A Journey of Resilience


Martin Kattam’s journey begins, with a truck full of gasoline cans in the back. At one point, some of the gasoline started to leak. Photo credit: Martin Kattam

Olivia Belrose, Writer

Maple Run Unified School District’s Director of Technology, Martin Kattam, and his wife, Sara, started working internationally about 10 years ago. First, at an American international school in Almaty, Kazakhstan, and then in Morocco in an American International School for five years until coming to Venezuela. 

According to Kattam, when his family decided to relocate from Caracas, Venezuela to Vermont for him and his wife to pursue new job opportunities, he never expected his journey to the United States to go from a matter of days to a few months almost completely by himself.  

Kattam noted that he and his family decided to move back to the United States when the U.S. Embassy was kicked out of Venezuela.  The situation with the U.S. Embassy, combined with a series of nationwide blackouts and hospital closings, fueled their decision to relocate to a safer place to raise their kids. 

Kattam’s wife, Sara, took their two kids back to Vermont, where she got a job as Assistant Principal of Curriculum at Bellows Free Academy. Meanwhile, Kattam planned to stay in Venezuela until his current contract finished. 

Spending the first part of quarantine in Venezuela, Kattam said the hardships of the pandemic didn’t escalate until much later. 

According to Kattam, Venezuela and Caracas were both split into different regions to mitigate the virus spread. Kattam said some regions were relatively stringent with a tight curfew and strict law enforcement. Limited travel between regions also wreaked havoc on families who relied on daily labor to make ends meet. Kattam said it took several weeks for people to return to work safely. 

Fortunately, for Kattam, his section was lenient in terms of restrictions, which meant that he was able to grocery shop and work, but he still had to wear a mask and deal with limited store entry. 

When the time came to return to Vermont, Kattam said that he tried numerous times to book a flight, but due to the restrictions of Covid-19, flights kept getting canceled at the last minute. 

“My apartment was all packed up, suitcases ready, in hopes of an available flight,” Kattam said.

Also, according to Kattam, the U.S. kept trying to arrange humanitarian flights to evacuate people, but weak relations with Venezuela stunted their success, so Kattam looked for other airfare opportunities in Columbia, where one could sign up for a humanitarian flight into the states. 

That was until the Venezuelan borders closed and travel outside of Caracas was forbidden. 

Kattam knew he had to think outside of the box, so he and his travel companions hired a truck to transport them for 13 hours to the Venezuelan/Columbian border with military personnel to get them through 10 checkpoints. 

Even with military protection, Kattam still had to remain quiet throughout the entire ordeal to keep the authorities from finding out about his American citizenship. Kattam had already experienced detainment by the Venezuelan Military Intelligence for 10 hours prior to his escape, which forced him to keep a low profile so the U.S. Security office could set him free. 

 “I had to be quiet the whole time so that at the checkpoints they would not find out I was American as political relations between the US and Venezuela are very strained,” Kattam said. 

Once Kattam reached the Venezuelan/Columbian border, he spent the night in a hotel located in Guerilla territory, or armed territory. Without a guard to assist him through the territory, Kattam said he likely would have been kidnapped. His journey continued with a drive through farms and a river to get across a blocked section of the border. He even rode on a motorcycle for the first time when the car broke down, so he could avoid interrogation. 

Kattam finally made it to Columbia, where he registered with immigration and obtained a travel permit for the 12-hour ride from the border to Bogota. Kattam was then able to book a humanitarian flight to the U.S., a quick and easy process thanks to a good relationship between Columbia and the U.S.


Kattam struggled being separated from his two young children. 

Luckily, Kattam was able to connect with his family via FaceTime and WhatsApp despite frequent blackouts in the area, but seeing pictures of his children would remind him of the long distance.

“My family was the reason I decided to take the risk to drive across the Venezuela/Colombia border to get on a flight,” Kattam said.  

Adjusting to Life in Vermont

However, even after what it took to make it into the states, Kattam still faced another barrier as he was required to quarantine in a hotel for two weeks in which he had difficulty going outside. 

“It was tough waiting, knowing I am so close to my family but still can’t see them,” Kattam said.

Although he was far from being in a warm climate, having his loved ones close by made it easy to adjust to a new lifestyle in Vermont. 

Acclimating the School for a Hybrid Year

Figuring out how to acclimate a school for a hybrid year was no secret to Kattam as he had already been running a remote learning model at his previous school. 

Kattam said his previous school was very resourceful and supportive of his new position for the MRUSD, which easily allowed him to work remotely from his old office and apartment while in Venezuela. 

Final Thoughts

According to Kattam, to cope through tough times, you have to reach for the strength inside of you to carry you and the support from people around you. For Kattam, it was his friends and the strong emotions and bonds he had with his family. 

“Looking back, I can log the experience as a unique adventure, and I am glad everything went so smoothly,” Kattam said.