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Mother, don’t leave me

In the last few minutes before leaving, 8-year-old Gene Carlos held his mother’s hand tightly and promised her “take a deep breath and don’t let the tears fall.” His 10-year-old sister Kristall hid in the kitchen angrily, and his 12-year-old brother Kristian dragged his suitcase to the courtyard helplessly. This is a scene that took place in Maracaibo, Venezuela’s second largest city.

Walking out of the house, 38-year-old Ola Fernandez resisted the tears that was about to burst. As the bus drove over, the single mother kissed her 10 children goodbye, then got on the bus and quickly disappeared from sight. “I love you,” she said before leaving, “study hard!”

| Separation of flesh and blood into normalcy |
Seven years after Venezuela’s economic collapse, millions of people have left the country. According to data from the UN refugee agency, about 6.5 million people will leave by the end of 2020—except for war, it is difficult for other factors to cause such a large-scale population movement.

These Venezuelans, who are dedicated to finding jobs, food and medicine, entrust their children to their grandparents, aunts, uncles, and even older brothers and sisters who have just passed puberty. Many parents can’t bear to let their children drift away with them, and more people simply can’t take their children with them.

Many school-age children who stayed in their hometowns took to the streets to make money, and some of them were abused by sex traffickers and armed organizations. These abusers filled the power vacuum left by the collapse of the Venezuelan state. Here, the concept of “childhood” was completely subverted.

According to an assessment by aid organizations and polling agencies, the number of Venezuelan children whose parents both go abroad to make a living is as high as nearly one million. “In this case, you will grow up quickly.” Fernandez’s niece Silvani said. The mother of this nine-year-old girl went to work in Colombia. After her mother left, Silvani and the children from Aunt Fernandez’s family lived with her frail grandparents. This fourth-grade pupil also took on the responsibility of taking care of his one-year-old brother Samuel, feeding him and coaxing him to sleep at night. “I am his sister in name, but actually his nanny.” She said.

“This is a status quo that will change the face of our society.” Psychologist Abel Sarawa said. The phenomenon of separation of flesh and blood will weaken the “left-behind generation,” and they were expected to rebuild Venezuela in the future. The new crown virus further isolates these children. To prevent the spread of the virus, President Nicolas Maduro declared a “closed country” and sent troops to the streets to implement this measure. This has severed many children from their teachers and neighbors, and this may be their only way to get help.

|”I did not abandon my children”|
In January 2020, Fernandez left the children in the state of Zulia, where the economic situation is very bad. It was once the home of the working class, rich in oil and livestock, and has a unique regional culture. The locals buy a car and spend money on vacation. Nowadays, there are frequent power outages here, and the residents’ monthly salary is only enough to buy rice for two days.

On the day he left home, Fernandez carried the little pink handbag woven by his eldest daughter, which contained only her bible, toothbrush and a bottle of perfume. She was also dragging an empty blue suitcase, planning to put gifts in it for the children when she returned home. The bus bumped out of the courtyard, passing by houses that were closed and locked and the once bustling shops-these places are now marked “for sale”.

At a taxi rank, Fernandez bid farewell to his 19-year-old son Erasmo, and told him to take good care of his younger siblings, and then got into a dilapidated Ford Mustang. The car passed a welcome sign with the words “Suria, a glorious place” and sprinted out of the city. After a few hours of bumps, the car bypassed the bay and came to a dangerous border town. Fernandez got out of the car and jumped into a motorcycle. “I didn’t abandon my children,” she said, “I have nowhere to make a living in Venezuela and have to leave them.”

Fernandez’s children live in simple bedrooms.

Nine-year-old Silvani takes care of her one-year-old brother Samuel.

Towering arches and chaotic crowds are signs of the border. In the evening, Fernandez crossed the border and got on a motorcycle and then a bus before arriving at his destination at dawn. She doesn’t have a phone, and she doesn’t know when she will see her child again.

Fernandez used to manage cleaning supplies in a Venezuelan food company, but his meager salary was unable to make ends meet. At the end of 2016, Venezuela’s economic recession had turned into a crisis. Fernandez left for Colombia for the first time and left his children to the care of his 55-year-old mother and 77-year-old father. The children only eat one meal a day and have no money to buy soap and laundry.

Fernandez found a housekeeping job in Barranquilla, Colombia, sending money home every two weeks for a total of $35 per month. Fernandez’s sister, Silvani’s mother, also went to Barranquilla with her, leaving the child with her grandparents, and sometimes other relatives would come to help.

|”We are living in crisis”|
On a wide street in Maracaibo, there is a simple building called “Carmela Valera House” painted blue. This is a boarding school for girls living in crisis, run by nuns who are kind to others. In the past, the school only accepted children who lost their parents or took drugs, but now, at least half of the students here have one of their parents abroad.

About every two weeks, tap water comes out of the school tap. The girls use all the containers they can find to store water. They use the water for bathing, cooking, and flushing the toilet. The 39-year-old nun Wendy Khalil said that this family lacks everything: antibiotics, shampoo, toilet paper, vegetables, and water tanks… But fortunately, children can lead a normal life to a certain degree, and they can study with one mind and occasionally I can watch movies so I don’t think about other things. There is a sign in the yard that says “Reject Depression”. Last year, a student locked himself in the bathroom after his parents went abroad and threatened to commit suicide.

Fernandez took a motorcycle to the border towns of Venezuela and Colombia.

One day in February this year, the girls woke up in the morning light, combed their hair, and headed to the school chapel. There, a priest led them in prayer, and a nun played guitar to accompany them. “We pray for Venezuela,” they shouted in unison, “for women, for the poor, for those who are not in the country!”

The children of “Carmela-Valera House” prayed for their parents who went abroad to make a living.

Fernandez has several children with excellent grades, especially Jean. He has been reading since he was three years old, and his ideal is to become a doctor. However, since she left, some children have obviously regressed, especially Kristol, who suddenly forgot after learning the multiplication table.

The day after his mother left home, the eight-year-old Gene brought his old notebook to the classroom. The teacher asked the students to copy all the example sentences on the blackboard, one of which reads “The table belongs to mother”. Gene stared at the blackboard and began to transcribe, “The table is mom’s”, “The table is mom’s” “The table is…” He hid his face and cried, unable to write anymore.

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