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CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) — In Venezuela, the financial hopes of Eliset González are riding on a niche trade.
Each day, González sits at a market kiosk in Caracas and repairs broken lightbulbs for people who can't afford new ones in the crisis-torn nation.
"I feel that with this I help the community, because these lightbulbs are super expensive nowadays. I help myself as well," said González, who learned how to disassemble and rewire a bulb while spending several years in prison for theft.
According to her calculations, a new compact fluorescent bulb can cost the equivalent of several dollars in Venezuela's nearly worthless currency — or about a month's wages. Even so, the quality is so poor they could last as little as a week.
A repair job, she said, can keep a bulb going for more than six months and costs a fraction of the price.
"I learned this in a penitentiary center where I was deprived of freedom, where I dedicated my time to study," González said in an interview with The Associated Press.
Her odd job is an inventive response to the economic chaos gripping the once-wealthy oil nation, where severe shortages of food and medicine have driven more than 4 million Venezuelans to seek refuge around the world in recent years. Last year, soaring hyperinflation topped a staggering 1 million percent.
But as the country's economy shrinks, González's life is hardly unique.
In another part of the city, Vladimir Fajardo scrapes together money by recycling random objects.
Many days, he sits on a Caracas sidewalk and uses a sharpened spoon to build toy cars out of plastic bottles, installing an internal pulley system with strips of rubber to make sections of the car rotate. Each toy takes about a half hour to build.
"There are people who tell me, 'What if I give you a dollar? Does a dollar help you?'" Fajardo said. "'Yes, give me a dollar'... With that I buy food."
Fajardo, who said he grappled with drug addiction in the past and roams city neighborhoods in search of customers, takes pride in his work.
His biggest supporters are "those who know about creativity — they know what this is about," he said.
For Elizabeth Cordido, a social psychologist at Metropolitan University in Caracas, attempts by Venezuelans to survive by recycling items that would otherwise be thrown out is, in one sense, positive.
But she said "it is very negative that it's through poverty and the increase of poverty that we have arrived at this."
"It hurts. It's painful," she said.
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