IOM Supports More Than 4,000 People in Rural Communities With Hygiene Kits
11 February 2021
As migrants and locals search for steady incomes during the pandemic, IOM is helping them get basic goods.
“My daughter, you’re fat!”
Even at 40 years old, Lucibell Mendoza still gets teased by her mother.
“Despite everything, my mother - who suffers with Alzheimer’s - says I’m fat. Despite forgetting things, ‘I’m fat,’” Lucibell laughs. “We’re eating well,” she says of her life in Trinidad and Tobago.
Earning enough money to support herself and her family hasn’t been easy.
Lucibell left her homeland of Venezuela with her three-year-old son and 80-year-old mother to come to Trinidad and Tobago in early 2020.
She settled in Moruga, a village along the southern coastline of Trinidad.
She began looking for employment just as the Covid-19 pandemic began.
“It has been challenging,” Lucibell says. “I haven’t been able to get a steady job.”
Like Lucibell, refugees and migrants from Venezuela like Mendoza come to Trinidad and Tobago in the hope of a better life. Many are struggling alongside Trinidad and Tobago nationals to find or keep steady employment during the pandemic. Without consistent earnings, they can barely afford basic necessities.
“Migrants are very uneasy at this time,” says Natalie Patrice, founder of the Moruga Poverty Reduction Center. “They are between a rock and a hard place. They want to survive, they want to work.”
Rising unemployment among locals and migrants puts greater demands on community-based organizations like Patrice’s center to provide relief. She reached out to several agencies, including the International Organization for Migration (IOM), to ask for additional aid in her hometown.
Moruga became one of nine rural communities where more than 4,000 people benefitted from hygiene kits- boxes of essential sanitary items like toothpaste, deodorant and laundry detergent that help keep people safe during the pandemic. From May to December, IOM gave kits to vulnerable Venezuelans and Trinidadians.
Luciblell was one of the migrants who came to IOM’s distribution at the Moruga Poverty Reduction Center to receive a kit.
“I give you all a million thanks that you support us with this blessing,” she said as she walked out, carrying her box in her arms. “We all appreciate this.”
IOM’s response aims to provide short-term relief to vulnerable migrants and host communities, ensuring that locals also receive hygiene kits to help bring harmony among both populations.
"It is important to take into consideration the needs of TT nationals who are facing a tough situation. Refugees and migrants from Venezuela are also experiencing hardships when they arrive. Still, if you only provide for them, you could be fueling xenophobia and making life in their host communities more challenging,” says IOM Port of Spain Head of Office, Jewel Ali.
“You often find migrants who come here and try to live in bigger groups to cover the cost of the rent,” Ali points out. “Then you have overcrowding which creates protection and health concerns during the pandemic since there is limited ability to self-isolate if someone gets sick. So, we need to come out here and provide them with hygiene kits.”
The distribution events also tackled another challenge for the migrant population: inadequate information about access to public services. Surveys conducted by IOM identified a lack of information about labour laws and health services as a key concern among migrants. IOM used the distribution events to hand out literature that gave migrants contact information on domestic violence shelters, Covid-19 prevention tips and first responder agencies.
Single mother, Judy Sammy, was one of the Trinidadians who came to IOM’s distribution in Mayaro. She spent years in and out of the hospital with cancer and other ailments, having five operations in quick succession. Her prolonged illness made it difficult to get a job, so she relies on social support payments to care for her teenage daughter.
“Anytime any help comes I count it as a blessing, because my whole life is a blessing,” she says. “I’m always happy someone can lend a helping and when you need it the most, especially in difficult times.
IOM’s hygiene kit distribution project was a collaboration with UN Women. NGOs, community-based organizations, faith-based organizations and schools partnered with IOM to identify people in their communities who needed support. The Trinidad and Tobago Coast Guard helped during the distribution by enforcing Covid-19 protocols and managing the numbers of people in the venue.
These activities were made possible with the financial support of the Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration (PRM) of the United States Department of State.