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They Had to Run, Leaving Everything Behind

  • June 16, 2021
  • Clinical Services, Emergency Programs

“My nerves were shattered!” says Lisbeth, a farmer whose family fled armed conflict in Venezuela and found themselves living in a refugee tent camp across the border in Colombia. “This situation overwhelmed me.”

Lisbeth is one of more than 5,000 Venezuelans who have escaped violence in rural Apure, Venezuela, where armed groups threaten and attack civilians. When bombs exploded near their farm in April 2021, Lisbeth and her family ran from their home, hid in a forest, then crossed the river to Colombia, leaving everything behind — including their dog, Rocky, who disappeared during the bombing.

The family is now one of thousands living in camps and shelters in Arauquita, Colombia, where Americares mobile health centers provide refugees with free health services, including primary care and mental health care.

Lisbeth's son with a health care worker at Americares mobile clinic
Lisbeth’s son with a health care worker at Americares mobile clinic

“In patients, I see fear and sadness, anguish for relatives left behind, and uncertainty and hopelessness due to lack of control,” says Americares mental health specialist Sara Rodriguez. Rodriguez and the medical team integrate mental health into primary care and educate everyone about COVID-19, a disease the refugees were isolated from on their farms. Americares also operates nine clinics in other areas in Colombia where Venezuelan refugees are settling, managing more than 400,000 patient visits for since 2018. The clinics are operated in coordination with the Colombian Ministry of Health and Social Protection and made possible with the generous support of the United States Agency for International Development and USAID’s Bureau for Humanitarian Assistance.

Father piggy-backing his son
Father piggy-backing his son in play in a refugee camp near the Americares mobile clinic in Colombia

The stress of displacement took its toll on Lisbeth and her family, and the loss of their dog made things worse. Lisbeth re-crossed the border twice to search for Rocky, crying with joy when he leapt into her arms from a pack of dogs in a shelter. “Having him back helps me feel lighter, and I see my children radiate with happiness,” Lisbeth told Rodriguez. “Rocky gives me strength to continue.”

Daughter hugging the family dog Rocky
Lisbeth’s daughter hugging the family dog Rocky across the Venezuelan border in Colombia

Lisbeth, her husband and children all receive health care from Americares mobile health team. “For us, Americares help is invaluable, especially during this adversity we are experiencing,” says Lisbeth.