Cuban National Hero Jose Marti was right when he sentenced that the school has to shape the mind for the task of life; and that is what impressed Iris Cogger in her visits to Holguin province.
This Canadian friend came to this northeastern jurisdiction as a member of the Volunteer Working Brigade and Solidarity with Cuba, baptized after the Heroic Guerrilla Fighter “Ernesto Che Guevara.”
She has toured the “Raul Gomez Garcia” Elemental School of Music and the headquarters of the children company “Ronda de los Sueños,” both located in the city of Holguin, as well as other schools and centers of the arts spread across the province, even in the highlands.
Such attraction for the Cuban Educational System comes after her never ending feeling for educator because she was a teacher and has never abandoned such humanist condition.
Together with Gordon Cogger, her husband, she has visited the Island of Liberty for eight times now. She is deeply pleased about the experiences lived here, but with a nice smile on the face she said that he doubles visits to Cuba because “he has been coming over since 1964; that is why, knows Cuba like few, its leaders, the people and its geography”.
Iris Cogger can share many interesting experiences about Cuba, as the happiness lived when the brigade helped in the construction of a school in the Sierra Maestra (mountain range) which was called after hero Camilo Cienfuegos. “There, side by side builders and us were the students. It was pretty good to have worked together with them and know their ideas, values, enthusiasm and commitment.”
Although the Canadian brigade members have come to Cuba all filled with friendship and solidarity for the last 25 years, they are not indeed tourists; they paid for their trips to do social work but feel proud that their country is Cuba’s main destination, specially to Holguin province, with 50 percent of visitors, and next followed by the United Kingdom Germany, Italy and the Netherlands.
Charismatic Iris makes honor to her name: the goddess of the rainbow; iris of the eye and messenger of goddess in Homer’s Iliad.
With the excuse of dear friend Gordon, we can say that Iris radiates light in her eyes, that she is able to catch the attention of her interlocutors bewitched by her intelligent and fraternal dialogue.
That’s how I pictured this woman that was trained to teach, including music, and that wanted to feature her students and Cuban ones. “The children I used to teach had serious psychological conflicts that led to problems on behaviour, which prevented me from making my will of educating them come true.”
Far from making any comparison between both education systems because each country has its own conceptions about it, Iris told me that the teachers in Canada have many students in class, what makes it hard for them to interact with them, to give them a differentiated attention in accordance with personal features and learning capacities, even when having to keep them under control.
“Here the classrooms are smaller, students are thus better educated, and they behave well and help each other. I’ve witnessed that in the several schools that I’ve visited. They may have some material shortness, but the most important things will never lag behind: the educator’s preparation and ethics; in the students’ interest and discipline.”
I admit that thru the members of the “Che Guevara” brigade I started to know much more about Canada, its climate, its economy, its traditions, its inhabitants, and they have opened doors to migrants from different pares of the world. I knew that Cuba and Canada have maintained official diplomatic relations for 72 years now, that Fidel and prime minister Pierre Elliot Trudeau built a solid friendship, which grew with his visit on January 1976, and whose son – today Canada’s premier – just came to Cuba; and the massive participation in the “Marathon of Hope” kind of homage to courageous Terry Fox - named Terrance Stanley - that born on the 28th of July, 1958 died on June 28, 1981 after fighting cancer, on which he promoted awareness thru his race across Canada.
In this recent visit of Holguin by “Che Guevara” brigade I could talk to several elderly Canadians who are quiet aware of history, friendship and mutual respect between both governments, and today politics extolled by Canada’s Prime Minister of maintaining relations with no restrictions with all the walks of life in Cuban.
Spouses Cogger have learned a lot about Cuba al these years; and those that come for the first time are pleasantly impressed about the safety lived in Cuba, the humanism and friendship that mark the people every where you go.
In the visit to the historic complex of Biran, the birth place of Fidel and Raul, they learnt a lot about the Castro Ruz family thru historian Antonio Lopez who managed to respond all the questions they asked.
They also learned much in the other places they paid visits to, mostly in the schools because – as Iris very well said, “the Cuban experience on education might seem to be a dream as they can study the field they want to; as the artistic formation in different expressions to later join the many groups in the province, and they can also make their own projects in municipalities: and all that without having to spend a penny. That’s amazing, impressing and rewarding.”
And as we focus all that as something quite normal and common, we have to explain what has come true was foretold by Fidel (Castro) in his historic plea “La historia me absolvera” (History Will Acquit Me), after being tried for the attacks to the garrisons Moncada and Carlos Manuel de Cespedes, in the cities of Santiago de Cuba and Bayamo, respectively, because there he meant that Cuba’s main scourges were: “the problem with the land, the problem of the country’s industrialization, the problem with housing, the problem of unemployment, the problem of education and the problem of health care.”
Talking on education particularly, Iris, her husband and many other Canadian friends know of the Cuban fight for education that started with the Literacy Campaign in 1961, right after the revolutionary victory of January the first 1959.
They are also aware of the results reached thru the spread of education with the opening of schools in the countryside and cities and towns; they get to know that educators’ methodological and scientific preparation never stop, and that all Cuban citizens can study free of charge, including university studies.
Iris Cogger told me that she is very happy and pleased for visiting Cuba again, and “where I’ll always be coming back until I cease to breath.”
This reporter feels grateful for having met Iris Cogger, who as been kind to me, who is aware that the Earth belongs to every body, without fake priorities, because she is sure that the only things to be extolled should be kindness, friendship, and the solidarity that mark those who really know how to love soundly and selflessly.