HAVANA TIMES — On the morning of Thursday, February 19, the Comprehensive Community Workshop in Havana’s neighborhood of Alamar (one of the sub-venues of Cuba’s 24th International Book Fair) served as the venue for a talk titled Presencia de Paulo Freire (“Paulo Freire’s Presence”). Paulo Freire is one of most influential theorists of education of the 20th century. The gathering was an extension of the talk held at the Felix Varela stand in Havana’s La Cabaña fortress (the fair’s main venue), sponsored by the Brazilian embassy in Cuba.
The gathering was scheduled for a very early hour. Primary school students involved in Mapa Verde* (“Green Map”) program activities in Havana’s east-laying areas, cold from the winter winds and their proximity to the coast, would come into the workshop area in large numbers in search of shelter, accompanied by their teachers.
Minutes after arriving, our patience was put to the test by a sudden power cut. Even though the organizers decided to call the electric company (which had cut the power because of the scheduled trimming of trees in the neighborhood), the original composure of the attendants was gradually lost.
Pedro Silvestre (who is doing community work with Mayan descendants in Guatemala) and Nelidad Cespedes (from Peru), both of them members of the Latin American and Caribbean Popular Education Council (CEAAL), explained they had come with the intention of coming into contact with the community, convinced that reality is far richer than any conference or gathering with intellectuals as part of the book fair.
In the end, the talk was limited to reading who was Paulo Freire (1921-1997) and who was present (the coordinators, invitees and mappers of the municipality), as the commitments of the participants did not allow for a longer exchange.
Other groups of well-known mappers and their maps of communities such as the Rincon de Guanabo, Playita de los Rusos, Campo Florido’s San Gabriel community and Playas del Este were also present.
It’s a shame, particularly for the little ones, who were once again exposed to something unfinished or done in order to comply with a plan. At the workshop, I saw them kid around, showing each other their photos and standing next to the mural where their maps had been posted, the ones they didn’t get a chance to talk about or show attendants.
When the circle is closed and only a smudged image of our efforts remains (at school, within the family or institutions that serve as models for us), can we sincerely say that the little ones have learned anything worthwhile when all is said and done? We have a way to assess this. If that which people dream of isn’t materialized in reality, what can we expect?
For me, the gathering to talk about the political and pedagogic thought of Paulo Freire, who worked for the liberation of the oppressed through teaching methods aimed at transforming humanity, methods that are known in Cuba only in intellectual circles and are neglected by the majority, was spoiled by this.
*Mapa Verde Cuba: A community initiative aimed at repairing environmental damage and an awareness-raising tool. It involves the mapping of certain areas with a view to preserving their flora, fauna and human components. It is one of the networks under the coordination of the Felix Varela NGO in Cuba.