Occupational Therapist, Katie Rowell, gained significant experience helping people with mental health problems in Oxford. Now she’s in Colombia, supporting refugees who are fleeing the crisis in Venezuela.

The Venezuelan crisis has brought a new wave of economic migrants to countries like Colombia and Peru, seeking shelter and protection. Colombians understand the predicament of their Venezuelan neighbours, having gone through their own long and brutal civil war. So they’ve welcomed them in, even though cities like Bogotá are already overcrowded and under-resourced.

I work in Soacha, on the outskirts of Bogotá – a huge settlement with over a million residents, including one of the highest concentrations of internally displaced people in Colombia (over 54,000). The church I’m with, in San Mateo, Soacha, has been working hard to build a nursery and daycare centre for Venezuelans and Colombians who are in critical situations and need to find work to support their families.

The aim is to give Venezuelan and Colombian parents the opportunity to look for work, while their children are looked after in the daycare centre. It’s exciting to see how God has been providing for the centre, and we pray it will be a help to families and bring more people in contact with the church.

We try to provide prayer and spiritual support alongside practical assistance. The work is largescale but also very individual, with many tragic stories and tough circumstances to navigate.

One of the young women I meet with arrived from Venezuela a few months ago. She has been through some very traumatic situations, including the murder of her partner.

Another friend, Clara, has a partner, three children, and a baby on the way. For the last few months, they have been without work and the family are really struggling to survive. But just recently, Clara told me that her partner was able to fix a bike in trade for a gas cylinder; hopefully, this will mean she can start selling hot street food…

Our work barely scratches the surface of this massive crisis. But for those we reach, our friendship, support and care can be a lifeline.


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This article was first featured in Latinfile Autumn 2019. To access the full edition, please click here.