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The Resilience of the Human Spirit: Venezuela’s Best Hope

By Steve Mancuso
The Resilience of the Human Spirit: Venezuela’s Best Hope

Not through any grand design or desire for adventure have we sought out challenging overseas locations in which to live and work, but found them we have. Recently my wife and I were binge-watching Narcos on Netflix, and throughout last season and this season we continued to ask ourselves, “What were we thinking?” Colombia was our first overseas location, and smack dab in the middle of the Colombian drug wars. We both remember distinctly the celebrations on the day Pablo Escobar was killed!
While living in Saudi Arabia—our next overseas stint—we arrived to dwindling student numbers as a result of the repercussions of the two Gulf Wars. However, more disturbing, were events like the aftermath of 9/11, enduring the lead- up to Operation Iraqi Freedom, and bracing ourselves against the terrorist attacks being perpetrated against Western compounds. From there it was on to the relative calm of Jordan, where terrorist bombings had taken place only months before we arrived. We had a relatively calm experience there, but things started to get interesting when the Arab Spring began to stir up emotions among the citizenry, which was almost immediately followed by the start of the Syrian War, resulting in a flood of refugees into Jordan seeking sanctuary from the fighting.
That brings us to our next, and current location: Venezuela. Like I said, we don’t go looking for challenging places to live, but we arrived to plunging oil prices, rampant crime, widespread food and medicine shortages, water and power rationing, and an economy in shambles with triple-digit inflation.
The question we are often asked is, “How do you endure these hardships?” My answer has always been, “Our hope comes from the people.” In all of the countries where we have lived, we’ve continually been impressed by the resilience of the population. Whether they are colleagues, friends, shop owners, or the people in the streets, they so often do not reflect the CNN stereotypes we see playing out each night on the news.
In Colombia, the people were frustrated and angry with the reputation that the narcotraficantes were giving their country. In Saudi Arabia, we met many peace-loving, family-oriented people who enjoyed a great story, a cup of sweet tea, and a good laugh. In Jordan, it was more of the same, and possibly even a pride that deepened as their relatively new King Abdullah opened the borders to welcome the thousands of Syrian refugees that were arriving each and every day—eventually making the Zaatari refugee camp the fourth largest city in the country! Finally, in Venezuela—perhaps more so than anywhere else—I see patience and hope in the people here. This country has so many natural resources (oil, natural gas, bauxite, gold, silver), so much natural beauty (Angel Falls, The Orinoco Delta, Mochima National Park, miles of sandy beaches, and clear, blue Caribbean waters), and caring, thoughtful, resilient people who want nothing more than to be proud of their country—a country with a long history of innovation in Latin America.
I draw my optimism for Venezuela from the same source as with so many other places I’ve lived. I have the advantage of perspective, having worked overseas for most of my professional life. In each of the places we lived, the challenging times yielded to more secure, productive, promising ones. We saw the improvements to security and safety in Saudi Arabia, and experienced exponential growth in our school in the years following the spate of terrorist attacks. Today, these challenging times are a distant memory to our former colleagues there.
In Jordan, ironically, the refugee crisis vaulted the country to the center of the world stage as it regained its long-held reputation as a peaceful oasis amongst warring neighbors that the late King Hussein built over his five decades on the throne. The Jordanian economy, which had fallen into deep recession, also benefited from the influx of aid agencies, NGOs, and foreign financial support, resulting in an almost 100 percent population increase in our school. Finally, and probably most striking, was the transformation of Colombia. We left the country with our newborn son twenty years ago and hadn’t been back since. His desire to revisit his “homeland” brought us back there last year and the transformation was, in a word, profound. The country was prospering, news reports were touting the innovative nature of cities like Medellin, which only two decades earlier was the most dangerous place on earth, and tourism was at an all-time high. With the latest news of a peace treaty with the FARC rebels, there is nothing but hope for that once much-maligned country.
I draw my optimism for Venezuela from the many experiences I have amassed over my 20-plus years living in some of the most “interesting” places in the world during some of the most “interesting” times in their histories. I see these amazing people making their way through these extremely challenging times, drawing strength from each other, and still finding it within themselves to be good friends, good neighbors, good parents, and good people. Don’t get me wrong—I have no misconceptions—there are still tough times ahead. I have the advantage of viewing things here as an outsider who has seen some of the worst the world has to offer, but I have witnessed how hope, optimism, and resilience can prevail. l
Steve Mancuso is Superintendent at Colegio Internacional Puerto La Cruz, Venezuela.

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