My Childhood in Rural Cuba

International Children’s Day was celebrated June 1st in Cuba

Abuela y nietos. Photo: Juan Suarez

By Elio Delgado Legon

HAVANA TIMES – The world “celebrated” International Children’s Day on June 1st, which the UN General Assembly proclaimed in 1956. I write “celebrated” in quotes because children were only able to celebrate their day in a select few countries.

My thoughts go out to the thousands of children who die without ever being able to celebrate this day, because of treatable and vaccine preventable diseases. My thoughts go out to the thousands of children who die every day of starvation, because they don’t have any food to put in their mouths. My thoughts go out to the thousands of children who are massacred and displaced in occupied Palestine, with Israel’s constant attacks.

My thoughts also go out to all of the girls who are kidnapped and raped by members of terrorist organizations in some African countries. My thoughts go out to the babies who die in the Mediterranean Sea, trying to reach European soil to escape violence and hunger in their birth countries.

I also think about the thousands who reach the southern US border without their parents, who are fleeing violence, hunger and drugs, in Central/South American countries, who are treated like animals and locked up in cages and all of their rights are violated.

What must life be like for these young children in their countries, when their parents decide to send them alone to a strange land, with other customs and where they speak another language? A father or mother can only make a decision like this if the situation calls for desperate measures.

My personal experiences

I also think about my own childhood, that took place in rural Cuba. Poor places that lacked medical assistance and education, with a 57% illiteracy rate. The vast number of situations that shaped my childhood and teenage years come to mind, like a movie.

I have memories of being hungry, not because of food shortages, but because we didn’t have money to buy it, and of having to work to earn an honest living to feed the family.

Those breakfasts of water with brown sugar come to mind, which were warmed up to warm the stomach, because you couldn’t buy milk. I remember how I wouldn’t be able to have a snack in the afternoons, so when my mother was cooking rice (which wasn’t every day), I would sit in the kitchen and wait for her to take out some water from the cooking rice, and fill my cup and that would stave off my hunger a little.

A consequence of the hunger I suffered in those early years of my childhood led to my body packing it in and the doctor who saw me diagnosed me with weak lungs that forced me to stay in absolute rest for almost three years, with me staying back a few years at school.

I also remember how, during primary school, our mid-morning recess was a moment to take a mental break from class, but I would also be frustrated because I wouldn’t have a snack to keep my hunger in check, or have the money needed to buy from the old man who came and sat in the school’s patio with a box full of candy, that only cost 1 or 2 cents.

After coming out of school at midday, I would walk two kms home and lunch would be waiting for me, which was a plate of cornflour and a piece of boiled sweet potato whenever possible. Then, I would walk another two or three kms to take this lunch to my father, who was working in the fields, making marabu charcoal, which was really hard work to sell after.

That was my childhood, which was loaded with sad moments and frustration, at not being able to receive a small gift on Three Kings Day, or not being able to make other dreams come true, which I’ve spoken about before.

Celebrating International Children’s Day amidst all of the conditions I’ve described, now made worse thanks to a pandemic that forces children to be locked up at home to prevent infection, is an impossible pipe-dream that can never come true.

Instead of promoting International Children’s Day, the UN should be looking for a way to force wealthy nations to work towards making children in every country across the globe happier. Thus, they’d be ensuring a future of peace and happiness for everyone. Our national hero Jose Marti once said that children are the world’s hope.

Read more from Elio Delgado Legon here.

4 thoughts on “My Childhood in Rural Cuba

  • Like every adult on earth I use to be a child so I have nothing against children. But I can’t help rolling my eyes whenever political hacks claim “It’s about the children.”

  • Elio comes out with some entirely one-sided articles.
    But he gets away from evangelising on behalf of Cuba’s Government, he writes interesting stuff and also points out some very real and often bitter truths.
    Unfortunately there are are many children who, to this day, lead short and brutalised lives. Much like those in the residential school mentioned by Stephen. I had not previously heard of this school in Kamloops. A hideous example of racial and religious supremacists using their positions of authority to inflict horrific abuse and murder on the kids they were supposed to be caring for.
    Children are innocent. They should all have a chance in life. The young should all have access to education and sufficient nutrition. It is incumbent upon all those in power to do their best to ensure this is possible (although Mr Patterson’s highly strange comment suggests he may well think otherwise).

  • Elio blithely writes how he wishes the UN should “force” wealthy nations to help poor nations feed their children. Really? The use of force to against any country, rich or poor, should be condemned. Elio rails against the US and our embargo because of its stated purpose to “force” Cuba to become more democratic. Obviously he fails to see his own hypocrisy.

  • I have to commend Elio for his very enlightening article about children, their unfortunate situations, sacrifices, trials and tribulations on a worldly scale. I praise Cuba for recognizing, and as Elio states “celebrates”, International Children’s Day on June 1st which the UN General Assembly proclaimed in 1956. I, as a Canadian, did not realize such a day even existed. In Canada that day is not celebrated nor recognized. It should be.

    With regard to children and their unfortunate plights in this world, Canada stands out as one country that has a lot to account for in its historical mistreatment of Indigenous children in residential schools in the early 1900s and beyond.

    In Kamloops, British Columbia, a province on the west coast of Canada, a children‘s burial ground next to a residential school was discovered. “Remains of 215 children found buried at former B.C. residential school, First Nation says.” (CBC News, May 27, 2021).

    Much to the embarrassment of the Canadian federal government and the Catholic church, this shocking headline reverberated around the world giving Canada a black eye regarding its treatment of innocent Indigenous children taken from their homes and put into residential schools where some tragically died and were buried with no trace, until now.

    Elio rightly writes: “What must life be like for these young children in their countries, when their parents decide to send them alone to a strange land, with other customs and where they speak another language?” In Canada, much has been written and recorded by Indigenous residential school survivors of the hardships and sufferings they had to undergo in these so called “schools”.

    Children were abused, physically, sexually, psychologically, as the priests and nuns operating these institutions tried to remove Indigenous language, customs, culture from their very beings. Parents of these children did not voluntarily send them there; they were forcefully, if necessary, removed from their loved ones and put into these unforgiving institutions. It was the policy of the federal Canadian government at that time to indoctrinate and assimilate Indigenous peoples all across Canada into mainstream society and the politicians at the time took whatever measures appropriate to do exactly that, beginning with innocent children.

    Elio outlines very vividly his humble upbringing as a child. Food was in short supply and what was available was never enough nor nutritious enough to provide the sustenance and nutrition a young child needs. One antidote related on the news regarding the food at residential schools is telling. A small girl was served a bowl of spaghetti. She had never seen such strange food before. She turned to her friend sitting beside her and asked how did they cut the heads off all the worms in my bowl. She was severely disciplined for talking during meal time and forced to eat the spaghetti. Sad.

    I totally agree with Elio’s quoting Jose Marti: “Our national hero Jose Marti once said that children are the world’s hope.” Whether those children are resident domestic children, or children from a different culture, a different religion, a different language, a different ethnicity, they all deserve to be treated with dignity and respect because they, in fact, one day, will become the world’s hope.

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