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Episode 45: La isla olvidada de Venezuela (Venezuela's Forgotten Island)

By Duolingo on Thu 09 Jan 2020

Working as a nurse in Venezuela during the worst economic crisis in the country's history, Fabiola Molero is used to seeing hardship. But when she and her team saw a photo of a girl suffering from extreme malnutrition on a nearby island, they knew the crisis had reached a tipping point.

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Transcript

Martina: On May 17th, The New York Times published a story about the economic crisis in Venezuela. The story included a shocking photo of a two-year-old girl suffering from severe malnutrition. Fabiola Molero is a nurse in Venezuela, and she'll never forget the day she saw that photo.

Fabiola: Yo tengo 17 años de experiencia como enfermera y seis años como especialista en cuidados intensivos. Hace tres años, empecé a alternar mi trabajo con labor social.

Martina: Fabiola works as a nurse at Cáritas Maracaibo, a Catholic social service organization. They work with some of Venezuela's most vulnerable communities near the country's border, or frontera, with Colombia.

Fabiola: A veces, nosotros tenemos que trabajar sin electricidad, sin agua, sin gasolina…

Martina: The United Nations and Red Cross say Venezuela is going through one of the deepest humanitarian crises in the world. Less than half of the population eats three meals a day, and millions have fled the country. Many suffer from malnutrition, or desnutrición.

Fabiola: Cada semana, nosotros vamos a la frontera con Colombia para ayudar a las personas que deciden migrar de Venezuela por la crisis. También diagnosticamos y tratamos a niños menores de cinco años con casos de desnutrición.

Martina: In her work, Fabiola is used to seeing extreme hardship. But the photo on May 17th was shocking even to her.

Fabiola: Cuando en Cáritas Maracaibo vimos la foto de una niña venezolana severamente desnutrida en The New York Times, yo sentí un dolor inimaginable. En ese momento, Cáritas Maracaibo decidió que tenía que hacer algo por ella.

Martina: Bienvenidos and welcome to the Duolingo Spanish Podcast —I'm Martina Castro.

Every episode, we bring you fascinating true stories, to help you improve your Spanish listening, and to gain new perspectives on the world.

The storyteller will be using intermediate Spanish and I'll be chiming in for context in English. If you miss something, you can always skip back and listen again. We also offer full transcripts at podcast.duolingo.com.

Martina: Fabiola Molero's work at Cáritas Maracaibo covers Venezuela's most populous state, Zulia. It's home to about four million people and a major gateway for the refugees fleeing the country. Fabiola and her coworkers weigh, or pesan, the children. They also measure them or los miden.

Fabiola: Con el equipo del programa nutricional de Cáritas pesamos y medimos a los niños para saber si están bien alimentados y si están creciendo correctamente. Si un niño está desnutrido, le damos alimentos terapéuticos y eso lo ayuda a subir de peso.

Martina: Alimentos terapéuticos are a kind of ready-to-use therapeutic food, that Fabiola and her co-workers use specifically to treat malnutrition.

Fabiola: Nosotros estábamos trabajando el día que vimos la foto. Recibimos el link de una noticia del New York Times sobre Venezuela.

Martina: That's when Fabiola and her team saw the photo of 2-year-old Anailín Nava, from the island of Toas. The photo showed a severely malnourished crying girl who looked about half her actual age. It didn't look like she would survive for long.

Fabiola: Cuando nosotros supimos de Anailín, no lo podíamos creer. Muchas personas estaban hablando de esa noticia que estaba en todas las redes sociales. Ese mismo día, la directora del programa nutricional de la Iglesia católica en Venezuela nos llamó para preguntarnos qué podíamos hacer por Anailín.

Martina: Fabiola and her team knew they had to act fast. Severe malnutrition often leads to dangerous infections in small children.

Fabiola: Como enfermeras, sabemos que un niño desnutrido puede tener complicaciones y otros problemas de salud. Era importante saber cómo estaba Anailín.

Martina: The day after they saw the photo, Fabiola and her team grabbed whatever food and nutritional supplements they had available and they headed for the island.

Fabiola: Nosotros decidimos viajar hasta su casa para ver si la vida de la niña estaba en peligro. No era mi primera vez en la isla de Toas y sabía que, ahora, las cosas iban a ser muy diferentes.

Martina: The island of Toas was once a top tourist destination, a Caribbean getaway covered in palm trees and golden beaches.

Fabiola: Hace veintiséis años, mis amigos y yo hicimos nuestra fiesta de graduación en esa isla. Era un lugar hermoso, y muchos turistas visitaban esas playas. Sin embargo, ahora, solo hay miseria y hambre.

