This family is the face of Venezuela's historic humanitarian crisis.
Luis and Jude Vivas, with their son, Luis Jr.

Editor's note: If you want to help the Vivas family, you can contribute directly to their GoFundMe campaign here. The campaign has been verified by the GoFundMe team, with 100% of the proceeds going toward immediate food, medical and housing needs for the family.

When I connect with Jude and Luis Vivas, the couple is resting inside a tiny motel room in  Cúcuta, Colombia. The width of the room barely holds a small, twin sized bed that is covered in the six backpacks they carried across the Venezuelan border with their young son, Luis Jr.

“We are very tired,” Jude says, translating the words of her husband into English. “Tired of not knowing what is going to happen.”


The Vivas family are part of the estimated four million refugees who have left Venezuela since 1999. A recent poll found 57 percent of citizens say they want to leave but can’t.

Getting across the border was a perilous journey. Jude and Luis faced obstacles every step of the way, including corrupt government officials who demanded thousands in U.S. dollars to process their passports. They couldn’t even carry proper suitcases across the border, which would make them targets for assassination from supporters of Nicolás Maduro’s administration.

While they are some of the “lucky” ones who have made it out of Venezuela safely, their situation is far from resolved as the largest refugee crisis in the Americas continues to unfold under the political unrest first started during the Bolivian Revolution by Hugo Chávez and continuing under Maduro.

“We had held onto a lot of hope for the country,” Jude says. “But nothing happened. Everything became worse and worse. When I became pregnant, everything changed completely.”

For those stuck in Venezuela, there is little that outsiders can do to help. But a retired American military veteran came up with a generous and compassionate plan to help the Vivas family.

Venezuelan migrants wait in line to receive food outside La Divina Pastora shelter in Villa del Rosario, Colombia, in the border with Venezuela, on February 13, 2019. (Photo by LUIS ROBAYO/AFP/Getty Images).

Dan Hall was recently diagnosed with pulmonary fibrosis, a chronic and progressive lung disease. The military veteran was told by his doctor to find new hobbies like chess that would help focus his mind.

Hall decided to start taking Spanish language lessons. He became part of a larger group of around 730 people that was being tutored by Jude and other instructors. As the crisis in Venezuela continued to impact Jude and her family, Dan realized that even the income she received from him and other students was largely going nowhere.

“She was working eight hours a day and making around the equivalent of $25 a month,” Hall said. “Forget paying rent and buying groceries. It was barely enough to afford diapers.”

The problem is the Venezuelan government seizes all funds coming into the country, with an especially critical eye to any funds coming in from America. Jude’s already modest income became virtually non-existent when subjected to massive government taxes and being converted into the Venezuelan bolívar, which has been decimated through inflation.

And if she worked with private citizens to convert her PayPal funds into physical money, they often charged upwards of 60 percent to facilitate the transaction.

That’s when Hall decided to take action. He launched a GoFundMe to help raise funds for the Vivas family to help cover some of their relocation costs, including government fees, transportation, food supplies and temporary housing.

Jude’s language tutoring allows her to work from virtually anywhere she can get an Internet connection and her husband Luis is a trained chef. Their hope is that once they settle into a safe and normal situation in Colombia they will both quickly be able to return to making a living to help provide for their family.

Hall has worked directly with GoFundMe to ensure that all of the funds raised go directly to the Vivas family and are not impacted by the current political crisis in Venezuela. Despite his own health challenges, Hall is also using his own money to fly directly to Bogota in early March to deliver the funds directly to Jude and Luis.

“They are very tight-fisted,” Hall says. “They’ve only asked for $250 to buy a Luis a coat in Bogota, for bus tickets and some food.”

One bright spot in the crisis has been the leading role Colombia has taken to help refugees.

In our conversations, Hall and the Vivas family were quick to express gratitude to the government and people of Colombia. Even though their escape from Venezuela has been treacherous, they say it never could have happened without knowing they would find safe harbor once they crossed the border.

“If there’s a gold medal to a country in 2019 it’s got to go to Colombia,” Hall said.

And in an age when so many countries are ignoring their humanitarian obligations to refugees, Colombia has stood out as a beacon for hope and a shining example of how to do things right in a crisis.

