By John Keeble
An event to bring together Venezuelan, Ecuadorian and American cultures is scheduled in Sayausi on September 21 and 22.
A number of local organisations have joined forces to offer music, dance, food – and the chance for people from different cultures to interact.
The organisers, under the umbrella of UniendoVoluntades Foundation, call the event I am a Citizen of the World and hope to attract hundreds of visitors from Cuenca’s Ecuadorian, American and Venezuelan communities.
It is a chance to show a very positive side to Cuenca accepting about 8,000 Venezuelan refugees, emphasise the kindness of local people including North American expats, and promote the idea of working together to solve problems.
The food offerings will include free samples of salmon and artisan bread from Loaves & Fishes – Venezuelan Kelbert Bortone will be giving his artisan bread and American Lenny Charnoff will provide the fish. “It will be something that most Ecuadorians and Venezuelans have never tasted,” said Charnoff.
But, in the background, the refugee influx is a crisis that the city, organisations and individuals are trying to alleviate. It includes people going hungry, some living on the streets, and children being given free education but being seen as “different” because they do not have uniforms, pens or books.
The Sayausi event is an expression of the brotherhood being created between Venezuelans, Ecuadorians and Americans, said José Humberto Ramírez, founder and leader of UniendoVoluntades Foundation.
“The objective is to show how we can all come together to help each other,” he said. “We want to show that our societies are not so different – we have much in common and can work together to solve our problems.
“Cuenca is the city we want to live in. The people here are showing us more brotherhood than anywhere else. Maybe some people here oppose us, but mostly the people are helping us. That is why we want to stay.”
Despite the help from the municipality, Cuencanos, and North American expats, life for the refugees is brutal. They mostly arrive with nothing, having lost everything in Venezuela.
“The first and hardest problem is finding work,” said Humberto. “If you have work, you can solve everything. It is even difficult for Ecuadorians to get work.”
One of the current problems is how to help refugee children who are given free education in the Ecuadorian education system. They are welcomed to the schools but many soon realise that they are “different” because they do not have uniforms, pens and books like the local children.
“We have a list of 380 children in need of help,” said Humberto. “The schools give a list of the items that parents have to buy but the parents have no money.”
To supply everything on the list costs about $200 for each child – for a family living hand-to-mouth, the idea of finding this money for school requirements is a dream. For a family with three children, the $600 is even further out of their reach.
“Children feel different. They feel bad and sad and they don’t want to go to school,” added Humberto.
The purpose of the Sayausi event is not to dwell on the problems, however It is to have a happy, culture-mixing time – though anyone will be able to talk about the problems, if they wish.
Organisations talking part include: UniendoVoluntades Foundation, Rafalex Association, Grace Foundation, Organization Making Panas and HIAS with the support and participation of the Ministry of Economic and Social Inclusion, Acción Social Municipal, the Vice-Mayor’s Office of Cuenca, the Political Tenure of Sayausí, the GAD Parish of Sayausí, the Zonal Coordination 06 of Human Mobility, the Ministry of Labor, Casa del Migrante, among others.Expat participation includes Loaves & Fishes (www.loavesandfishes.club).
You can find out more or contact UniendoVoluntadesto help by volunteering or donating.
Call: 0998179455 – 0998809303 – 0960850122.