At a glance: Venezuela, The Bolivarian Republic of

Programmes offer assistance to children living in the violence-plagued slums of Caracas, Venezuela

By Tamar Hahn

UNICEF’s flagship report, ‘The State of the World’s Children 2012: Children in an Urban World’, was launched on 28 February, focusing attention on children in urban areas. One billion children live in urban areas, a number that is growing rapidly. Yet disparities within cities reveal that many lack access to schools, health care and sanitation, despite living alongside these services. This story is part of a series highlighting the needs of these children.

© UNICEF video
UNICEF reports on UNICEF's efforts to help children in the violence-plagued slums of Caracas, Venezuela. Produced by Thomas Nybo.  Watch in RealPlayer

 

CARACAS, Venezuela, 20 March 2012 – Every evening, as soon as the sun goes down, young Yeremi Reyes* and his family lock all the doors to their house, lower the blinds and hunker down for another night of random shootings and violent fights in the street. Yet Yeremi does not live in a war-torn country; he lives in a marginalized neighbourhood in the city of Caracas.

Violence is rampant here, the result of deep inequalities, and the effects on children have been devastating. Many have seen friends and relatives killed as a result of gang fights, robberies or stray bullets. They live in fear at home and in school, especially those living in the city’s shantytowns.

‘The violence is unbearable’

Petare is an enormous slum at the edge of Caracas. A massive expanse of ramshackle homes surrounded by luxury buildings, the area is a stark example of the inequality that characterizes much of the region.

For the residents of Caracas, Petare is emblematic of the violence that plagues their city. But for adolescents like Enrique Hernández*, Petare is simply home.

“Sometimes the neighbourhood is quiet, but sometimes the violence is unbearable and we have to stay locked in the house for hours,” said Enrique, whose house was hit by several bullets during a recent shooting in the street.

The violence deprives children and adolescents of their right to protection, their right to play and sometimes even their right to an education.

More than once, children at the 24 de Marzo School, in the heart of Petare, had to be evacuated when shots were heard outside its windows.

“Sometimes the children are on break, and we hear gunshots and have to rush them back into the classroom or evacuate them,” said Janet Maraima, a fifth-grade teacher at 24 de Marzo.

UNICEF Image
© UNICEF video
A baseball programme teaches children how to play the game and also gives them the skills to prevent violence.

Finding safe haven

Ms. Maraima and other teachers in this school have received training, provided by the communication group Cisneros Foundation, with support from UNICEF and a local NGO, on how to help children use art to talk about the violence that permeates their lives.

“It has been a very powerful experience to see the children reflect on their own realities through art,” Ms. Maraima said. “I am endlessly inspired by these children. I look at them and at all that they have to face on a daily basis, and I still see hope in each of their little faces.”

Others are also helping the children of urban communities reclaim their right to play.

Yeremi has found refuge in a small field close to his neighbourhood. The renowned baseball team Leones del Caracas, together with the municipality of Baruta and the community, cleaned up the field to start a baseball clinic for children in the area.

Leones de Caracas runs the clinic, providing a chance for participants to learn the game and enjoy a safe and fun environment for a few hours a week. But the clinics go beyond just teaching baseball – they are also designed to teach values and impart life skills to prevent violence.

“I love coming here,” said Yeremi. “I have fun and forget all my troubles.

“I have also learned to share, to help other boys and girls who are still learning the game, to stand up for the smaller kids if a bigger one is mean to them. And I don’t just do it here in the baseball field but also at school.”

These initiatives are supported by UNICEF in Venezuela as part of its work preventing violence against children and promoting adolescents’ healthy development.

*Names changed to protect childrens’ identities


 

 

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