Cuba Kids Reach Out to Haiti Peers

By Dalia Acosta

Cuban junior high students. Photo: Caridad

HAVANA TIMES, April 26  (IPS) — Five girls and five boys are taking time to remember the hurricane that devastated their home town of Gibara in eastern Cuba two years ago, mingling their memories with their dreams, and filming images to make a video message for children in Haiti.

“What I like best is learning through playing,” said one of the primary school children selected to take part in an audiovisual production workshop in Gibara.

Without putting pressure on the children to move beyond their normal pace, the workshop asked them to think about and make a “gift for the children of Haiti,” where on Jan. 12 an earthquake demolished the capital city and claimed the lives of more than 200,000 people.

The material produced by the workshop, which is part of the Eighth Humberto Solás International Low-Budget Film Festival, will be sent to Haitian communities affected by the earthquake, with the support of the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) office in Cuba.

“When you are a victim, it’s difficult to think about other victims. So it’s important for other victims to tell you how they lived through and overcame a similar experience. One child victim of a catastrophe tells his or her story to another who is suffering now,” UNICEF representative in Cuba José Juan Ortiz told IPS.

Psycho-emotional rehabilitation is hardly ever funded by international relief in disaster situations, Ortiz said. However, such simple activities as drawing and painting, or more complex ones like creating a film, have proved highly valuable in this work.

At times of war or natural disaster, “efforts are focused on giving children water, sanitation, food and shelter, without realising that unaddressed trauma has consequences that can last a lifetime. It’s an urgent priority to work on this area,” he said.

Cuban psychologists Yuliet Cruz and Silvia Padrón initiated this project, aimed at avoiding “secondary victimisation”, a result not of the original trauma, but of the subsequent response of institutions and individuals to the victims, for example when the adults in charge focus on concrete goals rather than the experiences and processes the children are living through.

“Children are the spectators of the future, but also of the present. We wanted to give them the chance to be the filmmakers of today, exercising their right to participation and self-expression,” said Padrón at the Children’s Encounter held Wednesday Apr. 21 in Gibara.

For the first time, the Gibara Festival specifically welcomed children and adolescents by including this initiative, as well as screening films from the International Children and Youth Film Festival (FICI) held in Spain last year, and holding a special visual arts exhibition.

The Low-Budget Film Festival was conceived of to foment appreciation of films made on a shoestring, but nonetheless of high artistic quality, which portray a wealth of alternative viewpoints and are seldom shown by major distributors. This year over 1,000 movies were entered, and 300 were chosen for the competition proper.

The festival’s traditional inaugural parade was held Monday Apr. 19 through the central streets of Gibara, a fishing port also known as the White Village of Crabs. The event closed Saturday Apr. 24 after a marathon of parallel screenings, workshops, visual arts activities and concerts.

The participation of children and adolescents at the festival, which was founded by late Cuban filmmaker Humberto Solás (1941-2008), “has come to stay,” in the shape of the filmmaking workshop and film exhibit, according to the festival’s director, Sergio Benvenuto.

UNICEF’s Ortiz said the novelty of including children is “a qualitative leap forward” for the festival, which since its origin in 2004 “has achieved the very difficult feat of encouraging society, the consumers of artistic products, to make this festival their own.”

He said UNICEF will collaborate with the Low-Budget Film Festival’s creative workshops and children’s and adolescents’ film screenings, and will provide materials from similar projects the U.N. agency supports in other countries.

The festival presented an opportunity to present what Ortiz called a “friendly” text version of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, approved by the U.N. General Assembly in 1989 and ratified by 193 countries, with the exceptions of Somalia and the United States.

The booklet, illustrated by Juan Padrón, the creator of an animated cartoon character popular in Cuba, also sparked a new idea of his for a project that UNICEF is supporting: a series of one-minute animated shorts on each of the rights outlined by the Convention.

As for the children’s audiovisual workshop in Gibara, the UNICEF representative said that this activity, rather than a one-off piece of work, is intended to blaze a trail. “The material made here will be sent to Haitian children, who will then make their own video about their experiences for children in Cuba,” he said.

“And as this festival is a good place for dreaming, let’s dream that this may be the beginning of a collaboration between Gibara and something that, some time, can take shape in Haiti,” he concluded.