This woman fed and housed 10,000 Venezuelan migrants in her home

This Catholic mother and her family have made it their mission to serve migrants in need.

Carmen runs a hostel in El Juncal, a small town in Ibambura, Ecuador. Over the past four years, she has become the “mother” of many Venezuelans who decide to leave their country and cross Colombia in search of a land that will welcome them and offer them better living conditions.

Carmen Carcelén, or Carmela, or Candela, as she is called, earns her living as a fruit and vegetable seller in Ipiales, in the border region with Colombia. She decided some time ago, with her husband, to welcome migrants. She provides them with free food and accommodation so that they can eat, bathe and rest before continuing their journey. One, two, two dozen, hundreds … now they have helped around 10,000 people.

An example for their children

It does not benefit from any state aid or corporate sponsorship. She does it because she wants to help these people.

She believes that her example is the best thing she can do for the education of her children. She is eight, the oldest is 30 and the youngest 12. Six of them are biologically hers and two were adopted because Carmen and her husband took care of them when their respective mothers passed away.

Carmen does not have a hired cook. She does everything herself with the help of her children. Some serve meals to migrants, while others chat and listen to them. His guests are usually only passing through for a day, but for them it is a vital moment of help– so much so that UNHCR noticed his work and tweeted about it two years ago.

“We’re a great team,” she says of her family. “I don’t have a cook, nor a laundress, so they even take it upon themselves to take them to the doctor, if someone arrives injured, or to find him clothes, shoes … If I go, I know I have nothing to fear. I take my hat off to what they do, ”she said.

Support from the Jesuit service and UNHCR

At first some neighbors helped him with things like food, clothes and shoes, but gradually they stopped doing it for lack of resources.

Last year, with the arrival of the pandemic, everything got even more difficult. She explains in the newspaper “El PaísThat Jesuit service helped her find 70% of the food she needed, while UNHCR provided her with hygiene and cleaning kits for migrants.

Carmen managed to feed up to 500 people in a single day and up to 138 migrants slept in his shelter at the same time overnight. A bed, clean sheets, water for washing, the safety of sleeping under a roof… All of this is greatly appreciated by migrants.

Catholic mother

Carmen and her family are Catholic. She talks about her faith as she works in the fruit and vegetable sales, she sings in the church choir and she gives a deep religious meaning to all of her actions in her El Juncal refuge.

She lives the works of mercy: dressing the naked, feeding the hungry, giving drink to the thirsty…. She explains to the migrants that the Virgin Mary and Saint Joseph were also migrants, who could not find accommodation in Bethlehem.

Nine clear rules of behavior in your hostel

Carmen says she never judges anyone who arrives at Casa de Acogida. She only gives them 9 rules of behavior so that everyone gets along, which are written on a poster visible to all:

  • Greet each other
  • Respect each other
  • Don’t take other people’s things
  • Do not drink alcohol
  • Do not smoke inside the house
  • Do not use or carry any firearms or sharp weapons
  • Keep areas clean (“even if you haven’t done a mess, you can still help clean up and lead by example,” the poster says)
  • Respect the separation between men and women in the dormitories
  • Be grateful

Her four years of experience helps Carmen to persevere in this task and to see how her life has meaning for her, for her children, for those she serves and for God.

Often, migrants do not know which direction to take next or what their legal status is in Ecuador or in other countries they would like to reach, such as neighboring Peru or Chile. Thanks to Carmen’s relationship with UNHCR, this organization goes to the El Juncal shelter and informs them of the steps they can take from there.

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