Venezuela: Educating the next generation at a school in Petare

Venezuela: Educating the next generation at a school in Petare

Despite the pandemic and other setbacks, the doors of the Guillermina Rickel nursery school remain open to its young pupils. Waiting to greet them is Tamara Cárdenas, an employee at the school, and Johanykys, Losbeida and other women who, collectively, are known as the “Guillermineras”. Together they are responsible for looking after and teaching the children, along with taking care of the school and the community-based canteen.
Article 26 October 2021 Venezuela

The nursery school is located in the 24 de marzo neighbourhood of Petare, one of the areas most affected by armed violence in Venezuela. Tamara has been working there for over 20 years. In that time, she has held several different positions, including as a cleaner, caretaker and now as the assistant director. "The children are my focus. Sometimes, I help them with health matters too, because I am studying nursing and I also work at the Integral Diagnostic Centre (CDI). I help as much as I can because I like a challenge," she says proudly, a shy smile on her face.

While talking about the school's history, Tamara recalls that the school experienced a lot of difficulties in 2019. The teachers did not have the means to travel to school, and the school canteen occasionally had to close because of a lack of supplies. Despite this, the team remained close-knit, and they never lost their motivation to improve the situation, which is why Tamara decided to ask the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) for help.

"When the people from the ICRC delivered supplies to the CDI where I work, I asked them for help at the school. I told them about the 250 children that attend the school and that we didn't have enough supplies and equipment for the school canteen at that time," she says.

Tamara waited full of hope and enthusiasm for a visit that would finally bring some happiness to her beloved school. "Some people didn't believe that anyone would come to help us, but not long after I had spoken to the ICRC, they visited us, and since then I feel incredibly grateful every time I see them. In 2019, they donated a stove, a refrigerator and a food processor for our school canteen. We always had the enthusiasm, but we didn't have the tools. Now that we have this equipment, we can work better," Tamara recalls emotionally.

When on-site classes stopped because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the teachers and other school staff strove to keep the school canteen running at a time when demand for food was increasing. "The children needed to eat, and we tried really hard to do the best with what we had. Sometimes, people in the community would help by providing us with ingredients, and we would prepare food not only for the children, but for anyone who needed it."

The ongoing armed violence in this area of Petare is another of the many challenges affecting this community. However, that has not stopped Tamara and her colleagues from regularly going to the school to protect it from the fighting. "This is our school, and we have to look after it. My children came here, and future generations will also need this space to learn and develop. That's why we continue to come, even when there are no classes," says Tamara.

The commitment and trust shown by Tamara, the teachers and other people in the community have allowed the ICRC to visit the neighbourhood and work on improving the school. This has included installing electrical wiring and weeding the outdoor areas and school playground, all of which will really help when the children return.

"People ask me why I do what I do, and my answer is simple: I do it because it is so rewarding to be able to help others, despite having limited resources. When you educate a child, you give them values and strengths. It doesn't matter that they live in this neighbourhood. You're helping to shape wonderful people for the future."

The ICRC recognizes that children of all ages need to have access to education because it enables them to reach their potential and improve their quality of life. Living in areas affected by armed violence jeopardizes children's access to learning opportunities.

We have supported the Guillermina Rickel school in Petare by donating kitchen equipment for the school canteen, providing hygiene items, installing electrical wiring, refurbishing classrooms, and weeding outdoor areas so the children have a pleasant space in which to learn.

We have also been helping the Manuel Aguirre school in the same area, donating equipment and hygiene items for the school canteen, repairing a water pump and holding workshops on safe behaviour and first aid.