Middle of the crisis in Venezuela

Colombia is full of beautiful places, and backpackers often stray outside of tourist centers. No tourist, however, has any reason to visit a city without historical monuments or natural beauties, a city full of car workshops, where the smell of oil and diesel is virtually everywhere.

Crisis in Venezuela

The day after we arrived in Cúcuta one Colombian asked us: “What are you doing here?” The question is on the spot. Two Czechoslovak gringos are not seen here very often. So why are we here? Because we are not just tourists. We’re here because of Venezuela.

The beginning of the disaster – Crisis in Venezuela

Explanation of our visit begins in 2013 by the death of long time president of Venezuela Hugo Chavez. His successor, Nicolas Maduro, failed to consolidate his position as the head of the state and struggled from the outset with the pressure of the opposition and even part of the public on his downfall. This pressure grew during 2014 when the country’s economy began to deteriorate. Due to the decline of oil prices on which the country is economically dependent. All Maduro‘s attempts to prevent the economic fall failed and even worsened the whole situation. The result is one of the worst cases of hyperinflation in history. It has taken a stunning growth this year it has grown from catastrophic 1000% at the end of 2017, to astronomical 1.37 million% today. 

Crisis in Venezuela
I have always wanted to visit Venezuela, but not like this…

Other aspects of the crisis

The situation in the country, however, is not only about the total loss of the purchasing power of its people. As early as 2014, reports of shortages of food, common goods, medicines and medical supplies also began to appear. Shelves in supermarkets are empty and hospitals often lack essential equipment. The treatments of long-term illnesses are suspended indefinitely. On top of that, the patients have to struggle for the food like the rest of the nation. Malnutrition in Venezuela is on the rise, deaths have been reported for relatively easy to treat diseases such as malaria or pneumonia. As well as the occurrence of diseases such as cholera and diphtheria that are not so common under normal circumstances. 

Middle of the crisis in Venezuela 1
…or to see its people like this.

Crime and Violence in Venezuela 

Such a situation in the country has caused an increase in crime and violence. This is just a reflection of the measures Mauro chooses to erase any criticism of his regime.

Some days ago in Cartagena I asked the venezuelan woman who worked in our hostel if people at least try to help to each other. She said that people would like to, but the situation is so bad that if there is a kid at your door selling sweets to earn some money, you can not give him anything because you need it all to purchase some food for your own children.

From economic migrants to Los Caminantes

Many Venezuelans were forced to leave the country to work abroad and send money or medicines home to their families. However, the situation has not begun to improve and more and more people are gradually leaving the country. Because they usually have almost no money the only way to leave the country is to walk. They pack everything they can carry and set off on the way to the nearest border. This journey may take from several days to several weeks. For many, Cúcuta is the way out of Venezuela. Those who have some money saved will buy a bus ticket and get to the border.

According to the NGO Human Rights Watch, Venezuelan refugees walk from Cúcuta on average for 13 days, 16 hours a day. Some are heading for Bogota or Medellin. However, many go all the way through Colombia to Ecuador and even to Peru.

Where do venezuelans go?

More than 2.5 million people have left Venezuela since 2014, and about half of them are in Colombia. The countries in the region have developed unprecedented efforts to help venezuelan refugees. Despite the fact that no international treaty is binding them to do so. No language barrier, common history and same religion create the conditions for stronger solidarity. However, it should be borne in mind that these countries are still ranked according to the OECD standards among developing countries and have their own economic problems. Their efforts, however, prove that humanitarian aid is not a question of money, but a will to help.

La Parada

The main border crossing point in Cúcuta is the Simon Bolívar bridge, which connects the city of San António on the Venezuelan side with the border part called La Parada. It is estimated that each day 30,000 people cross the border, of which about a tenth will not return at all.  Most Venezuelans come to make money by selling various goods from food to electronics or buying food and medicine for themselves. The main street of this small pre-frontier part, which a few years ago were only pharmacies, supermarkets, and neglected hotels, is filled on both sides by street vendors. “All of these people are from Venezuela,” says Juan “Four years ago it was the opposite. Colombians were coming to sell to us,“ he continues while travellig on the bus to the city center, where he tries to make some money in the evenings as busker on the traffic lights.

Street market in La Parada
The street market of the miserables in La Parada.

And what are we doing here…?

