Code for VenezuelaAmid the outbreak of intense political, economic and humanitarian crises in Venezuela, one group of Silicon Valley-based Venezuelan expatriates came together to create the nonprofit Code for Venezuela. This organization looks to funnel Venezuelan expatriates’ professional skills and talent back into the country, helping from abroad to solve the challenges facing Venezuela. With team members in design, art, marketing and technology, the organization codes and creates bots, engines and other tech-based interfaces. They are created to tackle issues in Venezuela while connecting Venezuelan professionals around the globe through the organization’s projects.

About the Organization

Code for Venezuela collects essential information and provides it to those who need it. Among this organization’s projects is Angostura. This is a platform for collecting, sharing and analyzing data with NGOs. It also does this with other organizations combatting the humanitarian crisis in Venezuela. The organization designs and provides messenger-app based bots, google forms, and other types of user-friendly and easily-accessible surveys for organizations looking to generate data on the ground. Additionally, the service organizes and stores the data for future use. Simultaneously, they also offering analytics to demonstrate trends in the data. This assures that organizations that need the information can access a clear picture of the data whenever needed.

Medicine to Electricity

From medicine to electricity, Code for Venezuela works to track and solve shortages. An additional project belonging to the organization is a blackout tracker, which collects incident reports of power shortages, documents the reports and maps out the extent of the blackout. Additionally, the service also helps the organization tackle the issue of accessibility to its digitally-based services.

Another project of the organization is MediTweet, a Twitter bot that connects Venezuelans in need of certain medicines with those who possess and can distribute it. Beyond their own work, the organization connects with and supports other expatriate efforts. For example, the organization came in contact with Dr. Julio Castro. He is an organizer of Medicos por la Salud, a group that collects data points in Venezuela’s health system. Upon contacting him, the organization created a system of crowd-sourcing from Twitter to help collect more robust data for Medicos pro la Salud.

Bringing Back the Talent

Looking further into the future, Code for Venezuela aims to funnel professional skill back into Venezuela and foster upcoming talent. Nearly 10% of Venezuela’s population has relocated in recent years as a product of the ongoing economic and political crisis in the country. For the young tech-based professionals behind the nonprofit organization, one of its central goals is to ultimately use the knowledge and experience gained abroad to help foster local skills and talent within Venezuela itself. Additionally, the organization uses its base in technology to connect expatriates in other fields and industries to organizations on the grounds of Venezuela. This provides other organizations with the necessary technological tools to communicate and pursue projects in Venezuela.

More Action

Code for Venezuela is tackling the pressing fight of containing COVID-19. As Latin America became one of the fastest-growing regions for COVID-19 cases, The organization created a message-app based chatbot to help citizens assess their own potential illness. The chatbot would also help compensate for low levels of testing in Venezuela. Users can text an algorithm-based chatbot for a “virtual checkup” where the user is asked questions about symptoms and exposure. This eventually gives the user a possible diagnosis. Although not a proper medical diagnosis, the chatbot aims to provide further information to civilians. It also helps to slow the spread of the disease. To the users that prove to have a “medium” or “high” risk, the chatbot recommends seeking medical treatment. In addition to helping individuals, the chatbot collects data and can help to illuminate trends in the outbreak within Venezuela.

 

Alexandra Black

Photo: Flickr

Charitable MLB Players The athletes playing in Major League Baseball (MLB) are utilizing their fame and athletic talents to help those in need around the world. Some of these players grew up in countries with extreme poverty. Baseball was used as a means to find a better life and return to help their home countries with charities and relief efforts. Others have visited poverty-stricken countries and chose to make a difference in unique ways to increase poverty awareness. Here are three charitable MLB players who are giving back.

Baseball Players Giving Back Around the World

Pedro Martinez – Dominican Republic

Considered one of the greatest pitchers of all time, Pedro Martinez was a dominant force on the mound throughout his 17-year Hall of Fame MLB career, which included a World Series win with the 2004 Boston Red Sox. Born in the Dominican Republic, Martinez saw first-hand the poverty that gripped his home country as he trained for life in baseball. When the coronavirus hit his home country, he took action and led the way with his organization, the Pedro Martinez Foundation, along with 40 other Dominican born MLB players. The group created a fund that has raised more than $550,000 for the relief efforts. This will pay for 5,000 food kits that last a total of two weeks each. It also will provide thirty-two thousand medical masks for doctors and nurses, 110,000 masks for citizens and 7,700 protective suits for medical personnel.

Dee Gordon- Rwanda

During a baseball game, Dee Gordon is best known for stealing bases. Throughout his decade-long career, he has stolen 330 bases, the most of any player in a 10-year period. The Seattle Mariners 2nd baseman has been using his talent for stealing bases to help increase poverty awareness to the hunger issues in the Ruhango district of Rwanda. Gordon has been associated with organizations such as Food for the Hungry, Strike Out Poverty and the Big League Impact Foundation for several years in order to help feed people in the Central African nation since 2019. As a charitable MLB player, every time he steals a base during a game there is a donation that he personally gives of $100 that goes toward one of these organizations to help feed the people of the Ruhango district. He has raised over $47,000 over the years to help impoverished nations all over the world including Rwanda. 

