Friday, February 28, 2014

Countryside Boarding Schools in Cuba - My First Experience

Countryside Boarding Schools in Cuba: My First Experience
February 26, 2014
Irina Pino

HAVANA TIMES — I took part in Cuba's "countryside boarding school"
program – which sought to combine study and manual labor – while in
junior high school back in the 1970′s. At the time, young people were
obliged to go work in the countryside and contribute to the country's
agricultural output for 45 days each school year.

Only a handful of students who could produce a medical certificate
describing a chronic condition could save their skins. Teachers would
say that refusing to go meant a stain on one's school record.

The state of the boarding schools was something no one could imagine
beforehand. To top things off, parents had to spend money on
transportation and food to take to their kids on visiting days (to
"improve" the menu there).

When we got there, everything was shrouded by a cloud of red dust. We
had to clean up and organize the place, amid the arrival of more
prepubescent and scared students (many of whom had never before been
away from home).

Though we cleaned and organized our surroundings, the state of our
accommodations was quite depressing: there were feces around the
latrines (students couldn't be asked to walk a short distance to go
where one is supposed to), the mattresses were old and dusty, the food,
in addition to scarce, was badly-cooked.

Likewise, the windows all had cracks where the cold seeped in during the
early morning, the bath houses didn't have roofs and, instead of doors,
had a hanging sac of jute held in place by two stones. To make matters
even worse, there was no running water and we had to bathe with water
brought in buckets from a source. The cold water would run down our skin
in the cold temperatures.

Reveille (this is what they called waking us up) would be at 5:30 in the
morning. A small glass of milk with a bit of cereal and a bread roll was
our modest breakfast. Then, we had to dash off to bathe where the
laundry was washed. We did all this in the chilling cold. We would then
hop onto trucks and pierce through the icy fog to get to the furrowed plots.

The trip lasted more than half an hour, and they transported us like
cattle. Extremely long furrows would be waiting for us. I could barely
finish weeding the crop down a single furrow – my friends always had to
help me. I didn't have gloves or boots. I would wear a pair of plastic
shoes that would be blackened by the mud. They had only given us two
work shirts and a single pair of pants.

Weeding cassava plantations, surrounded by parasitical and thorny weeds
was extremely dangerous (that's why one should wear boots and gloves).
At noon, we got a break and they would take us back to the cafeteria for
lunch. We'd get back at 2 in the afternoon and continue working until
five. We'd even work on Saturdays (until one in the afternoon).

There wasn't much to do in our free time. We wouldn't get to watch much
television, for the lights went out throughout the boarding school at
10. Once, a group of people from the Cuban Film Art and Industry
Institute (ICAIC) came to screen a fairly old movie. That's the only
good thing I remember from those days, and the music they would play so
we could dance on weekends. I don't know why I remember the songs of
Peter Frampton particularly.

I would cry often, for I missed my family and loathed that place. It
wasn't even that safe there and teachers would take turns keeping guard,
as there were rumors that a stranger was prowling the vicinity to "feel
up" the girls and steal our clothing.

I returned home with a case of pneumonia and my right arm injured (a
sudden slam on the brakes by the driver left my arm trapped between a
rope and the bodies of my classmates). Despite the hematoma and the pain
I felt, the woman in charge of the boarding school didn't let me go home
and instead assigned me cleaning chores.

When my parents found out what happened, they became furious and wanted
to take me home, but this woman said that would mean a stain on my
record (even though there were only ten days left). I returned home on
the established date. I was only 13.

A friend told me high school students are still sent to the countryside
through this program, but only for a week. I sure hope conditions have

Source: Countryside Boarding Schools in Cuba: My First Experience -
Havana -

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