Sukhois over Petare

(A shortened version of this post was published in Foreign Policy’s Democracy Labs blog)

The view

“I’m glad you’re here,” says Carmen. “I don’t know if you know this, but a few weeks ago, the guy who delivers the school lunches witnessed four people getting gunned down at seven in the morning – right here, just as the kids were coming to class. Now he doesn’t want to come anymore. He’s afraid he’s next.”

Welcome to Escuela Ebel Pastor Oropeza, a municipal school for special-needs children in the heart of Petare, Caracas’ biggest, meanest slum.

Carmen, one of the teachers at the school, matter-of-factly recites these grievances to the authorities accompanying me, while at the same time giving us a slice of birthday cake for another teacher. Life and death, it’s all in a day’s work here, she says.

——-

I’m visiting the school with the people from the Sucre city hall, part of the greater Caracas municipal government. Sucre is in charge of Escuela Oropeza, along with fifty other schools in highly vulnerable areas.

This is my first time in Petare’s hills. You drive up through an impossibly-sloped hill, surrounded by brick houses, garbage, motorcycles, and people – people everywhere. The higher you go, the narrower the street gets. The feeling of claustrophobia and fear is hard to shake, even more so when we realize … we are lost.

Indeed

My friends from the Sucre municipality wanted to take me to another school, but in the cerro’s winding streets, we lose our way. No problem – a National Guard informs us that Escuela Oropeza is right up the hill, and Lucio, Sucre’s Education Secretary, tells me we should go there instead. “Es una de las nuestras.”

Escuela Oropeza treats at-risk children from the entire barrio. Kids with hyper-activity, Asperger’s, ADD, and various learning disabilities find a sanctuary from the chaos of the shantytown in the school’s tidy, narrow classrooms.

The teachers at the school are modern Venezuelan heroes – it’s simple as that. Faced with impossible circumstances and few resources, they provide a caring and safe environment for their kids, to the best of their abilities.

I ask them where they live. One of them lives in Guatire, east of Caracas, an hour or two commute each way. Another lives in the 23 de Enero, in the other side of town. The one with the shortest – but possibly most hazardous -commute lives fifty meters below, in the barrio. She takes the stairs to come to work every day.

Ginza and Yosemi

I ask Yosemi, the sixth-grade teacher, if her kids are on Ritalin. She looks at me as if I was from another planet. The school doesn’t have running water. They haven’t had an onsite psychologist in months. She tells me the more severe cases have been evaluated, but they never get the results back. You can’t treat what is not diagnosed, she says.

She does what she can to help them, but the problems are overwhelming: physical and sexual abuse, self-esteem issues, and abandonment are par for the course. A twelve-year old recently knocked on their door to enroll on his own initiative. His junkie mom had never bothered enrolling him, he was illiterate and had heard this was a school for kids like him.

I poke my head into the fifth-grade classroom. I ask the kids to guess where I’m from. When they hear I’m from Maracaibo – Venezuela’s second-largest city – I ask them if they know what state it’s in.

None of them know. I am later told most of them are barely learning to read and write.

Susana and a student (face blocked because of LOPNA)

I ask Susana, the fourth-grade teacher, about textbooks. She says the mayor’s office gave them textbooks last year, but this year they gave them half of the amount. The Mayor’s Education Secretary, on tour with me, makes a note, and talks about how the national government has cut the opposition municipality’s budget. He promises to do what he can.

The school teaches basic job skills such as electricity, woodwork, sewing, and cooking. I ask Suleima, the cooking teacher, about some of her success stories. She tells me, with obvious pride, about a couple of her students who recently got stable jobs. One works at a bakery, the other at Domino’s Pizza.

I ask her for a picture, and she says no. First, she says, I need to put on my uniform.

All over the school, you see signs about basic values: companionship; respect; responsibility; work ethic. One sign reminds kids that your job is only important if you do it well. In the kitchen, another reminds them that the table is where a person’s true culture reveals itself, and that they should treat the dinner table with respect.

Public schools are voting centers in Venezuela. When there is an election, the military takes over the school for a few days before, and a few days after.

Maydelin, another of the teachers, tells me that after the last election, they came to work to find that somebody had stolen the entire computer lab. They have yet to raise the money to replace it.

——

Maydelin

I have a hard time hearing her. Directly above us, eight recently-purchased Sukhoi war planes are practicing for a military parade.

We wonder, in silence, how much the parade is going to cost.

