‘Just this past month we have taken in 27 babies who were left in the street, newborns who had been left in a box by the side of the road, as if were they yesterday’s trash.” It’s almost impossible to square those words I’m hearing with the sight before me — these innocent, beautiful babies whose cribs are lining the small room.
I am visiting Fundana, a private orphanage that specializes in taking in children who have been abandoned by their mothers because they lack food and most other basic necessities. The babies are abandoned either right after birth, or they are simply dropped off somewhere on the street after the mother realizes she doesn’t have the means to care for her child. Once the children reach the Fundana orphanage, they are usually already on the brink of starvation. Many suffer from drug withdrawal and disease that has been transported between mother and child in the absence of prenatal health care.
It has gotten worse in the past few weeks, Karen, the head counselor, tells me. It used to be that Venezuela’s social services managed the contact between the parents and Fundana, providing offices, in the most destitute areas of Caracas, where the babies could be dropped off safely, but since the latest political crisis erupted just over a month ago, Nicolás Maduro’s government has shuttered those offices, trying to hide the suffering families from the eyes of the world.
”There used to be a facility in Petare where mothers could leave their kids, a kind of halfway house between them and us,” Karen explains, “but after the regime shut it down a few weeks ago, these mothers have nowhere to turn, and that means that these babies end up right on the street. Last week, a member of our team found a one-year-old half-naked outside the subway with nothing else than a ragged old blanket to sit on and a single cookie in a bag, tied to his wrist.”
It is hard, if not impossible, to imagine. These children, 130 of them at the Fundana orphanage alone, have been abandoned not just by their mothers but also by Maduro, by Venezuela, by everything that is good and pure in what we consider civilized society. These mothers have no other recourse. The Venezuelan government does, but time and time again it chooses ideology over humanity.
At Fundana, they are doing the best they can with the resources the socialist government allows, but they lack basic necessities such as medicines, diapers, and formula. They smuggle them in from Miami or buy them on the black market, at huge costs. When I ask the staff at Fundana if they have made public appeals for help, they say that they can’t do that in the national media, as too much of a spotlight on the humanitarian crisis would lead Maduro to shut down Fundana for good, and places like it.
What Fundana does is guerilla-style humanitarian work, while these babies lives’ hang in the balance. I have no doubt that all of these children would be dead were it not for the work done by the women at Fundana, holding them, feeding them, clothing them, every day.
This is the most palpable piece of evidence I have seen of the Venezuelan crisis during my two-week stay in the country, and undoubtedly the most heartbreaking: babies left in the street because their mothers think that, if they do, their children will at least have a shot — a vague hope that someone, somewhere, will have mercy on them. My eyes are drawn to Rosa, a little girl with long, beautiful eyelashes and a few dark curls on top of her little head. I lift her up, and she weighs close to nothing, despite her being almost one year old. When I look at her, I am met by eyes that already have seen far too much of the dark facets of life.
Rosa is ten months old. When she was just a few hours old, her mother dropped her off outside Fundana, never to return. I can’t let go of Rosa. I hold her in my arms while tears stream down my face, and all I want is to take her home and give her a life far away from all of this, to save her from the many trials that await this innocent, beautiful child. It’s a naïve thought, I know that, but after a few weeks here in Venezuela I so desperately need to save one soul, make just one thing right, to create one happy ending to this heartbreaking story of corruption, abuse of power, and an evil regime’s complete and utter indifference to human suffering.
But I can’t save Rosa. I have nothing to offer this country that, against all odds, I have grown to love. When I step outside Fundanas’s doors I feel, for the first time, a genuine hatred toward this regime and anyone who has helped build and sustain it. Tens of thousands of children are left to die under the banner of socialism.
I cry when I leave Rosa, and I am well aware of how impotent and useless those tears are. She is one of many thousands, millions, who are suffering at the hands of the Maduro regime, and it was through her that this crisis became flesh and blood for me. I may not be able to save Rosa, but I can ask you, anyone who reads this, to see what Venezuela has become. Do not look away.
These children are dying, and while politicians and intellectuals around the world still defend the regime and fight those who fight it and what it stands for, I pray that one day the regime’s apologists will have the sense to hang their heads in shame as they see what I have seen: dying children, desperate mothers, and a country robbed of hope and treasure.
We can never say that we didn’t know, because we do. We can never pretend that this didn’t happen, because we were there.
I dedicate these words to Rosa. May the world that failed her repay its moral debts.