In recent years, the dense Darién jungle (located between Colombia and Panama), has been the cruel journey of thousands of people, who for many reasons have had to leave their countries in search for a better life for their families.

Every migrant has a story and a reason behind wanting to reach the United States, regardless of the risks and dangers. Their desperation and longing to survive is greater.

An Inspiring Story

Deybi Espinoza is a 32-year-old Venezuelan husband and father of three children. His story is full of sacrifice and trauma after crossing the wild jungle of Darién, his first major obstacle to overcome.

“When you’ve lived through a crisis like we did in Venezuela, it is worth every effort and sacrifice to get to the United States”, Deybi tells us laughing and intertwining his hands while he reminisces.

Deybi is from Aragua, Venezuela, and arrived in New York in November 2022 with his wife Carolina Escobar, 31 years old, and their three children Joel (16), Yerbis (10) and David (7). There, they lived in a shelter for four months.

 “I first arrived with my wife and kids in New York, where we faced difficulties because I didn’t have a work permit. My wife’s brother suggested I come to Chicago because there were more job opportunities here. It wasn’t easy here either, but many in New Life Centers quickly supported us. One of those people was Matt DeMateo, CEO of New Life Centers in La Villita and Freddy Fret,” Deybi says.

Deybi was recently invited to speak about his experience at Northern Illinois University (NIU), to more than 15 students from this prestigious university, through a Q&A session. For ninety minutes, Deiby responded to questions about the difficult and inhumane journey he went through to reach the United States, as well as the socioeconomic situation in Venezuela.

The purpose of this forum was for students to hear directly from a Venezuelan migrant about the risks involved, the adaptation to a new culture and the work New Life Centers does to bring hope to thousands of migrants who have arrived to Chicago since 2022. As Deybi looks back, he remembers that the most difficult part of crossing “El Darien Jungle” was the physical exhaustion, lack of access to food for kids, sleeping on the ground and difficulties moving in a swampy terrain.  “One of the nights in the Darién, the rain began to fall, and the level of the river rose, we were all tired. We were almost taken by the current,” says Deiby.

“It never crossed my mind to come to the United States.” Deybi admits it was not part of his plans to come to the USA, but he was forced to leave Venezuela due to the crisis it has been immersed in for more than a decade.

“Things in the country were difficult every day; there was no work, no food and the streets were more and more unsafe. Additionally, I thought about the lack of educational opportunities my children had.” adds Deybi with a shaky voice.

Although Deybi’s story is like other migrants’, he has very important priorities for him and his family. “Being here has been challenging. I’ve had to get used to a new culture and work hard to provide an education for my children, and more importantly, create a healthy home for my children,” he tells us with a hopeful smile.

“I have felt very welcome here. I obviously miss some things about my country, my traditions, the food and some family members. But it’s comforting to know we have opportunities for a better future for our children and to evolve and continue growing. In Venezuela it is impossible to obtain that,” Deybi tells students with a longing face.

 New Life Centers and Deybi’s dreams

Since Deybi arrived in Chicago, he quickly connected with the vision and work of New Life Centers. At the end of 2023, New Life Centers made efforts to help unify two of his children.  “I am very grateful to New Life Centers for all the support they have given my family. From the moment we contacted their leaders, we felt very safe to approach them, and everything they have done for my family means a lot,” says Deybi.

In April, Deybi and his wife were hired by New Life Centers as part of the New Vecinos team and are committed to supporting other new compatriots who are arriving and have also left the country to fulfill their goals and dreams.  “I feel very happy to be part of this great family of God and we hope to help other brothers the same way they have supported us. Today I feel that my dreams of having a decent job are beginning to come true,” Deiby tells us with a face full of hope.

Students give their opinion

For Dr. Nancy Dominguez, professor at Northern Illinois University-NIU, and host of this Q&A session with the students, the activity represents a valuable opportunity to share positive points of view with future professionals. “We want these students to put in practice the oral interview techniques and become aware about the situations new neighbors have faced to get to Chicago. In addition, it is a good opportunity for the students to learn about New Life Centers (NLC) and what they have been doing to support these vulnerable families”, said Dr. Nancy Dominguez.

About New Vecinos program

This New Vecinos program began in May 2023 in order to respond to the immigration crisis that Chicago is facing. We partner with Catholic Charities and the State of Illinois, to help newly arrived families get settled in apartments and help furnish their homes. We are serving newly arrived migrant families at the “landing zone”, where they can get help reuniting with their relatives in other cities or be placed in a shelter. We also support them by connecting them with other programs, such as food delivery in our food distribution centers and help connect them to community resources.