102 thoughts on “Sukhois over Petare

  1. juan i hear you!! and can’t help remembering that ten years ago i had the privilege to travel to bhutan, a tiny kingdom sandwiched between tibet and india. i joined with a north american group, to go trekking up to the masang gang in the tibetan border. bhutan i would be considered by all standards an underdeveloped third world country, with only 2 highways crossing it like hairlines, where most people still travel by foot or horse. i saw/felt happiness everywhere, no poverty.
    as we trekked mountains passes up and down for 15 days, we passed many villages far away from any civilization.. the schools where impecable, painted, inmaculate, some villages were so tiny ( 100 p.) that they only had one teacher alone for all the kids, but everyone in uniform, surrounded by calendulas, and those beautiful mountains….
    many took classes under a tree, or next to a river. my north american companions could not believe that the schools were not only free, but bilingual (in dzongka and english)… in a tiny country who’s only income comes from selling it’s hidroelectric power from the rivers that come down from the himalayas, to giant india. and the income from the 7.000 tourist allowed quota per year…. only a very beloved king educated in oxford who has introduced the concept of measuring his country in gross national happiness, and worries that every citizen experiences it. …and no sukhois.
    http://www.aboveclouds.com/blog/bhutan-gross-national-happiness/lp

    check out a patio school in bhutan… morning prayers.

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      • and pary tell me in this lifetime where is there not a lip side to everything? otherwise it would truly be shangri-la. but it’s as close as it gets…

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    • Buthan with no doubts seems like a very nice and beautiful place.

      I think the reality as a visitor might be really different from the one of those living there. Buthan receives millions in foreign aid, many of it goes to schools, skipping government altogether. Buthanese “monarchs” are trying to portrait buthan as a “poor but happy” place. Literacy rates are about 50%.

      Visitors have to pay the buthanese government around $200 per day per person.

      I am very skeptical about this.

      I have a friend who visited N. Korea and they went in these crazy, government run, tours to show you how amazing and how incredible the country is.

      Anyway. OT.

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      • there’s always a dark side to any place in this planet. the sun shines alike on the beautiful flowers on the hillsides, than on dog s___ on the street. but that does not take away from what i experienced walking, trekking thru the villages, visiting the cities and that country for a month.

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        • lavici,

          Don’t get me wrong. I would love to trek around Buthan as well. Being a mountaineer myself, I would certainly love to. I am sure it is a very spiritual experience and there are arguments to have Buthan preserved the way it is. I am just skeptical of the benevolence of its monarch. That’s all. In particular, because many people overseas see Chavez also as a benevolent, a worthy of admiration guy fighting the establishment. I have done everything I could to break that image with numbers and facts.

          Venezuela is a terribly happy place too in spite of all its shortcomings. I friggin love Caracas with its traffic and crime rates. There is nothing like seeing the Avila or seeing both la guaira and the city from its summit. My gf (who is from the US) just visited and loved it here. As many other foreign friends that have visited. Kidnappings and internal issues didn’t take away from them their drums in choroni or hikes up the avila experiences. Unless you suffer from them, that’s all.

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          • rodrigo i may understand your skepticism but, believe me! people in bhutan love their king and his father even more so… they really really love them. because this king and father before him love their people. they are buddhists and live their speitritual practises, in a word. they walk their talk. the people see up to him. this young king was raised to be king, he had to be governor in trongsa, bhutan’s oldest district when he was 18 and after a year he had to go thru a referendum by the people of trongsa, voting on his leadership capabilities. educated in bhutan, massachusets and oxford, he is a a young king who just married a beautiful commoner, pema, the daughter of a shoemaker. this is only wikipedia but it’s fast and simple: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jigme_Khesar_Namgyel_Wangchuck
            i know it’s hard to believe but it’s true…

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  2. Good post. Perhaps as extra reference:
    Venezuela was last year the 8th most important weapon importing country on Earth. No other Latin American country imported so many weapons. 2.33 billion dollars…mostly now part of our debt to Russia. Syria is not as good a weapon buyer as Venezuela and we have seen how interested Russia is in preserving Assad’s regime.

    Ref: http://www.armstrade.org/includes/periodics/mainnews/2011/1226/085010933/detail.shtml (do google tools)

    One thing I have mentioned is whether expats couldn’t look for alternatives to help those schools with material.

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    • Kepler,

      Personally I have always thought it is a crying shame that books are so expensive and hard to get in Venezuela, so much so that I regularly buy used ones off Amazon.com and send them to friends and family via Education post boxes.

      I have often thought that a good way to get people involved in doing something for the children would be to start book drives, and get people to donate their old books to schools.Corporations could even do the same and get tax benefits…Churches might be a good place to start a drive.

      It is a shame that we don’t have more books in Spanish here in the US because the access we have to used and ultra cheap books is phenomenal…With clothes, I know there are people buying up Salvation Army’s leftovers and sending them to poor places in Peru…or other countries…but never hear this being done with books i am sure because of the language.

      Those interested could set up a charity drive.I found this tax info on Venezuela on the internet:

      “NPOs receive significant incentives and fiscal benefits in Venezuela. Foundations and associations may qualify for exemption from paying income tax under Article 14(3) and (10) of the Law on Income Tax (LISR). The LISR and its regulations set forth the requirements for qualifying and registering for the exemption, which is granted by the Tax Administration.

      Certain foundations and associations are also eligible for exemption from paying taxes on inheritance and donations.

      Corporations and individuals may deduct certain contributions to foundations and associations pursuing publicly beneficial purposes.

      The churches should really encourage people to help out.This is a serious problem in Venezuela.

      Although associations and foundations are not exempt from VAT per se, some services and transfers of certain goods are exempt.”

