Venezuelan children should be allowed the right to an education, women are not sex objects and professionals want access to jobs they are qualified for.
These were among various points raised at a discussion held by the Commonwealth Youth Council yesterday at the Writer’s Centre in Woodbrook on Venezuelan migrants in TT.
Heidi Diquez, a Venezuelan who has been living in Trinidad for the past 16 years, said there are scores Venezuelan children who not getting an opportunity to access education in TT.
“What are these children doing? Who is taking care of them? If they are not getting an education these children’s lives are on pause, some of them have been here for as long as four years. Who do you think that is going to impact at the end of the day?” said Diquez, one of the speakers during the conversation circle session. Diquez represented TTV Solidarity Network, a registered NGO that was formed in 2018 because of the large influx of Venezuelan migrants to TT. They provide aid and emergency relief to Venezuelans.
Diquez said young Venezuelans who are not allowed access education risk falling among already vulnerable Trinidadian youths. “Guess what they are going to do? I assure you we are not going to like it. Is society seeing the bigger picture? I do not think they are seeing that. We want our Venezuelan youths not just to be stuck but to continue their professional careers and their growth. If we keep putting plasters on these situations, then nothing will come out.”
She urged TT communities to empower Venezuelans so they are able to integrate into society. “Venezuelans want to work; they want to belong.”
Diquez also called for a change in how Venezuelans are viewed over social media and by mainstream media. “We need to reflect on the stereotyping of women and where is this coming from? There are Venezuelan women who are daughters and mothers and they are not working because they are fearful of being attached or touched and on top of that they are being blamed for this [disrespectful] response because of how they dress and walk the streets,” she said.
“Working in bars has become a crime, where is all this change coming from? Several years ago it was a decent job! However somewhere along the line we are losing something that is valuable and it is respect.”
Marcus Kissoon, one of the event’s facilitators, said the public is generally xenophobic and fearful of these strangers who are coming into TT. “On the other hand, we have popular soca artistes celebrating stereotypes around these women’s bodies. There are certain songs which basically says let us glorify sex work and sexuality which is not what these people more, so women are looking for. Another song’s lyrics states "that’s all the Spanish he knows", to me it is telling young people that this is the only function, learning Spanish to engage with Venezuelan women and we know there is a growing enterprise of sex work in the region. I think that we need to call out these popular artistes to highlight the positive contributions and the struggles Venezuelans are facing as well because they have a role to play in the integrating of people who are in crisis.”
Diquez also addressed sensitising Trinidadians and called on the Catholic church to start the discussion on human rights pertaining to Venezuelan migrants in TT. “In the Catholic Church there are masses where a lot of people are in one place and I think that is a good forum for us to humanise the issues Venezuelans are facing because they are human beings.”
She said other Christian churches are talking or bringing people in to talk about the real issues. “If we are talking about integration and respect for Venezuelans it needs to begin with the dissemination of accurate information within churches and homes.
There are Venezuelans who are qualified professionals and one example is Ricardo Solis, a marketing professional. “There is a lot of opportunities for TT to boost trade with Latin America but the people are generally afraid of what they do not know. Give Venezuelans a change,” said Solis.
“Migration is being done out of necessity and it is not a desire for us to leave our homes. The TT government needs to do an analysis of what their market needs and Trinidadians becoming bilingual could increase trade with Latin America.”
Diquez further stressed, “Venezuelans want to work; they want to belong. We have specialised professionals doing construction work locally when they can do so much more to build the economy of TT.”
The registration process which began on May 31 till June 14 saw more than 16,000 Venezuelans registered. Last Thursday, National Security Minister Stuart Young said registration cards have been prepared are to be issued soon.
The discussion on migrants was initiated by Hannah Gabrielle Katwaroo, 29, who serves on the Caribbean and the Americas Regional Committee of the Commonwealth Youth Council.
“A part of our mandate deals with strengthening youth participation, awareness and advocacy around key issues that are happening locally and regionally. This is just the start of a series of sessions we will be running called the Brown Bag Sessions,” she told Sunday Newsday.
Asked how they got a group of 60 young men and women to attend the event, Katwaroo said they used their social media networks such as Facebook, Instagram and official emails. “The 2 Cents Movement was a big help, the Knowledge Bank of Trinidad and Tobago, colleagues from the Living Water Community and colleagues from various NGOs. The support has been tremendous.”
“Essentially the goal is to have young people think more and engage in credible information and to be able to filter credible information and sense out of what is being circulated on social media. I know we exist within a very laid-back culture, where there is a lot if picong floating around. I really hope that when people leave here they leave informed, empowered to support a vulnerable population and they leave enthusiastic about wanting to be engaged in something positive.”
The discussion began with an icebreaker called the Gallery Walk Exercise which encouraged young people in attendance to think about various thought-provoking quotes and images pertaining to the Venezuelan crisis and then write their own thoughts on the issue.
The comments and images came from different newspaper articles and posts from social media platforms.
“Some the images were taken while on the field doing work with refugees and asylum seekers as well as there are images from a recent art therapy project with Unicef, Living Water Community in collaboration with Medulla Art Gallery,” said Katwaroo.