The life of displaced Venezuelan youth, as seen through their own eyes

A photography workshop by National Geographic and UNHCR brings purpose and fun to temporary shelters in northern Brazil

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A Venezuelan family at Nova Canaã shelter in Boa Vista, northern Brazil. (UNHCR/Genesis Andreira Lemus Guacaroin)

Leaving Venezuela was not a choice for thousands of young Venezuelans — hunger, lack of medicine, political persecution and the urgency to support their at-risk families drove them away from their home and forced them to put their future on hold.

More than four million Venezuelans have left the country to date — the biggest mass displacement since the Syria war — and 168,000 of them have found a new home in Brazil.

The journey to Brazil was challenging and now, living in temporary shelters in the northern state of Roraima, opportunities to take a breath from a demanding reality are scarce. But for five days in February, 21 young Venezuelans had a chance to put on their photographer hat, learn how to capture the stories of their community and share their dignity, resilience and hope with the world.

All participants of the photography workshop, organized by National Geographic in February with the support of UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, were Venezuelan students living in shelters. Some had never held a photo camera in their hands; others, like Santiago Briceño, had always dreamed of becoming professional photographers.

For Santiago José, 17, learning from professional photographers was a dream come true. “I have wanted to become a photographer since I was 10 years old,” he says. “Above all, I enjoyed meeting new people who are in the same situation I am in. These five days I felt very happy.”

Before leaving Venezuela, Genesis Lemus, 19, promised her mother that she would keep fighting for a better future for the family. “I have expectations and goals I want to achieve,” she says. “Despite the obstacles I have faced, I persevere.”

In one of her photos (above) Genesis perfectly captures the transitory experience of the forcibly displaced: they are here, but not fully — they left so much behind and yet they will soon move on in their brave search for safety and opportunity. Meanwhile, they are in danger of becoming invisible, drowned by the dehumanizing numbers of global mass displacement. But in this picture Genesis holds their essence — their hopeful spirits on the run.

Captured in sunsets and naps, hanging clothes and children’s eyes, there’s a common thread in the lenses of the young Venezuelan photographers featured in this gallery — the unwavering faith that, tomorrow, the sun will shine again.

“I learned not to treat people like objects, but instead to make them comfortable when you are interviewing them.“

– Santiago José Briceño

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Venezuelan families relax inside their housing unit at Rondon shelter in Boa Vista, Brazil (left). Shoes outside a tent at Santa Tereza shelter in Boa Vista (right). (UNHCR/Edinsson Javier Diaz Alcalá)

“Everything started at 18, when I had my daughter. I have dedicated a big part of my life to her and I want to give her a better future and quality of life.”

– Edinsson Javier Díaz

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A feather stuck on the sand at Rio Branco beach in Boa Vista, Brazil. (UNHCR/Adrian Rafael Caraballo Pérez)
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A young woman too shy to look at the camera at Nova Canaã shelter in Boa Vista, Brazil. (UNHCR/Genesis Andreina Lemus Guacaran)

“When taking these pictures I gave my best and I wanted to show Venezuelans’ joy.”

– Genesis Andreina Lemus

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A girl poses on the sand by the Branco river in Boa Vista state (left). LGBTI Venezuelan in Boa Vista city. (UNHCR/Michel Alejandra Mago Ramos)

“My goal is for women to be seen as what we are: entrepreneurs and able to do anything.”

– Michel Alejandra Mago

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Clothes hang in a house at Rondon 2 shelter in Boa Vista, northen Brazil. (UNHCR/Adrian Rafael Caraballo Pérez)
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People sleep outside the tents at Santa Tereza shelter in Boa Vista, northern Brazil. (UNHCR/Carlos Adrián Figueredo)

“There’s Venezuelans who, despite the situation we are in, we have moved forward. Our determination, work and dedication should also be recognized.”

– Carlos Adrián Figueredo

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A woman bathes a child in a sink at São Vicente shelter in Boa Vista, northern Brazil. (UNHCR/Adrian Antonio Marinez Danields)

“In my pictures I try to capture people’s joy, positive moments. I try to make the world smile through a photo.”

Adrian Antonio Marinez

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Left: Indigenous handicraft at Pintolândia shelter, Boa Vista. (UNHCR/Santiago Jose Briceño Espinoza). Right: Venezuelan refugee poses at Pintolândia shelter, Boa Vista. (UNHCR/Marco Antonio Rizalez Lopez)

“In my photos I always look for something that is not on sale or that you can buy. I try to capture moments that communicate a feeling, diversity.”

– Genangely Piñero

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Fish cooks in a skillet at Pintolândia shelter, Boa Vista. (UNHCR/Genangely Alejandra Piñero Colmenares)
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Children and a woman poses inside a tent at Jardim Floresta shelter in Boa Vista, Brazil. (UNHCR/Elidennys Arian Marques Rivera)

“My last memory of Venezuela was witnessing my children and everyone being hungry. That’s why I decided to come to Brazil.”

– Elidennys Marques

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Left: A kite flies in the sky over UNHCR’s temporary shelter in Boa Vista, northern Brazil. Right: Close-up of a child’s eyes at a temporary shelter in Boa Vista. (UNHCR/Yunaikis Nazareth Gonzalez Triana)

“Like many, I left my country with a heavy heart and tears in my eyes during the journey. I left all behind only thinking that the future will be better, with the dream of being able to continue my studies.”

– Yunaikis Gonzalez

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A girl rides a bicycle at Rondon Shelter at sunset in Boa Vista, Brazil. (Genangely Alejandra Piñero Colmenares)

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