FOUR years ago, Alvaro Montero, 45, his wife Daniela, 36, and their two daughters, aged 7 and 12, arrived in Trinidad illegally on a boat that brought them to a beach in Carenage opposite of Smith Hill.
The couple, from the village of Santa Lucia in Maracaibo, said that although they knew their journey would be arduous, they weren’t focusing on other obstacles to a better life, such as an education for their children.
Their children have not had access to school since their arrival in Trinidad four years ago.
“We saved for months so we could pay the boatman $200 each to bring my family here. When we arrived we had an extra US$100 and that was it. We couldn’t think of school for the kids yet, even though they were three and eight years old at the time,” Daniela said.
She further explained, “After a few months, we wanted to send them to school, but we were told no, and that is why they are not in school at the moment. My granddaughter never went to school and my first daughter knew school, so she always asks to go to school to start learning again, but the government of Trinidad won’t allow it.
Daniela worries about her daughters. “I want to send them back to Venezuela to stay with their grandmother because they might have the opportunity to go to school, but she’s not very strong so she won’t 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 organizations (NGOs) that continue to urge the government of Trinidad and Tobago to implement programs for migrant children have accused the government of lacking empathy for Venezuelan migrant children.
There are few or no opportunities for migrant children in Trinidad and Tobago to receive an education, with only a few NGOs committed to the cause, including Living Water Community, ITNAC (Is There Not A Cause) and the La Romaine Migrant Support Group.
While these NGOs offer their help, there are still thousands of Venezuelan migrant children who do not receive any form of education. An activist who did not want to be named said that even with the support of larger entities, initiatives to help migrant children still face many problems.
“Even with the help of various entities, be it UNHCR or the UN, there are still gaps. There are no resources, poor program management, and these initiatives have little or no reach because of that,” the activist said.
According to R4V, a regional coordination platform set up in response to the situation in Venezuela, more than 6,000 T&T children need educational support. But Trinidad and Tobago is unique in that the country does not allow migrant children to receive formal education.
According to Venezuelan activist Yesenia Gonzalez, migrant children do not feel welcome in this country. In a telephone interview with the Express last week, Gonzalez said social risks were increasing among the children of Venezuelan migrants, but nothing was being done.
“This is a social problem that the government needs to take a closer look at. The government needs to see these children as human beings and at least show empathy for them,” Gonzalez said.
She said: “Children are excluded from the education system in this country. Children out of school increase the risk of child labor and sexual exploitation, which is already high within the Venezuelan community. We are fed up because I help as much as I can, but the problem drains my life because I am so tired.
Gonzalez said another problem she faced was the increasing number of young Venezuelan girls who were getting pregnant.
“It’s a serious problem that no one is paying attention to,” she said. “A lot of women get pregnant and have babies. They have no money to take care of 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. To have a child is to educate a child.
Gonzalez, however, praised the Roman Catholic Church for its help over the years. “I can’t do much. I represent the community and help everyone from all countries. I have worked in this country for over 40 years and I don’t want to make any enemies. I want peace because there is help from religious organizations, but the government needs to do more. If you look at places like Mayaro and Moruga, you will see what is happening there, and the children are not going to school. The Muslim community and the Roman Catholic Church are helping, but nothing is coming from the government for these people,” she said.
She says she is often bombarded with calls asking for help. “Every day I get calls from Venezuelans asking me why the children can’t go to school. This is a major concern because in Venezuela, regardless of poverty and all the problems, parents are very concerned about getting a birth certificate or getting a child into school,” she said.