Carlos Carrasco- Venezuela

In 2019, Carlos Carrasco received the Roberto Clemente Award for his efforts in helping out his community in his home country of Venezuela and around the world. The Roberto Clemente Award is given out once a year to the MLB player that shows extraordinary character, community involvement, philanthropy and positive contribution, both on and off the field. Carrasco, a 33-year-old pitcher for the Cleveland Indians, has been donating money and supplies to help those in Venezuela suffering from the current economic crisis that has gripped the nation for years. In 2019 he donated $300,000 to Casa Venezuela Cucuta, an organization out of Columbia that helps recent Venezuelan migrants fleeing the crisis. Carrasco has also sent toys, medical supplies and baseball equipment to the children living in Venezuela. 

These three charitable MLB players show their dedication to increasing poverty awareness in countries that need it most. Through baseball, they have found fame and fortune. With that success, they have given back to communities all over the world by giving their time, money and efforts in creating a life for those without. 

Sam Bostwick
Photo: Flickr

Poverty in Venezuela
Venezuela was once a rich and stable country. Over the last few decades, Venezuela has fallen into financial and governmental trouble. In 1989, when rioting and looting polluted the streets due to increased petroleum prices, Venezuela began a spiral into debt. When Hugo Chávez became president in 1998, citizens became optimistic as he funded money into programs to assist the poor. Unfortunately, mismanagement allowed problems to persist. Within the last decade, poverty rates have risen dramatically. Here are 10 facts about poverty in Venezuela.

10 Facts About Poverty in Venezuela

  1. The economy has created a nationwide crisis. As Venezuela’s economy collapses many programs are collapsing with it. The country is experiencing hyperinflation. Over the past three years, the annual inflation rate is 10,398%. Hyperinflation in Venezuela has increased the number of people living in severe poverty and barely surviving from day to day. A national survey in 2017 found that 87% of families live below the poverty line.
  2. The government retains full control of the economy. Since 1989, the Venezuelan government has retained full control of the economy. In 2003, the government introduced price and currency controls and it became the sole provider of bolivars. As a result, funds denied businesses access and banks could only assist specific organizations. Additionally, companies had to sell products below production costs and close stores, which caused a supply shortage and negatively affected the economy.
  3. Government information is experiencing censorship. Journalists, lawyers and medical professionals experienced detainment and imprisonment for exposing the poor conditions of their country. Although the poverty Venezuelans face is no secret, censorship hides the depths of the governmental and economic corruption, thus reducing the level of support that other countries offer. Venezuela ranked 173 out of 180 countries that Transparency International’s 2019 Corruption Perceptions Index assessed for corruption. The lower the ranking, the more corruption in the government.
  4. Venezuela is experiencing a split government. In May 2018, Nicolás Maduro, the incumbent president of Venezuela, “won” a disputed re-election against Juan Guaidó, leader of the National Assembly. By the following June, the Organization of American States recognized Guaidó as President; Guaidó subsequently declared himself president on January 23, 2019. Blame for the free-fall of the economy lands on Maduro, but he holds all the military and refuses to relinquish power. Recognized by 50 other countries, Guaidó does not hold much authority on his own. As more becomes clear about the corruption that Venezuela experiences, Guaidó receives more assistance from other countries to help his people.
  5. Food and water shortages are at an all-time high. Since 2017, nearly two-thirds of Venezuelans reported losing an average of 25 pounds in the previous year; they refer to this as the “Maduro-diet” due to food and water shortages. These shortages have peaked with the COVID-19 emergency. Venezuela has 4,187 confirmed COVID-19 cases and 35 confirmed COVID-19 deaths. PAHO and UNICEF have provided relief by supplying medical equipment and COVID-19 tests and the U.N. has since stepped in to provide funds. When the global pandemic began, hospitals quickly found it difficult to care for patients while lacking running water. Additionally, sanctions that the U.S. put into place made access to food more difficult.
  6. Venezuela is experiencing medical shortages. Fernando Gomez is a 54-year-old man living in Venezuela. In an interview with The New Humanitarian Gomez said, “The government says wear masks, wash your hands often, and stay inside… but we don’t have water, we often don’t have electricity, and there are no masks.” Even before the pandemic, diseases such as measles, diphtheria and malaria rose. While there are proven vaccines and antibiotics for these diseases, shortages have led to high mortality rates from these illnesses. In the last five years, there also have been significant shortages of medical personnel and supplies, leaving Venezuela’s population at greater risk. PAHO, UNICEF and the U.N. are doing what they can to assist.
  7. Venezuela’s oil industry is collapsing. Petroleum was once a significant part of the Venezuelan economy; now it suffers from oil shortages at great cost to its people. Marcia Briggs, a reporter for Pulitzercenter.org, spent a day at a local Venezuelan gas station. The line stretched for miles and people would wait a day or more for fuel. Spending time in line means not working and earning wages. In 1998, the country produced 3.5 million barrels of oil a day but in 2002, when Petróleos De Venezuela went on strike against Chávez, he fired 19,000 workers. Since 2007, production has decreased dramatically and reached an all-time low in 2019.
  8. Although the minimum wage in Venezuela increased in 2020, it remains below a survivable level. In January 2020, Maduro increased the minimum wage from 300,000 bolivars an hour to 450,000 per hour; the equivalent of $5.45. In April of 2020, Maduro decided to increase the wage again by 77.7%. The minimum wage currently sits at 800,000 bolivars ($4.60). It is “only enough to buy just over a kilo of beef.” As the minimum wage continues increasing, there is hope that it will soon reach a survivable level.
  9. Venezuela experiences a lack of education. The education system has lost thousands of teachers due to underfunding. Some children are so malnourished that they lack the necessary energy to attend school. Other families lack the funds to pay for transportation to classes. U.N. experts say that an uneducated future will do nothing but perpetuate the crisis the country faces. Education is free, although finding enough people to direct the students’ education is a problem with no current solution.
  10. Venezuelans continue to flee their country. All of these problems have led to Venezuelans fleeing the country in hopes of a better future. There have been roughly 5 million migrants from Venezuela. Fleeing the country gives the migrants a better chance at survival but worsens the situation in their home country. Essential jobs that lack workers now have even fewer available people. Citizens who remain in Venezuela say they no longer feel safe in their country and they have lost all hope and trust in officials to fix the crisis.