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      • Firepiggette/Coche de Fuego:
        For years I sent boxes of books to a friend in Argentina who is an English teacher, nearly all of them bought for $1 at a very good used book store. About 5 years ago, she told me to stop sending them, because the Argentine government had started charging import duties. On books purchased for $1.

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        • Boludo Tejano,

          Yeah….I think that happens a lot in Venezuela as well(if the packages arrive at all).I have been lucky because I send them through special university post office boxes ….

          Money is also hard to send.Sometimes I would like to send a little extra to some aunts in San Juan de los Morros, but can’t because I have to wait for somebody to find the time to help with the transactions….More and more the poor people are becoming isolated from the outside world and the kind of sharing that should be everybody’s right.

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  3. i just couldn’t help feeling admiration for a country with the bhutanese happiness concept for all the population, but specially for it’s children. and at the same time so saddened for ours living. in a country with as many beautiful landscapes, and twenty times more natural resources than that tiny kingdom. the difference? obviously it’s leaders: one’s love for it’s people and the other in love with power and himself.

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    • Sure it starts with the leaders, but I believe it is more than that. Venezuelans are losing the
      “good parts” of their culture -in fact I would say the culture of Venezuela if there is or was such a thing has been destroyed for the most part…Venezuelans are supposed to become
      what -Cubans?

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  4. I completely agree with Rodrigo’s comment. Please make and spanish version so that we can share with non-english speaking people. This article really touched me. Thanks for sharing.

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  5. this tweet from @correoguaire on sukhois came to mind:
    “@correoguaire los abione sucoi son rrruso i sobre buela caraca i las intrusione biene en rrruso i entonse e arrecho ce piloto deso” (lol)

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  6. yes juan, please translate. the teachers are wonderful, they are doing a great effort, maybe something like kepler suggests can be thru embassies or the expat community?
    i hope and paray that all children in venezuela’s schools someday will be free to play without danger, be loved by their parents, and smile like these:

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    • Embassies? Forget about it. These guys really would go to anything in order to sabotage any work that may be associated with the opposition or that cannot be sold as propaganda for Chávez. The tradition is long. It was actually the same as Lenin did in 1921 when Russia was going through a horrible famine…he wouldn’t let in US American help until the very last minute because they would “push their ideological goals”. The same will be with this even if we are Venezuelans (but then we are “del Imperio”, as Chávez says).

      The government tried to sabotage in several ways the PISA programme carried out in Miranda, even going to such thing as pressurizing the Banco de Desarrollo Andino to
      pull back their offer to pay for the fees (Miranda couldn’t find the dollars initially).

      We need to set up proper mechanisms. There are a couple of organisations abroad, non-profit expat groups, but I don’t know who is best active now and how they can coordinate that with Miranda, Sucre, etc.

      Chavismo will always try to sabotage things and embassies are now just a branch of what Hugo and his military caste wants.

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  7. JC,

    Great article. This must be one of theb est you have ever written in this blog and I have been reading CCS Chronicles for a long time… maybe a couple months after it started.

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  8. Outstanding. You should enroll in a journalism school – too much to TEACH your fellow students.

    And next time in a school like that, bring Katy with you

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    • Oh, what I would have given for her to have seen what I saw, particularly since her work deals with early childhood education.

      The experience shook me to the core, as is probably evident.

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  9. Juan, I very much liked this longer version and photos. And, I agree with Linares et al. Please translate and post where appropriate. A question that came to mind: When was the school established?

    As for the suggestion that the expat community contribute to the material deficiencies in the school .. would it not be more economical and efficient for that initiative to be announced, by the Mayor’s office, to businesses, in Venezuela, among them, those that have computer equipment about to be replaced?

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    • He mencionado eso a los responsables en Miranda y se han enrollado. Por un lado ya tienen contactos con las empresas, pero estas no ayudan lo que deberían. Por otro lado, aun no tocan las puertas de los expats…creo que sencillamente no creen que los expats puedan colaborar así…no es común entre los venezolanos…las asociaciones que se hacen son todas a título personal, en torno a una figura o un grupo de amigos (conozco una organización sin fines de lucro en Montreal, otra en Bruselas).
      Le decía a unos amigos que es más fácil coordinar ayuda para Senegal que para Venezuela (y tengo amigos alemanes que tienen un proyecto en Senegal).

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      • Tengo unos amigos de planificacion urbana que he hicieron un estudio del impacto de los expats en sus comunidades de origen para sus tesis de doctorado super interesante. El hecho de que no se aprovechen los expats, o de que no existan los canales de contribucion es lamentable ya que se demosntro que el impacto en sus comunidades de origen despues de 20 anhos fue increible.

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        • Grosso modo mi impresión es que hay buenas intenciones pero
          1) cada uno lo quiere hacer por su lado, es arrechísimamente difícil conseguir que dos venezolanos colaboran si uno no es jefe del otro y
          2) falta continuación. Las organizaciones que conocí eran mantenidas por un grupo reducido que al final lo hacía en horas que arrancaban de la noche y cuando ya no podían, otros no continuaban.

