A Venezuelan migrant paves the way for student integration in Tumbes, Peru
For Axlyn Rodríguez leaving her homeland behind was hard, but was able to integrate. Her case is an example of how, with the appropriate intervention, a school can become “a second home”
For any casual observer, it may be just a piece of braided cloth or one more of the elements that comprise the school uniform. But the brigadier general's cordon that Axlyn Rodríguez wears on her right arm represents a new phase for her and for more than 4,000 Venezuelan children and adolescents who had to leave their country and are trying to adapt to their new home: Tumbes.
Located in the extreme north of Peru, this border region has witnessed the transit of more than a million Venezuelan migrants since 2018. Some 20,000 decided to settle in Tumbes, according to figures estimated by UNICEF. One of those 20,000 stories is that of Yarinés Martínez, mother of Axlyn Rodríguez, who in 2019 left her native Los Teques, in the Venezuelan state of Miranda, seeking a better future for her three children, even if that meant not seeing them for two years.
Once settled in Tumbes and after recovering from the consequences of the pandemic, Yarinés was able to bring her two youngest daughters to Peru: Axlyn (16) and Daniela (11). In a few days, however, the family joy gave way to agonizing uncertainty about their integration into a school system that was in a virtual mode in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic. It did not favor any relationship-building between the young students and their Peruvian classmates.
While Daniela gradually managed to adapt to the rhythm of her classes, Axlyn suffered from a lack of communication and isolation. She was able to finish the 2021 school year with great difficulty, encouraged, above all, by the affection of her sister. “My experience in the virtual classes was horrible. The truth was that I didn't get along with the teachers. I didn't interact with anyone, nor did I become friends with anyone,” she recalls.
The return to face-to-face classes, decreed by the Ministry of Education, was not what she expected. Everything was new and at the same time unknown and intimidating: the uniform, the teachers, and the classmates.
“When I entered the school for the first time, I felt fear and despair. I was afraid that they were going to hate me or criticize me because of my origin, where I was born, because of that place that I love so much”
Despite their attempts to fit in, Axlyn and Daniela felt left out. The distance with their classmates, crossed by mistrust of the migrant population and an often-buried xenophobia; and the stress of adapting to a new environment, with foreign habits and customs, made going to school a daily anguish.
Aware of everything, Yarinés decided to act immediately. A teacher by training –although she had to do different jobs to ensure a livelihood in Tumbes-, she requested the intervention of the authorities and teachers at the school. “I told them: ‘Daughters, go ahead. Let's go get help. Don't give up. We have traveled so much, we have suffered so much, to let ourselves fall right now,'" she says. Thanks to her contacts within the network of institutions that support the migrant population, Yarinés was able to get free psychological therapy for her daughters, provided by the NGO “Encuentros”. This, added to the presence of UNICEF in the school, through an inclusive education approach, generated positive results.
Little by little, Axlyn began to have more participation in the classroom. The teachers included her in more activities, her performance improved, the direction noticed it and decided to name her brigadier general.
“Axlyn was chosen for being a diligent, respectful, empathetic student with her classmates, but she also projected the necessary confidence to impose order”
With the brigadier general's cord on her right arm, the changes in Axlyn became more and more visible. The distance between her classmates started to disappear and, suddenly, new bonds of friendship started to emerge. Omar Arca was able to witness all of this from one of the desks in the fifth-year high school classroom. “Axlyn was winning the affection of all. She is an extraordinary girl”, he says of whom is now his best friend.
Axlyn's case is living proof of the positive impact that sensitive and committed educational institutions have on the integration of children and adolescents. To guarantee the same opportunities for all, UNICEF works in coordination with the Ministry of Education and its respective dependencies in each region, seeking to create the conditions to achieve an inclusive education system.
Through the installation of school leveling spaces for both migrant and Peruvian students, UNICEF aspires not only to achieve academic progress, but also to generate instances of socialization and exchange where boys and girls can meet and generate empathy. “Education helped me a lot to insert myself more. I arrived here like a cloud, I didn't know where to go, what to do, how to act, but getting to know the country was essential to be able to grow”, says Axlyn.
UNICEF's new goal in the region is that the 4,000 Venezuelans of school age -1,500 of them still outside the system- can access an inclusive education like Axlyn.
“We want to provide the migrant and refugee population with adequate conditions for them to integrate and recover both emotionally and educationally”
In this sense, the academic reinforcement program, called “Diverticlases”, has been key for Venezuelan students. The initiative is currently applied in ten schools in Tumbes and will be extended to the entire region for the 2023 school year.
Fears and anxieties have been left behind. Axlyn's presence in the spaces created by UNICEF in schools serves to put forward the message of integration to more Peruvians and Venezuelans.
“I think I am contributing desires and attitudes for a good relationship between residents and migrants”
Explains Axlyn, who is now one of the best students in her class and is preparing with great dedication to be able to apply for a medical degree at the National University of Tumbes. “My school is now like a second home”.