Although poverty, corruption and violence have been the narrative of Venezuela for the last few decades, there is still hope that the tide will turn. In the time of a government battle, citizens now have more than two options. It used to be Maduro leaves or they do, but now there is a third option which is change with President Guaidó.

Fortunately, there are many groups assisting with child security, food and water relief, education and poverty in Venezuela. These continued efforts will hopefully impact poverty in Venezuela significantly.

Marlee Ingram
Photo: Flickr

Gender Inequality in VenezuelaIn Venezuela, like other conservative countries, women have often been viewed as the weaker sex, creating vast gender inequalities. In the past few decades, the country has faced severe political turmoil. Women have shouldered the brunt of the force. The coronavirus pandemic has exposed the extent of gender inequality in Venezuela, as women must rely on their partners for financial support – those same partners from whom many women face domestic violence. Thankfully, there are many resources for Venezuelan women to turn to, including the Women’s Development Bank, abbreviated Banmujer. It is the only state-owned women’s bank in the world. Here are six ways that Banmujer is addressing gender inequality in Venezuela.

Six Ways Banmujer is Aiding Women

  1. For women, by women – The Venezuelan Women’s Development Bank was created in 2001 to help empower women by ensuring financial stability independent from their partners. Banmujer supports female entrepreneurs by only providing loans to women, promoting financial independence, creativity and innovation. In addition, the organization employs women who travel to rural communities to develop female-led business proposals. This would be instead of having regional offices. This makes it extremely easy for women all over the country to apply for a loan.
  2. More than just a bank – Not only does the bank provide loans, but it also provides training and education to women. The organization teaches women how to develop an entrepreneurial idea, efficiently use the loan and manage a business. Extending their efforts even further, the bank hosts workshops on women’s health, prevention of domestic violence, community leadership, legal advice and more.
  3. Real and long-lasting change – The bank is fighting gender inequality in Venezuela by offering small loans to groups of women with business ideas. Banmujer has also trained over 100,000 women. Many women have benefited from these small loans and each story is unique. The Guardian highlights one such success story. Matild Calixte used to work at a hair salon earning well below the price of a haircut. She even had to take on a second job to provide for her family. With the help of the Women’s Development Bank, Calixte was able to open her own hair salon and equally split the income with the other hairstylists. Because of this, she has achieved financial stability and can now afford to send her daughter to college.
  4. Making it easy – Most of the world’s property owners are men. It is easier for men to be approved for loans – they have collateral to secure them. When the idea of a women’s bank was proposed by Nora Castañeda, Banmujer’s original president, she made it a priority to allow women with no financial assets to be included in the loans. This alone is absolutely revolutionary in the gender equality movement. In addition, when women successfully pay back their loans, they can take out another loan worth one and a half times their previous one. Monthly interest rates are also fixed at a low rate of 1% which makes getting a loan even more attainable.
  5. Creating a caring economy – The Women’s Development Bank doesn’t solely measure success by financial profits, but societal ones. While there has been criticism of high default rates in the bank’s earlier years, it should not be defined in purely economic terms. Banmujer focuses on the progress being made to address gender inequality in Venezuela. Castañeda explains that “we are creating…an economy at the service of human beings, not human beings at the service of the economy.” The bank cares more about helping Venezuelan women than it does about making a profit.
  6. Helpful for the whole economy – Banmujer recognizes that fighting gender inequality in Venezuela by empowering women means reducing poverty. Close to 45% of Venezuelans live in poverty, and 70% of those are women. However, the loans have created over 70,000 jobs. By empowering women to reach financial independence, it stimulates the economy.
Banmujer has had an incredible influence on more than 100,000 women, effectively addressing gender inequality in Venezuela. By giving small loans, the program encourages entrepreneurial ideas and financial independence. The aim for the loans is to spur collaboration between women, not competition. The president of the bank made sure to focus program efforts on lifting women out of poverty and empowering them to start their own businesses.

