Venezuelan Professors Rely on Donated Shoes to Get to Work

José Ibarra’s last paycheck was five million bolivars, less than two dollars. He spends one million only in transport. He hasn’t bought a new pair of shoes in three years and when he tweeted a photo of his worn out shoes, Venezuelans stepped up to help.

Photo: OVCS

José Ibarra, a 41-year-old teacher, can’t afford to buy deodorant, much less a new pair of shoes.

“I spend everything in food. And not a full month’s purchase, just enough to survive.”

José went trending on June 29 when he posted his worn out shoes on Twitter.

“I’m not ashamed of saying it,” he wrote, “with these shoes, I go to the #UCV to teach, as a university professor, what I earn isn’t enough for me to change the soles because that’s about twenty million.”

I spend everything in food. And not a full month’s purchase, just enough to survive.

He’s been an university professor for ten years in the country’s first campus. His last paycheck (June) was five million bolivars, less than two dollars and without his family’s help, he would’ve been unable to buy a chicken and vegetables (20 million bolivars).

Ibarra has a Higher Technician’s Degree in Social Work from the University College of Caracas. He graduated as a Social Worker at the UCV, he’s a specialist in Management of Research and Development Projects with a Master’s Degree on Research and Development Management, and he’s currently doing a doctorate on Public Health at UCV’s Medical School. With this curriculum, he still doesn’t earn enough for a movie ticket.

Fleeing poor salaries

Gregorio Alfonzo, secretary of the Central University’s Professors Association (APUCV) said earlier this year that, between 2009 and 2015, 1,122 teachers had quit their posts in the institution, in view of their diminishing salaries and the lack of supplies, since that makes it almost impossible to teach in several specialties (not to mention the loss of political and economic liberties).

He also said that 1,400 teachers have left between 2016 and 2017 alone, either resigning or requesting unpaid leaves. He didn’t say the current figure but, according to the councils of each school, he estimated an average of six weekly resignations.

José Ibarra still doesn’t plan on submitting his resignation. “I love what I do. I didn’t want to teach, but studying and later graduating, I realized the value of this profession. I serve my students, the future generation.”

Between 2009 and 2015, 1,122 teachers had quit their posts.

He spends a million bolivars a month just in bus fare from La Guaira to Caracas. Often, money isn’t enough for public transportation and if the subway is heavily delayed, he walks from Sucre avenue to Capitolio, three kilometers in 38 minutes. When he’s done with class, he has to walk to Gato Negro from the UCV, eight kilometers for over an hour. This is without mentioning the time he has to wait for a bus to arrive.

He leaves the university between 5:00 p.m. and 6:00 p.m., and gets home at 9:00 p.m., smashed with exhaustion. With cash for the bus and many vehicles at the bus stop, he’d spend no more than 40 minutes to get home.

The issue of public transport has restricted his search for odd jobs. “I have to do as much as I can, teaching, consultancy, thesis tutorships, workshops. I don’t have enough time, but if I don’t do this, I won’t survive. I never thought a teacher would reach these extremes where he can’t even buy detergent to wash his clothes.”

In 2010, he managed to save part of his wages to buy a house. In 2013, he tried to do the same and buy a car, but couldn’t. It’s been five years since he travelled in Venezuela. Last year, he was invited to Peru for some workshops. Obviously, all expenses fully paid.

“Seven or eight years ago, I took a trip to Los Roques for Bs. 128,000, paid with my salary. Today, this situation is crushing my dignity.”

After his famous tweet, he started getting calls from everywhere Venezuelans are, to donate shoes and other items. Some of the shoes he got weren’t his size, so he gave them to other teachers who also struggle. At the time, there was also an image trending, with chavista leader Jorge Rodríguez’s costly shoes (about $795) making the rounds.

He spends a million bolivars a month just in bus fare from La Guaira to Caracas.

People identified with Ibarra’s need “and now I’m an inspiration for other teachers in the country. They’ve called me from Barquisimeto and Mérida, because I dared say what nobody else wanted to. I showed my shoes. I was pretty discouraged and now I’m in the fight to recover my country, knowing there’s people who want to join in. We have to recover our dignity.”

Ibarra hopes that, on the next paycheck, he gets the raise that will put him at Bs. 22,000,000 monthly, about $6 (still would be next to nothing compared to the price of the food basket).

“In Venezuela, the military boot was stronger than a doctor or a teacher. We’re the worst paid. We eat vegetables, proteins are a luxury, we use cheaper personal hygiene products. Since I can’t afford to travel, I have to enjoy the Ávila and public squares. I don’t know what else they’re going to take from us.”

Mabel Sarmiento

Mabel Sarmiento is an UCAB-trained journalist with more than 20 years' experience covering community news, the environment, health, education and infrastructure.