Juan Carlos Liendo.
One of the things that upsets Marbella at the beginning of her working days is the question of what to do with her children between 12 and 17 years old, while she complies with the daily chain of cleanings that guarantee a relatively comfortable income for the family. Her husband, a farmer, largely solves the vegetable items of everyone's diet and, in general, life goes on day after day without upheavals other than those usually produced by raising three boys. In truth, not even for all the gold in this world would Marbella change El Naranjo, - if things were a little different –
El Naranjo is in Piedras Blancas, a village in the Campo Elías municipality of Mérida state, a few minutes from the historic center of Jají, one of the greatest tourist attractions in the area, now desolate, maintaining itself by dint of the good hope of its inhabitants.
– - Actually, not only did things change due to the pandemic, I constantly say that the education of the boys was already very spoiled; but now things are serious - says Marbella's husband, in his first intervention in a conversation in which the leading voice is that of his wife.
She looks at him as if he received permission to speak and he does. Saucy.
– - I think it was around 2015 or 2016, when the youngest of the kids entered primary school, that we began to think that the education of the boys was about to become a very complicated matter. It was as if “they” (the national government) had suddenly cast an evil eye on us. Everything started to get so difficult that, more than once, we thought about not sending the children to class again. Of course, we did not do that because we did not want to ruin our children´s life; but I tell you something: only God knows what that has cost us.
The mention of those years is perfectly logical. Marbella is right. All the indications say that it was around the years 2015 or 2016 when Venezuela hit the elements that allow to speak of a Complex Humanitarian Emergency. It is also the year that the measures of the government of Nicolás Maduro dealt the final stab at its precarious economy.
A few years before, the heart of Venezuelan education had gone through one of its deepest crises: the restructuring of the curriculum, turning public and private education into an instrument of ideological dogmatization that many parents opposed, raising their voices against of the new books, the new academic tools and the new evaluation systems considered quite accommodating by all who dared to analyze them; However, the years have shown that the application of these reforms ended up being at the discretion of each school director and, sometimes, even each teacher and that this silenced the voices that were raised angry against a reform that has not become dead letter.
Even so, Marbella and Víctor are stunned by the reality they are living. Life was turned upside down for both of them in March 2020.
– - Although I tell you, do not believe that everything was perfect and this COVID arrived and spoiled it; no, far from it. Everything was very bad and that bug came to make it worse - Víctor says as he fills for a third time the cups of tea that we have in front of us.
What was very wrong has a perfectly clear origin: the social disaster that has caused the bad political leadership of the country, especially cruel against education, from the moment it was used as an ideologizing tool and changed the way in which history is written.
Marbella at some point thought about dedicating himself to teaching; In her voice there is emotion in the nostalgia for the days she spent playing “schoo”l, in the courtyard of her mother's house, and she still retains a certain "teacher's" authority that everyone who treats her recognizes. At 41, she says she has little reason to complain about her life, since she has done better than many of her contemporaries. Is true that she doesn't have the best job in the world; But, serving someone else's houses has helped her a lot, above all - she says - has taught her to know better the nature of people, perhaps that is the reason why she has never wanted to dedicate herself to a particular family. She attends between 6 and 7 houses a week, including the parish house of Jají, where she goes religiously every Wednesday to perform what she knows as "a thorough cleaning." That is why she is a friend of the village priest, of whom she has every reason to think that is living in the aroma of holiness.
– - Look, if it weren't for the church, I would have already gone crazy with the boys without doing anything.
This is how she handles the serious issue of schools closed since May 2020 due to the global health crisis that the COVID 19 pandemic has produced and, in doing so, she seems to reduce the problems to that particular circumstance. It is Victor who stops her. Es Víctor quien la ataja.
– - It broke my soul, as a father, to see my boys leave the house at 6 in the morning, without having had breakfast because how do you make a boy eat something at that time of the day? walking to the Piedras Blancas school, and get there, many times, to hide in the bathrooms to eat their breakfast so that the children who do not have anything to bring for breakfast would not ask him - he takes an impulse to swallow the emotion and finishes- I always wondered what it cost them to give even a glass of milk and a cookie to the public school´s children?
Víctor refers to the disappearance of the School Feeding Program, which occurred in most Venezuelan schools around the year 2017, after having existed intermittently and in ways that were almost always more of a problem than a solution.
- Look, keep an 8 or 10-year-old child in school without giving him a bite of food and let the school stores take care of giving him some trinket, which is always very expensive and almost no child can pay, that´s a crime. I don't give it another name. Not for ours kids, I admit, because here in the house, thanks God, has never been a lack of food, not even in the days when there was nothing to buy. We even planted corn so that Marbella and the other ladies in the community could make arepas. -
The voice of the father, fierce and taciturn like most men in this side of the country, begins to sound loud in the middle of the conversation and one would believe that he is close to screaming, or crying, something unthinkable in a guy of his mood. He sulks again and lets the wife recap calamities.
