Aixa Cayupare Dasilva, 38, fled Venezuela for Peru with her family in 2018, hoping to build a new life there. But then her husband died of COVID-19. Aixa shared her story with Erika Collado, who oversees Helvetas’ migration program in Peru.
Although we, my husband Jorge and I, worked as doctors, we could no longer support our family in Venezuela with our salaries. We sold our belongings, celebrated Christmas at home once again, and left on January 18, 2018—even though we had no papers for our children, who were 16, 12, and 10 years old at the time. In Venezuela, it is unimaginably difficult to organize a certified document or passport. It is unaffordable.
With much fear, torn hearts and great hope for a better life, we left our homeland. We were grateful when we arrived safely in Peru, the country of my husband's birth, after a sometimes dangerous journey. I remember that we ate chicken and apples that day. In Venezuela, an apple cost three minimum wages; the children knew the fruit only from drawings.
In Lima, we were building a new life. Jorge had to go to university again to be recognized as a doctor in Peru. We worked and sold our wedding rings to pay the tuition. After graduation, Jorge got a job as a doctor, and I found a part-time job in a pharmacy. Then the pandemic came and my husband was transferred to a health post 350 kilometers from Lima. I had to quit my job to take care of the children. He was now far away, but we had a better life, just as we had dreamed.
But then my husband died of COVID-19 in March 2020, and there I was, alone with the children in a foreign country and heartbroken. A Venezuelan without papers to prove that Jorge was my Peruvian husband and my children were my children. Without a job and with too little money to pay rent, school fees and food.
I had already met Helvetas in 2019, at a course on rights for refugees in Peru. I turned to Helvetas again to seek help. I wanted to apply for an orphan's pension for my children, but I didn't even have a birth certificate. Helvetas helped me immediately, first with legal advice that enabled me to speed up the procedures—with success. Now I am in the process of fighting for guardianship for my children. This will probably take some time.
Because of my emergency situation, I also received financial support from Helvetas, which enabled me to pay the rent and buy food. Helvetas helped me at the moment of greatest loneliness. Also with kind, supportive words. That was worth a lot in my situation.
I miss Jorge very much, and the thought of him is my greatest motivation. He wanted to return to his country and he did it. Now it's my turn to be brave. To be a woman who does not hesitate to start over. There are only two days in life when we can do nothing: One is yesterday and the other is tomorrow. It's about making the most of the now. Here I stand, against all odds, providing care services. I work hard for my children and my tuition money to be recognized as a doctor here in Peru.
Helvetas' Work with Refugees During the Pandemic
There are over one million Venezuelan refugees in Peru. Most live in precarious conditions, often without work, access to health care or education. COVID-19 has hit Peru hard: Two million people have fallen ill, and nearly 200,000 have died from it. The harsh lockdowns have exacerbated the situation for refugees. Helvetas, in cooperation with Swiss Solidarity, is supporting them with money transfers, advice and protective material.