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The power of friendship

After leaving behind everything in search for a better life these Venezuelan neighbours made a pact to never leave at each other’s side.

Together they sold everything they owned and brought tickets to Cucuta, across the border in Columbia. What exactly would happen next was uncertain.

More than 3 million people have left Venezuela since mid-2017, according to the UN.

“A few weeks ago, I knocked on their doors and told them we had to go together to look for a new future,” says Karen. “That in another country we could start our new neighbourhood.”

Recent political developments have led to a dramatic deterioration of an already challenging economic and social situation in Venezuela. These factors, combined with high levels of violence in some areas, have forced millions of people to leave and has left many of those remaining without access to food, adequate medical care and employment.

The four friends – Karen, Irene, Carmen, Yerida and their families –  say need and a lack of food was behind the decision to leave. Travelling together made them feel safer.

"If you know everything this group of neighbours has gone through; we have walked under heavy rain, we have felt a cold that we were not used to,” says Irene. “We have understood what it means to have a pair of good shoes to be able to make such a long trip."

At one stage when Karen’s 19-year-old son was too sick to go on they made their pact; that if any one of them was unwell everyone would protect them and they never leave any neighbour behind.

Migrants crossing the Columbia/Ecuador border. Photo: Ecuadorian Red Cross/Michelle Vasco.

Despite having left their entire lives back in Venezuela, they say they never let themselves be won over by bitterness or sadness. And that if they still have their strength, it is because they discovered together they can do more.

“Not even the weight of the 12 suitcases we carry will defeat us,” says Yerida.

Her 11-year-old daughter says as they walked for hours along roadsides people shouted at them from passing cars yelling “Strength Venezuelans, do not get tired.”

Those words encouraged them.

As does a handwritten note they were given by Red Cross volunteers in Bucaramanga, Columbia. It reads: “You must never give up, together you will get ahead.”

Colombian Red Cross teams have been providing support to migrants on the move including food, water, first aid, hygiene kits and help to reconnect families.

Carmen keeps that note her wallet and even now they have arrived in Peru, their destination, they read it for encouragement. “I keep it for special moments like this one,” she says.