Diego, 25 years old: “My parents taught me to be disciplined and I have always focused on being a better person. When I came to Venezuela, it was hard to enrol in a school at the beginning, as I did not have the necessary documents. Thanks to the protection network [Jesuit Refugee Services], I started at the age of 15 in a local school and, after three years, I graduated second in my class.”
“When I started college at the Experimental University of Táchira (UNET) I had problems due to the lack of identification papers again, but the university authorities made an exception and allowed me to study the career I wanted: mechanical engineering. I won a scholarship after one year because of my academic performance and now I am expecting to become naturalized to get my diploma.”
“With my knowledge, I want to contribute to society. I feel love for this country because it welcomed me and it is where I grew up. Just being at university makes me thankful for everything this country has given me. I do not see myself in another place.”
“With the limited resources I have, sometimes I cannot eat and I have to wait for my meals at the university. I will always remember when I only had one shirt and rode my bicycle to school. I want to tell everyone, ‘Do not be afraid, because with effort and dedication you can move forward – do not leave your studies behind.’”
“Despite all the obstacles my family and I had to overcome since our arrival, the Venezuelan people welcomed us warmly.”
There are thousands of refugees recognized in Latin America, most of them Colombian citizens who have fled the armed conflict. Like many other asylum-seekers, Diego’s family crossed the border to find safety and to offer their children a future.
When the Rodriguez family arrived in Venezuela, Diego worked with his father repairing bikes. The mechanical skills he learned with the support of his professors helped him become a top mechanical engineering student at UNET. Diego dreams of giving back to his adopted country and supporting his parents. For now, he must wait for his identification documents so he can receive his university degree.
UNHCR is currently working government institutions to coordinate a solution to asylum-seeker’s need for documentation. With support from the Venezuelan Ombudsman’s Office, the Education Ministry is allowing refugees access to schools and universities.
Written by Zasha Millán
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