Young people show their solidarity in confinement
Milagros and Leixymar, adolescents from Peru and Venezuela, keep studying despite the adversity.
Leixymar is 14 years old, and for the past two years, she has been living in the district of San Martín de Porres in northern Lima, Peru. She arrived from Venezuela with her parents and older brother to start a new life.
"My parents and brother had already gotten jobs. I was admitted to a new school. We were all happy until the day this disease (COVID-19) came along, and nobody could leave the house. My dad and brother lost their jobs. I couldn't even start school," she says. It put everyone's lives on hold. "Only my mom, who takes care of children, kept working to take care of the rent and food. Everybody else had to stay home."
In the nearby district of Carabayllo, Milagros Flores, a 17-year-old Peruvian, says she was looking forward to this year because she was finally going to finish high school. And, suddenly, the pandemic arrived. "I realized I couldn't see my friends anymore, that I could no longer prepare for university, go to an institute, or sign up for a workshop. Nothing."
Milagros also thinks about how her Venezuelan classmates are coping. According to a survey of the Venezuelan population in Peru (ENPOVE 2018), before the pandemic, almost 64 per cent of Venezuelan children and adolescents had already not been attending school. "If it's difficult for us, imagine the situation of Venezuelan youth now. They left everything behind, hoping for a better life. Many friends have told me that they don't have internet. They don't have data on their phones to connect to classes." Leixymar agrees with her. "At the beginning, there were classmates who didn't log into classes. I do it from my cell phone, and although sometimes I get cut off because the internet is unreliable, so far, I haven't missed a class."
Before the pandemic, Venezuelan and Peruvian youth in northern Lima participated in integration workshops facilitated by UNICEF and the NGO Warmi Huasi, with the support of the Government of Canada. Through dance, singing and artistic expression workshops, adolescents of both nationalities shared their experiences and built friendships. Due to COVID-19, they continue to meet up virtually.
Milagros says: "I have several Venezuelan friends, and listening to each other's stories was so nice. Sharing experiences, laughing, is something we left behind. Now we see each other through a screen and even though we're not all in touch, many of us are there to listen to each other."
Life has changed for everybody. Milagros and Leixymar are two adolescents who, regardless of where they were born, live on Peruvian soil and struggle day to day to deal with the pandemic. They are certain that true coexistence has nothing to do with where you were born. They understand that what makes us happy is in a smile, in a laugh, in a hug, in a joke, and in a shared silence. It's the simplicity of feeling like brothers and sisters at heart.