Hostility towards outsiders is often a reaction to fear. El Libro Viajero (the Traveling Book) is an initiative launched in Colombia in 2020 to combat the negative impacts of xenophobia on Venezuelan migrants.
According to the latest data, 7.1 million Venezuelans are scattered around the world due to political and economic unrest. Xenophobia has become a growing concern in most places where they end up. This concern is what inspired El Libro Viajero – a campaign for human rights and dignity, which seeks to educate about the experience of Venezuelan migrants in order to create more welcoming and inclusive communities. The stories included in El Libro Viajero convey the unmatched courage, resilience and hope for a better future of migrant and refugee children, and humanize the difficulties they have faced.
“I migrated after seeing the situation in which we were living in Venezuela. Now that I’m here I have fought day and night for a better future for my daughter and my family,” wrote Benibetza Labarra in a letter written in El Libro Viajero. Like Benibetza Labarra, hundreds of migrants have an opportunity to share their stories in the form of letters and drawings that are full of hope for the future. This opportunity to narrate their experiences serve as a way to share migrants’ stories, while highlighting the barriers they encounter in these new places, including xenophobia and discrimination.
The book also shows the kindness and empathy of the Colombian people, who have warmly opened their arms to newcomers, through letters in which Colombians widely express their solidarity with those who had no choice but to move and adapt to a new country and culture.
A second edition of the book was published in December of 2020 containing 21 handwritten letters from Venezuelan migrants, 8 letters of response from Colombian welcomers, and 9 examples of back-and-forth correspondence between Venezuelan migrants and Colombian community members. The book contains beautiful illustrations throughout. The “virtual” book acts as a living diary of migrant experiences and is under constant reconstruction as new entries are made. El Libro Viajero also collects migrant narratives for their podcast available on Spotify.
The Libro Viajero initiative was led by El Derecho a No Obedecer, a project of Corporación Otraparte with support from Fundación PLAN in Colombia, Education Cannot Wait (the UN’s global fund for education) and the humanitarian assistance from the government of Germany.
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This tactic serves to humanize the migrant experience. Many places on the receiving end of increased global migration must work to create safe and welcoming environments for migrants. The impact of initiatives like El Libro Viajero is also seen within resettlement communities, as cross collaboration and cultural exchange help to eliminate stereotypes and promote inclusion.