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Venezuela & The Stepping Up Project

 

Stepping Up

Years ago, in the midst of one of the most massive political upheavals of recent memory, Andrea Gomez took an eye-opening visit to Petare, Venezuela, one of the largest, most densely populated slums in the world. Petare covers an area nearly as large as Manhattan with a population of around half a million people. It is devastated by poverty and insufficient resources. 

In Petare, a group of young Venezuelans created an "ONG" called “Alimenta La Solidaridad” (Feed the solidarity) where they teamed up with local residents willing to open the doors to their homes and cook meals for groups of children. “Alimenta La Solidaridad” provides the food and the locals cook and feed the children. They are showing the world that poverty and lack of opportunity are situational, but do not define the people trapped by them. The single requirement that permits the children a meal is that the children must be enrolled in school.

Moved by everything she witnessed in her visit to Petare, Andrea decided it was time for action. Our team met with leaders of “Alimenta La Solidaridad” to find out how we could help. We were informed that many of the children enrolled in school are forced to drop out for lack of shoes. Thankfully, shoes are what we do, and we began researching ways in which we could help.

Just like "Alimenta La Solidaridad", we wanted to involve the community in our project, not just start another pair for pair project. We wanted people to take pride in what they could accomplish for themselves. Through our involvement, we met two local cobblers who needed work due to the financial crisis and we teamed up with them. For every pair of Andrea Gomez shoes we sell, we commission a pair with them which then are given to children in need. As a result, the cobblers can get back to work and continue training apprentices, many from the area, many of them parents of children being fed in the feeding centers!

For every pair of Andrea Gomez shoes purchased online, a child in Petare will receive a pair of shoes in a backpack made by members of their community. With these shoes, they can walk to school, continue their education, enjoy a decent meal and begin Stepping Up to a better life.

 

Venezuela, Our Home

The history of Venezuela is long and complex, impossible to distill in a single volume, let alone a single headline. However, for the average American, Venezuela has recently become more of a tagline than a living, breathing place with the rich and diverse history and culture it is. Since 1999, our home country has made a great number of sweeping political changes, some controversial here in the US. What many Americans miss in this politicized portrayal of the crisis being faced by Venezuelans is the human suffering. 

The situation has gone from bad to far, far worse in the past several years. In 2019, the UCAB released their national survey of living conditions in Venezuela... what they found was devastating. More than 60% of Venezuelan households were and are experiencing “multidimensional poverty,” a telling statistic which incorporates not only gross income, but access to public services, like education, that work to counter generational poverty. 

A lack of access to services like basic education and public utilities not only detracts from the day-to-day quality of life of Venezuelans, it also erodes all existing mechanisms for developing a solution to the many problems our country faces. And institutions aren’t the only public good that have eroded in recent years. Due to the ongoing political and economic strife rampant in the country, one in every three people today is struggling to put enough food on the table to meet minimum nutritional requirements, according to a study by the UN World Food Program. 

A nationwide survey based on data from 8,375 questionnaires reveals a startling picture of the large number of Venezuelans surviving off a diet consisting largely of tubers and beans as hyperinflation (the highest in the world) renders many salaries worthless. In fact, between 2018 and 2019, UCAB observed a 13.8% jump in the percentage of Venezuelans who are trapped in multidimensional poverty, the largest one-year jump observed since the survey began.

Unlike American poverty, the situation ravaging Venezuela’s economy has little to do with inequality. Where the U.S. remains a massively wealthy country with a severely unequal distribution of wealth, in Venezuela there is simply no significant wealth to be distributed. Poverty has become the defining characteristic of a country with a poverty rate of 96% as determined solely by income. In other words, Venezuelan poverty has become ubiquitous. Even for those once relatively well off, hyperinflation has rendered the value of their currency almost worthless, with the Venezuelan minimum wage the equivalent of $1.40 U.S. dollars per month!

A total of 9.3 million people – roughly a third of the country's population – are moderately or severely food insecure, said the study, which was conducted at the invitation of the Venezuelan government. Food insecurity is defined as an individual being unable to meet basic dietary needs.

We believe that in time, with long-term mechanisms in place for individual improvement and learning (namely, keeping children enrolled in school), we will aid in rectifying the situation in Petare, and hopefully Venezuela more broadly. With every Andrea Gomez purchase, a child in Petare receives a bookbag and a pair of shoes. If we Step Up now, we will give them what they need to Step Up themselves. For their future, for our future, for Venezuela’s future.

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