– Karin Filipova
Photo: Banmujer CA

Viral Video Game Employing Venezuelans
Hundreds of people in Venezuela are playing RuneScape. RuneScape is an online open-world game with multiple themes to choose from. RuneScape involves a world of ancient magic, pirates and medieval castles. This game provides an escape from the daily lives of Venezuelans. This viral video game is also employing Venezuelans during the country’s economic crisis to give them the income they desperately need.

The Economic Crisis in Venezuela

Venezuela is facing hyperinflation due to its plummeting economy and increasing political turmoil. Citizens are leaving their jobs and protesting on the streets instead. The country is in massive debt and corruption is rampant with violence on the streets in addition to food and medicine shortages. As a result, Venezuelans are fighting for survival as they earn only $6.70 a month.

Venezuela remains highly dependent on oil reserves, which accounts for almost all export earnings and nearly half of the government’s revenue. However, the falling oil prices due to the economic crisis has caused U.S. multinational firms to shut down their Venezuelan operations, aggravating the issue even more. The access to dollars has become insufficient with inflation on the rise and price controls as well as rigid labor regulations causing even more shutdowns. Because the government is so in debt, there are food and medicine shortages leading to health issues rising across the country. Malnourished children and citizens without access to proper health care is an ongoing crisis. Some Venezuelans are even migrating from their home country. Citizens are escaping to neighboring places such as Columbia and Peru in the hope of finding a better life. According to worldvision.org, the number of displaced people may increase to 5.4 million.

The Bolivar is worth $9.90 compared to the U.S. dollar. Meanwhile, Venezuela’s unemployment rate is 17%. The country is suffering from an inflation rate of 482% according to IMF figures. As the country is rationing food, angry and hungry mobs are attacking supermarkets and civil unrest is threatening the government.

In 2015, the oil price reduced by half and access to basic necessities like groceries cost 22 times the minimum salary. With the economy in turmoil, Venezuelans are searching elsewhere for employment and are looking anywhere to earn money.

RuneScape

RuneScape is a multiplayer online roleplaying game that can help the economic crisis in Venezuela. For some Venezuelans, this virtual video game is their only source of income. By farming gold on the game in exchange for in-game weapons and armor, Venezuelan’s can trade their virtual currency that is worth more than their actual currency online to other gamers across the world. Players are killing the green dragons in the game and selling the objects that they drop on the virtual marketplace. Additionally, Venezuelans can sell this gold to third party sites for money like cryptocurrency sites such as Bitcoin.

While the monthly minimum wage is only $6.70 a month, RuneScape players can earn that amount in only two days for eight-hour shifts by selling 500,000 units gold per hour. Since the economy is unstable in Venezuela, RuneScape offers a safety valve for Venezuelans across the country for the future. Estimates determine that 50% of the younger population and 20% of the older generation now farms RuneScape gold. In addition, 1.8 million Venezuelans depend on the green dragons in the game. A gold farmer can earn $40 a month, triple the average minimum monthly wage. This viral video game employing Venezuelans allows citizens to sell the gold for real money in the virtual marketplace that is not as volatile as their own economy.

The amount of RuneScape players may increase as the economy becomes more unstable. Additionally, for some Venezuelans, playing this viral video game will be the only way to feed their families and put food on the table in the foreseeable future.

Venezuela Crisis Relief

Although there are no organizations working to facilitate this money-making opportunity, multiple organizations are reaching out to help improve the economic crisis in Venezuela. Many children and adults suffer from malnourishment due to shortages of food. Global Giving imports medical supplies to dying patients and provides daily meals for starving patients. Each day, this project feeds 400 patients.

Humanitarian activities that the U.N. has supported have raised $155 million to support the Venezuelan people. The U.N. also donated food and provided agricultural support to 50,000 people. In addition, it has provided educational support to over 160,000 students.

While this viral video game is employing Venezuelans, Venezuela’s economy is still in collapse. With employment at an all-time low, RuneScape provides an opportunity for Venezuelans to escape from their poverty-stricken world and embark on new quests. One simple game online provides a solution by employing Venezuelans and allowing them to escape not only the economic burden of their country but also their daily lives. In the future, as online players increase, this money-making opportunity may even shape the world in which all Venezuelans are living.

Joelle Shusterman
Photo: Flickr

Sanitation in Venezuela
Venezuela was one of the wealthiest countries in the world, with its main exporter being oil. However, the country has suffered a water and sanitation crisis, as only 18% of the population had access to clean drinking water in 2018. Around 30% of the population that has unimproved sanitation live in rural areas, while 2.5% are in urban areas. While climate change has significantly impacted Latin America’s resources, Venezuela’s water/sanitation status has affected the lives of Venezuelan citizens. Here are 10 facts about sanitation in Venezuela.

