When hundreds of migrants from Venezuela began arriving in Guyana in 2018, the Catholic Church was part of the Venezuela Support Group (VSG). This group was launched by a number of civic and faith-based organisations in Guyana, to provide advice and support to Venezuelans seeking refuge from the deprivations and insecurity currently gripping their homeland.
A Catholic Standard report highlighted that at present, the Catholic Church, through its Diocesan Projects Office and in collaboration with a number of international agencies, continues to run a number of projects to provide various forms of assistance to benefit hundreds of Guyanese and Venezuelan migrants, mainly in Regions 1, 2, 4 and 7.
The assistance is largely in the form of food, shelter, clothing, toiletries, basic health services, translation and counselling services and other basic necessities.
“The office also has a Migrant Support Officer who accompanies migrants to job interviews and hospital visits, assists them in writing their curriculum vitae, job applications, paying bills, collecting receipts and much more,” the article mentioned.
Every day the office also has to be prepared for, and often faces, new requests and challenges, Kean Chase, Projects Officer of the Roman Catholic Diocese, told the Catholic Standard in a recent interview.
Coming from a predominantly Catholic country, many of the migrants gravitated to the Catholic Church in Guyana for various forms of assistance. The requests included those for clothes, food and translation services.
“However, as more people arrived, the appeals began to include accommodation and medical assistance. The Catholic Church, with a presence and with facilities spread throughout the country, was approached by the UNHCR to form a partnership to work with the migrants.
Since many of the migrants were beginning to establish roots, the Church’s early work included translating documents such as birth and marriage certificates, resumes, licenses, degrees, diplomas and other official documents which are needed when migrants were applying for jobs, to get their children enrolled in school, or for extensions of stay in Guyana, the diocesan weekly explained.
The Church also provided food hampers and non-food item kits such as toiletries, clothing and hygiene kits.
Meanwhile, an increasing number of migrants were finding themselves with no place to stay and the Church has been able to provide temporary shelter for a number of them in one of their buildings.
The article highlighted that the Church has also partnered with UNICEF to carry out projects in Early Childhood Development, mainly among migrants and Guyanese children in interior locations.
UNICEF has provided the educational kits and trained the personnel to carry out the educational project. This agency has also been supporting the translation services which the Diocese’s Projects Office provides.
The International Office for Migration (IOM) also partners with the Church in assisting migrants. The IOM focus has been on accommodation, food and medical services, including counselling support.
The article outlined other assistance which the Church has been offering migrants in the form of free English classes which are held twice-weekly at Our Lady of Fatima Church in Georgetown.
“The remarkable success of this project has led to it being extended—with the help of UNICEF—to Regions 2 and 7 where they take place in church buildings with the full support of the Church officials in the area.”
“The Projects Officer was careful to point out that while the Church is keen to ensure that both Guyanese and migrants benefit from their program many people do not quite understand how desperate and extreme the situation is in Venezuela.” Chase said while some Guyanese may regard migrants with suspicion, thinking they are here to steal jobs, she is urging that they be seen as “fellow human beings who need our help and that we welcome them in Christian charity”.
She pointed out that among the migrants are lawyers, specialists, psychologists, people with their Masters degrees and other highly qualified people, many of whom are now cleaners, maids and working in retail stores in Georgetown.
Chase added that the Office welcomes any form of support to adults or children in cash or kind. These can be left at the Migrant Support Office in the Brickdam Presbytery compound, opposite Brickdam Cathedral.