Martina: The economic crisis in Venezuela started back in 2014, when a collapse in the price of oil, the country's main export, exposed years of economic mismanagement. Inflation has since spiraled out of control, shrinking wages to a few dollars a month, and causing the tourism industry to implode.

Fabiola: Por esta razón, Toas, como casi todo el país, tiene servicios de salud, transporte público o producción industrial muy deteriorados.

Martina: Getting to Toas wasn't going to be easy. Venezuela's main hydroelectric plant had failed and caused a severe 5-day blackout. Two months later, lights in Fabiola's hometown were still flickering on and off.

Fabiola: Ese día, el equipo tomó los instrumentos para pesar a los niños. También empacamos arroz, pasta, leche y alimentos terapéuticos, y salimos a buscar a la niña.

Martina: Gasoline has long been hard to find in Maracaibo, because of crumbling oil production and smuggling to nearby Colombia. But after the blackout, it became nearly impossible to find. The ferry terminal for Toas was a three hour journey from Fabiola's home, and her car's gas tank was nearly empty.

Fabiola: Nosotros no teníamos gasolina así que comenzamos a preguntar y, afortunadamente, un taxista nos ayudó. Él nos llevó hasta la ciudad de San Rafael de El Moján, en el lago de Maracaibo.

Martina: The ferry is the island's public transportation and it was broken. The only way to get over was to take one of the small private wooden boats that carry just a few passengers and goods to Toas. So they asked some of the boatmen, or lancheros, if they could help.

Fabiola: Nosotros les preguntamos a los lancheros si podían llevar a una persona a la isla, esa persona era yo.

Martina: But the care workers didn't have a way to pay them. Paper money is hard to come by in Venezuela, because the government recently stopped printing it.

Fabiola: Cuando los lancheros vieron que yo era enfermera y que llevaba ayuda y comida para la isla, aceptaron hacer el viaje gratis. Yo estaba un poco ansiosa por ir otra vez a la isla después de tantos años.

Martina: When Fabiola arrived in Toas, it hardly resembled the vacation getaway she had visited after her graduation.

Fabiola: Todo estaba peor de lo que yo esperaba.

Martina: Of the three hospitals and clinics there, none had any medicine. The island had been cut off from the mainland since the last ferry broke in early 2019. This reduced already meager food supplies because fishermen had been grounded due to gasoline shortages and piracy.

Fabiola: En la isla, no hay agua potable. Casi todas las personas tienen lesiones en la piel porque se bañan solo con agua salada y sin jabón. En general, los habitantes de Isla de Toas comen una sola vez al día. La dieta es solo arroz y pescado.

Martina: Fabiola found Anailín's house by showing locals the article with her photo. She found Anailín's mother, Maibeli, sitting on the porch of their small concrete shack near the beach.

Fabiola: Yo le dije: "Hola. Yo trabajo en una organización de la Iglesia católica y me escogieron como representante. Nosotros queremos ayudar a su hija. ¿Puedo verla?".

Martina: Maibeli looked back at her, confused. There is almost no electricity in Toas, and no internet, so Anailín's family didn't know that their interview and photos had been published. Maibeli was initially cautious, but when Fabiola explained why she was there, the family was overjoyed. Someone finally wanted to help.

Fabiola: Antes de la crisis, los hombres en la familia de Anailín eran pescadores. Era un buen trabajo cuando los turistas iban a la isla. A los venezolanos les encanta comer pescado frito con limón cuando están en la playa. Pero, ahora que ya no hay visitantes, el turismo se acabó.

Martina: When she entered the shack, Fabiola saw that Anailín lived with about a dozen relatives in just three small rooms. They relied on monthly government handouts of free food, which was barely enough to keep them alive. Maibeli's husband had a fishing boat but its motor was broken and they didn't have enough money to fix it.

Fabiola: Cuando entré, vi que Anailín dormía en un colchón muy viejo en el piso. Su familia tenía una nevera que no funcionaba y solo había una luz en toda la casa. La casa no tenía puertas.

Martina: After briefly speaking to the family, Fabiola began examining the girl. She took her temperature and measured her motor reflexes. She checked her breathing and whether she could chew on her own.

Fabiola: Cuando comparé sus datos con nuestras escalas, yo noté que su peso era el de una niña de un año, pero Anailín tenía dos.

Martina: Anailín's inadequate diet was complicated by a neurological disease that made it harder for her to digest nutrients.

Fabiola: Ella tenía desnutrición severa. Era uno de los casos más graves que había visto. Por suerte, nosotros podíamos tratar a la niña en su casa, con la ayuda de su familia y con los alimentos terapéuticos que yo llevaba.