10 Facts About Sanitation in Venezuela

  1. Blackouts and the lack of electricity pose a threat to Venezuela’s access to water. The electricity generates throughout the country’s water plants and sewage pipes. These outdated infrastructures have dealt with terrible maintenance. As a result, when these blackouts happen, the electricity and water from pipes or faucets stop, disrupting the flow of the water. Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro has promised to put back-up water tanks on rooftops to relieve the problem.
  2. Venezuela’s water supply is sparse throughout the country. Around 80% of the population lives in the northern region of the country; however, not even 10% of water resources are available in that region. The inconsistency of the access to water provides frustration for many citizens, as they have to travel to other areas outside of their homes to find a decent supply of water. Urban areas are near the northern region, while rural areas are near the southern region. In the country’s first-year rehabilitation plan, it stresses that efforts will focus on the northern region, to identify who needs urgent assistance.
  3. UNICEF provided access to drinking water for over 2.8 million people in 2019. The organization has worked on supplying safe drinking water through sources like water trucking and system repairs. Using these methods will be beneficial in fixing the main spots for water distribution like schools and hospitals, and cleaning main water sources to improve safe use. In 2019, UNICEF provided water and hygiene services to at least 18,300 people in the health centers and learning spaces.
  4. Multiple laws are in place for better water access. Laws like the Organic Law on the Environment protect river basins, preserving their natural soils and guarding the availability of water to sustain the water cycle. While these laws establish some framework into the conservation of water and sanitation, they have not been fully effective because they do not address the lack of maintenance in infrastructures that affects the distribution of water.
  5. The Venezuelan government is finding new means to upgrade water treatment facilities. Over the years, Venezuela’s infrastructure to transport and contain water has been aging and lacking any type of improvement. In 2013, the government asked for Electrotécnica SAQUI’s help to rebuild and restructure the water plants, removing harmful material that seeps into the water. Adding fiberglass blades to the water plants to remove large amounts of sludge helps keep the plants cleaner, which improves the water quality.
  6. The Guaire River in Caracas is Venezuela’s biggest water source. Many citizens make long travels to the Guaire River, as it is the main body of water they have access to. However, wastewater has contaminated the river. The Guaire River is near the city of Caracus, which has three water plants: La Mariposa, Caujarito and La Guaira. The plants sanitize the water, removing sludge so that it does not settle in the tanks.
  7. The average cost for a bottle of water matches the country’s minimum wage. In a Caracus supermarket, 5 liters of water is $2. Unfortunately, that makes up almost half of Venezuela’s minimum wage or approximately $6 a month.
  8. The lack of access to water and sanitation has impacted education. Because of the lack of decent water service for drinking and sanitation, multiple educational institutions have had to shut down. Around 28% of students could not attend school because of the shortage of water. Venezuela’s emergency plan’s response in its first 6 months involved an effort to provide clean water and sanitation, especially in schools, to eliminate the rate of diseases like malaria.
  9. The water supply has had a significant impact on food security. Production of Venezuela’s main crops — like rice and coffee — has fallen to 60% within the last 20 years. This dramatic decrease has caused a surge in weight loss and malnourishment for many citizens and children. To better help Venezuela’s agriculture production, USAID is using its funding to provide hot meals to food kitchens and schools and increase access to livestock and tools.
  10. Venezuela needs approximately $400 million to initiate a first-year rehabilitation plan. Damage to the water supply has been detrimental to the point that this amount of funding is necessary for effective rehabilitation and restoration of water and sanitation resources. USAID has provided more than $56 million of humanitarian aid to Venezuela for assistance in sanitation, hygiene, medicine and health care.

Venezuela still has a long way to go in improving its water and sanitation services. Still, looking at these 10 facts about sanitation in Venezuela, the country is steadily working on the necessary progress it needs to increase clean water accessibility. By reevaluating infrastructure and establishing several laws surrounding water and sanitation access, sanitation in Venezuala should continue to improve.

– Loreal Nix
Photo: Flickr

Venezuela’s Rum
Extended hyperinflation continues to cripple Venezuela’s economy with prices of basic groceries skyrocketing to five times the monthly minimum wage from 2015 to 2017. Estimates determined that extreme poverty in Venezuela in 2016 was 82 percent. Yet, there is a shimmer of light with potential economic growth through Venezuela’s rum industry.

Fall in Whiskey Sales

For a long time, people have seen Scotch as a status symbol in Venezuela and often only for the upper-class to enjoy at home or for middle-class friends to have on a night out. In 2007, Venezuelans consumed over three million boxes of whiskey, fifth in consumption worldwide and priced at nearly $151 million in imports. In 2009, imported Scotch whiskey outsold Venezuela’s rum sales nearly two to one.