          Como decía aquel tipo del chiste venezolano de la orgía: coño, vamos a organizarnos!

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          • I think there is also a big fear that the resources won’t get there because they’ll disappear at some point, and there is no organization to look after it and focus the resources collected to that particular school.
            Could we do something about it from here? Privately?
            I mean, being outside is very easy to send money transfers through pay pal and things like that, and then a group in Venezuela could volunteer to take the equipment over? Am I being naive?

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            • That is what we have done- just sent directly to the schools. Via some teachers who happen
              to be relatives and friends.

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        • Hola Rodrigo,
          no sé a cuales expats te refieres, cuando mencionas el estudio por tus amigos de planificación urbana, de yo sé qué universidad. Ese detalle de los expats es importante, cuando se usa para hacer la compativa con los expats venezolanos — un fenómeno relativamente reciente.

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            • rodrigo,
              los dominicanos en USA tienen una muy larga trayectoria como inmigrantes, caso muy distinto a los venezolanos, cuya migración ha sido relativamente reciente. Por ende, las comparativas entre grupos nacionales no se puede hacer. Resultan demasiadas y distintas variables entre países. Y por esa misma lógica, tal como te has dado cuenta, no se puede comparar la experiencia de una viajera, en tour por las escuelitas en Bhutan, con un caso remotamente similar en Venezuela.

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            • Syd,

              I am not arguing any of that. My only point is that there is potential to capture additional resources through expats for local communities. Perhaps not now, but down the line for sure, as we Venezuelans get that trajectory you are talking about.

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    • La escuela la construyo Enrique Mendoza en el 92, cuando era alcalde.

      En cuanto a como ayudar, si quieren le damos. La gente de la Alcaldia de Sucre lee el blog.

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  10. Great article. Those teachers are brave, good people. Education, or lack thereof, is a the root of all problems in Vzla. The next government should focus on that, plus la inseguridad, as top priorities. Countries with much less natural resources like Colombia, Chile, Costa Rica or Switzerland are doing very well because they are well educated.

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  11. JC, I see you met Federico (Alcaldía de Sucre), great guy, a good friend, and a perfect example of the new breed of funcionario publico, this guy has top notch education and very good intentions, I really hope he goes far.

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    • Yup. Federico set this up. One of the great things about the blog – he’s a reader, and I probably wouldn’t have met him, and the others, and some of you, if it wasn’t for CC.

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    • …and yet, their teachers are the most inspiring kind of people. They give me hope and make me think not eveything is lost.

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  12. Federico here. I’m glad the visit resulted in this great article and motivated you guys to help out the school!
    I think one easy way to organize a donation would be to set up a PayPal (maybe Juan could do it?) to receive donations.
    With that money we could directly buy whatever is needed (perhaps the computers, we can check with Lucio the Education Secretary) or make a donation to Fundasucre (http://www.alcaldiamunicipiosucre.gov.ve/contenido/fundaciones/fundasucre/), who would then buy the goods for the school.
    I’m on the board of Fundasucre, so I could guarantee transparency!

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  13. I’d like to know what the security arrangements are at the school, moreover, after the last military intervention, when the school was used as a voting center, and as a consequence of this exposure, the older computer equipment was stolen. I’d like to make sure that stolen goods is minimized, in future.

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  14. Federico,

    I am worried you mentioned computers first thing.
    Perhaps there is indeed a very important need for computers there for some very specific case and I am wrong, but perhaps you should consider this. By the way: I have been to schools poor and rich and I have relatives and friends working in some of them in poor and not so poor areas in different parts of Venezuela. My mum was a school teacher in a poor area.

    This is how I see it.

    The school has no running water. I wonder in what condition teachers and pupils can go to the loo there. How are the tanks working? I am a man and I know in worst case scenario I have less problem going to pee than a woman. Most teachers there are women and they don’t live just next to the place.
    Can toilets be somehow improved even if still they have to depend on the mafia guy with the water tank, as I assume they do like in so many places in poor Venezuela?

    The children have half of the books. Even if they had “all of the books”, I seriously doubt they have all the books they should have before they or someone else uses a computer (less the computer is for registering material, for which you can use a laptop).

    I create software. I am programming all the time. But the first thing I do is to use pen and paper and think about a problem and draw things and look at them. When I went to university I found out I had to spend a lot of time with that pen and paper. We had all the computers we needed (Germany), but first things came first: we needed to solve the problem without the gadget
    and we needed learning material of quality (admittedly, it could be in computers but I wonder if that will be the real use of those computers).

    I know how much attention teachers have been taught in Venezuela to pay to “comprar un paquete de papel blanco, uno azul, una tijera de puntas romas, 5 blue folders, etc”. I hope that is not the case there, that they buy stuff to produce fun, educating stuff, but always with the target of learning things, not becoming the best scissors users and gluers of the Earth. Because that is what I have seen in many schools.

    So the money should be spent to create the best environment to learn and let children feel they are VIPs with responsibilities. Children in Venezuela, specially in those schools, spend too much time cutting forms and glueing figures against paper. And we underestimate their intelligence and what they can learn.

