Opening Statement



Thursday, 18 August 2011

CSP: Cuban School Projects 2011-12

Thursday August 18th

Your response to my Cuban Schools Project [CSP] trip to Santiago de Cuba has been very inspiring. Many of our teachers are travelling around the globe, and are involved in other special projects too.  I’ve often said that I believe as educators we do make a difference! It’s true!
I was also touched by those of you who wrote to say you recall when I started the project back in 1992. The CSP has been reported on from time to time in TSU Highlights since then, and I have personally told many of you about what we do. In the past other TSU [Toronto Secondary Unit] teachers have even volunteered to go down themselves to help out the Cuban Schools.  However, without much word as of late it also seems that a lot of you are surprised, if not pleasantly so, that the project is still going strong, and has been such a success.
Perhaps I don’t promote the CSP as much as I should so others know we are still here. Political work during the Harris years  and my TSU work on the executive for the past five years have often placed a lot of practical time restraints on me. Still through thick and thin our work has continued in Cuba with educational development and solidarity grants from OTF [Ontario Federation of Teachers], OECTA Provincial [Ontario English Catholic Teachers Association] and our own TSU [Toronto Secondary Unit].
CSP’s support for the Cuban Schools is non-denominational and is done by any and all who believe in social justice. OSSTF [Ontario Secondary School Teacher Federation] and the FWTOA [Federation of Women Teachers of Ontario Association -not around anymore. Por que no?]  have also provided financial assistance and helped out in various ways. Mostly it’s been individual teachers but sometimes by financial donations as well.
In the early 1990’s a lot of teacher s regardless of their affiliation helped bring aid and packages directly to the schools in the form of medicine, clothing and supplies. Since then that has proved impractical. The Cuban government began heavily taxing these donations. They  also want to distribute this type of aid according to their needs without any direct accountability. We don’t do that.
Instead I have been focusing the CSP’s efforts on a few sustainable projects through my own direct personal contact with the schools. Please know that the CSP always provides aid directly to the students and teachers at the Cuban Schools, not the Cuban government or any other third party.
The two big Cuban school projects are the Toronto Friendship Community English School and the Ingles Para Ti [English for You], a made in Cuba teacher/ student instruction program. I am pleased to report that the English school we helped build and provide supplies for continues to draw about 300 adult and teenage students a year, who are keen to learn our language on their own outside of the regular school program. Ingles Para Ti is now in its 5th edition on CD Rom and is informally used  most notably at the college and university level, where each limited run of one or two hundred copies must circulate and be shared to meet the demand.
So where does this leave us? This year I will again apply for CSP funding from OTF, OECTA Provincial and TSU. This trip I provided most of our remaining donations for the start up costs of developing three big projects, which will need more help to succeed. They  are;
Ingles Para Ti 6th Edition: The Cuban teachers want to work on making the computer version more interactive, especially with the oral speaking and conversational components. We have also provided funding for an updated print version of the 2nd or 3rd edition, since access to computers can be a big problem, especially  at the Toronto Friendship School. They will be receiving the first batch before the end of  this calendar year. Ingles Para Ti will supplement their Spectrum workbook program with more Cuban specific references and examples, and an additional whole language approach.
A new English Business Program supplement for Ingles Para Ti. With the new reforms many Cubans are now going into business for themselves, with small family run enterprises. Others want to know how to engage in simple conversation with the many English speaking tourists who visit Cuba each year. Perhaps they  just wish to be friendly and learn more about the outside world. Maybe they would like to know how to greet customers and provide helpful customer service in selling their legitimate business goods and services, be it a bed and breakfast, a family run restaurant or even their arts and crafts. This would be a simple starter program which would also introduce some basic business skills, for example in greeting customers, selling goods and services  and in advertising their small businesses. We might find it odd, but now that Cuba is moving towards a mixed economy many of these skills have to be learnt all over again, especially for the younger generation, to whom this is all totally new.
New Technology: We want to focus on providing our teacher counterparts in Cuba with computers, preferably notebook or netbook in size, scanners, printers and CD/DVD burners to cut their production costs of our CSP programs when they have to outsource their work. CD/DVD players, especially the small portable ones are needed so the instructional materials produced can be viewed, heard and used more widely. Also music, movies and other popular media help create further understanding and interest in our English language, culture and the arts in the wider world offshore their own often isolated island.
I hope my Santiago de Cuba Diary blogs this month have shown that Cubans are warm, friendly and genuine people with strong family values, perhaps even more so than us nowadays. Unfortunately they have fallen between the cracks of Cold War politics and our new technological era. Cuba is also a predominantly Catholic country. Many of us will remember when PJ2 visited there.  In short, the average Cubans are just plain and principled good folk who desperately need our help.
Also, I cannot emphasize this enough; The Cuban Schools Project is a non profit group providing direct practical assistance in planning, implementing and providing accountability for the use of our funding and aid to the Cuban teachers and students, most notably in Santiago de Cuba. I believe the small steps we are taking will make a much bigger difference than all the political rhetoric that usually flies. We are helping the Cuban people through educational aid. That is what teaching and our CSP teacher group is all about!
It is for these reasons that I am using the Summer Edition of my blogsite to make an appeal. If you or anyone else knows where we might find more funding and support for the project please let me know. If you would like to go down and visit the teachers and schools we are working with at the Cuban schools let me know. Our various expertise and skills are often much appreciated down there, be it in the form of language, pedagogy and technical help.
You can contact me at the Gmail address above the header of this site, or in the comment section below each blog. Many of you will also see me around a lot in the course of my TSU 3rd VP work at school and at meetings. If you can get us any help for the Cuban teachers and students, let’s talk about the CSP too.
A Su Saud!/ To Your Health!

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