However, with hyperinflation setting in, reaching over 60,000 percent in 2018 and almost 350,000 percent in 2019, imports experienced restriction and the tightening of currency controls, putting whiskey out of reach for many. At the black market rate, a bottle of Chivas Regal 18-Year-Old Whiskey costs $31, more than the country’s monthly minimum wage.

Rise in Rum Sales

The popularity of whiskey began declining in 2013, with a 29 percent drop in sales. At this point, the country had only recently crossed the hyperinflation threshold of 50 percent, while Venezuela’s rum sales increased by 22.6 percent. During that same time period, domestic rum production increased from 15.8 million to 21.8 million liters.

In addition to the rising cost of imports, the government’s recent introduction of relaxed regulations and loosening price controls has bolstered domestic rum production. This has led to Santa Teresa, one of Venezuela’s rum distilleries, to become the first in the country to release a public offering in 11 years, selling one million shares on January 24, 2020. With banks hesitant to lend, public offerings provide alternative forms of capital that can allow businesses to grow and become more competitive in the global market.

Project Alcatraz

Project Alcatraz, a recreational rugby initiative, launched as a means of rehabilitation and to serve as a deterrent for gang violence after gang members broke into the grounds of the Santa Teresa rum distillery. Now, Project Alcatraz includes vocational training, psychological counseling and formal education, reaching roughly 2,000 adolescents and a few hundred inmates.

Additionally, experts believe that the project has led to a drop in the murder rate of the local municipality. In 2003, the year the project originated, there were 114 murders per 100,000 people; as of 2016, that number had dropped to 13 per 100,000 people.

Cocuy

Venezuelan rum has not been the only liquor that has seen recent success in the country. Cocuy is a liquor similar to that of Mexican tequila because it comprises of fermented agave plants. Cocuy has a long history in the country, with indigenous groups originally making it 500 years ago. The country reportedly outlawed the drink prior to 2006 to boost Venezuela’s rum and beer production and sales. Cocuy production companies regained licensure, resulting in the drink gaining popularity throughout the years. This once stigmatized drink meant for the poor and less refined is now one of choice primarily because of its low price point.

While the rise in domestic liquor sales may be seemingly insignificant, the growth of any domestic industry can play a critical role in the reversal of the economic climate of an impoverished nation. Venezuela’s rum revolution in the past decade could turn the country’s economy around.

– Scott Boyce
Photo: Pixabay

5 Ways Music Helps Impoverished Youth
For many cultures, music is a primary form of expression. It serves as an outlet for struggles with identity, relationships, politics and even poverty. Since music encapsulates various elements of a culture, it is essential for heritage preservation and for spreading awareness about the adversity that the respective cultures face. Music is a universal language, capable of reaching out and touching the hearts of any listener. This includes children, who are extremely receptive to music and are capable of learning of its benefits and values. Here are five examples that show how music helps impoverished youth cope with their experiences and spread awareness of the world’s poor.

5 Examples of Music Helping Impoverished Youth

  1. A group of Yazidi girls formed a choir to preserve their cultural identities after suffering through sex slavery. Yazidi was recently overrun by the Islamic State military, resulting in thousands of young girls being sold into slavery. One of these girls was Rainas Elias, who was taken by ISIS at the age of 14. Two years after her kidnapping, Elias is one of the 14 young women who formed a choir that performs traditional Yazidi songs as a means of coping with their past traumatic experiences. In early February, the girls took a trip abroad to perform at the House of Parliament and Westminster Abbey. Since Yazidi music is not traditionally written or recorded, British violinist Michael Bochmann has been working with the choir. They are recording the songs, which are then archived in the Bodleian Library at Oxford University. This work helps preserve an important piece of Yazidi culture while simultaneously providing a healing experience to the girls involved.
  2. “Fresh Kid” is an 8-year-old rapper from Uganda who sings about his family’s struggles with poverty. His real name is Patrick Ssenyonjo and he began hearing songs on the radio at a very young age and could immediately memorize and repeat them. Soon, Fresh Kid was performing for his local community, rapping about struggles that he, his friends and his family face. Uganda’s lack of electricity and poor transportation standards are two primary causes behind the nation’s impoverished circumstances. Although the country has seen vast improvements in recent years, there are still many developments to be made. Fresh Kid’s music draws attention to this issue while his success provides hope to impoverished youth across the globe.
  3. Schools in Venezuela are teaching classical music to students as a means of transcending poverty. Venezuelan conductor Jose Antonio Abreu established the State Foundation for the National System of Youth and Children’s Orchestras of Venezuela in 1996. Otherwise known as The System, the program educates students on how to read and perform classical music. The System provides students with an artistic outlet in a professional atmosphere, resulting in the development of discipline and passion that is often unattainable by impoverished youth. Students living in poverty have made up 70 percent of the program’s participants since its creation. The foundation has produced world-renowned talents such as Gustavo Dudamel, conductor of the Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra, and Edicson Ruiz, the youngest bass player to ever perform with the Berlin Philharmonic. Venezuela continues to suffer from a collapsed economy and corrupt politics, with an unemployment rate of 44 percent. The System grants Venezuela’s poorest children the chance to rise above these issues while spreading an appreciation for classical music.
  4. The Afghanistan National Institute of Music (ANIM) teaches traditional music to students. Half of these students come from poor backgrounds. The school instructs both Western and Afghan classical music as well as basic subjects like math and science. The school prides itself on embracing the education of Afghanistan’s less advantaged youth including girls, orphans and street-working vendors. One significant product of ANIM is Afghanistan’s first all-female orchestra. Not only does the school provide a well-rounded curriculum, but its music-oriented focus promotes the resurgence of cultural factors that were once banned by Taliban rule. ANIM demonstrates the influence music has by bringing social change and emotional healing to impoverished youth.
  5. Ghetto Classics is a youth orchestra featuring more than 500 children from Korogocho. The orchestra is a result of the Art of Music Foundation, a non-profit dedicated to improving the lives of impoverished youth in Eastern Africa by integrating classical music studies into schools. The director of the Art of Music Foundation, Elizabeth Wamuni Njoroge, founded Ghetto Classics in 2008 after a local Catholic priest requested that the foundation start teaching classical music to the youth. Njoroge states that the community was skeptical of the idea at first, partially because of distrust in NGOs and partly because classical music is quite different than the hip-hop and reggae that locals are accustomed to. However, Korogocho soon warmed up to the idea, and Ghetto Classics is now one of the most valued and successful community projects to exist in Korogocho. Since its foundation, the orchestra has extended to 14 other schools in Eastern Africa. Ghetto Classics and similar programs help students to grasp core life values and provides a fresh outlook on life.

