Maribel Rivero is a 52-year-old teacher from Zulia, 22 years of which she has dedicated to teaching children and adolescents. She remembers with nostalgia that before the COVID-19 Pandemic, which arrived in the country in mid 2020, everything “was nicer” although she accepts that Venezuela was already sick.
Alone in her classroom, she takes advantage of the afternoon to grade a tower of notebooks with the activities of her fourth grade students and, in the meantime, telling her story.
The vocation for what she does and the love for her children, as she calls her 36 students, are the engine that moves her every day to educate in values and humanity the people this country needs, as she says.
- Before all this happened, we had problems with public services, with the fare to go to school and lack of food, but for me it was a bearable situation, today I can't say the same - said the teacher evidently touched.
Maribel's salary is currently 55 bolivars (around US $ 10.00) a month which she earns together with that of her husband, Isidro, a doctor who works in the Cuatricentenario sector in the west of Maracaibo and who earns "the same miserable salary", she said.
At the beginning of last year that salary allowed Maribel to have bolivars in cash to pay for four bus tickets and to be able to get to the Fe y Alegria school where she previously worked, but as the economic situation in Maracaibo worsened and in top of everything she has to endure the lack of paper money, she asked her supervisors a change to a school closer to her home, the Los Altos sector, otherwise she would have to resign.
In February 2020 she decided to set up a table in a Street of the Cuatricentenario sector. There she began to sell used objects to help with the fares while waiting for the change of school, but once the pandemic arrived in Venezuela and the schools were closed, the salary began to yield less.
- The pandemic changed our lives, we all suffered and are still hurting. My personal life changed dramatically -
Informal commerce became his lifeline and he began to trade clothes for flour and bread, bags for grains and shoes for butter, in order to eat.
As the COVID-19 labor restrictions worsened, the peddlers in downtown Maracaibo migrated to other places to continue with their sales, and one of the spots was the Cuatricentenario road corridor, in front of La Chinita School, where Maribel was finally transferred.
- I had to move the table to my sister's house, which is near the school, because the hawkers from the center took over the school premises and sent them to evict us, among them was me. In addition, the police charged a dollar a day to each street vendor to let us stay there. Although the money I made was not much, it helped me to survive.
Everything against school
Adapting to distance learning was not easy, according to the teacher. Not because of the teaching, but because of the personal situation of the families.
- The parents became the children's teachers and unfortunately not all of them were prepared, it was very difficult for us to adapt to this modality, which was coupled with high unemployment, electricity collapse and lack of food, So, many times the parents expressed their anguish. For me it was hard, because it hurts me to know that there are children who went to bed without eating - even before the pandemic - they went to school on an empty stomach.
The children were affected by not being able to come to school, everything was new for them. With a cold education, no songs, no hugs from the teacher, no advice. - Many times I felt helpless, because I could not do more to help them.
Diaspora that weighs heavy on the heart
Maribel confesses that she hates the government of Nicolás Maduro, and blames him for the destruction of her family. Eight years ago her eldest daughter, Anabel, left for Colombia in search of a new life. The young woman, who was studying Social Communication at the University of Zulia, desisted from continuing her studies after suffering an attempted rape and two robberies inside the School of Humanities.
Three years later her son Jorge left, with his graphic design career half finished and, finally, five months ago, Ysmary, her youngest daughter, followed in the footsteps of her siblings after she lost her scholarship to study foreign trade.
– - My youngest daughter was the last one to go to Santa Marta, (Colombia) and because of that I have cursed the government, it is their fault, for the situation that exists. My daughter found a job here and all she did was walking and walkimg; that girl was going to disappear because she was so thin, it's not fair - she said.
The teacher pauses, takes a breath to hold back her tears and lets out:
- My children do not lose hope of returning, but I am filled with impotence because I can't see them, I can't embrace them.
Maribel is already a grandmother and says that it weighs heavily on her heart that in the two years that her grandson Mateo has been alive, she has only seen him once.
