By Sue-Ann Wayow
DIAGNOSED with diabetes, 14-year-old Valery fled her conflicted country of Venezuela with the hope of being able to get her much needed medication.
She arrived in Trinidad with her family and very little to survive on.
Initially nervous about learning and using English, she overcame her fears and is now using her newfound confidence to coach other Venezuelan refugees and locals in English and Spanish.
Valery is just one of the success stories of the Community Resilience Initiative (CRI) project which was shared by Joseph Fitzgerald, acting Deputy Chief of Mission, US Embassy, Port-of-Spain at the virtual closing ceremony for the United States Agency for International Development’s (USAID) CRI on Thursday.
Fitzgerald said, “In this role, she (Valery) helps build a stronger local community that embraces both cultures and languages while also creating, as she says, “memories that will follow me for the rest of my life, accompanying me in my heart.”
Valery was assisted by CRI, being able to access her medicines and was also offered to opportunity to learn skills while remaining in Trinidad.
CRI was launched last year May by the United States Agency for International Development and Democracy International.
Partnering with several local organisations, the project established safe spaces for activities conducive to building connections and trust between the two populations, while also helping them to access information, language classes, and psychosocial support, among other critical services. In the face of Covid-19, CRI used virtual platforms to continue offering key services to both T&T and Venezuelan populations while also ramping up the project’s social media tolerance campaign.
Over the course of the programme, the CRI worked directly with more than 2,500 people, nearly equal numbers of Trinidadians and Venezuelans while reaching many more through social media, radio, and television outreach.
Fitzgerald stated, “The United States remains committed to the people of Venezuela, who are suffering the impact of the illegitimate Maduro regime’s misrule, oppression, and corruption.”
He said, “To date, more than five million Venezuelans have fled their country with tens of thousands finding their way to the shores of Trinidad and Tobago. It is a reminder that the Maduro regime’s actions don’t just negatively affect those in Venezuela, but also those in the region as well and, for this reason, the United States is providing humanitarian and development funding across 17 neighboring countries to help them cope with the impacts of this crisis.”
Fitgerald thanked the communities that are especially helpful to Venezuelans including Arima, Mayaro and Chaguanas where centres were set up in addition to Port-of-Spain.
He added that CRI has helped strengthen the resilience of local communities by engaging stakeholders through several committees including the Multi-Stakeholder Committee, the Economic Inclusion Committee and the Mental Health and Psychosocial Services Committee.
He said while statistics of how many helped was encouraging important was the impact of the efforts on the daily lives of young people, women, and the most vulnerable nationals and refugees.
Clinton White, USAID’s Regional Representative also spoke at the ceremony.
He said he was deeply impacted by the unity between Trinidadians and Venezuelans with the common goal of improved lives.
He thanked the key organisations and people involved in making CRI a success.
They were: Democracy International led by Chief Executive Officer Glenn Cowan, the CRI team led by Morgan Simpson, Jade Joseph and Zahra Alleyne, national partners Drama Making a Difference, Families in Action, Ryu Dan Dojo, and Living Water Community, all CRI multi-stakeholder committee members particularly Alana Wheeler from the Counter-Trafficking Unit of the Ministry of National Security, the business chambers and other members of the private sector.
White also thanked Gayelle Caribbean and its owner Errol Fabien.
He said, “I must make special mention of Mr Errol Fabien who exemplifies a sterling example of private sector partnership supporting development. Thanks to Mr Fabien and Gayelle the Caribbean channel for donating over 55 hours of precious airtime and recording services free of charge to our local partners as well as his own energy and enthusiasm to spread the message of humanity, respect and love.”