These individual stories shed some light on how hard it is to be young in Venezuela right now. Even worse, these stories highlight how hard it is to be a women with prospects, education and goals.
In the midst of an overwhelming economic, social and political crisis, Venezuela is likely to feature in the news for all the chaos, rather than anything else. The headlines have focused on how opposition forces are – for the first time in 16 years – ruling the National Assembly; or how inflation is estimated to reach 700% in 2016; or how Venezuela is estimated to be home to seven of the most dangerous cities in the world, alongside hosting the second-highest murder rate. These headlines depict the tragedy of a country that has the largest oil reserves in the world – even larger than Saudi Arabia’s – and yet, food and medicine are growing scarce.
Venezuela’s situation is worsening with each passing day.Thousands of young men and women have left the country looking for better opportunities, contrasting greatly with the years before the Chavez rule, and even before that when Venezuela was a welcoming land for those leaving their homelands. This exodus represents a serious loss of human capital and is slowly shifting all of the demographic composition of the country.
Venezuela had never experienced high volumes of emigration before. On the contrary, it has long since been host to those who seek a better future. But now the number of outgoing Venezuelans is increasing every year. It is their stories we bring you today.
Five young women; three of whom have taken the decision to leave the country, one who is preparing to leave, and one who has returned, speak to IPF about their struggle to cope in a country that is slipping into an economic crisis. They face these struggles despite graduating from one of the country’s most prestigious universities in the country, the Catholic University.
Over the last one year, Gabriela González, Andrea Estrada and Maria V. Sanchez have all decided to change their residence status to somewhere else – anywhere but Venezuela.
For 25-year-old Andrea, there were many reasons to leave. Nevertheless, the strongest (and hardest to admit) was that the country did not only have no opportunities for professional growth, but Venezuela had also not been able to ensure her wellbeing. Andrea was determined to live a life that didn’t revolve around the grace of not getting robbed or having to queue to buy food. The lifestyle was exhausting and made her realise that it was hard to be completely – if at all – happy.
Gabriela also sought the opportunities her country could not provide her with. Leaving Venezuela had been a plan in the making for two years before she took the final step at the age of 25. It happened when one day she realised that even if she became president of the enterprise where she worked, she would never earn enough money to be able to buy an apartment of her own. At the time Gabriela earned 1/30 of the money that she needed to buy a washing machine. At those rates the hope of buying an apartment was quickly fading away.
Maria Sanchez, 25, also saw the lack of opportunity for growth as a problem. She remembered feeling frustrated at her academic future, too afraid to pursue a higher level of education that would require her to attend night school. With crime rising, travelling around at night was just not an option. She explained that classes of a certain level in Venezuela go on until about 11pm.
“It wasn’t possible for me to go back home and be ‘safe’ at that time – for disclosure, I lived in one of the safest parts of the city. Because of the insecurity I couldn’t study for my Masters.”
For 26-year-old Maria Victoria, who is preparing to leave Venezuela within the next two months, her decision to leave came from a need to put prder back into her life. She explained that spending hours in a queue every time she wanted to buy food was becoming a struggle. She also cited a poor healthcare system that contributed towards her decision to leave her hometown.
“I need to know that if I come home I can bathe myself and there will be clean water to do so. Most importantly, that if I get sick I will be able to not only afford, but to access proper treatment and find the medicines I need.”
Maria Victoria went on to say:
“It looks like a lie but in this country for a long time we have had to forget about wanting things that are completely normal for any other regular citizen in the world”.
On the other hand, Rebeca, 28, is now back in Venezuela after having been away for nearly two years. At the time, leaving was a decision that came as a result of exhaustion:
“Constantly listening to stories of kidnapping or murders or robbery was something I could not take any longer”.
Along with the other women, her plans of leaving her house and becoming independent was something considered impossible at her age. She had a good job in a well-known enterprise in Venezuela, who she had been working with for three years.
“It was the hardest decision I had to ever come about. My plans have always been here in Venezuela, I am very close to my family and I had a good job. Leaving meant to quit everything here and start from zero somewhere else. I gathered all the strength I had and left for a year of study and to evaluate my options outside”
When asked about the prospect of coming back to Venezuela, Andrea expressed discouragement in how long an economic recovery in Venezuela would take. She noted that that economic situation depended greatly on the oil market and the social components, such as insecurity, would take a long time to show improvement.
Life changed considerably for all of these women. Almost all of their decisions were taken after thorough consideration of the country’s political situation, although none of them would consider themselves particularly politically engaged. Gabriela felt discouraged when it came to politics as she believed that power is at the hands of only a few and her voice could not be heard.
“I protested in the streets against the government but I lost a lot of hope when I realised that none of our protests were truly changing the context, and that a small group in power were the ones deciding our future.”
For Rebeca, politics represent a factor of polarisation that has permeated every aspect of people’s lives. She points out: “Even if you are not passionate about it, how can you not be constantly connected to it?”
She is now back in Venezuela but remains dubious about her future in the country: “Coming back was my decision and I do not regret it, but I know that my future is filled with uncertainty.”
Gabriela stills thinks of her return and hopes to be able to help those in most need. She said: “I do not know if I will ever be back, but I do hope that if I do I come back with something good to provide opportunity for those most in need.”
“I think Venezuela is a wonderful country currently governed by the wrong people.”
In spite of everything, these are all fortunate women who have been able to afford private education, and despite the struggle with services, have been able to save up enough money to leave the country. Unfortunately, this is not the reality of the least privileged in the country.
Currently, a whole generation is struggling to build their own future, despite growing up in the country with the largest oil reserves in the world. Hopefully Venezuela will recover its track towards prosperity. Meanwhile, telling the stories of these women might just be one of the best ways to show Venezuela’s reality in bits and pieces.