Half of Venezuelan children not getting three square meals
CARACAS - Half of children in oil-rich Venezuela are receiving a maximum of two meals a day, making it hard for them to attend school, a new survey has found.
The findings by More Consulting, a research firm, found that 50 per cent of parents were only feeding their children one or two meals a day as a result of food shortages caused by an ongoing financial crisis.
Venezuela has some of the world largest oil reserves but has been left reeling by the collapse in world crude prices and decades of economic mismanagement by socialist governments founded by the late charismatic leader Hugo Chazez.
Nicolas Maduro, who took over from Chavez, is facing mounting criticism after hosting a Non-Aligned Movement summit worth millions of dollars last weekend, and was recently heard to joke about the benefits of the “Maduro diet”.
With inflation forecast to hit 480% this year, ordinary citizens face spending hours in supermarket queues to purchase subsidised goods, leaving those who cannot afford the prices to sift rubbish dumps for food.
The survey was conducted from a national sample of 767 parents throughout the country ahead of the new school year which starts on September 26 leaving both politicians, parents and teachers fretting over the future of the country’s children.
“[The situation] is affecting the mental health of the child, the mother and the teachers,” said Luisa Pernalete, member of a local organization that oversees 170 public schools throughout the country. In one school, recounts Pernalete, a young girl was seen picking up her classmate’s left overs and taking them home.
“Her family hadn’t eaten in three days,” she explained. In some of Pernalete’s schools children have fainted during school hours, young boys are dropping out to work and earn money and some football teams have had to stop training because the players are malnourished.
“In June, practically half [of my students] were not attending school because the families had to choose between spending money on transport or food,” explained Juan Maragall, who oversees 700 public schools in the northern state of Miranda.
Over half of the 3,205 students that were interviewed by Maragall said to have missed at least one day of school to accompany their parents in search of food. Predictions for the new school year are also pessimistic, with both Pernalete and Margall anticipating a drop in attendees as more children see themselves forced to work, help their parents scavenge for food or are simply too weak and malnourished to attend.
Maria Castillo is one of some 700 mothers whose children attend Adolfo Navas Coronado school, in one of Caracas’ poorest neighbourhoods. Perched atop a hill amidst a cluster of rundown houses, the school – once a source of comfort for the hungry children – no longer has the funds to provide students with a balanced diet.
“[My son] is skinnier, I am not feeding him like I did before,” said the 44-year-old lawyer, who asked that her real name not be used. Like many Venezuelans, the mother-of-one was once an avid supporter of the Chavez government but has become deeply disillusioned with the current president.
“Sometimes my children don’t want to go to school because they don’t have a snack and their classmates do,” said one 31-year-old mother who asked to remain anonymous.
“We feel frustrated and powerless,” said the mother, who has seen herself forced to quell her children’s hunger with water. Edidd de Villegas sits nearby, under the portraits of two national heroes, “there are parents who don’t send their children to school because they gave them dinner and so can’t feed them breakfast as well.”
Her 13-year-old son has started working at a market in the mornings, where he is paid in fruits and vegetables, and attending school in the afternoons.
“When your stomach is empty you’re thinking about your hunger, not about what you’re being taught,” said Villegas, “I’ve faith that this [crisis] will end but if we continue this way in five years we’ll have five students per class instead of 30.”