I don’t know if you’ve heard of the situation in Venezuela, but things are not good. And they haven’t been for a long time. People are suffering, starving, dying every single day of disease, malnutrition, and there’s a real problem with the corruption of the government. The media in the US doesn’t do a great job of showing it, either, so you have to seek it out, like so many other tragedies. But once you find it, you can’t ignore it.
It’s not every day that we as college students get a real taste what might be outside the “UF Bubble,” and get to help out those around us. I have lots of Latino friends, and am first-generation American, but hadn’t heard of these things until this past summer. Or at least, it hadn’t actually been solidified in my mind that it’s incredibly serious. Luckily, though, other people do recognize the need for change – whether they’re Venezuelan or have a passion for humanitarian work.
The week of the Gators for Venezuela Initiative, held Oct. 16-22, showed me just how generous people can be, and how much we need to work together to help those in need.
Ignacio Bravo serves as president of VENSA, the Venezuelan Student Association on UF’s campus. He and his e-board were the original creators of the initiative, when a member of his organization suggested to spread the word about what was happening in their country. Then, VENSA went a step further and decided to do a food and medicine drive to actually send supplies to the people in need.
When Allie Jackson, a half-Venezuelan advertising major with a heart big as can be, heard about the campaign, she said she was moved for her people.
She presented the idea to Restless Heart Communications, a Catholic Gators ministry, and from there, the Venezuela Initiative was born. It was a weeklong series of events that included tabling, raising awareness, hosting different activities, collection donations, and partnering with other campus organizations to spread the word about what is going on.
“Things like this are really important because they help you really put your life in perspective,” Allie said. “It was truly beautiful to see separate communities come together and pray for our loved ones and those suffering.
The week started of with a game night and food drive. Tuesday at Gator Salsa, there were more than 80 people, and donations filled two entire boxes.
Allie said Wednesday was the most special night for her. A prayer vigil at St. Augustine Church was held for the people of Venezuela, and more than 75 people attended and 150 donations were collected.
“To be honest, when we started the campaign, I did not expect that many people to get involved,” Ignacio Bravo said. Among VENSA, Catholic Gators, the Hispanic Student Association, PorColombia, Gator Salsa, the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers, La Casita and la Salita, the 6-day campaign was a success, he said.
The Restless Heart Communications team also created graphics and videos several times during the week,shared their events to raise awareness on social media, and also placed an ad in The Alligator. The videos are real perspectives taken from families, students and other people living the reality of Venezuela.
The flyers helped spread awareness all over campus, and people came in all week asking where they could drop off donations. It was incredible to see that happen – people who weren’t involved in any of the organizations, but still wanted to support.
Thursday and Friday, the donations came mostly in the form of money, starting with Mass on the Grass, where 110 students attended. Then, at a fundraising event in partnershipwith Omi’s Tavern, a portion of proceeds went to the Initiative.
VENSA doubled all donations to its Venmo account, @gators-for-vzla, and the grand total came to $1,758.
So what’s next? What was VENSA and RHC supposed to do with all the donations? Venezuela’s corruption makes it difficult to send things to the country and ensure they get the proper destination, so it was critical for the group to find a parent organization to partner with and pass on the donations.
Ignacio found the Move Foundation, and its vice president, Janeth Aviles, who joined the organization in November 2014.
“Our goal is to accomplish precisely with dedication, love, passion and by the hand of God our mission in Venezuela,” she said.
The main mission, she said, is to provide assistance to families, children and the elderly, and students to fight the economic crisis, lack of food and medicine. She says the hardest part is seeing her Venezuelan brothers and sisters suffering, but when events like these happen, that she knows there’s hope.
“This is the first time college students are getting involved,” she said. “They are a great blessing to our cause.”
They use the money collected to ship the goods, and once they arrive, people from Move distribute them according to the needs they see, directly to the people.
Aviles sends her thanks and emphasizes that it wouldn’t be possible without the love and support of everyone involved. For more information, visit: www.moveforpeople.org
There is so much we can do, even if it seems like a situation is hopeless, or we’re too far away. One bag of rice. One bottle of aspirin. One package of diapers. Anything and everything has contributed so much to the success of this campaign. The unity among students of different groups, nationalities, beliefs, and walks of life was so evident during the Venezuela Initiative week.
We are changing lives. Thank you for your support. It wouldn’t be possible without you.
Written by: Elena Castello, Restless Heart Communications
Featured image by: Royce Abela, Restless Heart Communications