“In Venezuela, there are not enough medicines,” said Yilmar, a Venezuelan who now resides in Colombia. Suffering from a tumor on his neck, Yilmar says his government and its nearly non-existent medical system did nothing: “They did not see me. They didn’t give me any serum, absolutely nothing.”
His story, and the stories of the more than 4.5 million people who have had to flee Venezuela—an 8,000 percent increase since 2014, according to the UNHCR—are what has compelled NetHope and its 57 nonprofit member organizations to enact one of the largest aid delivery missions ever to help feed, clothe, shelter, and provide accurate information as the flow of migrants continues out of Venezuela and spreads deeper into Latin and South America, and beyond. The need for this has become even more timely as the impacts of COVID-19 sweep the globe, making displaced people all the more vulnerable.
NetHope has been instrumental in connecting our member aid organizations, including Mercy Corps, Norwegian Refugee Council, Save the Children, Team Rubicon Global, and many others to their field staff for vital communications abilities, with the benefit of also providing more than half-a-million displaced Venezuelans with the ability to contact family and friends, and to gain access to reliable information for goods, services, and medical and employment assistance. These communications hubs have been set up along the migration route in nearly 70 locations, including hospitals, community centers, churches, schools, and field offices, for secure and accessible internet connection. The goal is to expand these to more locations and countries, expanding further into Peru and Mexico.
To help understand and analyze the staggering volume of information, NetHope has created a webpage that aggregates and updates the information of device and network use flowing from the region. This helps visualize not only the existing uses but also helps inform where and how much we need to further expand these networks. Visit the page to see the results and for periodic updates.
None of this would be possible without the cooperation among our members, and with the financial and technical support of our partners, including Airbnb, Cisco, Ericsson Response, Facebook, and Microsoft. A recent Facebook Connectivity grant is now supporting NetHope’s COVID-19 response in Latin America, increasing connectivity and access for responding organizations and beneficiaries. In addition, the teams are working together to identify and support affected communities, providing them with access to timely, accurate information from organizations such as the World Health Organization, The Centers for Disease Control, and UNICEF about how to stay safe and prevent the spread of coronavirus within their communities.
While these communications networks are the power lines for our member organizations to organize and distribute aid and information, for people like Yilmar, this connectivity is a true lifeline. After he left his homeland, relief organizations were able to help with his health, but he had no way of communicating with his family who were still back in Venezuela. When NetHope set up connectivity, his isolation ended: “Now I can communicate with my family. They ask me how my health is and when they can operate. Now they can know how I am doing and I can check to make sure they are OK, too.” Yilmar said that when it comes to regaining his health, this connection has been almost as important for him as the medication. “To be connected is to not be alone. It gives me hope.”