The organization focuses primarly on supporting refugees walking from Venezuela, through projects at the shelters and mobile aid on the roads, but also on community support, through projects with the vulnerable population in Pamplona. Find out more about each of these projects below.
Refugees Shelters in and around Pamplona
On the Ground International is based in the quaint colonial town of Pamplona, a 2-3 day walk from the Venezuelan border. Though a small town, Pamplona hosts three refugee shelters. OTGI works with two of them, providing regular cash support and food deliveries, and our volunteers assist in preparing and serving meals and cleaning the shelters. We are committed to doing everything we can to ensure these shelters can stay open. An hour outside of Pamplona, we also support two more refugee shelters. One is an hour’s car drive away from Pamplona towards the Venezuelan border and the other is an hour away towards Bucaramanga, the closest city.
Inside the Shelters: Vanessa’s
Located in the center of Pamplona is the second shelter where the refugees can eat, use the showers, an internet connexion, and sleep. Vanessa’s provides breakfast, lunch and dinner so at any time of the day refugees are welcome for some food. There are five volunteers working at Vanessa’s, all Venezuelans, and together with the volunteers of On The Ground is the shelter always ready to receive new refugees. Because the refugees arriving in Pamplona have already walked several long days this shelter also provides basic medical care. A lot of the refugees are exhausted, dehydrated or have fevers, so some medical care is much needed. OTGI’s international volunteers help at the shelter everyday, from Sunday to Friday, with:
– Cooking and serving lunch and dinner to the caminantes, and cleaning up afterwards.
– Clinic: giving informations about the road ahead: the distances, shelters, climate conditions and general advices, as well as providing basic first aid and vitamins for the children if needed. We also provide medical care when we have qualified volunteers.
– Kids play: a children’s program to give the mothers a much-needed chance to rest.
– Massages for the caminantes, a little relief after a long day of walking and carrying heavy backpacks.
– Cleaning the shelter in early morning after they have left to continue their journey.
– Every Sunday we also teach English at this shelter, for local children and adults willing to learn.
Inside the Shelters: Douglas’s
Douglas’s shelter is located right when you enter Pamplona from highway 55, the route which the Venezuelans are walking. It provides beds and bathrooms to the caminantes who arrive in Pamplona. On The Ground helps at this shelter two days a week with cleaning, picking up trash, maintenance and repair tasks, depending on the needs.
Inside the Shelters: Esperanza Hoy
Esperanza Hoy is a shelter that OTGI opened in April 2022. It is located about an hour’s bus drive out of Pamplona, towards the Venezuelan border near a town called Bochalema. The five volunteers working here give shelter and food for a night to the caminantes passing through on their way to their final destination. OTGI volunteers visit this shelter everyday to:
– Help preparing and serving food for the caminantes, washing dishes afterwards, help cleaning the space where they sleep and the outdoor areas. We also started a vegetable garden there.
– Pick up caminantes and pay for their fare on the bus back to Pamplona. This saves them an eight-hour walk, which is one of the most valuable acts that we can do for them. When arriving in Pamplona, we take them to Vanessa’s shelter, where they can have a rest, a meal and stay the night.
– Our volunteers also stay overnight at Esperanza Hoy, turn by turn, for one or two nights. This allows us to help more and to be present when flows of caminantes pass by at anytime of the day.
Inside the Shelters: La Laguna
This shelter is located an hour’s drive away from Pamplona towards Bucaramanga. The walk from Pamplona to La Laguna takes 10 hours and it is all uphill, making it a very difficult section of their walk. Due to the high altitude it also gets very cold, adding to the strenuous conditions. The team of four volunteers working there offer food and shelter for the night. OTGI provides the food for this shelter. On The Ground’s international volunteers visit the shelter once a day, on the trip up (mobile aid):
– Delivering sandwiches, water, fruits, bocadillos and eggs to caminantes that we pass, as well as offering lifts to the caminantes and take them up to the shelter, saving them potentially hours of walking.
– Our volunteers also stay overnight at this shelter turn by turn, to help more with cooking, serving, cleaning up or receiving the caminantes.
Mobile Aid Prep
The Mobile Aid preparation is when, every morning, we prepare the sandwiches for mobile aid trips. Sometimes hundreds, depending on the periods and the flow of caminantes. We do mobile aid on the way up to our shelter in La Laguna, and on the way down to the toll before Cucuta, passed our shelter Esperanza Hoy.
Community projects constitute an important part of our work as well. While they are not directly refugee support unlike the shelters projects, they focus more on helping the local community in Pamplona. It can be vulnerable children of Colombian or Venezuelan families (through our projects at Simon Bolivar, Biblioteca Popular or Christo Rey) or simply students who learn English, with language exchange. Since we are based in Pamplona, it is important for us to also do what we can to support the locals here in projects that are in line with our work and values.
This library is an initiative of a local student, Tatiana, for the children in a vulnerable neighborhood called El Progesso. She created for them a space of learning and sharing, with activities like book clubs, documentaries, ecological outings, music lessons and artistic workshops on different themes. In February 2023, we started to work together and send volunteers every week. Some of the activities already done with OTGI volunteers include: a creative workshop about peace, guitar lessons (taking place every Thursday), or an international Women’s Day workshop, outdoors games or book readings.
A lot of the children there are Venezuelans or from disadvantaged families.
Cristo Rey is an impoverished neighbourhood in the hills overlooking Pamplona. Liliana, a Colombian woman, has set up the ‘Dharma Project’ to help local families with their children by feeding them and offering the children a place to come and play when they were not attending school due to Covid. Although schools are now open again, some of the Venezuelan children are not able to attend school for a variety of reasons, such as not having the correct papers to attend. With the help of the OTGI volunteers, the Dharma project continues to run, providing the children a safe space to come and play, do arts and crafts activities and learn English.
Every Sunday since April 2022, OTGI organises a language exchange for locals to practice their English and French through conversation, in a café restaurant of a Venezuelan family that we have been working with for a long time. Depending on how many locals come, there are usually two English tables (for beginners, intermediate and advanced) and one French table. We usually end the language exchange with a fun quiz or playing music.