    They need books. They need lots of books. They need more books than the ones Venezuelan schools use.

    They should be able to experiene the possibility of actually borrowing an exciting fiction or science book and being responsible for it for 2, 3 weeks. Books will be a challenge in Venezuela: they are more expensive even in real terms than in Norway, unlike whisky, which is cheaper than in Scotland. Books specified by the Ministry are mostly crap, but there is nothing against children having a library with other books as well.

    They need notebooks. They shouldn’t be able to pay a penny for those notebooks but they should be able to prove they are not reselling them.

    They need maps, beautiful, fascinating maps of Venezuela, of the American continent, of the rest of the world. Next time Juan Cristóbal goes there they should be able to show him where Maracaibo is and another pupil should be able to tell people how Venezuela was settled and another where Venezuela has unique animals not found anywhere else and where water is becoming polluted.

    Yeah, they can be shown maps in laptops, but my advice is: really try to do it without such a device, such a gadget first. They would get distracted, if at all they get to use them.
    I know that’s a trend now everywhere: learning with your little computer in front of you. If they can’t focus first, they shouldn’t be doing it. People were learning very technical stuff without computers and these children don’t even read.

    Are there other ways in which that little school can become more dignified to give the pupils and teachers the feeling they are very important people doing very serious, fun job?

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    • Well said Mr. Kepler. Computers should be way, way down the list of needs.

      Security, running water, writing supplies, books — would be where I would start.

      Promethean Boards can wait. :)

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    • With “‘notebooks” I meant paper, not laptops.

      I want little María Rodríguez to go home after school with two nice borrowed books about the world and about fairy tales and know that when she comes back, she will be able to use a decent WC with water and everything is clean.

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    • Bravo, Kepler. Agree on all points. Also with HalfEmpty’s summary of needs. I would add sanitation,checks for good health, including hearing and eyesight.

      Regarding paper notebooks, pencils, crayons, ‘sacapuntas’, erasers, large visual aids such as maps, plus in-print books for children and YA (young adults) … a collection drive could easily be created, in Venezuela, through notice postings in churches, bookstores and ‘papelerías’.

      Regarding in-print books … If one goes on amazon.es, which is the main international site for all spanish-language information on amazon products, and looks for “infantil y juvenil”, and selects “tapa dura” and “castellano”) one finds the following, with few categories for books “de 2a mano”: http://tinyurl.com/7wf6eao . That’s a shame on the few used-book options. For I have often bought (technical) books through this mechanism on amazon, finding great savings (though not on shipping) on books in practically perfect condition.

      In addition, one finds on amazon.es that the books in print, in spanish, are either shipped from Spain, sometimes from US (warehousing) associates of amazon. Clearly, shipping to Venezuela would be less, if the origin was the US.

      Perhaps a designated Miami drop-box service could be used to forward the books to Venezuela. (Might Venamcham and others be approached so that they can contribute their courier service for this purpose?) Another way would be if every reader of this blog, who goes to Venezuela, could buy a book, then connect with Federico to deposit their contribution with his office.

      Here’s the amazon.com (US) site for Children’s Books with “paperback” and “Spanish” selected: http://tinyurl.com/7owty3c. The pricing options are a little more complicated.

      Once the books have piled up, Federico should contact the asociación de bibliotecarios y archivistas, ask for ‘un auxiliar’, and take that person to the Escuela Ebel Pastor Oropeza. There, the auxiliar can give a little talk about the proposed library, to staff, children and parents. If children and parents get involved in the set-up plans, and have an ownership interest in the planning stages, they will be more likely to use and respect the outcome: a small lending library.

      Those are my thoughts for now.

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      • I agree.
        Now I must say that I fear if we get too ambitious at this point, we’ll end up not doing anything. There are many things that could be done, let’s try to start with the most realistic.
        First, ask the teachers what their needs are. Pick a couple and concentrate our efforts on those. If it works, we’ll move up. In any case, that’s how I see it personally.
        Shall we start a mailing list of some sort to fine tune details?

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          • Fine, but make it more sustainable: a couple of books won’t hurt, a beautiful map would do marvels. Carolina, how do we organise it? Money flowing to an account there and you send it via PayPal to Venezuela or how?

            As I said: I would not put computers in the top 20 of the list.

            Syd, thanks for the tips. I will see with contacts in Spain. Or is Colombia perhaps a better option?

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            • intention is everything. simple things go a long way. maybe simple things that will not be pilfered or robbed, or damaged and will entertain the kids.
              same way i counted the bhutanese villages i was going to pass on my way to the tibetan border and bought so many inflatable earth globes, for each of the schools, which served not only to show the kids where on that globe they were located, but to show them at least where i came from and photos of venezuela mi patria querida + my family´s and carried all of them half way around the planet. my bhutanese guide’s phoilosophy was : “bring something all the kids will enjoy, not only a gift for some, because that will create envy amongst the one’s that don’t get anything” so let me know what you decide and that’s feasible for the one’s living in venezuela too.

