A humanitarian crisis: Fredericton group delivers more than 4,000 kg of food to Venezuela
Venezuela 180° is a project that transports food and supplies to people living in the South American country
Jimy Beltran and his family left Venezuela 10 years ago and he hasn't been back since.
But that doesn't mean the St. Thomas University graduate has stopped thinking about his home country.
"There is a genuine humanitarian crisis and … I need to do something about it," said Beltran.
So he did.
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In October of 2017, the Fredericton resident launched Venezuela 180°, a humanitarian aid project that delivers food and medical supplies to his home country.
An ongoing economic and humanitarian crisis means Venezuela, located at the northern tip of South America, has been facing food and medical supply shortages. As a result, people line up outside stores for hours — sometimes days — to get food.
We're trying to let people know that Venezuela has kind people and people that really want to help the country.- Nicole Beltran , Venezuela 180°
There's also high crime rates and violent demonstrations, he said.
Initially Beltran was hoping to send 1,000 kilograms of food within the year.
But eight months into the project, his group has sent a total of 4,288 kilograms.
"I'm very happy," said Beltran. "I never thought that this was going to be possible."
A world without food
Beltran came up with the idea in August 2017, after he saw a headline about the growing number of homicides in his home country.
"I asked myself, 'OK, if that's the only thing that is happening in the country — it's just the negatives, the homicides, the corruption, protests, people dying because there is no food — is there more about Venezuela?'"
Through Venezuela 180°, he wanted to give hope to Venezuelans by sharing positive stories of people helping each other, while acknowledging the ongoing crisis.
"I embarked myself on this journey of discovery, finding out what is the other side mainstream media is not covering about Venezuela," he said.
How it works
About 20 volunteers buy, package and ship food and supplies to two organizations in Venezuela: Project Santa Teresita of the Sol Association in Valencia and Santo Domingo de Guzman Parish in Maturin.
Volunteers then distribute the food and supplies to Venezuelans.
The two organizations have sent back videos, messages and photos of people impacted by the work Beltran is doing.
"They are so thankful, crying, [saying] 'Thank you so very much for having us in mind and giving us hope,'" the local philanthropist said.
The project also works with three journalists in Caracas, Venezuela's capital city.
They publish stories about people helping others. One story explored a dance program that visits disadvantaged communities and offers classes to young people as a way to reduce crime.
Another story looked at a bus equipped with a shower, toilet and food that drives around Caracas, providing aid and food to the homeless.
Beltran's sister, Nicole Beltran, also works with the group and hopes to help people back home.
"It's sometimes very heartbreaking because you know that you have all the things you need to survive and you're living well," said Nicole Beltran, who is also the social media coordinator with Venezuela 180°.
"But then you know that your family is living there, is struggling to find food, find the necessities."
She wants people from all over the world to see what the humanitarian group is doing and what it's trying to achieve.
"We're trying to let people know that Venezuela has kind people and people that really want to help the country."
Even though Venezuela 180° has passed its initial goal, the group also wants the project to keep growing.
"In my mind, it would be awesome to surpass ten tonnes," he said.
"Let's just continue helping no matter what."