How OYW Ambassadors are helping Venezuelan refugees build new lives


Rafael Angelo and Jerson Maldonado are part of Refúgio 343, a social movement dedicated to tackling the refugee crisis in Venezuela. Their aim is to promote the socio-economic reintegration of these families in the Brazil through the process of interiorization, which is a planned relocation strategy to other Brazilian states. Rafael and Jerson spoke about their work and their advice for changemakers at the 2019 Summit in London.

Rafael & Jerson's Story

The stats mentioned in this article reflect Refugio 343's work in October 2019.

Venezuela’s refugee crisis is the largest in Latin American history. And what makes it different from others is that it was not caused by a war or a natural disaster, but by economic mismanagement and political turmoil.

As of today, more than 4 million Venezuelans have left their homes. That accounts for 12% of the country's population. And the numbers just keep rising.

However, Venezuelans are not making usual travels. “Los caminantes” – or the walkers, desperate to flee Venezuela’s humanitarian crisis, set off on foot to surrounding nations in search of work and new beginnings. Their journeys can take them to Colombia, Brazil, Peru, or as far south to Buenos Aires, more than 8000km from Caracas, the capital.

Despite the welcoming spirit, these countries have shown towards Venezuelans, they lack the resources to mitigate the impact of this massive exodus, requiring collaborative efforts from business, government, and civil society.

So we were facing a question: How can the One Young World Ambassadors can channel help towards Venezuelan Refugees in Brazil?

The first thing one must ask is what do refugees want? First, they want to stop being refugees. They want to be conceived as regular citizens and have their normality back.

This is how Refugio 343 was born. We are a social movement that is organically giving a new life to 10 Venezuelan refugee families: taking them from camps in Venezuela and Brazil’s border to a new life in a main city, providing them housing, work, medical care and education; following a sustainable process to independence.



The idea was conceived from within Brazil’s OYW Ambassador community. What started as a simple form of support based on “let’s get them on a plane and host them at home”, ended up in a six-month recovery process with transportation tickets, school for the kids, and jobs for their parents. This could not have been possible without the support of local institutions and the amazing power of the OYW ambassador network.



What have we learned from Refugio 343 and the 19 families or 80 lives impacted so far?

To transform ideas into action, use the power of a strong network, such as the OYW community – here is a concrete formula any ambassador can put in practice with a few steps:

  • First, identify the problem. In our case, the refugee crises on our border. 

  • Second, break the challenge into smaller pieces to a size you can act on. For example, give a new life to one family. 

  • Third, multiply the impact of your idea inviting ambassadors around you. For us, 10 families will restart their lives. 

Professor Muhammad Yunus said back at the 2016 Summit: “If a problem is too big for you, break it in smaller pieces. If these pieces are still too big, keep breaking them. You will find a portion of this problem in which you can make a difference”. There has never been a moment when our OYW Brazilian community has been more united. We understood that it was in the teamwork of our network that our small actions could have a great impact. The OYW signature helped us open many doors we did not even think possible.

With 30 minute weekly calls we created a big project that today has 70 volunteers around the country and 10 operational teams which has already achieved more than 50,000 USD in a crowdfunding campaign. We were broadcasted by the 2 biggest TV channels in the country and now, we are structuring ourselves to dream bigger.



So our question to you delegates is: what is the challenge you will address? How will you break down your challenge into an actionable size? And the magical step; how you will use the community to boost your impact and give it life?

We encourage you to make it simple, and through its simplicity, make it real!

The 20th of June marked world refugee day. OYW Ambassadors presented a big #StepWithRefugees campaign at their local Brazil Caucus by not only inspiring others to take action, but also by celebrating the arrival of the first Venezuelan Refugee family of the project and calling for volunteers to bring 10 more. That call to action brought me here today. I was sitting there, hearing the amazing and ambitious project these ambassadors planned to do and from that moment on, my life and most importantly, the one of tens of other Venezuelans, changed for good.

That family of Tajires, Hector, and their kids had a journey of more than 5 thousand kilometers from Venezuela to their new home in Rua Vicente Pereira de Assunção, 343 São Paulo.

Refugio 343 has now become a platform and a social business that has been structured to sustainably grow and change the lives of more than 100 families by the end of 2020. The ripple effect got us here. Now, how you can help us scale it even more?

You can connect with Jerson here and Rafael here.

As of 2020, Refúgio 343 has helped :

  • 223 interiorized families, in 80 different Brazilian cities;

  • 681 rescued people;

  • 70% of families are employed;

  • 57% of families are independent!

Published on 10/08/2020