Music has the power to preserve generations of cultural value. It can also spark interest and motivation in the minds of impoverished youth. These stories demonstrate the potential music has to raise awareness for issues such as sex slavery and poverty. Since music is directly tied to heritage and tradition, it can bring about major social change without eliminating the cultural identity of a society. These five examples of how music helps impoverished youth serve as proof that something as simple as the beat of a drum can contribute to the fight against global poverty, one tap at a time.

Harley Goebel
Photo: Flickr

Understanding the Venezuela Crisis
Venezuela’s socioeconomic debacle has been grabbing headlines over the past few years, especially as the crippling inflation rate—recently eclipsing 10,000 percent—hit the country’s economy and began to unravel its health sector. But these are just two of the key components to understanding the Venezuela crisis and its various impacts as the humanitarian crisis continues to debilitate the region following many years of unrest.

Many Years of Strife

Since the death of former Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez in 2013 and the appointment of the current leader, Nicolás Maduro, the country has experienced a dire financial crisis as a result of low oil prices and financial mismanagement. Various power struggles and changes within the country’s National Assembly marked the political and humanitarian crisis that ensued.

The country’s military largely continues to back Maduro despite domestic, international and widespread condemnation of his authoritarian government. The political crisis has now spread to all levels of the economy and society, with nearly 4.5 million individuals having fled Venezuela due to the escalating unrest.

Following anti-government protests in 2014 after the victory of Maduro’s party the previous year, the economy and health care sector began their plunge and had all but collapsed by 2016. Malnutrition, child mortality and unemployment rates began to rise as a result. The United Nations estimates that the undernourishment rate in the country has quadrupled since the year 2012, putting more than 300,000 lives at risk due to limited access to medical treatment and medicines. Aid and relief efforts continue to face major hindrances due to mounting strife.

As the economic and humanitarian crisis grew over recent years, there was significant backlash and condemnation from foreign nations including the U.S. followed by significant international sanctions, especially over the increasingly authoritarian measures that Maduro took to pass laws autonomously and virtually unchecked.

Venezuela’s Refugee Crisis

Another dimension to understanding the Venezuela crisis is its refugee crisis as the economic and political problems have resulted in a dire humanitarian emergency. Since the beginning of the crisis back in 2014, over 4.6 million Venezuelans have fled the country. Mass displacement and humanitarian challenges continue mostly unabated due to integration obstacles, immigration and border pressures.

In 2019, the UNHCR-led joint effort, the Regional Refugee and Migrant Rescue Response Plan, along with the International Organisation of Migration (IOM) called for the provision of $738 million in assistance to countries in the Caribbean and Latin America that were dealing with the impacts of the migrant exodus. Unfortunately, the Venezuelan refugee crisis remains one of the most underfunded in the world.

Aid and Other Positive Developments

Throughout 2019, the Venezuelan government under Maduro refused aid relief headed by Brazil, Colombia and the U.S., relying on Russia’s 300 tons of humanitarian assistance instead which included food as well as medical supplies. The World Health Organisation (WHO) has been overseeing foreign aid, especially medical and food supplies from Russia and other countries. However, at the same time, aid relief and efforts such as the distribution of crucial medicines have stalled owing to the escalating political crisis and mounting corruption.

