My name is Kervin. I am studying to be an English teacher at the Universidad Pedagógica Experimental Libertador (UPEL) located in Maracay Venezuela. The current political and economic turmoil in Venezuela has added many challenges to being a student. Many students risk their lives and endure many hardships every day. I have been asked to share the challenges that I face daily. I am not alone. Many students in Venezuela face even worse than what I describe below.
When I knew I wanted to be a teacher, I had two options for university – UPEL Macaro and UPEL Maracay. I chose UPEL Maracay. However, this university is a long distance from my house, so I must wake up by 4:00 am if I want to arrive before class begins at 7:00am. In the morning, I cook my breakfast if there is any food in the house. Food is hard to find in Venezuela, and many stand in long lines to get it. Finding food can be a real nightmare. Black markets are thriving, but charge a much higher price for food than the grocery stores. I have missed many meals. Many students, including young children, are unable to eat breakfast before school either because there is a shortage, or because they cannot afford food. Concentration on my studies is difficult when I am worried about where my next meal is coming from, especially if I am already hungry. Sometimes university students are forced to stop studying in order to find a job or "hunt for food" because all the supermarkets are empty.
After breakfast, I take a shower with little water, if there is water. Venezuela has suffered a drought, and sometimes clean water is rationed. The same is true with electricity. 70% of our power is generated by hydropower, and we endure frequent power outages. At 5:00 am I leave my house to take the bus. To get to the bus, I must walk through dark and dangerous streets of my town where crime is very high. Many of my friends have been robbed or threatened several times. Crime has increased dramatically in the past two years because people are desperate. On multiple occasions, I have been frightened by shots and screams.
When I arrive at the bus station, I must wait in a long line to find a seat because there are so many people and few buses. In addition, the bus fare increases almost every day, and every week there is a demonstration or strike of the transportation guild because the bus fare they charge is not enough to cover their maintenance costs. Inflation is very high in Venezuela and a bolivar just does not buy as much as it did a few months ago. If there is a strike, it becomes nearly impossible to get to the university. Robbery on the bus is also a large problem, so I must be careful to keep valuable objects in my backpack. Even the bus terminal in Maracay is full of thieves, so I try to stay in a group with other university students for protection.
After my morning classes, I teach English. I am fortunate if I am able to get a very small meal at the university dining hall for lunch. This is not always possible because there is rarely enough food and so many students rely on the University for their meals. After lunch, I teach for the rest of the afternoon. I am very thankful I have a job because it helps me pay for the supplies I need for my classes. It is true that I study in a public institution and do not have to pay for my education. However, the cost of books and other necessities adds up. Students who do not have a job struggle even more and must sometimes decide between purchasing materials they need for class or buying food.
Beyond the financial strain, going to the university is dangerous because of the repression of the Venezuelan government. The economic situation of the country is so severe that many students have decided to strike in the surrounding areas of the university. The police tear gas and shoot at the students to stop their strikes. The students respond with rocks and bottles. The situation has become so dangerous that afternoon classes are often canceled because the tear gas is unbearable. Even those who do not participate in the strikes, like myself, are also endangered. This year the police and the army have entered the university shooting students and kidnapping them. Therefore, many students fear returning because they can be jailed just for being a student. I was at the university on May 17th when officers shot 6 students. Also, 28 students of UPEL were judged last month by an illegal military court and were condemned to 13 years in really dangerous prisons. The government views students as a threat. Consequently, all Venezuelan students who question the Venezuelan government and apply for the article 350 of the Constitution are being persecuted. In short, students in Venezuela do not mention the fact they are students because it is risky.
Understandably, thousands of students in Venezuela are fleeing. They are moving to countries like Colombia, Chile, and Ecuador. Many of my friends are now living in these countries because they want a better quality of life where they can find a job, food, and medicine to help family members that remain in Venezuela. It is sad that so many talented Venezuelans are leaving because they can't endure this economic situation anymore. I haven't gone because I want to finish my education and fight for my country.
In summary, students in Venezuela face enormous challenges. Like everyone else, we must endure the shortage of food, medicine and other supplies. We also live in fear of being robbed. But students must also face the potential of not being able to pursue a career. Even as I write this article, classes are suspended because of several attacks on the university during the last three months. Almost all universities in the country are currently shut down, and there is not a sure date of return. I hope the economic and political situation in my country will change soon, and that many of the people who have left the country will return to help us reconstruct our society.
To learn more about the situation in Venezuela and to view many supporting references, see Economics Lessons for Venezuelan Leaders