UNHCR – Young Peruvians and Venezuelans unite in campaign for social change

Young Venezuelans and Peruvians who participate in the “Chamas en Acción” program pose with two of Quinta Ola’s founders, Beatriz Cordova and Gianina Marquez (second and third from left, front row). © UNHCR/Sebastian Castaneda

Pau* was 11 years old when she and her mother left her native Venezuela for the grueling overland journey to Peru. For Pau, the transition was difficult. In his new school in the Peruvian capital of Lima, he is the victim of a lot of bullying and falls into a deep depression. Things got so bad that the pre-teen decided to adopt a Peruvian accent to avoid attracting more attention.

“I canceled [lo] which is very painful, destroys my identity,” recalls Pau, now 15 years old.

But in 2021, her mother learns about an organization called Quinta Ola that works to empower young Peruvian women and Venezuelan refugees and migrants from the same demographic. He recorded Pau in one of the group’s virtual programs during the COVID-19 pandemic. Online sessions for young Venezuelan women covered topics such as sexism, xenophobia, gender-based violence and youth activism, giving them the confidence and tools to engage in campaigns for social change and even design their own initiatives. Other sessions brought together Venezuelan and Peruvian girls, promoting cross-cultural friendship.

“I feel like a much more confident person.”

“Fifth Wave gave me the opportunity to know my rights, to know what I deserve as a human being,” Pau said, adding that the program, known as “Chamas en Acción” (Girls in Action), has given him back a lot of your former trust. “I feel like a much more secure person, but I still have to keep working on my self-esteem because it’s something that was destroyed with the whole immigration thing going.”

The program also allowed her to bond with Peruvian girls her own age.

“I see [a Quinta Ola] as part of my family, to all the girls, [como] sisters,” Pau said, adding that his friendship with a 16-year-old Peruvian girl named Suai was particularly rewarding.

Suyai noted that the sessions were also eye-opening.

“I was able to connect with Venezuelan girls … because they, like me, were interested in feminism, empowerment and activism,” Suyai said. “So that was super important, knowing that we had something in common to be able to connect.”

  • The Venezuelan Pau and the Peruvian Suai built a solid friendship thanks to their participation in the program

    The Venezuelan Pau and the Peruvian Suyay built a solid friendship thanks to their participation in the “Chamas en Acción” program. © UNHCR/Sebastian Castaneda

  • Maria, a Venezuelan girl who participated in the program

    Maria, a girl from Venezuela who participates in the “Chamas en Acción” program, is homeschooled in Lima, Peru. © UNHCR/Sebastian Castaneda

  • Young Venezuelans and Peruvians during a workshop organized by Quinta Ola.

    Young Venezuelans and Peruvians during a workshop organized by Quinta Ola. © UNHCR/Sebastian Castaneda

Founded in 2017 by three Peruvian women in their early 30s, Quinta Ola, whose name refers to successive stages of the feminist movement, teaches women and girls political empowerment through workshops, community organizing and activism. It also includes lessons designed to help participants identify the kinds of social change they want to advocate for.

The seed of the organization was planted one day when the three friends, Beatriz Cordova Aquino, Gianina Marquez Olivera and Karina Nunes Paz, were discussing gender-based violence and came to the horrifying conclusion that it affected almost all the women they knew.

“At that point, a flame was lit or activated within us,” Giannina said, adding that they wanted to find a way to break the cycle of violence by giving young women a voice in their own families and ultimately a seat at the tables of power.

First, they created a group inspired by GirlGov, a pioneering empowerment program in Pennsylvania, USA, and operated without funding for the first year. But Quinta Ola’s work with Peruvian girls gave them prestige and attracted financial support, allowing them to expand their program to include refugees and migrants.

Last June, Quinta Ola was one of seven women-led organizations to win the UNHCR Innovation Award (which this year was awarded financial support from the United States, through the Safe From Start program), for its work focused on empowering Venezuelan girls.

With more than 1.32 million Venezuelans registered in Peru, the country hosts the world’s second largest population of Venezuelan refugees and migrants, most of whom, like Pau’s family, have settled in and around Lima. Although the Peruvian government works to legalize the Venezuelan population, many people report facing discrimination.

“Venezuelan adolescents are triple discriminated against: because they are adolescents, women and migrants,” explained Carina, one of the founders of Quinta Ola. “[Para ellas] the situation is even more critical because they also have limited support networks and resources for social mobilization.”

Participants in the Fifth Wave program “Chamas in Action” identified the fight against xenophobia as one of their main priorities. The girls created a survey to collect data on the discrimination faced by the Venezuelan population in Peru and used its results to develop public policy recommendations aimed at curbing xenophobia, which they sent to regional governments in Peru. They also formed working groups to address the hypersexualization of Venezuelan women and girls and discrimination in access to education.

Maria*, 14, a Venezuelan Chamas en Acción participant who also struggled to adjust to her new life in Lima, admitted that the program not only gave her the inner strength to move forward, but also showed her the way to achieve lasting change.

“I was able to learn a lot about society, about the world, and also a lot about myself,” he said, adding that “activism in my life became fundamental and very important. And honestly, I don’t know what would happen to me today if I wasn’t an activist.

*Fifth Wave participants requested that only their first names be used.

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