This is not the end for us. If we came here just for a few photos and a bit of adrenaline, it would be a mockery in the face of these miserable fates. Where there is a crisis, there is always a space to help. For us it is in the Casa de Paso Divina Providencia at the Church of St. Peter, where the local church every day cooks breakfast and lunch for about 3000 Venezuelans. With our very basic spanish we found out from the local padre that they always need help.

Travel to Venezuela

The next day I arrived alone during lunch service. Within five minutes of entering the gate I was equipped with a hair net, gloves and a face mask, and I was portioning meat even though nobody has ever seen me before. The only thing they asked me was what is my name, where I am from and what do I want there. Yo soy Matej, de Eslovequia, quiero ayudar. Because nothing else matters.  So I was hired as a volunteer. And the next day also Láďa joined.

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BTP period – 3 months

Returning to school with heads and hands full of new knowledge and energy for Bringing it to the Public. Meeting with the team, showing, telling, exchanging experiences and making it common knowledge.

Producing articles, pamphlets, videos, presentations, exhibitions, speeches for debate forums, books and more. Studying further the curriculum in Fighting with The Poor, bringing the truth to the public. 

Going to different schools around Europe to spread the new knowledge in various creative ways – speeches, newspaper articles, lectures at universities and colleges, debates and other public events, exhibitions – leading to a better understanding and inspiring to take an action.

Passing the final exams in Fighting with The Poor. Using the last months together to conclude our future perspectives and possible ways of improving The Poor’s quality in life with humble ways of sharing knowledge.

Volunteer period – 6 months

The Project Work in Africa or India in cooperation with Humana People to People. In this period, you can work at:

  • Teacher training colleges
  • Educating teachers for rural areas
  • Vocational schools for young people
  • Schools for street children.Preschools
  • Sanitation and hygiene in rural areas
  • Tree planting campaigns
  • Raising funds for social projects by forming partnerships and selling second hand clothes and shoes
  • Stopping the spread of HIV/AIDS (following the program TCE/Total Control of the Epidemic)

Arriving at the project in Africa or India, having left behind a courageous journey where fundamental human capabilities have been turned around, refreshed and energised by knowing that things such as travelling can be done in a totally different way than the mainstream tourist travelling.

Ready for doing the work needed at the project, bringing plans and materials from the previous periods. Getting to know the people at the project, the vision and idea of the project and the many concrete tasks to be carried out.

Carrying out the tasks as defined within the necessities of the project and by the Project Leadership. Fighting shoulder to shoulder with The Poor: building preschools, starting Garden Farming, doing literacy campaigns, eradicating malaria, teaching about big issues of our time while working as a teacher at DNS, starting income-generating activities, working as a TCE Special Force in the fight against HIV/AIDS – as a few examples.

Studying and working with your Specialisation in Fighting with The Poor, finalising with a People’s Exam and a written thesis at the end of the period. Acquiring skills in information work: making interviews, taking notes and pictures, writing summaries and reports, recording videos.

Living together with the people at the project, being a good example of living a humble life while improving things with small means to make daily life better.

Travel period – 3 months

Living on the road, being on the move, finding means of transport and places to sleep, talking to people on the road, being curious to understand and know about the countries you are traveling through.

Making investigations, meeting people, visiting their workplaces, staying in their homes, understanding their problems, meeting their culture and values and sharing thoughts with them about the world and the future.

Telling people about your venture to a third world country, trying out bringing it to the public what you have so far experienced and learned. Putting up investigations on a higher level, asking tough questions to self and to the group, getting hold of more answers and putting up new questions.

Taking notes and pictures, writing reports and discussing the seen and the experienced.
Finding good ways of sticking together in the Trios and in the group as such during the travel period.

Study Period – 6 months

At this school, you will find that learning is not first and foremost about listening to the teacher.

The school’s Program consists of a range of intense and spirited activities, theoretical studies and experiences that constitute the sum of learning and life processes carried through by a group of people who for a considerable period of time share a Program with each other that demands cooperation and efforts, and which at the same time is sprinkled with elements that are inspiring and also quite out of the ordinary.

Thus, learning will also take place through communication, deliberations, through working out your plan for learning and sticking to it, and putting to use what you learned, the methods you used, the ideas you got from it and the results you harvested from the training.

You will train yourself in being adventurers and survivors, living and traveling under very humble conditions, not using much money and always finding a way out by ingenuity, being smart and sticking together with your teammates.