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domingo, junio 05, 2005

First students graduate new educational program in Venezuela

Venezuela’s government under Chávez has initiated a variety of social programs known as “missions”, funded primarily with oil money. The collective goal of the missions, which include health care, subsidized groceries, and support for microenterprises among others, is to eliminate poverty in the nation – a daunting task.

The public school system is poorly regarded, with those who can afford it sending their children to private institutions, and many youths never completing high school. A series of educational missions seeks to remedy this by offering a second chance to adults who lack a formal education. Mission Robinson teaches literacy and basic adult ed, while Mission Ribas provides a high school equivalency degree. Graduates of Mission Ribas can go on to Mission Sucre, a college assistance program.

A select group will win scholarships to study holistic medicine in Cuba, with the expectation that when they return they will work in Barrio Adentro, another mission which provides health clinics and house visits in poor communities. (Right now the Barrio Adentro clinics are all staffed with doctors from Cuba; to make the program sustainable, Venezuelan doctors will need to gradually replace them.)

All the educational missions are recent innovations, begun in the last several years. Last week, the first crop of 20,000 students from the two-year Mission Ribas graduated and received their diplomas.

In the industrial state of Bolívar, some 700 Mission Ribas “vencedores” who had successfully completed their courses graduated on Friday. Despite gray skies and intermittent rain, the ceremony, held in a recently renovated baseball stadium, was full of enthusiasm and excitement. (Photos follow.)

Graduates came up on stage to shake hands in turn with the various dignitaries in attendance, including the mayor, the governor of Bolívar State, the national Minister of Basic Industry, and a number of others.

Each received their diploma to cheers from their friends and fellow students in the audience.

After the formal ceremony, a band stuck up a mix of traditional and new folk music, everyone began dancing, and the party continued into the night.

Over 700,000 students are now enrolled in Mission Ribas, most of whom will graduate within the next two years, and last week Chávez announced that its budget will be increases to US $50 million per month. Education is of course only one component of poverty reduction; it remains to be seen if economic strategies will be successful in creating job opportunities for the newly educated populations. But despite the rain, the graduates in Bolívar State seemed to feel that they were off to a bright start.

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