The economic crisis in Venezuela has been deepening over the past nine months, resulting in a critical food shortage. Finding adequate food supplies has turned into a nightmare for citizens who are digging through trash, collecting tropical fruits falling from trees, and even rioting and looting in search for their next meal.
About 600 political and food-related protests took place nationwide just in the last month, notes Whitney Eulich of The Christian Science Monitor. The police arrested over 400 people for rioting and looting on a single day last week.
The economic chaos in Venezuela is also tearing apart the once up-and-coming education system. Since December 2015, the government canceled 16 school days, Friday classes included, because of the energy crisis — and like the rest of the country, teachers started skipping classes regularly to wait in food lines in Caracas. According to Venezuela Teacher Federation, as many as 40 percent of the educators abandon their duties to be able to buy scarce goods like milk and flour, writes Hannah Dreier of the Associated Press.
Betty Cubillan, an accounting teacher who makes $30/month, confirmed that she went missing for a week and a half from school. Once she came back, she limited herself to correcting homework and said:
"If I don't line up, I don't eat. Who's going to do it for me?"
Helena Porras, the director of the school where Cubillan was teaching, has already asked the supermarkets in the neighborhood to allow teachers cut in line. She also admitted she had to discipline some of her colleagues for selling students passing grades in exchange for food. However, not just the teachers were skipping classes, the director said; parents are often forced to either keep their children from school or to send them to wait in food lines.
Caceres, a 13-year-old boy, said he left school around Easter. Now he is accompanying his mother on her regular trips to the neighboring Colombia to buy essential food supplies.
14-year-old Maria Arias is among the students who have been trying to attend classes regularly while hoping that her teachers will show up. On her way to school, she witnessed robberies, looting and riots every day. Despite the school doors being, she did not feel safe inside, she admitted. Cafeterias are being robbed and looted by local teen gangs on a daily basis as the food shortage continues.
Adelba Taffin, the spokesperson of the Movement of Organized Parents commented:
"This country has abandoned its children. By the time we see the full consequences, there will be no way to put it right."
According to Tulio Ramirez, an education expert at Venezuela's Central University, a school year interrupted this way will be difficult to recover. The children are growing up with an educational deficit, said he in an interview with Reuters' Alexandra Ulmer.
Marianella Herrera, a professor of nutrition, commented that she was mainly worried about the damage of the current malnutrition on the future generations:
"An entire generation could suffer from stunted physical growth or mental capacities due to the severe malnutrition we witness today. Kids are being exposed to the violence that can erupt while waiting in lines for food."
Not long ago, Venezuela was one of the leading Latin American economies. In just a couple of years, all that progress has been undone. A sharp decrease in oil prices combined with economic mismanagement has brought the country to its knees, affecting the entire population, which includes 7 million public school students.
The annual dropout rate has doubled, and more than a quarter of teenagers do not attend school anymore. Classrooms are increasingly understaffed as professionals flee the country.