Reflection from Lynn Ross on Cuba Consultation

Latin America Partner Round Table Consultations

Since my return from Cuba I have been telling people of my visit and the opportunity to learn about another culture.  When told that our first residence bathroom had no toilet seats, a young person responded, “So you had to hover.”  I am now considering whether or not to add my new skill of “hovering” to my curriculum vitae!
In Habana we stayed in the residence operated by the Cathedral that was indeed a busy centre. The Dean invited us to the Church service the following day that was two and a half hours with some PWRDF partners speaking to the congregation.  During the recessional hymn, the cross bearer was followed by a Cuban flag bearer.
The Dean told us the Cathedral was a “revolutionary” church and as our visit progressed I began to understand, in some small way, what he meant.  The political revolution took place 50 years ago (1959), but the cultural revolution in Cuba has been an ongoing transformation of values with a literacy rate close to100%, free education and medical services available to all.  By Canadian standards there is financial poverty, but there is a richness and pride in what has been achieved, often under difficult conditions.  
Before we left Habana to travel to Matanzas we toured what is known as “Old Habana” with its beautifully restored architecture. Our travels continued to the seminary in Matanzas, a port city, some two hours from Habana, with its campus situated on a hill with a beautiful view of the sea.
This is where we held our meeting with PWRDF partners from Mexico, Peru, Guatemala, Nicaragua, Panama, Brazil and Cuba.  The discussions and conversations were an open sharing of experiences and learning. The lasting impression for me is how dangerous it is for some of our partners to live and work in their countries. In listening to their stories one realizes why Cuba is a model to Latin America with its medical and educational systems and guarantee of equality of men and women.
The seminary was an excellent venue for the meeting that provided an opportunity to learn about theological education in Cuba. It has enough land to be self-sustaining and its curriculum teaches that theological education does not cease at the seminary doors but reaches out into the community. 
On our fourth day at the seminary we divided into three groups to visit projects and I was among those to see projects of the Martin Luther King Jr. Centre, first in Matanzas and later in Habana.  With Joel Suarez the General Coordinator of the Martin Luther King Jr. Centre, a PWRDF partner based in Havana, and a community worker we visited a part of the city that has undergone a transformation as a result of the training of community leaders through the programs of the Centre. 
As we walked through the neighbourhood we saw the restoration work on some buildings organized by the community and stopped for a visit at a building that has been beautifully restored and is now a community centre with an art gallery. It was here that we met the team that has been working on a video for 18 months to tell their story of transformation. What I think is so important in this project is the pride of the people as they told us of their achievements.  
In Habana we visited a second project of the Martin Luther King Centre, a community centre with professionals and volunteers who help care for people in the community. It is well organized and plays an important outreach role. As in all our visits the conversations were open exchanges with opportunities to ask questions.
When we returned to the Centre at the end of the day, each of us was given a number of training books that the Centre has published. What I think is important about the Centre’s leadership training programs is their ability to send leaders into the community to help people regain self-esteem. Their programs are models worth further study for application in other countries including Canada, in our inner cities and with Canada’s Indigenous people. The model of the program, whereby participants come to the centre for two weeks of training and then return to their community, obviously works well.
The next day I returned to Canada with much to reflect upon. Back in Canada I missed the roosters announcing dawn.
Lynn Ross is a retired priest and a member of the Board of Directors, The Primate’s World Relief and Development Fund.

View more stories on: Cuba Stories, Latin America Caribbean Stories