Nov 1 (Fond du Lac Reporter) BEAVER DAM – Fourteen members of Alpha Xi, an organization for women educators, gathered Oct. 12 at the Beaver Dam Chamber of Commerce office, with Glen and Barb Link sharing slides, experiences and impressions from their recent tour of Cuba.
Barb, who retired from the Beaver Dam School District, achieved a long-held personal dream when she made this voyage; she was not disappointed. They cruised on Montego Bay around the entire island-nation. Though their ship carried 700 passengers, only 110 were Americans.
For Americans to be allowed to travel in Cuba, there must be an educational component to the trip. Much of that instruction was provided by Professor Jorge Arocha, who taught the group classes in cooking, rum, cigars, dancing, education and the people.
After Fidel Castro took over the country in a 1959 revolution, he closed all the schools and enforced a nationwide focus on literacy for all, ordering that everyone be committed to teaching others to read. Today their literacy rate is 99.7 percent, according to UNESCO.
Education is free to all in Cuba. Their primary school includes six years. Secondary school takes students through pre-university or tech school studies, and Tertiary offers master’s and doctor’s degrees to anyone who has finished one year of military service.
The Links observed the importance put on education as they were sightseeing. Most people speak good English. They saw students with special needs learning in a large art school, and other students on a field trip at the national museum. All students wear uniforms that designate their grade by the color. When the tourists distracted students in an open-air classroom, the teacher was able to quickly regain their attention, while Barb noticed that the classroom had no bulletin boards or technology.
The travelers hold on to images of the Communist country. The people spoke respectfully of their current leader Raul Castro, who has said he will leave that position in 2018. Glen could not find a Sherlock Holmes book to buy, but he could purchase memorabilia of the fabled detective.
They were amazed to see a man transporting an elaborate four-tier wedding cake on a bicycle. If not on bikes, citizens get around in vintage U.S. cars, pedicabs, horse-drawn cabs and basic buses. They observed that San Juan Hill is little more than a knoll. Street performers in bright-colored outfits danced, acted, sang and played instruments.