For many Venezuelan children, hope begins around dawn each day

UNICEF and partners in Colombia are providing much-needed assistance to Venezuelans crossing the border

Colombia. A mother holds her child.
03 May 2019

CUCUTA, Colombia – Belmar knows the importance of getting her son vaccinated. But making it happen isn’t easy. In fact, for four-month-old Sahid, it means travelling to another country.

“It’s very important he’s benefiting [from the vaccinations], so he won’t get sick,” Belmar says after a two-and-a-half-hour journey that took her and Sahid from Tachira in north-western Venezuela to a UNICEF-supported health centre in Cúcuta, Colombia. “To have him healthy, to have him warm – that’s what matters to me.”

Colombia. A baby receives a vaccine.
Four-month-old Sahid is given a vaccine at a health center supported by UNICEF in Cúcuta, Colombia, near the border with Venezuela.

Sahid is one of the more than 30,000 migrant children in the country that UNICEF and partners, including the Colombian government, are aiming to support in the process of getting vaccinations. UNICEF is working closely with other humanitarian agencies, national and local authorities, non-governmental organizations and communities in Colombia to provide migrant children, as well as children in host communities, with health, nutrition, education and protection.

Yamileth also left Venezuela to seek treatment for her son, Carlos. She has stopped at an accommodation centre in Cúcuta as she and Carlos travel with other members of the family to Peru. Carlos suffers from myelomeningocele, a severe form of spina bifida that has left his legs curved, meaning he’s unable to walk. Yamileth is travelling to Peru in the hope of finding the equipment she needs to help manage her son’s condition.

Colombia. A mother feeds her baby at an accommodation centre.
Yamileth feeds her baby at an accommodation centre in Cúcuta, Colombia.

For most families, the decision to leave is a last resort, says Paloma Escudero, UNICEF Director of Communication, during a visit to Cúcuta.

“I met a mother who has epilepsy and is eight months pregnant. She needed to come to Colombia to get her prenatal check-ups and protect her health and the health of her baby,” Escudero says.

In addition to the prenatal check-ups, immunizations and other free medical treatment at the UNICEF-supported health centre, Colombia is offering free education to migrant children from Venezuela. More than 130,000 Venezuelan children are enrolled in schools across Colombia today, up from 30,000 in November last year. Nearly 10,000 of these students are in Cúcuta and close to 3,000 of them commute from Venezuela every day to go to school.

Colombia. Children attend class.
Children attend a class at a school in Cucuta, Colombia, near the border with Venezuela.

For many of those travelling to school each day, the journey starts around dawn. By about 5 a.m. each morning, hundreds of children can be seen crossing the Francisco de Paula Santander bridge, heading for the buses that will take them to school in Cúcuta.

Colombia. Children from Venezuela travel to school in Colombia.
Children cross the border from Venezuela to attend school in Colombia.

“The very serious situation in Venezuela has left many parents with no choice but to pursue education opportunities for their children across the border,” Escudero says. “I saw hundreds of students cross into Cúcuta at the crack of dawn, in pouring rain, to go to school. Such dedication to learning by parents and students alike is a lesson in commitment, perseverance and determination for all of us.”



Help keep children safe

The economic and political situation in Venezuela has caused an estimated 3.7 million Venezuelans to leave their homes for Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru  and other countries in the region. At least 327,000 children from Venezuela are living as migrants and refugees in Colombia. But without increased support, their health, education, protection and well-being will be in jeopardy.