Lea Murray (left) with fellow Reality Tours Venezuela delegation participants

The following post was written by Global Exchange Scholarship recipient Lea Murray who participated in a Reality Tours delegation to Venezuela last month. She shares her experience with us:

Venezuela Vision: A Tale of Remembrance

I traveled to Venezuela for two reasons:  1) my friend and ESL student Lorena was going to be there at the same time that Global Exchange (GX) scheduled the Afro Venezuelan tour and 2) I was able to receive a generous scholarship from Global Exchange.

Had it not been for those two serendipitous events my life would be completely different from what it is today. I would have remained the same middle class American who is only concerned with those issues directly impacting my life.  Outside of my travels to Senegal and The Gambia in 2007, I hadn’t traveled to any place where it was obvious that people had financial need. I almost always traveled to resorts or timeshares in nice well-kept tourist areas.  I had forgotten my training in public health nutrition. I had forgotten how it felt to work with and be around people who are struggling to meet their basic needs.  I had forgotten my previous non-profit work with under-served communities.  This trip to Venezuela reminded me of my idealistic college days at UC Berkeley.

Many people in Venezuela love Chavez.  What a shocking revelation for someone like me who has only heard bad things about Chavez from some of the Venezuelans that I have met and taught in my English as a Second Language (ESL) classes.  Of course living in South Florida there is a very large Hispanic community mostly from South America and Cuba—mostly wealthy and white.  I heard stories from some of these people about how dangerous it is to live in Venezuela, and how Chavez is poisoning the minds of poor people so that it is unsafe for the hard working Venezuelan to travel in public places for fear of being attacked.

I heard stories of multiple kidnapping, theft, and political unrest.  That Chavez is bad for business and it is difficult to fire bad workers and employees who don’t have incentive to excel at work because they can’t be fired.  Chavez is crazy like Castro.

The many Venezuelans that I have met here in South Florida believe the USA is a refuge from the turmoil that they have endured in their homeland.  How was I to know any different?

But then I visited the missions, the university, the labor union, the farming coop, the black owned Cocoa plantation, and I heard and I saw what Chavez has done for the disenfranchised.  Chavez is making a difference in the lives of people who believed they were previously excluded from the benefits of living in an oil rich country.  Why didn’t I know this?

Just as beauty is in the eye of the beholder, so is Chavez in the eye of beholder.  It all depends on your perspective.  Now I know differently.

Now that I have seen with my own eyes and heard with my own ears, what will I do? I will re-think my life. I have a new vision.  I want to see how other people live and experience life.  I want to travel to even more places where black Africans were dispersed during the slave trade. I will travel to Haiti and Cuba and examine the plight of my black brothers and sisters in these small island countries.  I will re-think my business.  Instead of solely working with those students who can afford to pay my hourly rate I will diversify and incorporate students with less financial means to pay for my services as an ESL instructor.  I will open my eyes—see the vision—and do something to make a difference.  I will participate.

Lea Murray is a California native living in Florida and a part time ESL instructor with an interest in Latin American and Caribbean culture. Last month Lea participated in a Reality Tours Afro Venezuelan delegation, thanks to a Global Exchange scholarship.