A woman and a baby wait in Cucuta, Colombia, after crossing the Simon Bolivar International bridge from San Antonio de Tachira, in Venezuela, on February 20, 2019. - Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido forged ahead Wednesday with plans to bring US medical and food aid into the country in defiance of the military-backed government, raising fears of possible weekend confrontations. (Photo by Luis ROBAYO / AFP) (Photo by LUIS ROBAYO/Getty Images).

There’s no end in sight to the turmoil in Venezuela but helping one family can shine a spotlight on the corruption and historic humanitarian crisis that is unfolding. There is a way to help.

Speaking to the Vivas family, it’s clear they wish they were not in the position of asking for outside help from strangers. But Jude and Luis are trained professionals, proud of the work they do and eager to get back to work.

But they’re also incredibly grateful for the people who have donated already and hope that their story will end up helping others, along with educating people who don’t really understand why what’s happening in Venezuela is so important.

When I ask Jude how many of their friends and family have been affected by the crisis, she and Luis both laugh before stating flatly that every single one of their friends has been forced to flee the country.

“In three years, literally all of our friends have had to leave the country,” Jude says. “We try to make little jokes with each other about how we showed up all of their ‘goodbye parties’ but there wasn’t anyone left to attend ours.”

Jude says that when she and Luis crossed a bridge into Colombia they were surrounded by entire families seeking refuge.

“Our families are sad but they know this is the best for us,” she said.

When I asked Jude and Luis if they are hopeful that they’ll be able to return to Venezuela sometime soon, they sound doubtful.

“It’s not that we’ve lost our faith in Venezuela, it’s a beautiful place and anyone who has been forced to leave their country knows the feeling of wanting to return and be buried in the place where they were born,” she says. “But they have changed the culture. We don’t want that lifestyle for our son.”

Luis adds that he thinks it will take at least 10 years to put an end to the systemic government corruption that has transformed Venezuela from a country with a soaring economy and culture to one on the brink of collapse. “We need to educate the children and make the laws work,” he says.

Hall says that his primary mission is to help the Vivas family make it out of Venezuela safely and start their new lives in Colombia. He also jokes that he’d like to get his Spanish language group back on schedule. But he says that helping organize this fundraiser, the first time he’s ever done something like this, has changed his views on refugee crises around the world.

“One of the things I’ve learned is how difficult it is to help a refugee. It’s very easy to help an organization but it’s nearly impossible to help an individual refugee or family,” he said. “We can’t help millions but we can help these three.”

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Shopping sustainably is increasingly important given the severity of the climate crisis, but sometimes it's hard to know where to turn. Thankfully, Amazon is making it a little easier to browse thousands of products that have one or more of 19 sustainability certifications that help preserve the natural world.

The online retailer recently announced Climate Pledge Friendly, a program to make it easier for customers to discover and shop for more sustainable products. To determine the sustainability of a product, the program partnered with third-party certifications, including governmental agencies, nonprofits, and independent labs.

With a selection of items spanning grocery, household, fashion, beauty, and personal electronics, you'll be able to shop more sustainably not just for the holiday season, but throughout the year for your essentials, as well.

You can browse all of the Climate Pledge Friendly products here, labeled with an icon and which certification(s) they meet. To get you on your way to shopping more sustainably, we've rounded up eight of our favorite Climate Pledge Friendly-products that will make great gifts all year long.

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Jack Wolfskin Women's North York Coat

Give the gift of warmth and style with this coat, available in a variety of colors. Sustainability is built into all Jack Wolfskin products and each item comes with a code that lets you trace back to its origins and understand how it was made.

Bluesign: Bluesign products are responsibly manufactured by using safer chemicals and fewer resources, including less energy, in production.


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Amazon All-new Echo Dot (4th Gen)

For the tech-obsessed. This Alexa smart speaker, which comes in a sleek, compact design, lets you voice control your entertainment and your smart home as well as connect with others.

Reducing CO2: Products with this certification reduce their carbon footprint year after year. Certified by the Carbon Trust.


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Burt's Bees Family Jammies Matching Holiday Organic Cotton Pajamas

Get into the holiday spirit with these fun matching PJs for the whole family. Perfect for pictures that even Fido can get in on.

