Rubén Diaz was just 27 when he had to uproot his life in Venezuela and start over as a foreigner in Peru. Five years after graduating college and earning his dentist license, he had finally hit his stride running his own dental practice in Apure state, in western Venezuela. It was exactly what he had dreamed of.
But the political and economic crisis in his home country became too much to bear. Like so many others, he tried to make it work. But businesses closed, public services stopped, clients could no longer afford his services, and even basic sustenance became scarce for him and his family.
So in 2018, he migrated to Peru to find economic stability and a way to support his struggling parents and extended family back in Venezuela. His parents, especially, had supported and encouraged him all through his schooling and into his budding career.
“It was quite a difficult process to leave my family, my job and my friends to find myself in a totally new country,” says Rubén, now 30, living in Lima, Peru’s capital.
Rubén is one of more than 5.6 million people who have left Venezuela since 2014. Most, like him, have settled in South America, including more than 1.7 million in Colombia, more than 1 million in Peru, 457,000 in Chile and 431,000 in Ecuador. The migration crisis has been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, which has strained host communities nearly to their breaking point.
Rubén’s experience of landing in a new country could have been much worse. But a World Vision and USAID program providing financial and legal assistance gave him just the support he needed to find his footing in his new home.
All of his career progress as a dentist came to a halt upon arrival in Peru. Even with the correct documentation to enter and live in the country legally, Rubén was unable to secure a job in his field. Before he could, he needed to prove his credentials and go through a re-certification process according to Peru’s standards.
“That I did not have all the legal papers to arrive, practicing and working as a dentist is quite complicated,” Ruben says. “Because at the beginning, you arrive doing whatever work you have to do to be able to sustain your life here, and to be able to help your family in Venezuela.”
At first, the young professional took odd jobs at a gift shop and a hamburger restaurant. He even found work as a dental assistant. But those jobs barely paid the bills, and they just weren’t what he loved and had worked so hard for—to have his own dental clinic.
For a while, he was not able to piece together the legal and credit requirements to attain his dentist license in Peru. But that changed in 2020 when he was scrolling through social media and saw a post from World Vision highlighting opportunities for tuition and legal help for Venezuelan professionals in Peru.
The program is funded by a grant from USAID and is implemented through World Vision’s micro-finance agency, VisionFund (in Peru, it’s called CrediVision). In its first phase, the grant provided financial assistance for Venezuelan immigrants who came with previous certification in the medical field. The financial assistance was free and came with guidance and assistance for the legal and educational aspects of their re-licensing process.
The second phase of the program branched out to people like Rubén in other professions. In addition to the help navigating the licensing process, the program provided loans, or credit which enabled them to pay all the up-front costs of registration, tuition, exams and other fees and requirements. He received a loan of about $450 and will repay it over the 12 months since receiving the loan. The repayment model allows the program to sustain itself and support other professionals in the same way, as long as the need is there.
The experience was fast and smooth, Rubén recounts.
“The process was really quite fast and super comfortable for us because there was no type of obstacle or impediment to be able to do the whole procedure,” he says.
To date, World Vision has helped 94 Venezuelan professionals attain their credentials to practice in Peru. Not only are they able to provide stability for their children and families, but many of the medical professionals were able to help their Peruvian colleagues fight COVID-19 at the height of the pandemic.
In early 2021, Rubén completed his accreditation and was able to start seeing his own patients at a clinic in Lima. After so much time away from patients and his clinic, he says he was nervous with anticipation on his first day as a certified dentist in Peru.
“After two and a half years without doing almost any of this, it is quite exciting,” Rubén says. “I am already feeling quite calm because I can work professionally, and I can achieve both personal goals here and also be able to support my family in Venezuela.”
Rubén credits his parents for supporting him through his education and professional development. And he credits World Vision with providing the second chance he needed to pursue his dream and find the stability he sought when he left Venezuela.
“I have always had the thought of helping my parents, more than anything they were the ones who supported me throughout the process of my career, they were always with me, they never abandoned me,” says Rubén. “I have always believed that as long as you have your key objectives in mind—always have in mind what you want to do—you will always achieve it.”
Story by: Chris Huber, World Vision LAC
Transcription and translation by: Natalie Vargas, WV Peru