Archive for November, 2008

After all the buzz about Venezuela’s music education program, “El Sistema,” here is something new and different: teachers from England are coming to Caracas to witness the successes of Venezuela’s free “Bolivarian” schools.

The BBC reports on the “Connecting Classrooms” initiative that provides an exchange program for instructors from Britain and Venezuela.

Here is what Steven Connors, a teacher from Hertfordshire, England, had to say about the Boliviarian schools:

Although they’re in tough parts of town, what we found was that the schools were serving their communities in the most amazing way. They were oases of calm and order where children are able to get that one life opportunity to get an education.

Another teacher, David Winters of London, said:

Where they are very strong is in the area of values, in instilling in their pupils the belief that when they grow up they must be better citizens and must not allow the situation which exists at the moment in Caracas to continue. They want the children to strive for a better future, and a better future will mean that the population in general is at less risk of crime and of criminality.

The Boliviarian school system now incorporates about 9 million Venezuelan students, from the elementary school level through university. It is part of the push to democratize access to education, and also an important part of government anti-poverty efforts. To read more, click here.


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Last Sunday and Monday, the Venezuelan conductor joined the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra to perform shows at Carnegie Hall commemorating the 60th anniversary of Israel.

According to this New York Times review, Dudamel achieved a “killer reading” of Tchaikovsky.

UPDATE: the Washington Post weighs in on the Carnegie Hall show, calling Dudamel “the wild child of music” and “better than the hype.”

For more about the state-run music eductaion program in Venezuela that inspired Dudamel and brought him to star status, see a new L.A. Times article.

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Yesterday, the Washington Post reported on Gustavo Dudamel, the classical music conductor who — along with the state-funded music education “sistema” in Venezuela that he champions — is becoming muy famoso.

El Sistema takes children, often from circumstances of abject poverty, and teaches them to play instruments. According to most press reports, there are more than 250,000 children in El Sistema right now — its Web site cites 350,000 — playing in group classes and youth orchestras culminating in the Bolívar orchestra, which Dudamel will bring to Washington on April 6.

The Post credits Dudamel with “bringing a breath of fresh air to the familiar.” It also turns a critical eye to Dudamel’s family life, pressing him to explain why he refers to his musical endeavors as so many “wives.”

Does he extend this kind of morality to his real wife, the journalist and former dancer Eloísa Maturén? “No, no, no, no!” he said, laughing, and amended his description of the orchestras: “It’s polygamy, but in a beautiful way.”

So there you have it. ‘The Dude’ comes out on top again!

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metrocable_web1The city of Caracas is in a valley surrounded by hills and mountains. Many people live in the hills and work in the valley, which can mean a long walk to the bus stop. That’s all about to change for residents of San Augustin, Petare, and other high-altitude Caracas neighborhoods thanks to The Bolivarian Cable Car. Soon, they’ll be able to glide down the side of the hill each morning and back up in the evening.

Work on the Metro Cable Car system began in April 2007, and the first line from San Augustin to Parque Central is slated to open in late 2008. Petare’s line will open in 2011. The Cable Car of San Augustin will benefit more than 40,000 people a day. The Petare line will serve over 100,000.

When the work is finished, overall travel time will be shorter, since there is no traffic up there. Commuters can relax and enjoy a panoramic view of Caracas rather than brake lights on the highways. It is also easier on the environment.

Click here for an article in English about the growth of Venezuela’s public transportation systems.

Click here for great photos and information in Spanish from Radio Nacional de Venezuela.

Click here for links to the Urban Think Tank, an architectural firm that designed the Metro Cable system.

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The world’s first Census of Marine Life is making a splash, and it is doing so with some help from Venezuela.

The census is an enormous effort to take stock of the past, present, and future of marine life with the participation of seventy nations over the course of ten years. The fourth progress report on its findings was given yesterday in Valencia, Spain.

Patricia Miloslavich, Professor of Marine Biology at the Universidad Simón Bolívar in Caracas, is co-Senior Scientist and coordinator for the areas of the Caribbean and Coastal South America.

Professor Miloslavich is also the curator of the mollusk collection at the Museo de Ciencias Naturales of the Universidad Simón Bolívar.

Miloslavich is quoted in a BBC article on the Census of Marine Life. She points out that the study could help contribute to knowledge about the effects of global warming: “Over the past few years, there has been huge public interest in biodiversity because there is a legitimate concern about the changes being caused by humans.”

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2008 is the International Year of the Potato, and the UN created a cookbook for the occasion, “The Potato: Around the Globe in 200 Recipes.” The potato is native to Latin America, and is now eaten and grown all over the world.

Venezuela submitted a recipe for sancocho, a traditional stew made with veal, chicken, potato, and banana. A favorite at family gatherings, it yeilds large quantities and feeds a lot of people.

One giant Venezuelan sancocho made the Guinness Book of World Records in September 2007, when portions of the world’s largest stew were given out to spectators in Caracas.

As the year of the potato comes to a close, try your own sancocho recipe, and invite all your friends to share!

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Venezuela’s International Book Fair arrives in Caracas tomorrow. It has toured all 24 of the country’s states, and makes its final stop Friday in Parque Los Caobos.

The fourth annual event involves more than just the buying and selling of books — it also includes educational events and workshops on a wealth of topics, including science fiction writing, fantasy literature, and publishing alternative media. More than 400 writers and artists from 20 countries are participating, as well as 150 different publishers.

The International Book Fair celebrates the achievements of the many thousands of students and educators who helped make Venezuela an “illiteracy free territory” in 2003. Social programs in education have indeed increased the country’s demand for books.

The President of the National Book Center, Marisela Guevara, says the fair shows that Venezuela is becoming “a nation of readers.” Read more in Spanish here.

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