BARQUISIMETO, Venezuela (CNS) — Eleven-year-old Alejandro took two sausages from the refrigerator in his home, thinking only of his empty stomach. When his mother, a cleaning woman, returned and realized that Alejandro had eaten what was meant to be dinner for her six children, she shouted at him and beat him. Furious and ashamed, Alejandro went into his room and locked the door. Three hours later, his mother found him dead. He had hanged himself.
Medical Mission Sister Maigualida Riera, 46, is still shaken by the tragedy that occurred in Jesus of Nazareth Parish in Barquisimeto, Venezuela’s fourth-largest city, where she lives. Alejandro’s death is an extreme case of an evil haunting all Venezuelan families these days: hunger.
“People do not have the money to buy enough food,” said Janeth Marquez, coordinator of Caritas Venezuela, the Catholic Church’s aid agency.
Because of hyperinflation, the monthly minimum wage buys just four boxes of eggs. Tomorrow it might be worth even less. The Venezuelan government does not release official figures about food, but surveys by Caritas show that 46 percent of Venezuelans eat less than three meals a day, and 14.5 percent of children under age 5 suffer from acute malnutrition.
Even Caritas workers are hit by the crisis. “Our people leave the country or have to struggle to get food for themselves,” Marquez told Catholic News Service.
Community kitchens are one answer to the food crisis. La Vega, a neighborhood of 120,000 people, lies on the hills surrounding Caracas. The open-air community kitchen has a spectacular view of the city below, but the children sitting around the long table recently paid no attention to the panorama. Their eyes were on the soup that Judith Arcia, 57, was pouring into their plastic cups.
“Today, I prepared a soup with beans, vegetables, potatoes, some sausage,” said Arcia, a tall woman with six children and 11 grandchildren, who oversees the kitchen. “I cannot remember any crisis as hard as this one.”
“It started when we realized that children did not come to school, or that they fainted during class,” recalled Jesuit Father Alfredo Infante, pastor of St. Alberto Hurtado parish.