Caracas, Venezuela

By Carlos Garcia Rawlins

For a year or so now, we photographers have been illustrating Venezuela’s economic crisis with photos of empty shelves and queues forming outside supermarkets. But now I wanted to do something different.

Jose Rodriguez, 43, poses for a picture at the Mother Teresa of Calcutta eating center in Caracas March 21, 2014. Jose lives on street and he used to work patching up tires. He has eaten at the eating center for over 2 years, because he has no money for nothing. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins

In search of a more intimate perspective on the story, I found out about a eating center in Caracas that has been caring for homeless people for the last 14 years. At first, I wasn’t sure if I’d be able to find it. The only directions I had were: “it’s in San Martin district, under a bridge next to some tyres”.

But even though there was no one on the phone who could help me pinpoint the centre’s exact location, when I arrived in the area a strong smell of vegetable soup wafting from behind a closed door let me know I was on the right track. Sure enough, there it was: The Mother Teresa of Calcutta eating centre.

In a dishevelled back street of central Caracas, under a bridge, the centre houses a number of long, concrete tables and benches. It has faded indigo-blue walls and bears marks from the floods that occur regularly during the rainy season, with just a couple of lightbulbs to complement the faint stream of light from the only window in the place. Willy, the shelter’s resident cat, helps keep the floor clean of scraps.

Everson Rodriguez, 22, eats lunch at the Mother Teresa of Calcutta eating center in Caracas March 19, 2014. Everson  lives on street and he used to work as a construction worker. He has eaten at the eating center for over 6 months, because although he makes some money watching cars on street, all he wins on that, he spent it on drugs. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins

The center’s Venezuelan version of Mother Teresa is Fernanda, a warm and smiling lady, who for over a decade has been carefully preparing soup in a gigantic pot. When someone makes a special donation or the budget stretches far enough, she provides a meat dish. The food is always free, and no questions are asked of the people who come in to eat it.