The first day of school is an exciting moment of possibility and potential—and the same could be said for my very first trip to Cuba.
Everywhere I went, there was an expectant and hopeful feeling in the air. I spoke with young Cubans who expressed their enthusiasm about greater interaction with the world, including the United States, as an opportunity to broaden their horizons and pursue their dreams.
I was in Cuba for the country’s first day of school and was lucky enough to visit with kindergarten students in Havana, many of whom were beginning their formal education for the very first time. It was refreshing to see their excitement and hear them talk about what they’re looking forward to learning this year. As part of the visit, we visited an after-school arts program that started in one school and has scaled up to many, and spoke with officials at the Department of Civil Defense about their plan to help schools and students better prepare for disasters. We also celebrated the completion of a 5-year program led by Save the Children Spain in partnership with the Cuban government to increase participation and quality education for 36,000 children in 92 schools, leading to better outcomes for children.
But we know that for children to realize these outcomes in school, they must get the healthy start they deserve. So we visited one of the premier pediatric hospitals in Havana and met the dedicated staff who are making impressive advances, despite the lack of supplies, technology, furniture and enough skilled staff. What this facility lacks in materials they make up for in determination for the children under their care—a sense of compassionate duty that echoes what we saw last summer, when a team of Cuban doctors traveled to Sierra Leone and Liberia to help treat those suffering from the Ebola epidemic.
One particular child really stuck with me as I traveled back to the U.S. and recounted my trip. She was a kindergartener named Rena, shy at first but then warming as we placed with clay and made little blue snakes. Though my Spanish and her English were too basic for us to talk much, I saw in her eyes the shining future that Cuba could have, one in which children have a prosing number of opportunities to be all they can.
So much about my trip felt like the first day of kindergarten: a different, interesting place; new faces who I hope will become new friends; and so much potential to grow and learn. I hope that Save the Children will be able to continue to get to know Cuba, and find out how we can sharpen our pencils and work together to improve the lives of children and families.