Soraya Diase Coffelt, JS, MJS
By SORAYA DIASE COFFELT/SPECIAL TO THE V.I. FREE PRESS
Today was our last day in Cuba and amongst one of the busiest. We were given the exclusive opportunities to meet and speak with persons at a vocational trade school and a public health clinic to better learn about the educational and health systems in Cuba.
We were back in Cienfuego, the pearl of south Cuba. This city was established by the French and many people from New Orleans had traveled here to help settle it. The main square of the town was designated as a UNESCO World Heritage site.
Due to the overwhelming task of rebuilding and renovating buildings in the area, the city historian sought assistance from a local vocational trade school and partnered with it. The goal was to bring back the old trades that were so vital for renovating these buildings. The results have been transformational for the area.
Just a few blocks from the square is the building that houses the city’s trade school – Escuela Taller, Joseph Tantet Dusbruiller – named after a Frenchman who had been influential in the area. The building was in a state of utter disrepair and the school was established within it. 22 teachers instruct 95 students, both boys and girls, on the skills of masonry, carpentry, decorative ceramics, landscaping and welding.
The students vary from ages 17 to 30 years old, and receive a stipend of 200 pesos every month from the government while they attend school. Enrollment is for 2 years and after they graduate, students usually are employed by the city historian to continue to assist with renovations.
We spoke with two teachers who described the wonderful renovation work that the students have accomplished and we were able to see photographs of what the building looked like before the renovations began. A considerable amount of research is done in the archives so that accuracy and authenticity is assured.
The teachers also explained about the difficulties they have had obtaining materials and tools necessary for the renovations. They were not daunted by these setbacks, however, and with the typical Cuban determination, were able to obtain assistance from various NGOs to provide these much needed items.
We also visited a public health clinic and spoke with three physicians who specialize in internal medicine. The Cuban health system has family doctors who provide primary care to patients in the various communities. When necessary, the family doctors refer patients to the health clinics for consultations with specialists and dentists.
This specific clinic serves about 23,000 patients a year through referrals, as well as provides after-hour emergency care. There are, however, only two beds at the clinic for emergencies. If a patient needs overnight monitoring and care, they transfer the patient to the hospital. Prescriptions for medications are filled through pharmacies and the cost of medicines is government subsidized. Most medications come from China and Columbia.
On our way to the airport in Santa Clara to catch our flight home, we stopped at the Che Guevara Memorial and Revolutionary Square there. In 1997, his remains were brought from Bolivia, where he had died, and this beautiful monument and museum were built in his honor. Unfortunately, the museum was closed but we were able to walk the grounds and see the statute of him that was erected.
The process of checking in for our flight back to Miami and going through immigration at the airport was easy. There were no long lines or extended waiting times. The group consensus was that this trip was definitely an important learning experience and we had a great time too. I will be writing a wrap-up article with my final thoughts on Cuba. There is much that we can learn from this beautiful country.
Soraya Diase Coffelt is a longtime St. Thomas resident, a retired Superior Court Judge and former V.I. Attorney General for the Mapp Administration who has a JD and MJS in law. She is visiting Cuba as part of a “people to people exchange” in conjunction with her alma mater Cornell University.
If you have an Apple device, be sure to download the free Virgin Islands Free Press app in the Apple Store!
If you have an Android device, be sure to visit the Google Play Store to download the free Virgin Islands Free Press app!