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            • Kep: How ironic for Venezuelans to approach Colombians for help. Then again, wasn’t it Bolívar who said, and I paraphrase: Colombia es el país de poetas, Venezuela es el cuartel.

              As for amazon, it seems that it ships to Colombia, but not Venezuela (qué tal?) http://www.amazon.com/International-Shipping-Direct/b?ie=UTF8&node=230659011 . Insofar as economies are concerned, one must keep in mind the origin of the shipment. If the books are available in the US, as well as in Spain, it would make more sense to ship books from the US to Colombia. (Or better yet, the books could be shipped from the US to that Miami drop-box that forwards documents and parcels for not a few businesses in Venezuela.)

              I wonder, too, if outside of the Amazon stream, there are publishing houses in Colombia that produce books for children. It would be nice to know, and to establish links with ‘el hermano país’.

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            • Syd,
              It is not so much that Colombia is so great in education, but Venezuela has been in an abysmal state. I remember when in Venezuela I used to check out where each book I found was published. The books in Spanish were mainly from Spain, Argentina and Colombia. Venezuela’s got an overvalued currency.

              As for books coming from the US or Spain: I suppose we would have to check out that. Some of the books I was perusing in the US in Spanish while on visit there were pretty expensive, but perhaps that was just because they were published in Europe (but then the US books were usually a bit cheaper than books in Europe, of course)

              Now Monteávila Editores in Venezuela prefers to publish books about bloody anarcho-comunist Propotkin and Marx and others by self-styled “writer” Brito García.

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        • “First, ask the teachers what their needs are.”_This is what we did.
          Supplies for art, math instruction, arts and crafts, coloring books,
          simple stuff for some elementary teachers to use and pass out
          to students. (We got boxes of it free here in US and carried /shipped to VZ
          and we added some things we purchased..)

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          • Not bragging,.but we donated containers of stuff to Haiti-some full of
            building materials, etc.-but I felt weird sending stuff to Vz. because I knew
            Chavez had blown so muchmoney on weapons that do no good for the poor or anyone really-and was so disgusted about
            that -and yet we knew/know there is much need there.

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            • It’s always good to help out even in a small way but the bigger issues are far more important to tackle otherwise the small stuff won’t make a dent:

              1.find a way to fix the corrupt mailing system
              2.lower the prices of educational materials
              3 Fight corruption
              4. encourage the Churches, the wealthy and the middle class to develop organized
              charities….
              5 establish good lending libraries.
              6.Lower the crime rate so that children and teachers can concentrate on their work and studies
              7. get Venezuela out of the isolation in which it is trapped making an exchange with the outer world on all levels so difficult
              8.establish programs to teach people how to work in groups
              9. create a budget for free school books
              10 the most important in order to do all of the above:
              ******get rid of Chavez to be able to do all of the above*******

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        • You’re right, Carolina. Best to start simple and small. When I suggested those goals and other contributors, I was thinking of a 1-3 year timeline for implementing them, not just in Escuela Ebel Pastor Oropeza, and not just among ourselves.

          Perhaps we will soon hear from Federico who’ll be able to connect with the teachers and ask them what they need.

          P.S. Some other simple stuff: un antiguo scapuntas de mesa (nada de perolitos de plástico que no duran), lápices de colores.

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    • There are always ways to stretch the budget and prevent misuse: Notebooks need not be back-breaking expensive. Since I was at freedom to do it (university!) I bought a good 3-ring binder which can be had cheaper than most notebooks (even a hard-backed one that closes with a zipper, is waterproof and holds pencils or rulers) and a ream or two of perforated paper. Voila! Never had to spend another penny on notebooks, I could write reports, do exams and give away paper to a classmate without a regret. I had a notebook for 7 subjects at a time, and archiving previous notes is a cinch. A ream of perforated paper is also cheap, lasts years, to the point it begins to yellow.

      Just thinking of practical solutions you find around…

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  15. On a related subject, I don’t know if you’re aware of last year’s underground smash hit video, “Petare, barrio de Pakistán”. It was shot on location and features indie hip hopper, “El Prieto”. The visual result is very good, and might give you an insight to some of the streets in Petare.

    Cheers

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  16. This is a beautiful article that contrasts so clearly what´s so good in our people with what is so wrong with our governments, the last being a function of the price of oil, the higher the worse. Well done!

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  17. Wonderful article, Juan. I wish I were there with you guys. I would love to go around the slums of Petare and see what can be done to help the situation.

    Kudos to you and to Ocariz and his team.

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  18. Inspiring article Juan. I agree with Syd’s earlier post regarding the security of the computer lab. I imagine there are businesses willing to donate equipment, but only with certain assurances of security. No one wants to donate something only to then have it stolen. This discussion involves only one school. Rest assured there are hundreds of schools with similar predicaments all over Venezuela. One should start somewhere, though.

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  19. “This is my first time in Petare’s hills. You drive up through an impossibly-sloped hill, surrounded by brick houses, garbage, motorcycles, and people – people everywhere. The higher you go, the narrower the street gets. The feeling of claustrophobia and fear is hard to shake, even more so when we realize … we are lost.”

