Venezuela: classes behind bars

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“I’m really enjoying teaching in prisons,” says Alexander De La Hoz, a young Venezuelan educator, who devotes his time to the inmates of the Cárcel Nacional de Maracaibo, the National Prison in western Venezuela.
By Pablo Hernández
From the moment he came into contact with prisons while doing his university degree, De La Hoz has been a fervent believer in education for inmates. “I’ve been fortunate”, he says, “to have had students who really wanted to study, who wanted a second opportunity”, and that’s why he’s so dedicated to the prison programme.
De La Hoz is currently working together with a non-governmental social solidarity organisation – Fe en Alegría (Faith and Joy) – and other educational NGOs. Their motto is “make a difference”.
They help inmates obtain the documents they need to enroll in classes and try to get the prisoners’ families involved. The group also recruits volunteers who are key to the programme because they’re the ones who teach the classes. According to De La Hoz, finding volunteers is the most difficult part of his work.
All his volunteer teachers, he says, “were initially reluctant, but after they taught their first class, they became hooked”. De La Hoz  adds that “the inmates protect the teachers. There haven’t been any cases of detainees attacking volunteers, perhaps because they would lose the opportunity to study. It’s not just about studying for the sake of studying. The prison authorities tend to grant the students additional benefits such as furloughs and sentence reductions.”
Alexander recently met a former inmate who told him that he was studying law at university together with three other ex-prisoners. “This is proof to me that the programme works”, says Alexander, “at least for these four”.