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“How can we hope for peace if children can’t access education?”

Dedicated teachers ensure that Venezuelan refugee children stay in school

In a small, dusty town, less than a mile from the border between Colombia and Venezuela, Señora Letitia — as her students call her — has taught at Paraguachón Primary School for 25 years. 

In this time, Letitia has witnessed sweeping change across her community and her country, especially since 2013. That’s when families started crossing the border from Venezuela — first a few, then dozens every day. Colombia is hosting more than 1.4 million of the nearly 4.3 million refugees and migrants who have left Venezuela. They are escaping gang warfare and civil violence, food insecurity, inadequate health systems and loss of income.

The influx of students has stretched Paraguachón’s resources to the limit. Class size has more than doubled, and the small school now hosts at least 500 children. But, for teachers and other staff members at Paraguachón, opening their doors — and their hearts — to these vulnerable refugees was never a question.

How can I tell a mother that we don't have enough space for their child? If we don't receive them, where will they go?

Students smile in their classroom in a school in Paraguachon.

Supported by generous Americans, UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, has provided furniture, shelter and other supplies to accommodate Paraguachón’s students. Expert staff members are counseling school administrators on how to ensure access to proper documentation for new arrivals so that they can study in Colombia.

“Children are the future…how can we hope for peace if children can’t access education?” Georgina, the school’s headmistress, said.

Thanks to UNHCR, we've been able to receive children here, in a situation that was previously forgotten.

Back in the classroom, Letitia helps a 7-year-old girl named Hillary, who’s doing exercises in a colorful notebook. Hillary and her family fled their hometown in Venezuela almost two years ago, but going to school has been a crucial step in helping her recover from the trauma she’s endured. With kindness, compassion and grace, Letitia is guiding Hillary — and all of her students — on that path.

Portrait of Ms Letitia and one of her students, in the school yard, in a school in Paraguachon.

The children have no blame for any of what is happening. That's why I'm asking the whole world to help the children, the children with the most needs.

Much more help is needed — in Colombia and all over our world. Right now, 3.7 million refugee children like Hillary are out of school. Although teachers like Letitia are determined to reach them, resources are not keeping pace as global displacement continues to rise. That makes the support of generous donors — caring people like you — more vital than ever. 

Here’s how you can help

UNHCR has made enrollment gains, which represent life-changing opportunities for tens of thousands of refugee students. You can help more children like Hillary get an education — and support more teachers like Letitia. That’s the power of your generosity. Please become a monthly donor today.

Sep 20 2019
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