Responding to Needs in Venezuela

Andres flashes a double thumbs up at school. Photo by Angelika Ramirez
Andres flashes a double thumbs up at school. Photo by Angelika Ramirez

Andres* is 11 years old, and until March 2023, he had never been to school. COVID struck his neighborhood in Venezuela when he was about to start the first grade. Venezuela had already been devastated by an economic collapse. The arrival of COVID exacerbated hyperinflation, which surpassed 300% in 2022. Families struggled to put food on the table. Andres started selling cookies in the streets with his father instead of attending school.

Our community of peacebuilders saw Andres’ need and responded by renewing our Las Flores education and nutrition project. We started this project in September 2022, providing classes, two nutritious meals, and one snack five days a week to 80 Venezuelan children who had failed out of public school. In order to rejoin the formal education system, students have to learn the material they missed on their own and test back into their appropriate grade level. Our partners gave the children 120 hours of tutoring in language arts, reading, math, and social skills. At the end of the project, 77 children out of 80 participants rejoined their classmates in public school.

Unrestricted funds, such as the money monthly donors give, allow us to respond to crises with projects like Las Flores. Even though the need for nutritional and educational support continues in Venezuela, sometimes funding does not. Your support enabled us to restart a smaller version of this project in March 2023 with a second cohort of 50 five- to twelve-year-olds. That’s when we met Andres. Five days a week, the students receive a hot lunch before attending three hours of classroom instruction. Knowing there won’t be enough food at home for many of these kids to have dinner, we provide a filling late-afternoon snack of arepas with cheese and a glass of milk and oats so their bellies stay full.

Making Real Impact

Andres’ biggest problem was reading. When he started with us, he didn’t know how to write the alphabet. He couldn’t associate a letter with its sound, and he couldn’t read random words. Now, he can read and write at a second-grade level.

His math abilities have also improved. When he first started with us, he could sometimes identify numbers from one to one hundred. He could add and subtract only if he had drawings of objects. Now, he is learning multiplication and division and can multiply the numbers from one to nine.

Andres’ results reflect his hard work. “What I like most is doing homework, play a little bit, and eat a snack,” he told us. Since September, his weight has increased, too, from 55 to over 64 pounds. His achievements reflect the success of the project. Cohort two, which ends this month, has seen a 94% increase in students’ writing skills, a 98% increase in students’ reading skills, a 94.4% increase in students’ math skills, and a 92% increase in their social skills, such as respecting social norms and working in groups. 

To celebrate Christmas and the end of the year, our partners organized a jazz concert for the Las Flores students. For some, this was the first time they saw professional musicians play a live concert. For others, it was the first time they saw instruments. When the musicians sang the TikTok sensation “Mi Burrito Sabanero,” the kids sang along. They tapped their toes to jazz standards, such as “Fly Me to the Moon” and “White Christmas.”

Posed by the trees, decorated for the holiday. Photo by Angelika Ramirez

Thanks to our community of supporters, the children had a special meal to celebrate the holiday. Besides the national Christmas dish of hallaca, a type of tamale, they had plates full of pernil (pork) and chicken salad. Our partners provided some small toys and candy to accompany the meal.

As cohort two comes to an end, we look forward to welcoming a new group of students into Las Flores, and we couldn’t have done it without you. Thank you for your support feeding students’ stomachs and minds, a necessary step towards building a more peaceful world.

*Not his real name