SIMON BOLIVAR AIRPORT, Venezuela — Our very first experience as the United States delegation at the 16th World Festival of Youth and Students here was the warm and excited Aug. 5 welcome of a youngVenezuelan who is a social worker in the steep hill community that faces this airport, Mission Barrio Adentro. His name is Daniel, better known as “the guy in the red shirt” to many of the 700-plus U.S. delegates that journeyed here.
What does social work in the hill communities of Venezuela consist of? Climbing up and climbing down, up and down, and up and down, he says. Daniel’s day starts when the sun comes up at 6 a.m., he puts on his pants, his T-shirt, his shoes and gets to work. After breakfast, there is a daily meeting with the five Cuban medics to go over the day’s work and then the climbing begins.
His duty is to do what he must to ensure the community’s health. For example, sometimes he climbs to the most remote parts of the hill to deliver a medicine to a person who is too disabled to make the trip to the clinic or perhaps is too busy working to do so. Other times he schedules clinic appointments for them, from an allotted schedule provided by the doctors. He also registers neighbors for reading and writing classes and for educational workshops.
Lunch is usually an invitation at a neighbor’s home or wherever lunchtime has found him. In midday there is a meeting with the mission organizers to share the day’s happenings and afternoon plans. In the afternoon two or three workshops are conducted regarding such topics as hygiene and health, sexual education and premature pregnancy, drugs and alcoholism, or other topics according to what the community asks for. These usually end at 10 p.m.
It’s at that time that Daniel begins to climb down the hill towards his modest one-room home. But on his way there at least 10 neighbors who stop to talk to him or ask him a question. He finally arrives home at midnight, at which time he takes a shower puts on his favorite shorts and lays down on his bed. To sleep? No. Only to rest for about half an hour, because he must write his daily report, as he does so every working day.
Astonished, our jet-lagged group finds the strength to express our admiration and reverence. “How much are you paid?” we ask. “The minimal,” he replies. “I have everything I need: a roof, a bed, and I am never short of an invitation for breakfast, lunch or dinner.”
“Welcome to Venezuela!” he renews. “You are defenders of truth, and please send my warmest greeting to the people of the United States.”