A humble house located on the second street of the La Cortada sector in Catia, Sucre parish [Caracas], offers the country one of the most important contributions to the social sphere in Venezuela; the country in Latin America with the third lowest rate of poverty, achieved through reducing hunger.
Although 18 people are living in the house, 100 plates of food are served daily at lunch. The house number is 83, which is barely enough to identify itself in the middle of a row of homes that line the street of the first alleyway in the area. The house has been converted to guarantee that one hundred people receive a plate of “hot and very tasty” food, prepared by the hands of women of the house who comprise the Liendo family.
The alarm sounds at 4:00 in the morning. Mrs Zaida Liendo is up first and her colleagues follow behind her: her daughters and granddaughters. Seasonings, vegetables and meats are chopped, and the assembled food is a balanced diet with a nutritional content equal to almost 50% of the caloric requirement of a person for a day. It's work that occupies at least seven hours a day.
From Monday to Friday, the women of the Liendo family prepare an amount of food equivalent to 100 plates of food a day, for a total of 500 servings per week and 2,000 per month.
“It's not an easy job, there's a lot to do, and sometimes you're provoked to throw in the towel because you have to know how to deal with people, but we always keep going because we help people who really need it. Now I can help, but when I had my eight children nobody helped me,” said Mrs Zaida Liendo, who is the owner and proprietor of house number 83, that was volunteered by her to become one of the 6,000 food houses of the country.
This Friday, recognition from the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO is its English abbreviation) reached the house of Mrs Liendo. This year the same organisation awarded Venezuela for its fight against hunger. For Mrs Liendo, having assumed the responsibility to help with her seasoning and dedication, there's a personal sense of satisfaction and a commitment to the leader of the Bolivarian Revolution, Hugo Chavez.
“After my comandante died, I felt a greater commitment to this. Because he was a humanitarian, because he wouldn't allow his people to starve, because he, out of his heart would have given me and my family one or one hundred plates of food,” she said with the same certainty that her tears came with.
When she first opened the doors of her home to feed those most in need, there were about 150 people who came every afternoon. Today, that number has been reduced to one hundred neighbours; mostly children and the disabled.
“When we started in 2004 we had 150 people, but many of them grew up; they began to work and have already left, others left after the tragedy of the floods (in 2010) and now we serve only 100 people.”
Mrs Liendo considers the work done by the national government through the Food Houses program (Casas de Alimentación) to be comprehensive, and it has served as a connection between the needy and public institutions in order to attend to chronic and structural problems.
As an example, she mentioned the case of a boy who was fed at the house who had recently had a kidney operation. “The mother of the boy, who also has a few [other] kids, handed a request for help for the child to the president of the Foundation of the Strategic Foods Program (Fundaproal) and they are looking for ways to help her.”
Another specific case is that of a man of advanced age who lives alone, has no known family, and recently suffered a paralysing disability that made him unable to work.
“Through the program and the foundation he is going to get a pension,” she said.
Mrs Zaida said that these contributions and solutions stimulate her to continue writing her own history as owner and proprietor of one of the food houses that has allowed for reduced rates of extreme poverty, poverty, child malnutrition and hunger in the country.
According to a recent report by the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), in Venezuela's case between 2002 and 2010 poverty decreased by 20.8 %; from 48.6 % to 27.8 %, while extreme poverty went from 22.2% to 10.7%, resulting in a decrease of 11.5%.
She also argued that from 1999 to 2010 Venezuela experienced the second highest reduction in poverty levels at 21.6%, from 49.4 % to 27.8 %. The highest was Ecuador, which had a reduction of 26.4 %, bringing this indicator from 63.5 % to 37.1 % in the same period.
This data is consistent with the figures published by the Venezuelan National Institute of Statistics (INE), which show that poverty declined 21.6% between 1998 and the first half of 2011, from 49% to 27.4 %.
The INE reported this year that the Bolivarian government has reduced structural poverty from 16.7% to 6.9 % as a result of the fairer distribution of the country's wealth.
A plate of food: 941 calories
The ideal daily caloric intake for a Venezuelan is between 2000 and 2500 calories. Nonetheless, the average Venezuelan consumes around 3000 calories, eating three or more meals per day.
Through the Food Houses program, 50% of this is guaranteed, with an average of 941 calories being provided per plate of food at lunchtime.
According to Douglas Trujillo, Fundaproal nutritional coordinator, the program provides a free meal based on a nutritional study of the population, which also promotes the consumption of local produce.
Trujillo stated that since the program's inception in 2004, 3,334,000 free meals have been provided through 6000 homes that now exist across the country.
Regarding the prioritisation of the consumption of foods local to each region of the country, in 2014 a restructuring of the menu will be achieved to offer regionalised menus at the food houses.
He explained that the idea is “to promote food production in these regions, for our consumption, and make the meal we offer closer to the food of the people. All of this is in the context of the objectives of the Second National Plan [of the Nation, 2013 - 2019].”
Trujillo noted that the food program was devised by comandante Hugo Chavez, and now is also a form of social inclusion, productive activity and social development for the entire population.
“The food houses are going to move on to be a program of training and nutritional inclusion, without losing their raison d'être: to be homes of nutritional care,” he said.
Translated by Ryan Mallett-Outtrim for Venezuelanalysis.com