Ysidro, 26 years old, is the only son who lives with his parents in Maracaibo. He also had to drop out of school and is currently working as a caregiver for a lady:
- My son is disillusioned, it is sad to see him sweeping yards, struggling to earn a pittance and be able to help at home, because he has no opportunities in this country. He is full of rage - says the teacher, looking at the ceiling of the classroom as if looking for encouragement to continue. dice la maestra mirando el techo del salón como quien busca aliento para seguir.
To see how the quality of life has vanished
Maribel is overcome with melancholy. She puts aside her notebooks and after a few minutes of silence she manages to remember her life before the chaos, as she describes it. – In the past, being a teacher was synonymous with living with dignity, but this situation we are living in right now has no coherence. – Antes, ser docente era sinónimo de vivir dignamente, pero esta situación que estamos viviendo ahora no tiene coherencia –
Paradoxically, the neighborhood where Maribel lives with her husband and son is called Bello Horizonte, (Beatiful Horizons) but she compares its streets to the craters of the moon. Every night the electricity is cut off for five hours or more, and she prepares her food on an electric stove because she cannot afford to fill her domestic gas cylinder, which costs seven bolivars, when there are days out. He also has no refrigerator or air conditioning indispensable to survive in the inclement high temperatures weather of Zulia.
The days of eating well and indulging in small luxuries such as buying a pair of shoes or visiting a restaurant are in the past for the teacher and her husband. Now, although they eat three meals a day, they have had to reduce the portions to "stretch" the food until the end of the month.
- Even though there are only three of us, we have not been able to make a purchase in the house for years, we barely meet our daily needs, we eat less. For example, a package of flour and bread has to last us a week, and many times we only eat arepa with butter, because there is not enough for cheese or eggs, our quality of life is gone - said Maribel.
I have a sad classroom
On October 4, classes began at La Chinita school and facing reality was an emotional shock, she says. She describes her classroom as sad and dull. She says her students look fearful: "It's not a normal classroom, everything is different. – No es un salón normal, todo es diferente –
The teacher's routine has also changed, she now has to walk 40 minutes from home to school back and forth, but also, she must be on her desk, on time: at 7:00 am sharp.
– - I have to walk because the little public transportation that is left charges a dollar fare and I don't have any. I tried to come by bicycle, but on the second day I fainted, so I got scared. –
Although he revealed that he usually delays going home.
- Classes end at 11:00 or so, but I stay at school finishing checking notebooks and preparing activities, then I visit my mom for a while who lives with my sister across the street, pick up the table from the sale and from there I go home with my umbrella and a cap, because the sun is inclement.
So far Maribel has not seen any weight loss in her body, but the muscular pains due to the five kilometers she walks daily, do not let her sleep.
- My life is full of tiredness, physical and mental exhaustion, walking from my house to here is difficult. On the way I have to stop to rest a little every so often, I walk slowly because I get very tired. I've gotten sick in my bones, I can't stand my knees, every day I go to bed very tired and when I get up I look like a robot, my husband has to stretch me, said the fourth grade teacher with a laugh.
For Maribel, her rest and support in the face of adversity is in God. She thanks Him every night for allowing her one more day of struggle, and asks Him before going to sleep to give her life and health to continue shaping the future of her country.
With her eyes full of tears she said she also prays for her children who are far away - Lord, I can't see them, but you can - Maribel repeats as she fixes her gaze on a string of rosaries on her blackboard.
She said that people have the concept that those who emigrate have a rich life, but the truth is that just like her, her son and her husband, her children in Colombia also go to bed without eating many times.
She knows this because they have a deal:
- They tell the truth about how they are there and we tell her the truth about how we are here. Because we are family and we love each other. When we all go to bed without eating, we pray together, they in Colombia and we here, to the same God who is listening to us and who knows our hearts, to him we pray.
Maribel wipes her face and affirms:
- The teacher should be the crown jewel of a country, because he is the one who transmits humanity and love, but he should also have a decent salary and we are very far from that, that is why I cry alone with God and I can only ask for compassion - culminated e teacher.