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Sunday, July 18, 2004 Print E-mail

[POSTCARDS FROM CUBA]

Today is Cuba's national Children's Day, and in our barrio all the children are gathered under a tree in the triangular park in the center of the neighborhood, surrounded by the adults who have provided the candies and other treats and organized the games and activities. Strings of little Cuban flags flutter between the trees and light posts. Similar themes are happening all over the island, where "nothing is more precious than a child" and where "the only privileged are the children" have been real-life mottos for the last 45 years.


That's what makes it all the more outrageous that Baby Bush, in a desperate effort to justify the unjustifiable anti-family measures he enacted last month, has resorted to the lowest forms of scurrilous attacks against Cuba, by charging Fidel Castro and the Cuban government with sponsoring child prostitution in a speech about ending trafficking in women and immigrant workers. Of course, he failed to mention in the speech that the promoters of the legislation to bar these practices in Florida -- where in fact that kind of trafficking is rampant -- were two liberal Democrats, not at all supported by his party... 

Then I spent the day seeing off the Venceremos Brigade at the airport.... 

In the evening I watched the news. There was of course coverage of the children's day activities around the island, and then a very long segment about the life of Nelson Mandela in commemoration of his birthday. (I hadn't even seen anything in any other news I got via email to remind me that it WAS his birthday). The segment was replayed in the late evening news and the early morning news the next morning.

Another interesting segment was extolling the work of the street cleaners -- the men and women who push little garbage cans on wheels and wield brooms, cleaning the streets of the neighborhoods, towns and cities of Cuba. The men and women interviewed in Villa Clara province were very proud of their work and the contribution they were making to the health and beauty of their communities. One commented that people often say Cienfuegos is the cleanest city, but that he thought his town in Villa Clara was -- just look at it, he said, pointing down the street for the cameras... How nice -- how amazing! -- that they were given this kind of recognition, that kind of respect for their work. 

July 19 When I went to do my daily physical therapy in the water yesterday afternoon, both the pool (which was being emptied) and the beach at the workers social club near my house were pretty filthy after a long hot weekend of beach-goers, so my neighbor and I decided not to swim. 

While we were exercising and swimming in the newly-clean pool and refilled pool this morning, workers from the club were raking the beach, throwing away the trash -- mostly aluminum cans and plastic cups -- that so many people just carelessly throw on the sand or in the water, despite the abundance of metal trash baskets in this club. I was thinking again how important it would be to have a real campaign to educate and then, if necessary, fine the people who so thoughtlessly degrade the environment and guarantee that their children will NOT have pristine beaches to swim at when they grow up. 

When I mentioned this to one of the security guards there, he said, "Sure, but who will take on that task? We'd have to add lots more people for that.""The kids could do it," I said. Get the Pioneros (PhotosInfo) involved, kids could teach their parents and be organized in groups to tell other adults not to throw their trash in the sand and if they keep doing it, then the kids would go get a guard... 

About an hour later, I was telling my friend Angela about my idea, because she has worked for many years in environmental education --especially focusing on the seas. Last year she created Acualina, a group dedicated to this project. And they are DOING exactly what I was thinking about! In fact, she had a meeting at her house at 2 o'clock this afternoon that she invited me to. When I got there, a bakers dozen of the 20 or so kids who belong to the Acualina group were gathered around her tiny living room on chairs, the couch and the floor. They were boys and girls of all colors and ages between 9 and 12; most had been part of her ecology club or had heard her talk at their schools; all were from the neighborhood and were getting ready to go out and patrol the shoreline. 

They watched some of the Acualina tv spots that have aired and a program from the Australian group "Clean Up the World" that is providing some of the materials they used. They talked about getting plastic bags from the local stores to give to people to encourage them to clean up after themselves. We talked about getting them more tv coverage next week for Acualina's one year anniversary. They are being given a space to build a small center for their activities and we talked about making the roof out of palm fronds instead of tarp...It would be nice to connect them with Spanish-speaking kids who are doing similar environmental things in the US...

 
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