Books or bread: Venezuelan families struggle to afford school supplies

World Today

When the school year began in Venezuela, many desks sat empty in classrooms across the country. With a severe economic crisis — which includes triple-digit inflation — some families have had to choose between books and bread.

CGTN’s Juan Carlos Lamas reports.

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As the bell rings, the first day of school begins and children file into classrooms across Venezuela. The government provides a free public education for each child, but their families are responsible for providing textbooks, uniforms, backpacks, and other supplies.

For many, that’s not possible.

First grader Arturo Torres is ready with last year’s backpack and secondhand textbooks. A neighbor made his uniform, but he’s staying home from school this week because he still needs pencils, notebooks, and school shoes.

“Our priority is food,” Arturo’s mother Norimar said. “The money we obtain from our work is to buy food, and not other expenses like school supplies. We don’t have the money to buy most of them.”

Norimar and her husband Leandro said they’ve been saving up for over a year, and they hope to send Arturo to class next week wearing a new pair of shoes.

The stark choice between books and bread means many Venezuelan parents keep their children home from school so they can help find food or work to boost the family’s income.

The president of Caracas-based organization CECODAP estimates nearly 200,000 children missed the first week of class, and many are not enrolled at all.

“In Venezuela, there are more than one million students who are out of the school system, and there is a growing tendency to migrate from school to the streets due to social issues, food shortages and violence in schools,” said CECODAP President Oscar Misle.

Venezuela’s president, however, said he’s proud of the country’s education system.

“4,700,000 children and young people are enrolled in school for the new year,” President Nicolas Maduro said. “Unlike many countries in Latin America, we have guaranteed an investment in public education.”

The government has provided millions of uniforms, backpacks, and other supplies for students from indigenous rural communities with high levels of poverty. And children at thousands of schools will be able to take advantage of snack programs, making sure they have at least one meal a day. But many say that’s not enough.