FOUR years ago, Alvaro Montero, 45, his wife Daniela, 36, and their two daughters, ages seven and 12, arrived in Trinidad illegally on a boat that brought them to a beach in Carenage opposite Smith Hill.
The couple, from the village of Santa Lucia in Maracaibo, said while they knew their journey would be arduous, they did not focus on the other hurdles to a better life, like an education for their children.
Their children have not had any access to schooling since they arrived in Trinidad four years ago.
“We saved up for months to be able to pay the boatman US$200 each for my family to get here. When we reached we had an extra US$100 and that was all. We could not think about school for the children as yet, although they were three and eight at the time,” Daniela said.
She further explained, “After some months passed we wanted to get them in school, but we were told no, and that is why they are not in school right now. My small daughter never went to school and my first daughter experienced school so she always asks to go to school to start learning again, but the Trinidad Government will not allow that.”
Daniela worries about her daughters. “I want to send them back to Venezuela to stay with their grandmother because they might get an opportunity to go to school, but then she is not very strong so she will not be able to take care of them properly. I wish they could go to school and that worries me a lot,” Daniela said.
A matter of empathy
Non-governmental organisations (NGOs) that continue to urge the Trinidad and Tobago Government to implement programmes for migrant children have accused the Government of lacking empathy for Venezuelan migrant children.
There are little to no opportunities for migrant children in Trinidad and Tobago to receive an education, with only a few NGOs committed to the cause, which include Living Water Community, ITNAC (Is There Not A Cause) and the La Romaine Migrant Support Group.
While these NGOs offer help, there are still thousands of Venezuelan migrant children who are not receiving any form of education. One activist who did not want to be named said even with support from larger entities, initiatives to assist migrant children still face numerous issues.
“Even with help from various entities, whether it is the UNHCR or the UN, there are still shortcomings. There are no resources, poor management of programmes, and these initiatives have little to no reach because of this,” the activist said.
According to R4V—a regional coordination platform set up in response to the Venezuela situation —there are over 6,000 children in T&T who need educational support. But Trinidad and Tobago is unique, in that this country does not allow migrant children to receive a formal education.
Teen pregnancy high
According to Venezuelan activist Yesenia Gonzalez, migrant children don’t feel welcome in this country. In a telephone interview with the Express last week, Gonzalez said social risks are mounting among children of Venezuelan migrants, yet nothing is being done.
“This is a social problem that the Government needs to take a closer look at. The Government must see these children as human beings and show at least empathy for them,” Gonzalez said.
She said, “Children are being excluded from the education system in this country. Children being out of school is increasing the risk of child labour and sexual exploitation, which is already high among the Venezuelan community. We are fed up because I help as much as I can, but the problem drains the life out of me because I am so tired.”
Gonzalez said another issue that she is grappling with is the increasing number of young Venezuelan girls who are becoming pregnant.
“This is a serious problem that nobody is paying attention to,” she said. “A lot of women are getting pregnant and having babies. They have no money to care for the baby, and when the child reaches school age, there is no school. I want to send a message to the Venezuelan community to stop having babies. Having a child is to educate a child.”
Gonzalez, however, praised the Roman Catholic Church for its help over the years. “There is only so much I can do. I represent the community, and I help everybody from all countries. I have been working in this country for over 40 years, and I don’t want to make enemies. I want peace because there is help from religious bodies, but the Government needs to do more. If you check places like Mayaro and Moruga, you will see what is happening there, and the children don’t go to school. The Muslim community and the Roman Catholic Church help, but nothing comes from the Government for these people at all,” she said.
She said she is often bombarded with calls asking for help. “Every day I get calls from Venezuelan people asking why children can’t go to school. It’s a major concern because in Venezuela, regardless of the poverty and all the problems, parents are very concerned with getting the birth certificate or getting a child into school,” she said.
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