GREVIC ALVARADO AND YVONNE WEBB
Since last September 9, Venezuelan refugee children in TT began their school under the Space of Equity system, but in some cases, such as in Chaguanas, they have been having problems entering schools because they do not have TT-stamped immunisation cards.
Equal Place is accredited education for asylum seekers, refugees and other eligible children who need support. This intervention in TT is a joint effort offered by UNHCR (the United Nations Agency for Refugees), UNICEF, Living Water Community and TTVSOLNET (TTV Solidarity Network). The system also provides children with face-to-face support from teachers in part-time learning centres.
But prospective Venezuelan students seeking to access the training have come up against a problem. Fathers and mothers explained to Sunday Newsday that after starting the classes, the teachers assigned to the UNHCR informed them that they should present their children's vaccination card with the seal of the TT health system.
María Rodríguez, an affected mother, notes that her seven-year-old daughter has been unable to attend sessions at one of the centres, the Chaguanas RC Primary School, since Wednesday.
“They told us that we must have the Trinidadian vaccination card,” she said. “I only have the one they give us in the hospitals of Venezuela. My daughter has all the vaccines, but they still don't allow her to enter school, ” she said.
Another anguished father, Carlos Martínez, said that when he was notified of the problem, he went to different hospitals in Central, but they made an appointment for them for the end of November.
"It's three months to wait. It's a long time,” Martinez said. “Our children just want to study while we are in this country, educate themselves and learn a little English. It is not fair that they are not allowed to enter schools.”
Centres have been established in Arima at the Church of Nazarene school: in Maraval at the St Therese Education Centre, in south at the La Romaine RC Primary School, at Presentation College, in both San Fernando and Chaguanas, in addition to the Chaguanas RC Primary School.
The parents are asking the TT government to continue supporting them in light of the political, economic and social crisis that Venezuela is experiencing at the moment.
“We don't know where the refusal is for our children to enter schools,” Martinez told Sunday Newsday. “The vast majority have their full vaccinations. We ask the local authorities to help us expedite this problem through the Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Health. We just want our children to continue their education.”
CEO of the Catholic Education Board of Management Sharon Mangroo said as much as they want to help children of Venezuelan migrants and refugees, they cannot break the law.
While she was not aware of the situation, Mangroo said the board will work with the health centres to ensure the children have the required immunization.
“What I do know is that they can get immunized at any of the health centres, but we have not been accepting them into schools as yet, unless they have citizenship," she said. “We intend to, where we have spaces and where we don’t deny any place to a local. But we have not gotten there as yet.”
She said the board is still identifying spaces in Catholic schools as the Prime Minister has asked Archbishop Jason Gordon to attend to the educational needs of children of migrants and refugees.
“So, in doing that, we are working with the Living Water Community as well as the UNHCR to do this.
“We are accommodating students in three ways. One, there is an online programme that has been arranged and we are facilitating living spaces in some of our schools after school hours.
“So that students can come after regular school hours and spaces are provided. Living Water provide facilitators and translators and some of our teachers, of course, volunteer to assist. So, we assist them with their studies.
“In addition to that, we have one school in which the population was so low there is a whole building that was not used and we are accommodating students in a learning space. They are not part of the regular school but we have provided spaces for them. Again, Living Water provided teachers and translators.”
At the La Romaine parish, over 150 children are being accommodated at a learning centre.
Mangroo said they have not come across any immunization problem at the La Romaine centre where children are waiting to be accommodated in regular school spaces.
“If we do, we will refer those cases to the district health centre for advice.”
She said there are certain laws which govern the education of a child and the board cannot go against the law.
“What we are doing is accommodating as far as possible. We cannot go against the law. We do have spaces in some of our schools, not in the schools that are in high demand and we will accommodate, once we are able to get a student’s permit," she said.
“The Ministry of National Security has promised to work with us and the Ministry of Education is working with us, so once we get the student’s permit, the children will be allowed in the regular classrooms.”