    Good article, as of late, and i’m hoping to hear more about mana mana, I mean Para Para. Glad you’re getting to know how the other “half” lives.

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  20. Sarcasm: Clearly, those teachers and students would probably just take cash and run to wasteful, drunken lives, so let’s be glad that the government is spending the oil money on assets like fighter jets, instead of distributing it…

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  21. thanks for another great article which really stirs up alot emotion in me. my response is pretty long so if you dont want to read or post it, i understand.
    the issue is like the notorios question, which is first, the chicken or the egg? I have been up in petarie numerous times, i know many people who live there, I know teachers who teach there and have walked up and down the steps to the houses on the hillside many times.
    I have also been to zona 70 en el valle, 23 de enero, catia, and the list goes on. I have worked with the residents in those areas to build clinics, schools, drug rehab centers and community feeding centers. Having lived in caracas for 20 years and being in all of the marginal zones I have learned some things that will affect your donations and the school in petarie.

    first, in venezuela you cant just give a donacion and assume the person in charge is going to administrate it properly. as extranjeros that is difficult for us because we tend to be more trusting. i dont know the teachers in the school you mentioned so I cannot nor would i speak personally against them. i am sure they are dedicated doing their best.

    for my experience I found that instead of donating food, material, computers, etc there must be a responsible adult onsite who will oversee that donation and understands the value and work involved from the donor to give it to the school. the children in these areas have nothing and have not learned the value or need to appreciate and care for what they have recieved, therefore without a responsible adult onsite the donation will be destroyed or stolen and they will be asking you to fix it or give them a new one. Involved in social works I am just giving you my experience and opinion. Where do the children learn this attitude? from the adults. If you donate 100 bags of food or 10 computers who will be the first to recieve them? the family of the director in charge of distribuition. Its their “right”.
    This includes government representative also so assuming that a government entity will administer it correctly is an error.

    I have come to the conclusion that this will not change with a new government, or new directors and teachers. There is an inherent “right” among the venezuelan pueblo that does not change with leadership at this point. i dont get involved in politics but know enough that each party helps those who helps them. if you are not on the street passing out flyers etc or dont have un primo close to the candidate your need and petition will go unanswered.

    having tried to help the homeless children in caracas before the current government i went to the presidents office, governors office, mayors office, sentors office, and on down the line. I explained i want to help the children on the street, dont give me money just give me a house or building to use and i will raise the funds. Everyone smiled and told me how great the project was and that their secretary would call, you know how that turned out.

    then came the current government, “if we have children on the street in 6 years I’ll change my name” etc talking with this government a recurring theme kept coming up. ‘WHATS IN IT FOR ME?

    I have a casa hogar?orphanage non profit, started by me and I tell them, you dont see children from my country on the street here, they are YOUR children, your responsibility, help me help your children, Y para mi?, is their answer but when they come to see our project they have no pena to ask US for donations.

    I guess I am moving in the wrong circles becuase i am overwhelmed at the generous responses by the posts above. I have asked many owners of companies to help us, give a donation but it is always the same response. So what do I do? I started with no venezuelan help and do what we can. we currently have 40 children and when we finish the houses we will have 80 children with parents in each house. we are committed to raise them, educate them and give them a college education.
    we sell pigs, chickens, produce anything we can to help support the children and every week I hear lame promises about how someone is going to help or why they cant help, because they have their own foundation. the wellknown foundations are run by major named people who could subisidize their own foundation with personal money and people give to them. There are many foundation, without profit that dont recieve help but they faithfully continue on their journey because they know, to influence a child is to change a nation.

    I have been shot at, robbed, threatened etc but I made a decision to stay and help this incredible country. I have venezuelans in my family married to my children, I love them

    In summary, you wont change the society or nation until you change the children and teach them morals, values, work ethics, honesty and then when they become youth and adults they will make right decisions and not fall into the same paradigm that the adults have had

    sorry if i sound a little bitter, i am happy that so many people want to help the school in petarie
    feel free to come by and see our project and children that have been rescued, making good grades, working on the farm to learn a craft, use the computer lab for their homework(ok also facebook).

    please forgive the abuse of taking so much space and time

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    • Bless you for your strength and energy. Thank you for being on the “frontline” and changing lives. I want to add-I do not think private companies inVZ are the answer. I believe the best source is Venzuelan expats and friends of Venzuelans in US-it is easy to gather up large amounts of clothes, books, etc and ship to Venezuela. (Much more has been done here-esp.for Honduras, Nicaragua,and Haiti..)as compared to say helping Cubans..

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          • George, how do you separate religion from education there? One of the issues I see in Venezuela is the influence of extreme evangelical churches in Venezuela.

            I don’t like what they are doing in Central America or what they have done in Africa.
            We badly need secularism and pluralism in schools and I wonder how your church is open to that.

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          • Kepler: seriously? The first question is about whether the project is about evolution? Not about how manu kids are out of the street because of it? Or nutrition levels? Or even interest in getting the kids tested under a PISA-like exam? Maybe leave the culture war question for later?

