing everything possible for the children to maintain their cultural heritage and their language”, said Jimenez, who helps youth understand what COVID-19 is.

The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), civil society partners and the Logistics Task Force for Hosted Operation manage the 13 temporary shelters in Roraima. The work of the committees is considered fundamental for the prevention of COVID-19 in shelters and appears in the April 2020 data from the UNHCR Registration and Housing Report in Roraima (*), available here.

(*) The report was produced by UNHCR within the framework of the Platform R4V – Response to Venezuelans, an interagency coordination of the United Nations system and civil society. The R4V Platform is composed of a set of partners and aims to respond to the flow of Venezuelans in Latin America and the Caribbean. In Brazil, the R4V Platform is composed of 13 UN agencies and 27 civil society organizations.