By Esther Borges Moya / Radio Cadena Agramonte.
Nations grow thanks to the arms and minds of their children. If 23.6 percent of the population aged 23 years and over in a country is illiterate, then it is unprotected, vulnerable to action of dictators and opportunists, and opened to foreign meddling.
That’s why, Cuba was subjected to the ups and downs of misruling politicians that over decades grew rich under the protection of the United States.
Cuba was in need of a Great Revolution to reverse such a situation, to change with knowledge the darkness that ignorance entailed, to grow to unknown heights thanks to the talent and ingenuity of her children.
A Literacy Campaign that could reach every nook and cranny of the country was necessary, in order to take the treasure of knowledge to one million absolutely non-literate people, over one million semi-illiterate people, 600,000 children without a school to attend and 10,000 teachers who did not have a classroom.
During the trial following the rebel attack on the Moncada and Carlos Manuel de Céspedes Barracks, young Fidel Castro, in his self-defence plea, identified that Cuba had six basic problems to resolve with a succeeding Revolution, this is written in El Programa del Moncada:
The issues he mentioned are the land property, industrialization, housing, unemployment, education and health. If they had ousted tyrant Batista on July 23rd, 1953, the new government would have funnelled all efforts to solve the above-mentioned problems.
However, such all-embracing programme had to wait until 1959. A dramatic reform began on January 1st to shake the very foundations of a poor Republic that has been prostituted by a century of abuses and excesses, so a new Cuban nation, as we know it today, rose.
Immediately, a total of 68 barracks were converted into school to eventually accommodate 40,000 students in their classrooms.
A 3,000 voluntary educator contingent went up to the mountains, among whom we could find primary teachers and young people who have or haven’t completed high school. Afterwards they will form the so-called the "Frank País” Vanguard Teachers Brigade.
But this wasn’t enough to meet the needs the country had. So, the utmost leader of the Revolution Fidel Castro announced on September 26th 1960 at the UN General Assembly that Cuba would be the first country in the continent free of illiteracy.
The Literacy Campaign officially began on January 1st, 1961; and it was organized in four different stages: preparation, starting, development and end. The success was massive and on December 22nd, 1961; Cuba proclaimed illiteracy-free territory in a historic rally at the Jose Marti Revolution Square.
The Caribbean country reduced the rate of illiterate to 3.9 percent of its total population. Some 707,000 people received basic education then, when the country had nearly over 6,9 million inhabitants.
A total of 271,000 educators participated in this feat, many of whom were almost kids, in what is known as the greatest endeavour in education a country in this hemisphere had done. The forces involved in this mammoth mobilization were organized as followed: Alfabetizadores Populares (121,000); Brigadistas Conrado Benítez (100,000); Brigadistas Patria o Muerte (15,000) and teachers (35,000).
This was an act of social justice that has continued through years in Cuba with the implementation of educational programmes and it has even gone beyond our frontiers, taking “…with the letters, the light of true” to everyone as reads the Hymn of the Conrado Benítez Brigade.
FROM THE LITERACY CAMPAIGN TO THE “YO SI PUEDO” PROGRAMME
Cuba is acclaimed worldwide because it is always offering its selfless collaboration. Myriads of people born in this land have collaborated in many countries and in different disciplines, including health, engineering, construction, sports and education, among others.
But to free millions of brothers and sisters from the yoke of ignorance we had to do much more. For that a practical, effective and affordable method was needed.
Commander-in-Chief Fidel Castro asked to do it, so Camagüey-born EdD Leonela Relys Díaz was called to conduct this project. She and other Cubans had already carried out a literacy campaign in neighbouring Haiti.
Leonela designed a 5-page booklet that combined letters and numbers, which had an international approach, and was very appropriate to be used in other countries with different social regimes and languages. One of the most comprehensive and sensitive projects, with which Cuba stretches its solidarity to all continents had been set up on March 28th, 2001.
The “Yo si puedo” (YSP) programme, which in English means Yes I can, pursues a literacy that aside from being educational should be transforming of the people’s consciences. YSP is economic and flexible; besides, it does not exclude anyone and can be adapted to any community or country.
Some 5 million adult people have gained literacy in a giant effort which involves 28 nations, among which are Venezuela, Bolivia, Mexico, Argentina, Ecuador, Peru, Honduras, Nicaragua, Dominican Republic, Grenada, Brazil, New Zealand, Mozambique, Guinea Bissau, Colombia, El Salvador, Uruguay, Guatemala and Saint Kitts and Nevis.
In Africa, “Yo sí puedo” is being used in Nigeria, Republic of Guinea-Bissau, Mozambique, Angola and South Africa. In addition, it is also known in New Zealand, and even in the city of Seville, in the old and cultured Europe where experts estimate that there approximately 35,000 illiterate people.
YSP pedagogic programme won the UNESCO King Sejong Literacy Prize in 2006, granted to the Instituto Pedagógico Latinoamericano y del Caribe de Cuba (IPLAC), for its remarkable outcomes.
This is another example of the altruistic essence of the Cuban Revolution which has stretched its friendly hand to other nations, not giving the remaining but sharing what it has in a gesture of peace and love, by an army of solidarity and brotherhood that has become an inseparable part of our being as a nation.
Because above any other consideration: This is Cuba!