HAVANA TIMES – Katia was my best friend in Venezuela. She was at least 20 years younger than me, but she wasn’t one of those “kids” you waste time with if you sit and talk to her… well… sometimes yeah, but it’s nice to feel like you’re “losing time” sometimes too.
When she was 16 or 17 years old, she left her home in Yaracuy and left for Caracas in search of a better life. She worked in a thousand different jobs, she rented out thousands of apartments, she made many friends… and she studied. She paid her studies at a university that was a bit cheaper than the UCV and when I met her, she was in the last few semesters of her Social Communications degree.
Two years ago, when I went to Caracas and we sat down to talk, her eyes lit up as she told me about her new job at the Venezuelan News Agency (AVN). She had worked as a journalist at other places but forming part of AVN was the best thing that had happened to her at her young 25 years and she didn’t even have to talk about politics as she was taken on to work in the Culture section.
I don’t want to leave, she told me, things are really bad but it’s not that bad for Carlos (her boyfriend) and I, we’re working in things we both like.
Katia has been in Belgium for the past six months.
Yesterday, Alejandro visited us. He came with his 7-year-old daughter. It was a bad time because the electricity had just come back on and we didn’t know when they would cut it out again… or rather, we suspected they would cut it soon; so we were thinking about all the things we had to do instead of being present in the conversation.
Alejandro isn’t more than 30 years old. Like in many Venezuelan families, his mother was both his mother and father to him and his siblings. He didn’t have the means to study what he wanted, even though he has more than enough talents.
Two years ago, he finally had the opportunity to enroll in the University of Arts. Alejandro is trying to study Filmmaking. He is really trying, but even though he thought the first year had been the worst because of teachers being absent, the school being far away and problems getting study materials; this second year is really worrying him.
The university has been moved to a different place, it’s a lot more accessible for most students now; but transport is becoming more and more scarce, just like cash is to pay for it. If teachers were missing from the classroom in the first year, now they show little interest… those who are still there.
On top of that, with all of these blackouts… he can’t even communicate with his classmates to work on group projects. Chaos, he says lowering his head, but he is still refusing to let his dream slip through his fingers for the second time.
Alejandro’s daughter’s mother left for to Colombia to work. So he has to teach his “kid” how to read and write. And why’s that? Because she doesn’t go to school? we asked astonished because we didn’t know that he wasn’t taking the girl to school.
Calm down, he told us, she is going to school, a new teacher came in this week; she’s an Evangelical Christian but anyway…
Ever since November, his daughter’s class hasn’t had a teacher. They are leaving the country… or they are no longer teaching. Not all teachers teach out of vocation, many studied education because the union in Venezuela got them a lot of financial benefits.
There have been stories of teachers spending more time taking “medical leave” than working, and those who were really teaching were substitute teachers who weren’t even getting minimum wage, much less any benefits.
But, that’s old news now because Maduro has done away with any benefit that teachers and other workers might have had. The result has been that Alejandro’s daughter won’t know where to place Venezuela on a map at this rate. I’m exaggerating, of course, because he and his family are making sure they teach her, but what about the rest?
The second part of this story is a small detail: the evangelical teacher. The religion of these teachers isn’t the problem. The problem is that evangelical teachers are confusing education with evangelization more and more, every day. That is to say, they are putting religious teachings above secular education.
Do you understand where this is heading?… Well, I’m being very positive still… Where it has headed? People with talent, with a thirst for knowledge and a willingness to learn, have left or are planning to leave Venezuela. Education is becoming more and more Pyrrhic, it’s ending up in the hands of the poorest (culturally-speaking), most conservative and fanatical religious groups. Fanaticism has already been encouraged in a political sense over all these years of “Revolution”.
The stars on Venezuela’s flag might disappear in the future, giving way to a bible and a hammer and sickle.