For 21 years, Mayerlín Vergara Pérez has protected children from sexual exploitation through her work at ECPAT Colombia, Fundación Renacer. The organisation has supported more than 22.000 child victims since its founding 32 years ago. We are incredibly proud of Mayerlín’s work in helping hundreds of these children, and today we’re happy to congratulate her to the prestigious UNHCR Nansen Refugee Award.
The annual Nansen Refugee Award honours those who have gone to extraordinary lengths to support forcibly displaced and stateless people. And throughout the years, Mayerlín has rescued children from street corners, brothels and bars where they have been forced into sexual exploitation. The children under Mayerlín’s care have gone through almost unimaginable trauma. Their recovery process is a long and tumultuous one.
“The pain is so profound, and the emotional void they feel is so deep that they simply don’t want to live.”
“Seeing beyond the aggressivity to the pain in their expressions, seeing their souls, all that hurt, I think that was what made me connect with them and want to be a part of their rehabilitation process.”
In 2018, Fundación Renacer’s team identified hundreds of children who were being sexually exploited close to the Venezuelan border. At least half were refugees and migrants from Venezuela — some of whom had made the journey to Colombia with their families, others alone, some had been trafficked by criminal networks. Recently, Mayerlín volunteered to spearhead the opening of a new residential home in La Guajira, a north-eastern border region of Colombia. The area has seen a spike in child sexual exploitation among refugees and migrants fleeing the ongoing political and economic crisis in neighbouring Venezuela, but thanks to the work of Mayerlín, this new home could provide a safe and therapeutic space to 75 children. Some as young as seven years old.
“I remember my boss saying that opening a home required ‘a 200 per cent effort. It’s draining in every sense – physically, emotionally and economically. Then she asked, ‘who wants to lead the project?’ and I raised my hand.”
Congratulations, Mayerlín! ❤️