Gabriela Vega prepares in her kitchen a meal for the solidarity canteen that she runs in the favela La Vega, February 28, 2018 in Caracas, Venezuela
In the midst of tin roofs and precarious brick constructions, dozens of children queue in front of a house in this favela of Caracas: inside, a hot meal awaits them, real luxury in a Venezuela in crisis.
From the window, escapes a prayer. „God help those who have nothing to eat,“ they recite before swallowing the first bite. On the menu, vegetable soup with pieces of beef.
We must eat quickly to make room for others: 85 young people from La Vega neighborhood, some of them in school uniform, come here from Monday to Friday in small groups. In this country where there is widespread scarcity, they often have nothing in their stomachs.
„The only place they eat meat is here, and for many, it’s the only meal of the day,“ says Gabriela Vega, a 35-year-old Métis activist who runs the neighborhood solidarity canteen that runs NGO donations.
According to a study by the Caritas organization published in August, malnutrition affects 15.5% of the population in the three most populous states of the country.
Many children fall back on cassava, a staple food of Venezuelans for its low cost. But that can be fatal if it is confused with a very similar but toxic variety: in February, six children and one adult died for eating, according to opposition MP Karin Salanova. A dozen deaths were recorded in 2017.
Gabriela Vega in an alley of the favela La Vega, February 28, 2018 in Caracas, Venezuela
Yuleidis Marcano, 26, his two-month-old baby in his arms, knows something about it. At the end of 2017, she, her husband and their six children nearly died poisoned in this way.
„My daughter Valeria – six years old – and my husband were at the worst,“ she recalls. Because of the crisis in Venezuela, „we almost never have to eat,“ she said with her eyes lowered.
– From 68 to 47 kilos –
The socialist government of President Nicolas Maduro, which rejects the notion of food crisis, ensures that it has reduced extreme poverty to 4.4% of the population in 2017. A study of three local universities places it at 61.2%.
In this difficult context, Gabriela Vega tries to vary the menu. „On Monday we prepare dry vegetables, Tuesday pasta with ground meat, Wednesday of soup, Thursday potatoes with eggs and Friday of plantain with sausage,“ lists this eternal optimistic helped by mothers in the neighborhood.
Fermina Nuñez, a 47-year-old Colombian who arrived in Venezuela 14 years ago, finds a life buoy here for her two children.
„I weighed 68 kilos and now I’m 47,“ she says, waiting for her offspring to finish eating.
According to the university study, six out of 10 Venezuelans lost an average of 11 kilograms last year.
The government launched in 2016 a program selling food at subsidized prices in working-class neighborhoods to the benefit, he says, of six million families, but critics have been crying over the lack of regularity of deliveries.
The minimum wage of Fermina’s husband, a civil servant, only makes it possible to buy a „carton of eggs, a little cheese and sometimes a little flour,“ she explains. It also makes households „to buy at least bread or cassava“.
At the same time as she fights hunger, Gabriela tries to exorcise a past that he has taken to prison for theft.
A mother of three, she does not want young people to „admire a criminal with a weapon“ and organize activities for them „to see that there are things to do beyond the hill“ of their shanty town .
Stopping serving meals is the biggest anguish of „Gaby“. When she closed two weeks for the holidays, she saw children crying with hunger. „I’m afraid I can not continue“