After the European Union (EU) won the Nobel Peace Prize last December, it selected four projects of the EU’s Children of Peace initiative, including the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), to receive the money. One of the boots-on-the-ground employees of the UN putting those funds to good use is Verónica Vaca-Moreno, a member of W&L’s Class of 2007.
Verónica, who holds a B.A. in psychology, is in charge of external relations and works with donors and fund-raising at the UNHCR’s program unit in Quito, Ecuador. She tells us that her home country, Ecuador, has “the largest refugee population in Latin America, with 55,480 officially recognized refugees and a total of over 160,000 persons in need of international protection. . . . Most of them have escaped from the internal armed conflict in neighboring Colombia.” She often travels to the volatile Columbian border as part of her job.
The official title of Verónica’s project is “Improving Access to Education for Children in Conflict in Colombia and Ecuador." According to the EU press release, the donation will underwrite “access to basic education and child-friendly spaces” for more than 5,000 Columbian children. The EU boosted the Nobel prize of 930,000 euros to 2 million.
You can get a vivid glimpse of Verónica’s work—not to mention her dedication—in her essay about a family that the program is helping. They escaped from their home in Colombia after their father and husband was killed by an illegal armed group. In this excerpt, she focuses on a five-year-old girl, Alejandra:
The mother is the sole parent of seven young children. Luckily, they are not alone. From the moment they arrived, they received humanitarian assistance from UNHCR. First they were given shelter, and once they were able to settle in their own home, they received assistance to obtain household items and food. They have also received support from UNHCR to be able to access the asylum process, health care and education. They still need many things, but at least here they are safe. Here, they are beginning to heal.
As soon as we came into the humble house where the family lives, Alejandra sat right next to me. The whole time we spoke with her mother, she held my hand. When it was time for us to go, she stood by the door, blocking the way with her arms and asking me to stay. At this point, I was trying hard not to cry. Even if my heart is breaking, I don’t feel it’s fair to cry in front of little children who are forced to be much braver than most people ever have to be, just in order to survive.