Anandamaya Arno is a MigraCode graduate from Venezuela, who has been hired as a web developer at FreeNow since January 2021. MigraCode, a free coding school for migrants and refugees, is one of Open Cultural Center’s main projects in Barcelona.
This is the story of how Ananda, as her close friends and family call her, left Caracas and moved to Barcelona, and how her definition of “being fine” changed throughout the process.
Anandamaya tells us that studying in Venezuela was ‘crazy’: “the professors always go on strike, there is no money to pay them and the conditions are so bad”. Due to the fact that many of her professors moved abroad to find better opportunities, Anandamaya explains that there was simply no one to teach classes, which prevented her from continuing to study and finish her course.
As her university education was cut short, Ananda unfortunately didn’t get around to studying programming in her degree, even though she really wanted to. Instead, she learnt everything by herself and found a remote job making web pages for a Spanish company, but the salary was very low. “I was excited to work for a Spanish company, but they only paid me 50 USD per month. As a beginner on the job market. I didn’t know what to do”, says Ananda. She continues explaining that she found out she wasn’t the only Venezuelan working for that company who wasn’t receiving a proper wage.
Everything in Venezuela has gone downhill, no one can imagine how people even live there, and the situation was already complicated before.Anandamaya.
However, even though Anandamaya’s sister moved to Spain seven or eight years ago and tried to convince her to move too, Ananda didn’t want to. “My sister kept telling me to come to Spain, but I still felt comfortable in Venezuela.” Ananda found a new job working as a virtual assistant. “They paid me 5 USD per hour, which was crazy for me in comparison to what I’d been earning before. I felt like a millionaire!” At the time, Ananda was living with her boyfriend and they both wanted to stay in Venezuela, where the minimum salary was 2 or 3 USD. “Of course you can’t live on that, but people do. They live day by day, and manage to survive more or less. People can’t afford to buy meat, they eat vegetables and things like cereals and grains. The government was giving food boxes to people with flour, rice and beans.”
Partly because of this, Ananda and her boyfriend knew they weren’t doing badly in comparison to others. After all, they could afford to go to the supermarket and buy the food they wanted. They also stayed because, other than Ananda’s sister who was already in Spain, all their family was in Venezuela and, without qualifications, they didn’t know what they would be able to do in Spain and how they would find a proper job.
But life in Venezuela became more and more complicated. In March 2019, Ananda was offered a job from a Ukrainian company, working remotely in customer support, earning 800 USD. She felt she had everything she needed, and then there was a nationwide blackout. “Venezuela already had a lot of problems with electricity in the countryside, but it had never happened like that in the capital”, says Ananda. “In Caracas you could sometimes be without electricity for a couple of hours, but this time it was three whole days without electricity, and seven days in the countryside.”
At first, Ananda and her family were worried about not being able to charge their phones. Then they became concerned about the freezer defrosting, and losing all their food, which was difficult to come by in the first place. After a while, there was very little they could do. Ananda says that it was really scary on a psychological level. “Without the internet, TV, we didn’t know what was going on and everyone was scared that a bomb would drop. We didn’t know what was going to happen the next day, and there were rumours about raids.”
Ananda tried to get in touch with the company as she was supposed to start working that week. She explained that she hadn’t had electricity for 12 hours, but they said they needed someone with a stable internet connection. “Of course I understood that they needed an employee with stability, and at the time I didn’t have that. So I lost the opportunity because of something that was completely out of my control.”
Despite all this, it was only when her father’s health started deteriorating that Ananda was forced to make the decision to leave. “The doctors told him it was kidney problems, and he needed dialisis, but the sessions were really expensive. 200 USD per session, and he had to do 3 sessions per week. There was no way we could afford that.” So she, her boyfriend and her father travelled to Spain.
When they arrived, they moved in with Ananda’s sister and her partner. At that time, her sister was heavily pregnant. It was a very small flat for five people, and Ananda and her boyfriend slept in the living room. They started looking for job opportunities immediately. Ananda explains that they weren’t at all planning to study: “My boyfriend studied Metallurgical Engineering, nothing to do with coding. Our plan was just to come here and try and find work, as virtual assistants or waiters or whatever really.” But then they found a flyer for a coding programme that was specifically for migrants and people in their situation. “That’s how we first heard about MigraCode”, says Ananda. And they decided to apply.
If you would like to find out about Anandamaya’s experience at MigraCode, more of this interview will soon be posted on the MigraCode blog.
Ananda is one of many Venezuelan refugees who did not want to leave her home country. She and her family survived the power outages and food shortages, but ultimately they were forced to leave for her father to receive medical treatment for his illness. Ananda says she thought she was “fine” before, but since moving to Spain she now understands what it means: “This is being fine, being able to feel safe and plan things. It’s so different, you can look into the future and see a horizon, everything is more clear.” There are now over five million Venezuelan refugees and migrants living abroad, in one of the largest displacement crises worldwide (UNHCR).