#HowToHelp: UWC, a Global Education for Young Venezuelans

Watching Venezuela burn from far away, people naturally feel a need to help. In this installment of our #HowToHelp series, we vouch for Avemundo/UWC Venezuela, an incredibly well-conceived initiative helping build our country’s future.

So, okay, two days ago, the National Assembly appointed new justices for our Supreme Court. This deepens the political and institutional crisis and, just on Thursday, a general strike was carried in a vitriolic cloud of violence across the nation there are many wounded or in prison.

As you probably know, most of the killed during this round of protests are kids. The promise for the future, literally fighting for the country we all want, and a vicious dictatorship steps on them. A dire panorama: how not to despair?

People ask me that all the time. I tell them that I’m no longer optimistic, I just have hope. And there’s a big difference.

Consider Daniel Santos, a student in El Peñón who wants to be a politician and just got selected to study at United World Colleges’ (UWC) Pearson College, in Vancouver, Canada. Or Valery León, a girl from Catia, who won a scholarship to study at UWC Robert Bosch College, in Germany. There’s Gabriel Sorondo, a 17 year old from Caracas, selected for UWC Mahindra in Pune, India, and María Fernanda Bencomo, from Valencia, selected for UWC ISAK in Japan.

With Fundayacucho gone, looks like there’s no way to invest on the best international education of the most driven among our emerging talent, so they can come back and apply their knowledge to our problems.

But this is what UWC Venezuela keeps doing, year after year.

I discovered UWC when I was a 16-year-old nerd studying at an all-girls Catholic school in Caracas. I went through a selection process organized by Avemundo the UWC National Committee of Venezuela and got selected for a full scholarship to UWC Adriatic, in Italy.

You are reading this post today because we believe that supporting UWC Venezuela is a great, effective way to help the country.

The transformative power of a UWC experience starts even before you are selected. Thanks to Avemundo’s selection process, I dared for the first time to step inside a barrio as I was asked to organize a community project and present it for the interview stage. I continued doing social service in El Carmen, La Vega for many summers.

At UWC, I spent two years studying the International Baccalaureate, living with 200 other people my age, from more than 80 different nationalities. It was 2006: Chávez hadn’t started calling himself a socialist; it was the beginning of what, at the time, we called “a leftist wave” in Latin America. Inevitably, at UWC, I had my first true political debates, which encouraged me to study Political Science rather than Journalism.

UWC validated and changed the many questions I had drawn from my own context back in Venezuela and gave me the tools to answer them. I brought the concept of diversity to my personal, intellectual, and professional life and I have clung to it ever since, to better understand where I come from and where I want to go.  

I bet you’re probably asking what makes this experience different from a regular exchange program. What defines UWC is that the experience goes beyond those two intense years. When I feel sad, when I feel that there’s nothing left to be done, looking around the community of other Venezuelan UWC graduates, here and abroad, feels like a breath of fresh air. Some of those who had the opportunity to study at UWC also went to universities in the U.S., came back to Venezuela and are doing exactly what they set out to do: living by the values learned at UWC.

There are many other UWC graduates in Venezuela right now doing tiny, yet extremely valuable work.

Look at Samuel Díaz, current president of Universidad Metropolitana’s Student Federation. Samuel went to the UWC from 2009 to 2011 and was awarded a scholarship for college in the U.S.; In 2014, however, he came back. I remember when he asked me for advice about returning home and enrolling in Estudios Liberales at UNIMET. Even though I had gone through the same, I didn’t know what to tell him except the clichéd “follow your gut”. His decision was already made. Samuel returned to Caracas and founded Iniciativa Hatillana he’s now a student leader and Metromun’s 2017 Faculty Advisor. Very few of our graduates have shown, so quickly and publicly, the value of our great education applied to public service.

There are many other UWC graduates in Venezuela right now doing tiny, yet extremely valuable work. For example, Elaine López, who went to UWC Norway back in 1997, is now a fashion designer with an environmental bent; you can watch her story at the last Pechakucha Night Caracas here. Those youth are activists, academics, directors of social programs and accomplished musicians even those who are abroad excel at their chosen paths.

You are reading this post today because we believe that supporting UWC Venezuela is a great, effective way to help the country. Together with the UWC school in the U.S. we’ve established a scholarship fund for three Venezuelans to study there this year. We’ve set up a page where you can read the profiles and stories of the Venezuelan UWC graduates helping with the fundraising (don’t forget to donate!).

We also have a fundraising for Francisco Perozo, a 17-year old young man, top 10 in our selection process this year and winner of a partial scholarship at UWC Dilijan, in Armenia. Check out his story and give us a hand.

It’s been a struggle to find donors (Avemundo started fundraising only last year) and we totally get it: it’s hard to think long-term when hunger, scarcity and the loss of political freedom hits Venezuelans every day. But investing in a UWC education is believing in a generation of young men and women capable of bringing hope for their families, their communities and their country and we will need them by the tons.

In these troubled times, only organizations like UWC provide opportunities for our young talent to hone their skills. We strive every year to select young Venezuelans who truly reflect the diversity of our country and who will not only take advantage of the amazing opportunity of a UWC education, but also be fully committed to the future of a land we dearly love.

It’s not just “giving back”. It’s a way of life.

In case you are interested in learning more about UWC or in helping to boost the project, here’s the necessary information:


Two UWC noticeable Venezuelan cases:

  • Jose Alfonzo, from Guarenas, went to Pearson College UWC and graduated in 2015. He is studying Systems Engineering in the U.S.
  • Cesar Miguel Márquez, from Sarria (Libertador), went to Robert Bosch College UWC and graduated in 2016. He is studying Aerospace Engineering in the U.S.

Isabella Picón

Isa studied at UWC Adriatic (Duino, Italy) from 2006 to 2008 and graduated from Northwestern University in 2012, when she returned to Venezuela. She is a Venezuelan political scientist, activist and current president of Avemundo/UWC Venezuela.