A Week in the Life of an Innovation Colleague: Part 3

From immersing and engaging to co-creating an interagency Response for Venezuelans

Vicky Maskell, U-Report On The Move Coordinator
Children have a variety of training workshops by volunteers of allies and partners in Negro Primero 1 school in Caucaguita, Miranda
UNICEF/UN0324425/Fernandez

22 July 2019

Day 4: To The Border

The day to Pacaraima, the actual border-crossing between Venezuela and Brazil was crucial. To see the triage point, the curated series of benches to allow for the flow of human traffic to ease through each section. The reception centre, the point where those arriving can make a 3-minute phone call to tell their family they have arrived, the large signs that say ‘refugee’ and ‘temporary residency’ where each individual has to choose the path they want to take, all get me thinking – can U-Report help here? Can we add value?

At the reception centre in Pacaraima, the actual border-crossing between Venezuela and Brazil
UNICEF/Maskell
At the reception centre in Pacaraima, the actual border-crossing between Venezuela and Brazil

Here we saw clearly and visibly the interagency nature of the response. The people who work here sleep in little cabins of bunk beds – it really is a case of live, breathe, work, sleep, repeat… together. International Organisation of Migration (IOM) showed us around, explaining in detail each step of the way – where you can store your suitcase when you are queuing, the UNICEF and World Vision Child Friendly Space where children play, put on fashion and dance shows, whilst their parents queue. We spoke to the Federal Public Defender who told us of the cases of 14-year-old couples arriving expecting to be able to live on their own together, and the pregnant girls who arrive with men three times their age, or the boy who arrived with a bag full of gold. We saw the respectful presence of the Army, who manage the whole set up. We talked to UNHCR colleagues about an emergency in education curriculum for young people here, as families weren’t just spending a couple of days here, many stayed for months.

The fact that our tool has to be interagency was so firmly reinforced here. The collective expertise of the whole humanitarian system fair outweighs the sum of all its parts.

Day 5: To The Bus Station

On our very first day in Boa Vista we’d seen the statistics about how many Venezuelans were on the streets. Arriving in droves the city simply couldn’t cope, and many of these individuals arrived during the shutdown of the Venezuelan side of the border, so had sold goods to arrive. They are a particularly vulnerable group. The official shelters are full, but to combat the growing unrest in the town at the large population in the streets, the army set up an unofficial shelter in the bus station.

A thousand people pitch their tents every night in the bus station, in the hope of a hot meal and some sleep, before they are moved on at 4am each morning.
UNICEF/Maskell
A thousand people pitch their tents every night in the bus station, in the hope of a hot meal and some sleep, before they are moved on at 4am each morning.

Each night, at 7pm, around one thousand refugees and migrants arrive at the bus station, store their suitcases in a large white tent, and queue to pick up their small tent to pitch for the note. They are hopeful they will also get a meal, but that depends on what donations come in that day. They can wash their clothes and have a shower. At 4am, the tents are dismantled and the day begins. If they are lucky there is hot coffee to set them up for the day.

It was an extraordinarily positive environment. Again, manned by the Army, who were unarmed, we walked around the camp, talking to individuals. The Army has a very strong role in managing those arriving from Venezuela, and potentially a very strong and strategic ally for this project in Brazil. People told us they shared phones with their friends, and between connections they put together a picture of what information they needed, but there was a lack of trusted information sources. They told us that wanted to know how their Interiorisation process was going. They said they worried about their family in Venezuela. They weren’t sure when they’d see them again.

Day 6: To Bogotá

My head by now is certainly buzzing. We had seen and learnt so much… and unsurprisingly hundreds of questions were being asked. We’d begun to unravel some of the complex situation, to understand how a tool like U-Report could support here. Detailed needs assessments need to take place. Interagency meetings need to be held. The installation of WiFi, or connectivity points, perhaps with tablets should be considered. Further formal co-creation exercises with refugee and migrant groups are needed. Many ideas to take forward.

Selfie taken with Venezuelan adolescents in Jardim Florestre camp at the end of a focus group.
UNICEF/Maskell
Selfie taken with Venezuelan adolescents in Jardim Florestre camp at the end of a focus group.

Our exploratory mission had ended… and we were now headed to Bogota, to facilitate a co-creation workshop with interagency groups from four countries, including a cohort of refugees. The project planning and design continues, with a solid grounding in what we learnt on this fascinating and productive mission to Roraima.

 

The U-Report On The Move project would not be possible with the generous support of UNICEF US Fund.

 

Read Part 1 here and Part 2 here