Global Organic Textile Standard: This certifies each step of the organic textile supply chain against strict ecological and social standards. Each product with this certification contains 95%-100% organic content.

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Naturistick 5-Pack Lip Balm Gift Set

With 100% natural ingredients that are gentle on ultra-sensitive lips, this gift is a great gift for the whole family.

Compact by Design (Certified by Amazon): Products with this certification are packaged without excess air and water, which reduces the carbon footprint of shipping and packaging.


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Arus Women's GOTS Certified Organic Cotton Hooded Full Length Turkish Bathrobe

For those who love to lounge around, this full-length organic cotton bathrobe is the way to go. Available in five different colors, it has comfortable cuffed sleeves, a hood, pockets, and adjustable belt.

Global Organic Textile Standard: This certifies each step of the organic textile supply chain against strict ecological and social standards. Each product with this certification contains 95%-100% organic content.

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L'Occitane Extra-Gentle Vegetable Based Soap

This luxe soap, made with moisturizing shea butter and scented with verbena, is perfect for the self-care obsessed.

Compact by Design (Certified by Amazon): Products with this certification are packaged without excess air and water, which reduces the carbon footprint of shipping and packaging.

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Goodthreads Men's Sweater-Knit Fleece Long-Sleeve Bomber

For the fashionable men in your life, this fashion-forward knit bomber is an excellent choice. The sweater material keeps it cozy and warm, while the bomber jacket-cut, zip front, and rib-trim neck make it look elevated.

Recycled Claim Standard 100: Products with this certification use materials made from at least 95% recycled content.

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All-new Fire TV Stick with Alexa Voice Remote

Make it even easier to access your favorite movies and shows this holiday season. The new Fire TV Stick lets you use your voice to search across apps. Plus it controls the power and volume on your TV, so you'll never need to leave the couch! Except for snacks.

Reducing CO2: Products with this certification reduce their carbon footprint year after year. Certified by the Carbon Trust.

Of the millions of Americans breathing a sigh of relief with the ushering in of a new president, one man has a particularly personal and professional reason to exhale.

Dr. Anthony Fauci has spent a good portion of his long, respected career preparing for a pandemic, and unfortunately, the worst one in 100 years hit under the worst possible administration. As part of Trump's Coronavirus Task Force, Dr. Fauci did what he could to advise the president and share information with the public, but it's been clear for months that the job was made infinitely more difficult than it should have been by anti-science forces within the administration.

To his credit, Dr. Fauci remained politically neutral through it all this past year, totally in keeping with his consistently non-partisan, apolitical approach to his job. Even when the president badmouthed him, blocked him from testifying before the House, and kept him away from press briefings, Fauci took the high road, always keeping his commentary focused on the virus and refusing to step into the political fray.

But that doesn't mean working under those conditions wasn't occasionally insulting, frequently embarrassing, and endlessly frustrating.

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If the past year has taught us nothing else, it's that sending love out into the world through selfless acts of kindness can have a positive ripple effect on people and communities. People all over the United States seemed to have gotten the message — 71% of those surveyed by the World Giving Index helped a stranger in need in 2020. A nonprofit survey found 90% helped others by running errands, calling, texting and sending care packages. Many people needed a boost last year in one way or another and obliging good neighbors heeded the call over and over again — and continue to make a positive impact through their actions in this new year.

Upworthy and P&G Good Everyday wanted to help keep kindness going strong, so they partnered up to create the Lead with Love Fund. The fund awards do-gooders in communities around the country with grants to help them continue on with their unique missions. Hundreds of nominations came pouring in and five winners were selected based on three criteria: the impact of action, uniqueness, and "Upworthy-ness" of their story.

Here's a look at the five winners:

Edith Ornelas, co-creator of Mariposas Collective in Memphis, Tenn.

Edith Ornelas has a deep-rooted connection to the asylum-seeking immigrant families she brings food and supplies to families in Memphis, Tenn. She was born in Jalisco, Mexico, and immigrated to the United States when she was 7 years old with her parents and sister. Edith grew up in Chicago, then moved to Memphis in 2016, where she quickly realized how few community programs existed for immigrants. Two years later, she helped create Mariposas Collective, which initially aimed to help families who had just been released from detention centers and were seeking asylum. The collective started out small but has since grown to approximately 400 volunteers.