Martina: News of Fabiola's visit quickly spread through the island of about seven thousand residents, that's down from twelve thousand when times were better. Back then, most people worked in fishing, in tourism, or at the stone quarries along the coast. But these jobs have largely disappeared.

Fabiola: En los últimos dos años, una tercera parte de los habitantes se ha ido. En la isla quedaron las casas de esas personas en muy mal estado y las calles vacías y sucias.

Martina: Those who remain struggle to make ends meet. Fabiola quickly realized that the need there greatly exceeded the supplies she had brought with her on that initial day trip.

Fabiola: Cuando las personas vieron que yo llevaba comida como representante de Cáritas Maracaibo, comenzaron a traer a sus hijos. Ese día, yo pesé y medí a veintiocho niños. La mitad de esos niños tenía problemas de malnutrición.

Martina: When she got home that night, Fabiola couldn't believe what she had seen that day.

Fabiola: Todos los días vemos a personas necesitadas, pero esta comunidad tiene una población muy vulnerable.

Martina: So, Fabiola spoke to her colleagues at Cáritas Maracaibo and together they devised a plan.

Fabiola: Discutimos la situación de esta comunidad en la fundación Cáritas Maracaibo y decidimos abrir un programa de atención nutricional en la isla. Anailín fue la primera beneficiada. Dos semanas después, la niña había aumentado 500 gramos gracias a los alimentos terapéuticos.

Martina: Fabiola knew the suffering in Toas is too great to be relieved by just one charitable organization. But if Fabiola and her colleagues worked with the community there, perhaps together they could make a bigger impact.

Fabiola: Nosotros hablamos con el Padre católico de Toas a ver si podía buscar voluntarios. Cuatro personas vinieron y dijeron que querían ayudar con la distribución de alimentos y aprender a detectar desnutrición. Así que les enseñamos a hacer ese trabajo. Además, una persona que había migrado del país nos prestó su casa vacía. Ese se transformó en nuestro lugar de trabajo.

Martina: The aid program they started in that house steadily began to grow. After the initial focus on food and children, they started to provide healthcare and include the elderly.

Fabiola: En este momento, quince niños menores de cinco años están recibiendo alimentos terapéuticos porque tenían algún grado de desnutrición. También llevamos médicos y entregamos medicinas a las personas mayores, niños y mujeres embarazadas.

Martina: Their program faces many challenges. Resources are scarce, and American sanctions against Venezuela's government have made it difficult to transfer money or to import their needed supplies.

Fabiola: Conseguir gasolina y automóviles para entregar esta ayuda es una batalla diaria.

Martina: Even though the international community is acknowledging the crisis and beginning to send aid, the situation continues to get worse. In August, the United Nations launched a humanitarian emergency program in the country. This has made Fabiola's work a bit easier.

Fabiola: Unicef nos da los alimentos para ayudar a los niños con desnutrición. Los venezolanos que viven en el exterior nos envían la leche. Desde Italia, hay personas que nos envían vitaminas y medicamentos. Nosotros trabajaremos sin parar hasta salir de esta horrible crisis.

Martina: As for Anailín, she is recovering well. She's out of immediate danger. But her family continues to struggle to find enough food.

Fabiola: La crisis en Venezuela es demasiado grande. No se puede resolver con este tipo de ayuda. Sin embargo, todos podemos hacer algo para ayudar. El equipo de Cáritas Maracaibo está haciendo su parte.

Martina: Fabiola Molero is a nurse with Catholic Charity Cáritas and lives in Maracaibo, Venezuela. She supervises Cáritas's program in the state of Zulia, near the border with Colombia.

This story was produced by Anatoly Kurmanaev and Isayen Herrera, journalists based in Caracas, Venezuela.

If you want to help the Toas community with food and nutritional supplements, you can donate to Cáritas's dedicated campaign for Venezuela. Just visit caritas.org/donation/venezuela. In your donation, make sure to add "Donated for Zulia," that's the region where Fabiola lives and works.

We'd love to know what you thought of this episode! Send us an email with your feedback at podcast@duolingo.com. And if you liked this story, please share it! You can find the audio and a transcript of each episode at podcast.duolingo.com. You can also subscribe at Apple Podcasts or your favorite listening app, so you never miss an episode.

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The Duolingo Spanish podcast is produced by Duolingo and Adonde Media. I'm the executive producer, Martina Castro. Gracias por escuchar.

Credits

This episode was produced by Duolingo and Adonde Media.

Producer: Anatoly Kurmanaev
Narrator & Protagonist: Fabiola Molero
Script Editor: Catalina May
Mixed by: Maria Murriel
Sound Design & Mastering Engineer: Jeanne Montalvo