A young boy in Venezuela sits at the front of a cemetary, looking into the camera and wearing a red top
01 April 2020

Coronavirus: A Venezuelan family fight to survive

Their struggle to make a living amongst the dead.

Nine-year-old Luigi and his 11-year-old brother Luis Fernando carry a heavy bucket filled with sand from one side of the cemetery to another.

They jump and run over musty graves overgrown with grass, trying not to fall into the open tombs. They are not here for fun. They are here for work.

Every weekday, Luigi and Luis Fernando march down the hills of Guarenas - a poor community east of the Venezuelan capital Caracas - to help their father Dixon, who has worked his entire life at the local cemetery. He earns the minimum wage of $2 per month. That’s not nearly enough money to provide for his children.

The boys and their father are among the millions of Venezuelans affected by food and medicine shortages, lack of jobs, and runaway inflation stemming from the political and economic crisis. It’s caused the largest displacement of people ever in the Western Hemisphere - more than 4.9 million have fled Venezuela to find work, food, healthcare, education, and a better life in surrounding countries.

Around 3.2 million children are in dire need of humanitarian assistance, according to the United Nations’ Regional Humanitarian Plan.

On top of the economic crisis, vulnerable children like Luigi and Luis Fernando face the threat of Coronavirus. In a country where the health system has collapsed, hospitals are ill-equipped to care for even basic needs, let alone an unknown virus. This pandemic threatens to compound an already dire situation for the brothers, their family, and millions of vulnerable Venezuelans.

Two boys from Venezuela look into the camera and smile, against the backdrop of some rubble and a big dustbin
Nine year old Luigi and his 12-year-old brother Luis work in a cemetery in Venezuela with their father

They remember going to school - but that’s not an option anymore. Schools are closed due to the COVID-19 outbreak. But even before the virus struck, many schools weren't open because of a shortage of teachers, many of whom migrated to neighbouring countries.

These children know all too well the helpless feeling of going to bed hungry. Thousands of Venezuelan families face food shortages.

Thanks to World Vision’s partnership with a national network of churches, Luigi, Luis Fernando and several hundred children had been receiving a hearty breakfast and hot lunch every weekday. “We got potatoes, caraotas (beans), milk, fruit and even chicken!” Luigi says.

Pastor Manuel, the head of the local church, explains that on average, children gained 6.6 pounds during the first four weeks of receiving balanced, nutritious meals at the feeding centre. These children are receive meals that include a balanced portion of protein and carbohydrates.

Unfortunately, Luigi and Luis Fernando will not benefit from the feeding programme while Venezuela is in lockdown. The Coronavirus outbreak has brought the initiative to an abrupt close. The national emergency declared by the government, along with strict social-distancing measures, means neither children nor their parents can go out and look for food. Millions who depend on daily income by working in the informal sector are facing hunger.

World Vision is working to reach children like Luigi and Luis Fernando, helping them get through this latest crisis. We aim to reach around 120,000 families over three months, through cash vouchers, personal hygiene items, child protection and food assistance. We're focused on helping the world’s most vulnerable children and their families.

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