If Víctor refers to the PAE as a panacea that could have diminished a bit what they both call the educational disaster, Marbella begins to point out other associated causes. The diaspora, for example. It is one of his greatest torments, to think that suddenly there began to be houses in which the children had been left alone or to see how entire families of the community had undertaken long trips walking to Colombia, to live there, the needs that lived here, although they say that in better conditions.
Professor Esperanza was the first of the teachers at the school, to which they are both closely linked, that stopped attending her daily classes. One day the children had to be divided into other classrooms because the single 4th grade section was headless. There have not been explanations, Esperanza “was swallowed by the earth” forever.
Unlike other teachers, and other people who leave and one day appear again in the daily landscape to resume their activities at the same point where they left off, the 4th grade teacher left no more trace than an empty closed house that is currently covered by cobwebs and years of neglect. There were also a couple of cows that were raffled off among the neighbors before they died of decline and an almost indelible memory that is as good as it is unforgivable, according to whoever tells it. For her students, Esperanza is the best teacher in the world, she will one day come back to face them and explaining what happened; for parents it is such a serious problem that “better not to talk about it”.
It is assumed that she left school to go with her two teenage children to Colombia or one of the nearby countries and that if she did not tell anyone anything, it was to avoid “curses” over her trip. That theory closes the many discussions that the decision has provoked in the corner of the eyes of those who are planning to do the same. Part of the desolation of the town is due to those who, like Esperanza, have decided to put land in the middle of the problems to which the education of their children is added.
- If it is true that Esperanza's trip hit us a lot; however, I understand it. You cannot imagine the difficulties of that poor woman to come down from Paramito to teach here. I think she left very disappointed and no wonder. She spent 6 years asking for a change for a school that would be closer to her home and in the Educative Management Office they never paid the slightest attention to her, and that, that is Cariberia*. Esperanza was always, as to say, she was always against the government and look, when you identify yourself as an opposition you don't even get the handouts -
Marbella smiles sarcastically, she is also a radical opponent, although that does not affect her. It has never been thrown out of a workplace, nor has it had more problems than the bad actions of the “red” leaders of the town, such as the time Víctor had to give away about 20 kilos of cheese, commissioned by a friend of the regime for a political event, which he later ended up buying from another manufacturer dressed in red*. Yes, Marbella remembers that episode with anger, it is true; but she, she knows that beyond that, nothing else has happened and she is grateful for it.
According to a study carried out by ENCOVI, in Venezuela three out of every ten people who should be in school are not; Since this number represents the most valuable indicator when real educational coverage is measured, it can be deduced that the Venezuelan educational system is not only stagnant, but also reflects decreasing numbers.
Neither Marbella, nor Víctor, nor Esperanza nor any other of those directly affected by the serious deterioration of education know of statistical figures or show interest in them, what worries them is what they live in their own lives. The couple's eldest son, who is 17 years old, should be out of high school with a brand new degree kept among his documents; For his parents, it is a sign of alarm that this has not happened, not because the boy is unfulfilled or a bad student, but because he has been the victim of severe school backwardness. He was in the 3rd year of high school when he was 16 years old, because the systematic lack of educators, the long periods of unemployment, the shortage of gasoline, the lack of electricity and other misfortunes, have left him behind as much as the other classmates . If all goes well, they expect a title by the end of this school year:“tittle that they are really giving it away, because those boys haven't had classes for a single day."
It is the additional detail with which the discussion is closed: the “online classes”
- That doesn't exist, forget it. What classes on the internet is a boy going to have if there´s no electricity, no telephone, no television, and much less internet signal? Look, here they came to install a free Internet signal for the town and they did it, really. But only covers the square. You walk about two blocks outside the plaza and you already lose connection, it is as if they were making fun of us. ¿So, what virtual classes are they going to talk about?
It is a drama common to all school-age people who do not live in big cities, (in which in any case they tend to live without electricity an average of 6 hours a day) not only reject the programs that the government tried to implement through the official television channel; but if they wanted to see them, electrical and connection deficiencies would prevent them.
The women of the El Naranjo community have organized themselves and, as best as they can, takes care of the children of all, in sessions that are usually supported by various NGOs that deal with the educational issue and the priceless support of the priest; However, they are all aware that their children's backwardness is not easy to solve. For now, they have had to put aside the dream of entering the Aula Magna of the Universidad de Los Andes* with them, to see them become doctors.
By keeping them busy during the idle hours of the day they are all well paid. And the pandemic is not to blame for that much bad thing in the education of their children. No sir.