Before coming to Trinidad, Manuel was a lawyer who ascended the ranks to High Court Judge in Venezuela.
Because of concerns for his safety because of his role as a judge, he was forced to leave. His life and the lives of his family depended on it.
“I came to Trinidad in 2018 with my family- my two children and my wife. We’ve been here for four years and a half. We entered legally, through the Port of Cedros, and stayed.”
Having left everything they owned back in Venezuela, Manuel said he did several odd jobs- anything legal that’d allow him to earn a few dollars to make ends meet for his family.
“We worked in everything- as security guard in Gulf City Mall, fisherman in Icacos, and I sell food until midnight in San Fernando. We find in Trinidad and Tobago, opportunity, we don’t find a gift. We find a safe place for us to stay here.”
Despite the numerous challenges they’ve faced since coming to this country, Manuel said he and his family found guardian angels through the Living Water Community.
He told Loop that the Community is an open door through which migrants and refugees can find solutions to many of the issues they face while trying to navigate life in Trinidad and Tobago.
Being forced to walk away from a 20-year career in the legal realm, Manuel said he is grateful to the Living Water Community for providing an avenue whereby he could still work in the field he loves so much.
“I work in Living Water in the legal department. I am a lawyer in Venezuela. I was working for 15 years as a Judge in the High Court in Venezuela. I escaped from my country for my personal security,” he said. “When I came from Venezuela my life changed 180 degrees. The Living Water Community has provided me with the opportunity to go back to work with the law. It also helped me understand Trinidadian law, especially the immigration process.”
Still faced with challenges of his own, Manuel is passionate about his role as a paralegal in the LWC. Having first-hand knowledge of the struggles refugees and migrants endure, he is happy that he now has the opportunity to help others the way he and his family were helped.
What is the Living Water Community?
The Living Water Community is a Catholic Ecclesial Community founded in 1975.
From its inception, this Community has had at the core of its operation, a group of people dedicated to furthering its cause, as an advocate for the most vulnerable in society.
The LWC is made up of multiple ministries, one of which is the Ministry of Migrants and Refugees.
This Ministry has proven to be a lifeline for refugees who flee their respective countries and journey to Trinidad in search of a better life.
Meet Briceida Coa
Like Manuel, Briceida Coa left everything she owned in Venezuela in search of improved quality of life in Trinidad.
“It wasn’t easy. Sometimes when I think back, I start to cry…in Venezuela we didn’t have food, we didn’t have money, we didn’t have anything. We had family, we had a house but we didn’t have food, education and all that. I don’t plan to go there again because my situation there is not the best one.”
Life is still uncertain, she acknowledges, but she’s grateful for the help she received from the Living Water Community: it’s her home away from home.
Now employed as Reception Support in the Living Water Community, she said she’s grateful for the opportunities the organization has afforded her.
“My dream is to be better than I am,” she said. “I want more. I want to be treated as a person, as a human.”
While she admits there are more opportunities here, Briceida said walking the streets of Trinidad and Tobago isn’t always easy as she has to contend with xenophobia cloaked in sexual harassment.
The Living Water base, she said, is her safe space.
“Living Water is a big part of my life because they opened the door for me and I really think that’s my house. When I came here I couldn’t speak English and it was really difficult to understand so many things.”
Living Water Community, an advocate for inclusion
LWC Protection Associate Rosanny Salazar told Loop that the integration and active participation of migrants with the local community represents an opportunity that promotes inclusion and facilitates the adaptation of both populations.
“Seen from a reciprocal relationship in which locals can give those opportunities for growth to migrants, and migrants at the same time can demonstrate the positive things they are willing to give to the host community. When a migrant is received with acceptance, he/she has the benefit of feeling at home, respected, valued and definitely taken into account to give the best of him or herself,” she said.
This aligns with the core mandate of the UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency.
Mariam Khokhar, Community Based Protection Officer of the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR), said:
The United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR)’s mandate to provide international protection and solutions for asylum-seekers and refugees is underpinned by accountability to the people we serve. This includes the meaningful participation and inclusion of asylum-seekers and refugees to contribute right from the development of programming to its evaluation, as well as empowering forcibly displaced girls, boys, women, and men in their diversity to utilize their capacities to support each other and the host community. It is simple: asylum-seekers and refugees are best placed to share their concerns, explain their priorities, and propose solutions. UNHCR and its partners in Trinidad and Tobago – including LWC – operate through this lens.
Ensuring asylum-seeker and refugee participation and inclusion means helping them regain a sense of well-being and agency after the trauma of forced displacement. It means supporting them to better integrate and contribute to their host country. UNHCR is proud to partner with LWC in empowering asylum-seekers and refugees to give back through community outreach – providing a friendly face to make this new and strange place a bit more welcoming for other forcibly displaced people and to offer support from a place of lived experience.
The Living Water Community is one of UNHCRs implementing partners in Trinidad and Tobago, helping to provide refugees and migrants in situations of vulnerability with that sense of agency.
UNHCR, through the generous support of the European Union Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operation (ECHO), funds this outreach and support programme.
Coordinator of the Ministry at the LWC, Rochelle Nakhid, told Loop that she is a strong believer in acknowledging one’s positionality in terms of power and privilege, for her, it is crucial in terms of understanding how to be accountable to people they serve, and working with marginalised populations in general.
“Having our clients be included in our staff is a super powerful internal accountability mechanism and helps us ensure quality and most importantly beneficial programming. We have also come to greatly appreciate the value of lived experience as being crucial to successful programme design, even more than learned experience, as oftentimes the problem we see is translating theory to practice in real-life situations.Beyond inclusion, it’s most important that the migrants and refugees on our team feel like they belong. We want them to feel seen, to feel included, we want them to know that their voice is meaningful and we care about their well-being. We want them to feel like they have a stake in everything we do, and ownership over our services, and that they have the opportunity to participate in the design of political, social, and cultural structures that we aim to influence and change. Where they may face xenophobia and harassment in the world, once they step within our doors we want them to feel that sense of home, of belonging.”
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