While the elderly population is the most vulnerable group to the debilitating effects of COVID-19, the Venezuelan migrant population is arguably the most vulnerable group to the virus’ economic effects.
With many working daily-paid jobs, some have little-to-no savings and are not entitled to the Government’s social support grants. For the tens of thousands of migrants who came to the country in the past two years, Trinidad and Tobago offered the chance of a new beginning.
Following an adaption period, which involved learning social and cultural norms, many grasped that opportunity, getting jobs to provide for their family.
However, in the face of COVID-19, many must now start all over again.
“There are many Venezuelans who don’t know where to look for a help. I could say most of us, we don’t like to ask for help because we just came here to work hard. To get something on our own, you know?” Alan Calderon, 28, told Guardian Media yesterday.
The husband and father of three children, age seven, three and nine-months-old, used to work night and day caring for an elderly man. However, with the risks posed to the elderly population by COVID-19, he has had to cut down his working hours significantly.
“I’m still working a few hours, and those few hours give me something to buy small food. That’s everything that I could do,” he said.
The situation is close to desperate and is about to get even more desperate, he lamented. The extension of the ban on non-essential services until April 30, he said, will only exacerbate his financial difficulties. That’s not to say, he does not understand why the measure is in effect.
“With this situation, I think it is difficult for everyone, even for citizens and Venezuelans. It is hard because our only income is with our boss, if you are cleaning a house and if you work in construction. But because of the virus, people don’t want anyone near to them,” Calderon said.
Groceries are already hard to afford, as are supplies for his three children, including his youngest who was born here. There is also rent. Thankfully, his landlord has been considerate so far, he said, but he knows that too will have a limit.
“He said he will be flexible with us, of course, but you have to understand that they have to pay mortgage. And if the bank comes and they don’t pay on time, they will come and they will kick us out,” he said.
Despite his increasing worry, he said it is important to him that Trinbagonians understand that he’s grateful for everything the country has given him and others who came from their troubled country.
His case is one of many though.
Another is Rossana Brown.
Migrating to Trinidad with her husband in 2019, Brown is weeks away from giving birth. Pregnancy anxiety is not her only source of worry at the moment.
Prior to COVID-19, she worked part-time as a Spanish teacher but she is now out of a job. To compound matters, her husband’s work hours have been cut. He only works two times a week now, meaning the family’s income is dwindling, and quickly.
“It’s difficult because we are not getting much to pay the rent. Then we have to buy food and then every time I go to the hospital, I have to pay the driver to carry me and bring me back home. It’s so difficult. We have to buy what we can, and make it last,” she said yesterday, her eyes tearing up.
Luckily, like Alan, her landlord has been caring. Brown said her landlord understands they are trying their best to make things work but there is just no work.
“She’s not pressuring us. She told us we can collect what we have and give it to her. That was a relief because we were really worried how we were going to pay rent,” she said.
“We started something, like a prayer group, at nights, so we are praying. That’s how we are holding on,” she said, as her voice broke.