in 2016, a group of friends, concerned about the critical living conditions of children in Venezuela, united to promote and support community projects to fight hunger and malnutrition
The Beginnings … a group of Venezuelan friends reacting to the increasing levels of hunger and malnutrition
Venezuela is going through a humanitarian emergency that deeply affects the daily lives of millions of people in the country, who are struggling to feed themselves and their children and facing malnutrition. Almost three quarters of the children in poor areas of the country suffer from malnutrition, and many are dying because of this. Hunger arrived at hundreds of thousands of homes in Venezuela and now dwells there; many families can barely afford one meal per day.
Meals4hope started when we saw clear signs of this emergency at the beginning of 2016: more and more children were fainting in class or were simply not going to school because they were too weak; they had not eaten. Mothers were filling their babies’ bottles with water and rice or cassava to ‘cheat hunger’; they could not find milk. People looking for food in garbage bins had started to be a common and heart-breaking image in Venezuelan cities. Adults and children were rapidly losing weight. Children started to die of malnutrition or illnesses associated with it.
The origin of Meals4hope had to do with the suffering of people not having food to give to their children, with the hunger and the levels of malnutrition never seen before in Venezuela, and that later grew exponentially. The origin was also linked to the anguish, pain, frustration and rage that a group of Venezuelan friends felt in the face of this reality. Listening to the stories, reading the news, knowing of cases of people suffering the emergency, first-hand, broke and still breaks our hearts.
One person suggested collecting funds to run and support projects where people struggling to meet their most basic needs organised themselves and worked together to feed their children; projects to support the most urgent cases of hunger and malnutrition; projects that helped save lives, bringing meals, hope and a brighter future to children in need and their families.
While structural changes need to take place, we felt that we had to do something to alleviate the suffering and fight hunger now. Venezuela was (and still is) in need of urgent changes, but the children couldn’t wait, when hunger is the daily reality of many, it’s time for solidarity.
2016 … solidarity an inspiring response to Venezuelan humanitarian crisis
To raise money for community projects that helped children in need, we set up a crowdfunding campaign. We aimed to support 3 nutritional programmes supporting 300 children in need. In less than two months, with donations ranging from 2 to 1000 euros we had reached our goal. The generous response humbled us and encouraged us to continue our work. Solidarity, from the beginning, was at the heart of our work.
We worked in 2 poor areas in the States of Bolívar and Anzoátegui. The projects were carried out by volunteers from the communities, generous people that provide their support directly to the projects and the local teams.
The support received from the beginning from hundreds of generous people was an inspiring response to the humanitarian crisis Venezuela was suffering. Its significance went beyond the much needed economic aid. It spoke loudly about generosity, solidarity, humanity and justice. Solidarity has been the rock were meals4hope stands, it has saved lives.
2017 … a network of volunteers and support growing in and out of Venezuela
We moved, every day, between shadows and light. The shadows of the skyrocketing rise of malnourished children, the suffering of people that had nothing to eat, the inconsolable cries of mothers that lost their babies… (children that all of us lost along with them). The solidarity and resistance lit up dark corners and helped overcome obstacles. They sprang up where we least expected it, from many different places… an invisible network that grew in and out of Venezuela.
Thanks to volunteers, partners and the solidarity of many, in 2017 we were supporting around 1500 children, through 18 nutritional programmes in 7 different regions of the country: Anzoátegui, Apure, Bolívar, Lara, Nueva Esparta, Mérida and Portuguesa. We also started to send and receive medicines and other humanitarian supplies from other countries.
2018 … supporting more community projects and channelling much needed humanitarian aid
In February 2018, experts from the United Nations Human Rights Office alerted about the “Dire living conditions (in Venezuela) worsening by the day”. “Millions of people are suffering a lack of food and essential medicines, a shortage of goods including those for personal hygiene, power cuts, and dire housing and living conditions. Conditions are worsening by the day putting many lives at risk,” the experts said.
The most vulnerable were the children. Responding to the situation, in 2018 our work developed. Projects and programmes, adapted to the needs and characteristics of each area, were led by sensitive and committed local people, sometimes in partnership with organizations or institutions with experience in community social service. The participation of the communities themselves, the dedicated support of volunteers and the local alliances are at the heart of our work.
We ran and supported: nutritional recovery centres to treat and prevent malnutrition; community homes to feed and care for children; school meals; community kitchens and stews; nutritional support for children in hospitals; support for pregnant and lactating women; local food production programmes; healthcare support days; as well as the shipping of medicines, medical supplies and other humanitarian aid. Over a hundred volunteers worked in 27 projects helping children, growing food, maintaining hope alive.
In addition to this, from abroad, mainly in Spain, but also in the United States and even in places as far away as Singapore, the donations of medicines and medical supplies, which were recorded and sent to different parts of the country, grew. The channelling of this humanitarian aid became a project that, given the existing need in Venezuela, we gladly assumed and developed ethically and responsibly. Although it is impossible to quantify them, there were thousands of people benefiting from this aid.
2019 … electric blackouts, humanitarian crisis deepens, bringing hope in the midst of poverty and injustice
2019 has been marked by national and local electric blackouts, shortages of gas and gasoline, increased migration … more and more people leaving the country. As the humanitarian crisis deepens and continues to have a serious impact on children, thanks to the solidarity of many people, all around the world, partnership work in and out of the country, and the work of committed volunteers with sensitive hearts, we continue to expand our reach and impact.
Our work combines humanitarian aid and development approaches to strengthen community resilience and sustainability, community participation continues to be central to our work. Women, in particular, have been and are central to the work. Women empowerment is happening in the midst of a humanitarian crisis that hits them hard.
In 2019 we started projects in new areas, the increase of cases of children with acute malnutrition led us to new ways of treating them, through health centres and in the communities. We have started programmes to provide access to safe drinking water to families. The community gardens and the raise of poultry is growing little by little to produce local food.
We are currently supporting 48 projects supporting over 3000 children regularly. We are sending around 700 kilos of humanitarian aid monthly.
Many lives have been turned upside down. These community projects and the humanitarian aid sent, are a lifeline for many that have nothing else in these difficult times. The projects not only help feed children in need, and in many cases, save their lives, they are also bringing hope to places where there is little room for it. They are helping people to live with dignity in the midst of tremendous poverty and injustice.