Coming from Venezuela, siblings want to go back to school

Migrants Carmen and Juan feared they would not be able to provide education for their 3 children. After getting support from the Active School Search, they now want to focus on the health of their youngest daughter

Foto mostra duas meninas. A maior segura a menor no colo. As duas estão sorrindo.
UNICEF/BRZ/Marco Prates
11 March 2022

When 30-year-old Venezuelan, Carmen Andreina, started looking for information on how to enroll her three children - who had recently arrived in Brazil - in a public school, she was immediately overcome by a feeling of hopelessness. At the school, the staff who tried to assist her did not speak Spanish. Carmen, herself, speaks very little Portuguese, even less when it comes to figuring out bureaucratic procedures and document requests. “All I could think was, ‘my God, my children are really going to miss the year’”, Carmen recalls. She and her family live in a shelter for refugees and migrants in Boa Vista, Roraima.

After only four months in the country, Carmen and her husband, Juan Diego Losada, were distressed: how could their dream of a better life in Brazil come true, if their children were out of school? Moreover, it was just the time for their 5-year-old daughter, Daymar, to join school for the first time.

With mild microcephaly, the girl – pampered by her parents and siblings – was the main reason for the family to decide to leave their own home, friends, and family behind. “It got to the point where it was either her medication or food, we couldn't afford both”, Daymar’s father tells us, recalling the social, political and economic crisis that his home country is going through.

Foto mostra uma família: da esquerda para a direita, um home, um menino, uma mulher segurando uma menina no colo e uma menina sentada ao lado dela.
UNICEF/BRZ/Marco Prates
From left to right: Juan, Diego, Daymar, Carmen and Kairelis. Parents’ no. 1 priority this year is their children's education. And to continue to take care of the health of the youngest, who has microcephaly.

It was with a feeling of relief and hope that Carmen and her husband, Juan, left their appointment with the Active School Search task force at the shelter where they live. The action took place in February and was realized by UNICEF in partnership with Instituto Pirilampos.

There, Daymar and her 8-year-old brother, Diego, have been pre-registered by telephone with the Municipal Department of Education and Culture of Boa Vista. And the referrals were given for the oldest, the 12-year-old Kairelis, to be enrolled in a state school.

With that, the family's top priority for 2022 began to be resolved. “This support was essential”, says the mother, who even managed to take a 3x4 photo of the children and make copies of the documents before sending them for placement tests and completion of enrollment.

The second priority is to focus on Daymar's healthcare, getting an appointment with a neurologist and an appointment for a cataract surgery on one of the girl's eyes – a surgery they had waited for years in their home country. “I have faith that with physiotherapy she will be able to walk. She is very smart and reactive, understands everything, applauds, and feels when someone leaves”, Carmen says, next to her daughter, who gets around in a wheelchair. She is also looking for physical therapy and other treatments before completing school enrollment.

It was Daymar who suffered the most on the way to Brazil. Very sensitive to external stimuli, the girl had three seizures in the two-week period, between leaving her hometown and arriving in Boa Vista, where things finally began to calm down. Since then, there have been no more crises.

Foto mostra uma menina sentada em uma cadeira de rodas. Atrás dela há outra menina em pé.
UNICEF/BRZ/Marco Prates
Daymar and Kairelis: the youngest gets around in a wheelchair, but the mother hopes to see her walking one day. Her school debut – postponed a little while her family focuses on her health – will be in Brazil.

“No child or teenager should be left out of school, no matter where they come from. Education is a right that accompanies the child when they leave their home country. Together with Roraima’s State and Municipal Education Secretariats, and in partnership with Instituto Pirilampos, UNICEF works to remove the barriers that refugee and migrant parents and caregivers face to access schools. A child is always a child, regardless of their nationality and where they live”, Julia Caligiorne, UNICEF Education Officer in Roraima, states.

Accessing education in times of a pandemic also takes a weight off the parents' shoulders. In Carmen’s case, she was relieved from the responsibility of playing the role of a teacher – the majority of schools in Venezuela, as in Brazil, did not offer in-person classes over the last two years, affecting children's learning journey and their mental health.

Now, Diego only aways the result of his grade placement test to begin his studies. Kairelis, on the other hand, got a place at a school far from the shelter and her mother is now negotiating to ensure that she can attend classes in a school closer to where they live.

Despite some good news, the three children also face the anxiety of going back to school in a different country.

“I want to learn Portuguese in three months, but it's very difficult”, Kairelis says. For her, the school will be an opportunity to make friends, despite her apprehension about how her integration process will happen.

Moreover, while their father is looking for a job and the family is waiting for the opportunity to move to another state – within the Internalization Strategy of Operation Welcome (Operação Acolhida), a response of the Brazilian Federal Government, the United Nations and the civil society to the migration flow from Venezuela – Kairelis and Diego continue to be Daymar's protective older siblings. They get angry when someone calls their sister names and, almost every day, they compete to see who will sleep in the same bed as the youngest. To avoid conflicts, however, the mother prefers to bring Daymar to sleep in her bed.

Foto mostra uma menina sentada em uma cadeira olhando para uma câmera, enquanto um homem está tirando foto dela.
UNICEF/BRZ/Marco Prates
Daymar takes a 3x4 photo, a document necessary for the enrollment in the municipal education network.

The search for those who are out of school
The Active School Search task force took place between February 1 and 4, within the scope of the Súper Panas project - spaces that offer non-formal education activities and psychosocial support for refugee and migrant children and adolescents from Venezuela. The Súper Panas are maintained by the European Union's Department of Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid (ECHO) and the United States’ Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration (PRM). The action had the support of the Brazilian Federal Subcommittee on Reception, and Internalization and the Operation Welcome’s (Operação Acolhida) Humanitarian Logistics Task Force.

The Active School Search is a strategy that is present in more than 3,000 municipalities and 20 states in Brazil – a collaboration with municipal and state governments to tackle school exclusion. The strategy was created by UNICEF and the Brazilian National Union of Municipal Education Directors (Undime), with the support of the National Collegiate of Municipal Social Assistance Managers (Congemas) and the National Council of Municipal Health Secretariats (Conasems). The objective is to support governments in the identification, registration, control and follow-up of children and adolescents who are out of school or at risk of dropping out, so that every girl and every boy can catch up on their studies and have a successful academic journey. Learn more at: (in Portuguese).