When Felimar Figueroa calls family at home in Venezuela, the conversations are often unbearable and repetitive.
Her mother’s diabetes is poorly controlled due to lack of proper medication. The family is hungry because grocery store shelves are empty. They fear for their safety, whether inside their home or walking through Cumana, the small beach town where Figueroa was born and raised.
Venezuela, once the wealthiest country in Latin America, experienced economic collapse after a string of complex events that started a decade ago when then-President Hugo Chavez fixed the country’s exchange rate. When oil prices collapsed in 2014, Venezuela, which relies heavily on imported goods, had little money to buy necessities. The fiscal shock led to political and social unrest.
“The situation in my country is worse and worse every day,” said Figueroa, 48, a Montreal-based export process team leader for Domtar’s logistics team. “There is violence and killing. People are being kidnapped. There is no food or medicine. People are desperate and dying. I cry for my family and about the situation.”
But Figueroa is on a mission to help the people in Venezuela, through Amie La Fondation Des Immigrants (which translates from French as “Friend Foundation of Immigrants”), which she founded a year ago.
Tell us about the Venezuela you know.
I was born and raised in Venezuela and lived there for 33 years along the northern shore of the country. I had a good life and earned my diploma in law. I practiced law for 11 years. Most of my work was for the Venezuelan government. The country was safe and I was happy there. But as the country became less secure, I thought about leaving the country for another where I could have more opportunities. I fell in love with my best friend and we married 17 years ago and then moved to Canada. We have a son who is 12.
How did you find your way to Montreal, Quebec?
I wanted to have more opportunity in life. I wanted to live in a first-world country with human rights, peace and where things could be easier. Montreal was interesting to me because it is a multicultural city that supports immigrants. But it is very cold. I figured if it doesn’t work I could go back to my country, but I fell in love with Montreal.
How long have you been employed at Domtar?
My law diploma does not apply here in Canada [so] I went to school and earned a degree in logistics and transportation in 2005. In 2007, five years after I came to Montreal, I applied to work at Domtar as a shipping clerk. Now I am a team lead in logistics. I am so happy and grateful for all of the opportunities the company gives to me as an employee. It is beautiful to work for a company that cares about their employees and people in need.
We are working together to raise money and get donations from anonymous Canadian organizations. We use the money we raise to buy food, basic medicine like Tylenol, and school supplies. We don’t send money because even if you have money, there is nothing for the people to buy. We hire a carrier to deliver boxes, but we don’t send full trucks because that would draw too much attention from the government. We send a few boxes at a time, and those supplies get distributed by international NGOs [non-governmental organizations].
How much has Amie La Fondation Des Immigrants raised?
We have raised more than $20,000 since last April. Last fall, after explaining what my organization is doing to help in the country, I made a request to my employer to help support our mission. I didn’t have any expectations, but 24 hours later, we received a donation for the fondation. I cried with happiness. The generosity really touched my heart.
How do you hope to make a difference?
My parents taught me to always help other people, and I believe I came to this life to help others. That’s what we’re seeking to do with Amie La Fondation Des Immigrants. But it’s not always the big things. Even if I can make some food or give someone a hug, a smile or a hello, the little things can help give joy to people. I just want to touch the heart of somebody in need.