By Nataly Angulo.
It was the 28 day of lockdown, 7:30 am on Monday, April 13. Angel opened the door of his house and ran in circles around the street. He screamed, holding his head. The neighbors looked out to see what was happening. They never saw him like that before, like out of control.
His wife held his arm and carrying him to their house. But he didn’t stop to scream and started to cry, alongside whit his two daughters (13 and 8-years-old). They looked at him scared and surprised.
Angel had been the laters 48 hours without sleeping, going to the streets, or talking. He could not contain what he felt since the mandatory quarantine decreed in Venezuela on May, 13 to avoid the spread of the COVID-19.
He can no longer contain what caused his insomnia: what her daughters were going to eat, how he can be able to buy food without out to the street, without his work, without savings, without any help.
Angel lost his mind when he couldn’t figure out how to buy food for his daughters.
The lockdown beats the stomach of millions of Venezuelans who stopped receiving incomes for a quarantine more dangerous than the virus instead.
Angel is part of the 50% from the labor force in Venezuela, which represents 14 million people in 2017, who work in the informal market, which has to make money every day. A day without working means you cannot eat.
He is part of that Venezuelan group that no longer eats three meals per day, which lost their possibilities to buy meat and depends on charity.
Since that day, Angel is not himself anymore. The 43 years-old-man is no longer looking for a job to work like he uses to be: washing air conditioners, in plumbing, or attending garage sales in front of his house. As much he wanted to do it, his mind doesn’t allow him.
“He still worried. He doesn’t want to see the reality, and I’m afraid he won’t react again because he is the one who brings food to home,” his wife Jeannett Arrieta says.
In that family of four, only the girls eat three meals. The lunch is donated by a public school, 300 meters away from their house, where 800 children received one food. Usually, it is rice with lentils or just pasta. Sometimes they put it some salt and greens.
The charity from friends and neighbors allows them to eat something in breakfast and dinner, and on weekends when the public school is closed. As usual, the main food is an arepa with butter, sometimes they are given a little cheese, and when there is luck, an egg.
Angel and Jeannett eat what their daughters leave. They eat the leftovers.
Angel lost weight. He is naturally thin, but now, the skin is getting closer to the bones, and you can count his ribs and the vertebrae of his spine.
They live in the west of Maracaibo, in Zulia, the famous oil state in Venezuela and where there are 183 cases of COVID-19. To date, the country has 2,377 confirmed cases. Angel resides in the media-class zone, where the houses surrounded by sand, and with the peeling paint are an exception in those streets.
The hunger stories are a paradox in the country with the largest oil reserve confirmed in the world. And, at the same time, it is no that contradictory considering that Venezuela has been in recession for seven years, has one of the highest inflation in the world, and according to the World Food Program of the United Nations, one of each three Venezuelan -32% of the population- is in food insecurity.
In Venezuela, food is a luxury. According to the Documentary and Social Analysis Center at the Venezuelan Teachers Federation, to cover the national basket, people need at least $225 monthly. The minimum salary is $4, the lowest in America Latina.
Before the quarantine, Angel earned around $20 to $25 per weekly. That money was just enough for his family could eat three meals every day, including meat, four times per week. Today that is impossible. There is any dollar in his pockets since the mandatory quarantine began two months ago. The strict measures paralyzed the national economy and people, who must work every day in the streets, ran out options.
The cessation of non-essential economic activities ordered, school, and public transportation suspended, but in Zulia also decreed the gasoline rationing and the ban of mobilization in the streets after 2:00 pm.
The chances to find any job to earn some money are few, and in Angel’s case, his mental illness limits him.
Seven years ago, he lived his first crisis when he ran out of financial resources to help his sick mother and his youngest daughter was diagnosed with autism. At those times, his wife saw him like this: quiet, sad, locked, and with no desire to work.
That is a big and radical change in a man who never been quiet, who used to wake up at 6:00 am every day and doesn’t rest until he brings food home.
According to the psychologist, Victor Coronado, the social crisis can impact the mental health of people. He works in a foundation that knew about Angel and offered him attention by phone. “Each responds in different ways.”
The quarantine not only affects people like Angel. In big-scale, it also affects organizations that attend vulnerable populations. Now help does not arrive timely, it is uncertain, and thousands of families are at risk of not being able to food themselves.
For example, Caritas is an NGO with difficulties. Their food reserves are about to run out. If they paralyze, around 7,000 people in poor communities in the country would be affected.
“We don’t have food. We only have food for malnourished children. But nobody brings food, the one that people ask,” assures Janet Márquez, from Caritas board.
Caritas is a network of poor people who helps poor people, as Janet says, that depends on the Catholic church. They have an increase of people who ask for help to find some food. Most of their member are volunteers and priests.
During the two months of social isolation, Caritas has received 1.000 phone calls from parents, as Angel and Jeanet, who don’t have food to feed their children. “There are a lot of people who are living hard times, but there are no resources. For the first time, we feel more depressed than those people who call us,” says Janet.
On April, 24, the executive director of the World Food Program from the United Nations, David Beasley, said in a conference that the world could enter another pandemic as viral as the COVID-19: the hunger pandemic.
To Angel’s wife, the quarantine has meant the worse for them. “Something must happen, otherwise we are going to starve,” she thinks. It is no easy, it is too hard, and it is worse when you have children at home. Even Angel, despite his condition, knows it. When he can speak, he says to his wife: “This is bad, this is too bad.”