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            • Yes, very seriously. It is more than that.
              I have heard about them. I have seen what certain evangelical churches – not all of them- have done in Central America – Guatemala, El Salvador, etc- and Africa – Congo, Rwanda, etc-. I wonder about SUSTAINABILITY after the kind of education some of them give.
              There are other options. I’d even give my money to the Catholic church or the Lutherans, etc.

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            • I think these questions of Kepler’s are fair. For I don’t know of one single religion or political movement that doesn’t count on increasing the number of their adherents.

              If George, as a foreigner with religious intentions is bemoaning the lack of GOVERNMENT aid to his project, one has to ask why?

              Furthermore, if George’s group is engaging in a culture war, readers have every right to determine if that is so, and what might motivate the government not to help.

              May I ask George if his group gets funding and/or materials from any other sources outside Venezuela?

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            • Well, all I know is that there’s a U.S. based church (Chapel Hill, NC?) involved in funding the purchase of, now 130 acres of land, outside Caracas.

              Why wouldn’t George mention the religious aspect from the get-go? That’s a pretty darn important aspect of this project.

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  22. we send all of our kids to public schools. I dont have a school. I dont have a church, we attend a local church in the community so i am not trying to enlarge any group. My wife and i work close to 80 hours a week with the kids on the farm etc so i dont have much time to be out ruining the culture. you can come to the casa hogar and see if these kids have been brainwashed or not. I dont participate in the religious wars of the world, there is to much to do than waste time like that.

    almost 95% of my help comes from outside of venezuela thru donations from buisnesses and churches of all faiths.

    the children that come to our place suffer from rejection and unforgiveness and sexual abuse. that is why they are full of anger. we try to be a loving mom and dad or gramps to show them that unforgiveness feeds anger in anyones life and will destroy the person.

    not one of them in seven years have asked me about evolution or but many have asked why their dad was killed, or why their parents didnt want them or sold them to their friends for sex.
    those are issues we deal with.

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    • Thank you, George, for your replies. Your Hope Venezuela project is very important for rebuilding what little fragments of self-esteem these children may have had before they were orphaned.

      You mention that you and the children attend a local church in the community. If I may ask, and it’s really a secondary interest, what denomination is that church?

      As for any pockets of intellectual resistance you may have encountered on this blog, allow me to explain. We are, for the most part, a pretty irreverent bunch whose guiding light is the love of chavez-be-gone. Most of us grew up in Venezuela, or live there still. Through the comments mechanism, we analyze political issues, presented by the authors of the blog. When we don’t analyze, we laugh, or poke each others eyes out, figuratively speaking. In sum, we are the Fray. Please excuse some of our hard-boiled natures.

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  23. the chapel hill church is in atlanta and did the promo video for us as a donation, without cost.

    i didnt mention the religious aspect in the beginning because it didnt matter to the subject matter i was sharing. almost all(not 100%) casa hogares have some kind of religious affiliation. no one else is crazy enough to take on such a giant task.

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    • We have ventured into one of the most disturbing topics I can think of. Orphans.
      (and another is abused women)As to donations-we donate to anyone-practically
      at some point in time(-except of course some violent gang or something rediculous)
      and we donate directly and I believe good people should do that..

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  24. i am not offended in fact that is why i like this blog so much diversity, lots of information and not confined to my normal circle of conversation. i read this blog and a couple of others religiously(00ps) consistently every day because it has great information and comments, no problem.
    we attend an evangelical church that is not affiliated with a major group. I have recieved help and given help to catholic groups as well so i am not as closed minded as you might think. even though we may have different interpretations we still want to accomplish the same, improve peoples lives

    really, my intention was not to solicit donations for me. I was responding to the interest in helping the school in petarie and just wanted to add my experience in context of giving help to someone.

    lets go back and focus on the school and how the people on this blogsite can help them. I have no doubt they need the help.

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  25. So i was already rolling up my sleeves, getting ready with ideas about how to help the Escuela Ebel Pastor Oropeza when dear George threw a wrench in the wheel, making me think the whole thing all over again.
    George, your whole story brought tears to my eyes. It’s very unfair that you haven’t been able to get much needed help in the very same country where you are so selflessly just for the simple purpose of helping these kids, giving them a safe environment and a family to go to. That is simply remarcable and you have my admiration for what you do.
    I wish I had the resources to help both but I don’t, and that makes me quite sad actually.
    Right now I think that you might be in much better shape than the little school in Petare, so to use your same words, I would like to focus back on them and try to help them somehow, even if it’s just a little bit.
    I will not forget what you are doing and for now, I am going to do my best to spread the word about your project. Who knows how far it will go.
    So, where did we leave it?

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  26. Juan: may I recommend installing on the right-hand side of the blog, a progress report area tied to certain posts, i.e. Escuela Ebel Pastor Oropeza? It would be a good idea to have a space for an update/status, and the date of same.

    At the moment, we’re waiting for Federico to contact the teachers, who will, in turn, provide us with a list of simple articles that they need, now and on a recurring basis.

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