As the humanitarian crisis in Venezuela grows more and more dire, students at Seton Hall have decided to try and take action on their own.
The situation all came to a head following the inauguration of President Nicolás Maduro, following an election who many believed to have been rigged.
Juan Guaidó, a member of the opposition declared Maduro as illegitimate and encouraged further protests meant to topple the regime. Guaidó was then recognized as the legitimate President of Venezuela by Western nations, including the United States.
Although this was not the sole reason, it was one of the most recent moves that further exacerbated a humanitarian and economic crisis which has been on decline for years.
In response to the situation and in order to provide aid to the people still in Venezuela, Santiago Cabrera, a freshman majoring in economics and finance, collected humanitarian aid.
“Our situation is critical back home and we had not had an opportunity of getting help inside in such a magnitude until recently when outside powers started to get more involved,” Cabrera said. “In two weeks the NGO called Voluntarios x Venezuela (Volunteers for Venezuela) with more than 800,000 members.”
Cabrera said he signed up as part of the Venezuelan diaspora and was asked to join.
“I decided to ask for help in the University,” Cabrera said. “The Latino Institute, Adelante, SGA and MLKSA were on-board very quickly and it started to take momentum.
“The event was a supply drive in the living room where we took any supplies they wanted to deliver, but I also took venmos to buy goods. I was part of campaign much bigger that what happened in the University.”
The supply drive sought to collect as many items as possible, including but not limited to, flashlights, canned food, bathroom items and medical supplies.
Cabrera went on to share the inspiration behind his involvement in this drive.
“Back home I was always connected with my community,” he said.
“I worked with several NGOs and with my political party. When I left the country, I wanted to stay connected with Venezuela.”
Cabrera also shared his feelings on the outcome of the drive.
“I said this to SGA, and I repeat it here, it is at the darkest times that you can see the brightest colors,” Cabrera said. “Seton Hall University showed a lot of empathy for our community and rose the event to a success no one expected.”
Cabrera also said that the drive collected 477 items valued at around $800 and praised students and organizations such as freshman diplomacy major Sara Vasquez who collected roughly $200 worth of goods in her church, and the Multicultural Advisory Committee which donated another $200 in supplies
He shared that MLKSA, Adelante, SGA and the Latino Institute’s members donated and helped to buy and deliver supplies, “Especially Stephanie Macias-Arlington, the executive director of the Latino Institute, who helped plan the event, market it, buy the first round and donated a lot of money,” Cabrera said.
Chelsea Dantas, a senior biology major and the SGA Public Relations chair and president of Adelante, commented on the drive.
“I think this drive is one of the most impactful things Seton Hall has done since I have been here,” Dantas said. “I say this because Venezuela is in a very horrible situation as a country, I mean it has been for years, but now it has gotten progressively worse. No provisions, no resources, no funds. No one has been able to reach Venezuela and if this food drive successfully gets into the country we will be changing the lives of many.”
Dantas went on to say that the University should absolutely continue with initiatives like this one. “Last year a bunch of Latino organizations and other student organizations held a drive for Puerto Rico after hurricane Maria,” Dantas said. “I think these initiatives support the catholic mission unconditionally and should continue.”
“I have nothing but gratefulness for Seton Hall’s Community right now,” Cabrera said.
Robin Cunningham, the Dean of Freshman Studies and Special Academic Programs, commented on Cabrera’s efforts.
“I think what he did was amazing especially in such little time,” Cunningham said. “I was skeptical of what kind of response Santiago would get with such a quick turnaround. It is a testament to his passion and the generosity of the campus community that he was able to raise so much awareness and receive so many donations.”
Cunningham also shared the following as an encouraging message to students who hope to undertake similar initiatives.
“I would say to follow in Santiago’s footsteps and don’t just talk about doing things – actually do them,” Cunningham said. “Sometimes we spend so much time thinking about things we get stuck in our own thoughts. What matters is being action oriented and actually doing things to get results!”
“I am optimistic, despite Maduro’s regime efforts, we have for the first time ever a solid opportunity, supported by our constitution and the international community to recover Democracy,” Cabrera said regarding the situation in Venezuela. “It is no[t] easy, but we have a chance bigger than ever before.”
Cabrera recalled how the situation affected him directly.
“It all started with a random power cut every once in a while, then water cuts,” he said. “Then, I could not leave my house after 8 p.m. After the stories of those starving came closer and closer to me.”
He went on to say that the names of people who appeared in the news as dead, imprisoned or exiled became ones he could recognize.
“They were the names of friends, coworkers, family, or people I just met once,” Cabrera said. “I have been shot at with rubber bullets, repressed with tear gas and occasionally with real guns when we protested. Even my cousin, who is basically a brother to me, got shot in the head. Now, I live outside of my country, self-exiled. They took a lot of things away from me, but my drive for peace has only augmented.”
Rhania Kamel can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.