What would it be like to cast your ballot on election day knowing that you could be spied on, beaten, or even killed based on how you voted? Having lived through the nightmarish persecution of the Maduro regime, the Valera family from Venezuela knows exactly how it feels. Jorge and Delfina owned two small construction businesses and lived in a tight-knit community in Western Venezuela. Their children, two girls and a boy, were competitive swimmers at school and were deeply rooted in the neighborhood. But under President Nicolás Maduro, their community often faced long blackouts, food shortages, and police brutality. Jorge and Delfina sometimes participated in locally organized, peaceful marches, protesting the lack of food and government corruption. These protests were usually met with violence from police and Maduro-backed militias but, despite the tear gas and the truncheons, Jorge and Delfina knew that conditions would never get better unless they kept protesting.
Their circumstances became more precarious when a corrupt army officer demanded steeper prices for the materials they needed to run their construction businesses, delayed crucial shipments, and blocked them from buying materials from non-governmental sources. When Jorge pushed back, he learned that someone had identified him at a rally and he was being investigated. Astonishingly, he learned that the army had pulled his ballots from prior elections, showing that he had not voted for Maduro. That was their excuse to treat Jorge as an enemy of the state. As Jorge struggled to save the businesses he had worked so hard to build, he received death threats demanding that he shut down. Intelligence officers began asking questions about the family in the neighborhood and began following the family members in unmarked cars. When a saboteur blew up a water tank in their office, the flood destroyed most of their equipment, computers and business files. Jorge was forced to finally shut down. Knowing that Jorge’s life was in danger, the whole community pitched in to send him to the United States the next month.
But danger followed Delfina and the kids even after Jorge had fled. Food shortages got so bad the kids sometimes went days without eating. The police escalated their response to the protests and began attacking members of the surrounding community indiscriminately. The government continued to spy on and menace the family, so Delfina pulled the kids out of school. One day, a few members of a Maduro-supported militia tried to abduct the Valera’s 10-year-old son. Luckily, she and a few community members intervened in time to pull him away. A few months later, her daughter was shoved to the ground by a police officer and beaten in the face repeatedly before Delfina dove on top of her, shielding her from additional blows. A few weeks later, fearing for their lives, Delfina and the kids found transportation to the United States and reunited with Jorge.
PTV’s work with the Valera family has gone above and beyond their trauma therapy and counseling. One of the family’s happiest days was when we helped the Valera family move out of an emergency shelter and into an affordable new apartment. PTV’s Client Emergency Fund, made possible by many local donors and companies, was used to pay for their security deposit and first month’s rent. The fund also provided groceries and school supplies to this deserving family for the first few difficult months. PTV staff advocated on behalf of the kids too, helping teachers understand their trauma and securing positive after-school programs like ACES and the YMCA to help them integrate and succeed.
If you met the Valera family today, you might never realize how much violence and hardship they survived. In their new community of Santa Ana, everyone they meet adores them. The kids are bright, cheerful, and well-behaved, though still haunted by the brutality they experienced firsthand. They go to the beach as often as they can and the kids practice swimming like they used to in Venezuela. For the year they both waited for work permits, Delfina and Jorge cleaned houses to generate income and provide for their family. Though the economy is unpredictable at the moment, they dream of the day they can open their own business again. It might even be a food truck serving Venezuelan cuisine! For their bravery, their suffering, and their hard work, this incredible family deserves all the help and healing that PTV can provide
The name, image, or identifying characteristics of some clients may be changed to protect client confidentiality and the safety of family and friends that still live in the client’s country of origin.