Maura Keary ’22
Sophomore Daniel Santos home country, Venezuela, is currently experiencing one of the worst humanitarian crises in the Western Hemisphere’s history. For the past five years, the country has been facing extremely harsh economic, social, and political conditions. To address this, Santos and his team of eight have been working on a project that they named “Yakera,” meaning “gratitude” in Warao, an indigenous language in Venezuela. Yakera is a crowdfunding platform developed by Santos and his team, created to provide financial support to Venezuelans in need. With Yakera, those affected by the crisis in Venezuela can have access to funds from donations and philanthropy abroad.
In January, a close friend of Santos’ in Venezuela contacted him with the idea of Yakera, and the project expanded from there. Santos relayed that he “saw the problem that your typical platform, like GoFundMe, has very high barriers to entry… you need a U.S. address, U.S. bank account. Most Venezuelans who are in extreme need don’t have those things,” and that “there are currency exchange controls in Venezuela, so you can also not freely exchange Venezuelan currency into U.S. dollars, which makes everything even more difficult.”
The issues that Venezuelans are facing today are very close to home for Santos. He explained that, since around 2014, Venezuela has been undergoing an extreme crisis marked by hyperinflation and the current highest inflation rate in the world. The scarcity of products compounds that problem as people cannot find basic goods. If they are available, the goods will be sold at an extremely high cost, so most people cannot access them. This, in addition to high crime rates and violent police forces, has created social and political violence in many communities. Santos said that five million Venezuelans have fled the country, an immense number considering its prior population of 32 million residents. Santos explained that the tragedies afflicting the country “[carry] heavy in our hearts, and we wanted to do something about it.”
Santos and the team plan to carry out a Yakera launch phase in December 2020, before initiating the full project. Speaking on the project’s goals, Santos explained how, “We wanted to do a pilot project in December in a specific community in Caracas, the capital city. We are going to work with 14 campaigns in a small community and the idea is to work with them and evaluate the impact of the platform on that community.” They will use these results to showcase what they can do in the future. To establish funds for the pilot project, the group is trying to raise $7,500. After about 10 days, $2,240 has already been collected.
Santos explained that, prior to the pandemic, the group intended to travel to Venezuela for the launch phase. He explained the “original idea for the pilot project was to raise funds to go to Venezuela, engage with the community and then launch the pilot on site. We have a local partner and NGO in Caracas that promotes community organizing in the country. We were working with them and we were going to help them. But because of this [COVID-19], it is impossible to travel there. So, we are going to work remotely with our partners, and they are going to do pretty much all of the logistical work.”
Given the current pandemic, countries like Venezuela are in need more than ever. When asked about how COVID-19 has altered his platform, Santos mentioned, “we started planning this before the pandemic hit; we just wanted to help the situation in Venezuela, but this whole thing has changed dramatically. Humanitarian need has become even more dramatic because of it and when the dust settles, the places the pandemic hit the hardest will be the places that were struggling the most already. So, for those willing to help address this crisis and the pandemic around the world, I think this is a good alley.”
Santos relayed that the end goal for Yakera “is for our platform to gain traction to the point that it is just like GoFundMe… so people can just come onto our website and use it.”