PORT OF SPAIN, Trinidad – Wendy Marcelle Fitzwilliam, a Trinidadian lawyer, said she often feels the desperation of the migrants who move to Trinidad and Tobago to run away from the economic and political crisis in Venezuela.
"If you don't address your migrant population in a healthy way and be inclusive, you force people, who otherwise would not be, to become criminals, because you have to find a way to survive," said Fitzwilliam, Miss Universe 1998.
Fitzwilliam, 46, said she volunteers at a soup kitchen once a week. She said most of the people in need are Venezuelan and the nonprofit sector is stepping up where the government isn't.
The United Nations estimates that about 40,000 of the 4 million Venezuelan refugees who have left their homes are in Trinidad and Tobago.
At Cooking Vibes in Port of Spain's Woodbrook bar district, the workers are Venezuelans. Karen Lopez said she moved to Trinidad and Tobago about a year ago, and she misses her family. She said she sends them money regularly.
"I want to go home but I can't, and they have to get a visa to come to Trinidad," Lopez said. "They are waiting to come."
Lopez is documented because Trinidad and Tobago offered Venezuelan migrants amnesty in May. Registering for the amnesty helps refugees access health care and education. There are charities running schools for Spanish-speaking students.
Is There Not a Cause? is one of the nongovernmental organizations based out of Port of Spain that are helping Venezuelan refugees in need. It also runs a program against domestic violence, which Fitzwilliam said is also affecting Venezuelan women.
Alison Hope, a former school teacher, works in its educational program, The Learning Space, for about 100 children, from toddlers to teenagers. Since English is the main language used in Trinidad and Tobago, the group has lessons for Spanish-speaking children.
"I don't see yet a crisis, but it can become that if we don't address it effectively," Fitzwilliam said.