The U.S. and President Donald Trump have not only pledged humanitarian financial assistance but have declared their support for the democratic opposition group led by Juan Guaidó. In October 2019, USAID signed a major development agreement with Guaidó’s shadow government, thereby raising aid and assistance to $116 million and allocating a further $568 million to helping Venezuelans displaced by the conflict. Though the U.S. and its allies remain committed to toppling Maduro’s regime and reinstating rule of law, they are in serious conflict with Maduro’s international allies, namely Russia, Turkey and China.

Hope for the Future

The Center for Prevention Action from the Council on Foreign Relations believes it is imperative to consider important policy options to help promote democracy as well as channel crucial humanitarian aid and assistance, perhaps even by means of forced humanitarian intervention and post-transition stabilization.

Even though the Venezuelan crisis at times may seem to be reaching an impasse, it remains possible that the humanitarian and pro-democracy efforts of foreign powers could ultimately lead to a post-Maduro scenario. The year 2020 will be an important year in determining the ultimate fate of the country and the internal power struggles. The international community will hold an indispensable role in helping to create a better understanding of the Venezuela crisis and to help create a promising future for the country.

Shivani Ekkanath
Photo: Wikipedia Commons

Venezuelan Humanitarian Crisis
Venezuela has been marred by a humanitarian crisis for several years, and the situation persists. As policy forum the Wilson Center explains, more than four million Venezuelans have left the country, most since 2015. This makes Venezuela the second most common country of origin for displaced people worldwide, behind only Syria.

In breaking down the crisis, the Wilson Center says Venezuela has “widespread poverty and chronic shortages of food, medicine, and other basic necessities,” and as The Borgen Project reported last year, cases of malnutrition and disease are rampant. These issues come as a consequence of economic mismanagement, official corruption and decreasing oil prices between 2013 and 2016.

An example of that purported corruption — and perhaps the most public element of Venezuela’s overall state — is that Venezuela’s current President Nicolás Maduro won a second term in the 2018 election, despite being largely blamed for helping further the once-wealthy nation’s free fall that began under Maduro’s predecessor Hugo Chávez. Much of the world believes Maduro’s re-election was falsely won through corrupt tactics, and instead back key opposition entity the Lima Group’s leader Juan Guaido. The group seeks to install Guaido in Maduro’s place, but has as yet been unsuccessful.

Still, as dire as the situation remains for Venezuela, several efforts have been launched and entities mobilized to help the Venezuelan people. Here are seven organizations or initiatives aimed at assuaging the long-standing and growing Venezuelan humanitarian crisis.

7 Venezuelan Humanitarian Crisis Aid Efforts

  1. Future of Venezuela Initiative (FVI): Created by the Center for Strategic & International Studies, this initiative aims to “shed light on the unprecedented humanitarian, economic, and political crisis in Venezuela, and its impact in the Americas,” with an emphasis on the role of the United States and the international community in limiting Venezuelan suffering. FVI will leverage research to generate awareness and ideas on challenges facing Venezuelans and solutions to those challenges.
  2. BetterTogether Challenge: The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and the Inter-American Development Bank partnered to launch this initiative in October 2019. The initiative aims to crowdsource, fund and scale innovative solutions from Venezuelans and other innovators worldwide to support individuals displaced by the crisis in the country. It also calls on people to help elevate Venezuelan voices, develop solutions for the problems facing Venezuela and grow a network to host and support displaced Venezuelans.
  3. United States government: Since 2017, the United States has provided over $656 million in aid to the Venezuelan crisis, according to a report from the U.S. Department of State. Of that amount, nearly $473 million went toward humanitarian assistance for Venezuelans forced to flee the country.
  4. Giving Children Hope: The California-based faith-driven nonprofit Giving Children Hope, which provides wellness programs and disaster response services locally, domestically and abroad, established a program specifically to address the Venezuela crisis. With the help of various partnerships, it feeds more than 8,000 Venezuelans every week. Last year it launched a campaign with a goal of serving 1 million meals to Venezuelans in need.
  5. The European Commission: The European Commission (EC) has been sending humanitarian aid to Venezuela since 2016. The EC announced last year a new commitment of 50 million euros, bringing the total amount the European Union has contributed to alleviating the crisis since 2018 to 117.6 million euros.
  6. The United Nations: The U.N. has distributed funds and a variety of health, food and other supplies and services to Venezuela. In the first half of 2019 alone, the UN sent 55 tons of health supplies to the country, distributing them across 25 hospitals in five states. Contributions include nine million doses of the diphtheria vaccine, 176,000 doses of the measles, mumps and rubella vaccine and 260 education kits for 150,000 children in public schools. The UN also provided 400,000 people with access to safe drinking water.
  7. Action Against Hunger: This France-founded, globally-operating organization set up boots-on-the-ground teams in Venezuela in 2018 to help aid those impacted by the humanitarian crisis. Its work has focused on providing nutritional and related support for schoolchildren across six Venezuelan states. The organization has helped 3,685 Venezuelans to date.

There is much that must be done to end the crisis that has resulted in many citizens fleeing the country. However, the situation has not gone completely ignored. Entities big and small, public and private across the globe are working to make a difference.

– Amanda Ostuni
Photo: Flickr