As the road becomes narrower and the slope more pronounced, you can see Chela's* house. She is thin and fragile in appearance, wearing a short-sleeved shirt and a long skirt. She awaits the rest of the women for a meeting.
The brown door of Chela's house has a painting and musical notes sketched on it with chalk. Here they are learning to play musical instruments: guitar, bass, drums, and trumpet. Chela takes the bass guitar and begins to slide her hand along the chords: "let's go and take out some records composed by refugees and some other romantic music", she instructs.
Chela has been a community leader and Colombian asylum seeker for the last seven years. She fled with her children to save her life, after being threatened by irregularly armed groups. The armed conflict in Colombia started more than 50 years ago and since then has caused the internal displacement of four million people. Another 200,000 have been forced to seek protection in Venezuela.
A few minutes later more women begin arriving, some holding hands with their daughters; all wearing sandals. They are from Villa Paraíso, a community in Táchira state, bordering Colombia.
This place represents an interesting process as it comprises Venezuelan, Colombian Ecuadorian and Peruvian migrants, as well as refugees.
The women say they were forced to squat on the land as they have none of their own, or were paying exuberantly high rents. At the moment, more than 250 families live in Villa Paraíso.
In the beginning, there was only wood and stone. Little by little they built houses and because of the large number of children in the community they could not be evicted. This does not mean the inhabitants feel safe, however. They are living in a high risk area, rains constantly flood their homes, there are no hospitals nearby and nor are there any sanitation services.
It is here, on the Colombian-Venezuelan border, that JRS implements its human-rights-based refugee women empowerment project.
All the workshops and meeting are held in Chela's house. In the room, the women sit on plastic chairs and a bed covered by a coloured blanket. Carolina* says her mother Chela was always sad, staying in bed doing absolutely nothing; now she is permanently out of bed full of ideas.
"The Jesuit Refugee Service has helped us psychologically because we were unwell. Since we arrived, seven years ago, it has been calm. But we're still scared, fear, that is what we feel", says Chela.
One of the workshops the women requested was a manicure course, and some of them, like Carolina, are now making a living out of it.
"Now I am a manicurist, it's going well, thanks be to God. I work at home and my clients come here … nails fascinate me, I knew some before but with the Jesuits, you learn and practice more", Carolina said.
Nancy*, always assertive, adds that she also attended the workshops on the prevention of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), self-esteem, and that in these talks the participants are encouraged to value themselves as human beings and women.
"They also told us about women's rights, peaceful coexistence in the home, that we are failing of we do not sow these values in our children and the consequences this brings", Nancy added.
The JRS project seeks to strengthen the abilities and skills in Venezuelan asylum-seeking and migrant women in the Táchira and Alto Apure border areas to help them learn trades and earn a living. Those skills will help them to be effective agents of social change by overcoming poverty, being aware of human rights and becoming human rights defenders.
Gloria* is a woman of strong character and robust stature. With her daughter sitting between her legs, she says she also attended workshops on business empowerment where she learned about producing budgets, paying loans, and managing basic accounting and administration procedures.
Ingrid Bournat, psychologist and JRS project director in Táchira says the women have asked for specialised training in the art of nail design, an area which does not require much investment and the materials are generally not so expensive.
It was not always easy. Chela recalls that in the beginning, some people discriminated against them because they came from Colombia and were refugees.
"We didn't have any right to anything, not even to study. When I become aware of refugee rights, I brought my children to two schools; I went and enrolled them….
"One time as we were getting off the bus one women said 'Colombians come here and take what is not theirs'. I responded you should that: thank God you have a decent home, you have not been thrown out of your country. We have been thrown out of our country and we came here because of violence, for many bad things…"
To avoid situations like this, Chela thought that when the projects were established in Villa Paraíso, the local Venezuelan population should be included, removing one of the main obstacles to successful integration.
In this way, the women began to work together. Even before the arrival of JRS, they had already established strong friendships and a women's association, so that the community could also benefit from international development programmes.
"Not long ago I was here and doing the course I got to know the girls then you see them around and greet them because I was always stuck at home afraid to go out and speak with anyone", Gloria responded when asked how they were personally helped by the training courses.
Even though each woman has developed her own ways of thinking, they live as a community. As Bournat says to the women: you are not Venezuelan, Colombian, asylum-seeking women, you are women from Villa Paraíso, you have an identity, do you understand me? You have developed a sense of belonging with this community".
*The names of the persons in the article have been changed for security reasons.
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