Dynamis, Petare, Venezuela
Petare. The largest and most dangerous slums in Latin America. Populated heavily by Colombian migrants. Surrounding the city of Caracas with houses upon houses like layers of a burger without an end. Where most of the murderers, kidnappers, robbers reside. The only place every single person I met in Caracas warned me against visiting. The only place that I really wanted to visit. An ache to explore Petare grew inside me. Every day, I would watch the slums as I passed by wondering when I would get that opportunity without being attacked, murdered, raped or robbed, of course!
DRIVER: There’s a problem on the highway. Today, we have to take a different route. I’m driving through Petare.
PAOLA: Oh my God, no!
SARAH: Yes! I’m so excited!
A view of Petare from the Metro Cable that runs from Petare into the end of the metro train line. I looked to Petare, then I glanced the other way and it felt like a divided Venezuela. Then I ponder for a moment and wonder why it seemed so similar to something I had already experienced… It’s a similar but less extreme comparison to the view of South London versus West London from the London Eye. It’s like having coffee in Knightsbridge then taking a walk down Peckham.
Stuck in traffic in Petare was like spiritually being held at gunpoint in another world. The other side of Venezuela. The division between the rich and the poor in the country fascinated me. As did their political stance. Motivated by the level of wealth and the hardships they encounter. These slums were no doubt occupied by devoted Chavistas.
A close look at the real life jenga blocks that is Petare. They have their own stores within these buildings. Some, don’t need to leave the slums as they can find everything here. Cut off from the rest of the country.
SARAH: She’ll be coming round Petare when she comes. She’ll be coming round Petare when she comes. She’ll be coming round Petare, coming round Petare, coming round Petare when she comes. Yeeeee haaaaa!
PAOLA: Argh!!! You’re excited and I’m very scared!
DRIVER: (Laughs) She’s crazy!
SARAH: Tell me something I don’t already know. I came to live here, didn’t I?
Yes, they do have McDonalds and a huge Farmatodo with better supplies of those products that are hard to find in the city centre; shampoo, shower gel, razors, soap, medicine, etc
JUAN: Some Saturday mornings, I take part in community service to help little children.
SARAH: I would love to join you!
JUAN: I’m sure they will be happy to have someone like you there.
SARAH: Will you take me with you?
JUAN: Yes, of course!
SARAH: Where is it?
JUAN: Oh it’s near Palo Verde, very far from Petare.
JUAN: Yes. But don’t worry, this is a different place.
SARAH: Are you sure?
JUAN: I think so… Tomorrow morning, meet me at Plaza Venezuela. We’ll go together from there. And remember to dress down.
JUAN: We need to take the bus to the place. It’s very far.
SARAH: A bus? You mean the ones that go to Petare?
JUAN: Er, they won’t go to Petare, it’s further than that.
JUAN: Sarah my dear, you need to embrace Venezuela. Embrace the heat, the people, the challenges, all the problems. Enjoy it.
SARAH: Ok, but please don’t get me killed and stop speaking to me in English. I’m going to be a target.
SARAH: Look, we’re being driven through these slums. It looks like Petare.
JUAN: Yes, it looks like Petare but it isn’t Petare. These are some other slums.
SARAH: Are you sure?
JUAN: Yes, we are far away from civilization now and Petare as well.
SARAH: Now I know where to find chickens! I’ve been dying to make a roast dinner! Why don’t they have these back in the city centre?
JUAN: For some strange reason, I tend to find all the products that we’re short of in Petare and around these areas.
As I entered the school, Centro Mamá Margarita to volunteer my time with the Dynamis charity organisation, curiosity spread across the children’s faces. They truly amazed me. Full of passion, hungry for knowledge, thirsty to learn. I wasn’t sure how useful I would be since I spoke limited Spanish. I was surprised at just how useful I could be.
Almost 15 years ago, a Religious Community started visiting LA LIRA. They were just arriving to Venezuela from their native countries, Uruguay or Argentina, where the charity was founded. With the help of Misioneras de Cristo Resucitado (Resurrected Crist Missionaries), volunteers have been formally working at Centro Mamá Margarita since 2004.
Dynamis (Greek word meaning Strength of God), is the name of the activities that take place every weekend and other special occasions with the youth. Their mission is to prevent children from taking risks that can ruin their future and to make them discover their potential, trust in themselves, self esteem, importance of achieving their goals and completing at least high education with Christianity as their foundation.
Activities vary, but they always start with creative “Good Mornings” to show the importance of good values in life and taking care of others, of those in need. Then academia is addressed (math, reading, writing and general knowledge). In the heat of the afternoon, the children are given a refreshing drink and a piece of bread and this energy is worked off playing outside or board games. When they reach the age of 12 or 13, they start discovering a range of “temptations” that distract them from their goals. Those are the targeted ages for this charity since they believe having “free time” can be dangerous for them if it is not correctly addressed.
Children munching at break time
The children were so adorable and impressive. Their talent shined in their eyes and in their hearts. One young boy was a representative at the United Nations through playing basketball. I was surprised at how useful I could be that day!
TEACHER: Sarah, we need your help.
SARAH: How can I be of service?
TEACHER: The children have a carnival next week and they need to make their costumes. They have chosen this fictional character and we don’t know how to start making the costume. Also, we need to make all the costume with recycled materials.
SARAH: This is perfect! I’ve done this before and I used to be a fashion designer. Ok, guys. Here’s how we’ll do this…
I split the group up in teams to focus on different parts of the costume and we used all recycled materials to construct our masterpiece. The children enjoyed practising their English with me and I pretended that I didn’t know a word of Spanish so they felt excited and satisfied when I learnt a few basic Spanish words from them.
The carnival last a few days and in the past used to be much more eventful with orgies streaming the streets. But in recent years, the celebrations have diminished and people just go to the beach or celebrate through other low key means. However, the children get to dress up in costume and keep the spirit of carnival alive.
KIDS: We want you to stay!
SARAH: I would love to stay but I have to go now.
KIDS: Will you come next week?
SARAH: As much as I’d love to, I won’t be able to. But please will you promise to send me pictures of the final outfit when you finish?
KIDS: Ok, yes, we will.
SARAH: You know what to do, right?
KIDS: Yes. We want to make you proud.
The final outfit on the day of the carnival. A whole palette of passion waiting to explode into the world. I really hope the future brightens up for these children, they deserve to be given great opportunities in life.
Reflecting on my metro cable ride back from Petare into the civilization I was used to.
TEXT: Thank you for being brave and courageous enough to visit one of Caracas’s slums here in La Dolorita, Petare.
SARAH: You told me we didn’t go to Petare!
JUAN: Sorry, I really didn’t know that it was actually Petare.
SARAH: So, I went there by accident? Wow.