What Doesn’t Kill You
Angelo is a young Venezuelan immigrant who used to dream of being a policeman, but now works as an Uber driver in the dirty, congested streets of Lima. He’s been living in Lima for two years with his wife and baby boy, and has done everything he could to survive—from picking up debris at a construction site, to selling homemade popsicles in the middle of huge intersections. His wife Zeidi sold right alongside him, even 8 months pregnant—rushing out into the street as soon as the cars stopped at the red light (never a guarantee they would stop) and going from car to car to offer their marcianos. Zeidi finished her degree in accounting at the university in her hometown of Valencia, Venezuela, but was eventually forced to flee her own country because there was no longer enough food to eat even one meal a day. She was the hope of her entire family. If she could get out and find a way to survive in another country, then maybe she would also be able to send money back home so her family could eat too.
Venezuela used to be one of the richest countries in South America, as recently as the 1980s— with many even middle-class Venezuelans having second homes in places like Miami and Los Angeles. International travel was a given, and business was booming in a country full of oil and other natural resources. Then power changed hands, and new leadership started the country down a darker path. Zeidi remembers that growing up she was able to do things like go to the movies, eat at a restaurant occasionally, and go spend the day at the beach, picnicking with her family. When she was a kid, there was always enough to eat. She said “we didn’t know how good we had it, until it was gone.” By the time she was in high school, circumstances had already changed considerably, and her family was down to eating two meals a day—growing whatever they could in their backyard just to fill their bellies. Just a couple years later they could barely scrape together enough food for one small meal each day. Currently, the average monthly salary in Venezuela (paid in their currency) is sufficient to buy one can of milk. Forget trying to buy medicine— it’s not even available anymore, no matter how much money you have.
Just Have A Little Faith
Angelo was the first of his family to leave in search of work. He saved up for months and then finally sold his motorcycle and the family’s air conditioner in order to buy the bus tickets from Valencia all the way to Quito, Ecuador (a trip that takes 41 hours by car, but many more than that by bus). In Ecuador, he faced severe discrimination and mistreatment because of being Venezuelan, and in his desperation to find work he was taken advantage of more times than he could recall. The worst was when he would work an entire month, having been told that his paycheck would come at the end of the month—only to be told after a month that he was fired, and there was no paycheck. This happened to Angelo several times, and is still happening to countless Venezuelans. More than once he reached a starvation point, and then by some miracle found the grace to keep trying. One time someone knocked on the door of the room he was sharing with four other young Venezuelan guys, and said that they had a box of food for them. The box was filled with enough food to feed all of them for several days. It was Christmas, and the person who knocked on their door a complete stranger.
The Long And Winding Road
Finally, Angelo found a job that paid and began to send some money home, a little bit here and there—always pining away for his own home and family. After the first year, he was desperate to return home, and so he scraped together enough cash to buy the bus tickets back to Venezuela. Joyfully arriving back home, he was shocked to see that the situation had gotten exponentially worse in the year that he had been gone and staying in Venezuela was not an option. This time, he returned to Ecuador with both his young wife and his younger sister in tow.
The same challenges faced them all: jobs they never got paid for or jobs that paid next to nothing, discrimination and xenophobia, and near starvation were all constant factors in their lives. Then Zeidi discovered she was pregnant, and a few months later Angelo lost his job that actually paid. The situation seemed impossible. They had to find a better option. How could they bring a child into so much uncertainty and danger? After a couple other options fell through, they finally settled on what had been their last choice: Lima, Peru. Angelo had a cousin there, who thought he might be able to get him a job. So once more they packed up what little they had and got on a bus to an unknown destination—this time in the land of the Incas and alpacas.
Everybody Has A Dream
Peru was a little kinder to Angelo and Zeidi. They met an older woman in Lima who not only let them start renting a room in her apartment without paying up front, but she also took Zeidi under her wing and taught her how to make marcianos—the homemade popsicles—and took her out to the streets to teach her how to sell them. Zeidi recalls how ashamed she felt the first time she went out to sell. Nothing in her accounting degree had prepared her for the stress and humiliation of selling in the street. But the señora would often cook extra food and bring it to them to make sure they ate, and was constantly checking in to make sure Zeidi’s pregnancy was going well.
Eventually Zeidi got used to the rhythm of making her popsicles and going out to sell. Then one day while she was out selling she went into labor, over a month early. Angelo came home and rushed her to the hospital, where they wouldn’t even admit her until she could pay the initial fees and buy the necessary supplies. Angelo called his cousin, who called everyone he knew, and they all came together and gave everything they had (everything they were saving to send home that month). When they brought the money to the hospital, it was exactly what was needed to pay for little Samuel’s delivery.
With A little Help From My Friends
After Samuel was born, the circumstances were even more challenging – they had to find a way to not only buy the most basic food, but also diapers and milk. Zeidi went out looking for a job where she could take her baby with her, and found a childcare position that offered to pay her half of the minimum wage (about $140 dollars a month). Driven by desperation, she agreed to it and began working 12 hours a day, 6 days a week. Angelo’s cousin helped him start renting a car so that he could drive for Uber, and he began to try and make it as a taxista. This was easier said than done, because the rental was costing him $25 every single day—forcing him to drive 16 hours a day, and even more on the weekends when traffic was lighter. They struggled to get by, but slowly started sinking into debt, and began missing rent payments. The señora was understanding, but she also depended on their rent in order to survive. Something was going to have to give.
Then one night in September of 2018, Angelo answered an Uber call and picked up four gringos in Miraflores: visitors to Lima from Something New. They instantly could see how special he was, and could also see that he was under a lot of pressure. That night he got a tip that was exactly the amount he & Zeidi were lacking in order to pay the two months of back rent that they owed. That’s when Angelo knew that he had met some special people as well.
All You Need Is Love
Now Angelo is driving Uber without the constant pressure of mounting debt. Zeidi works part-time as an accountant, and is now able to buy medicine for Samuel when he needs it, as well as milk and diapers. They’ve been able to move into a safer neighborhood, and Angelo gets to spend more time with his little son (who will be 2 in December). Most of Angelo’s family has followed him to Peru, but Zeidi’s family is still back in Venezuela, and she sends them a little money each month to make sure they can eat. The success of a recent fundraiser enabled her to send them enough money to buy school uniforms and supplies for her little brother and sister to go to school this year. But that’s not the end of the story. Their dream is to help other young families from Venezuela who are struggling just to survive, and let them know that something extraordinary is possible. Their dream is to start a business that could employ lots of people, and give other Venezuelans (as well as Peruvians) the chance they need to make it. We are all a part of this dream. With your support Angelo and Zeidi will make this dream a reality!