A richly rewarding experience – Wickham
September 16, 2005

A richly rewarding experience – Wickham

by Andreas Wickham

After almost seven years in teaching, in 1980, I grabbed the opportunity to study in Cuba through a scholarship offered by the Government of Cuba to the United People’s Movement (UPM). Looking back, I think that this was a landmark decision and a very courageous one at that since, given the nature of the geopolitics at that time and the deep ideological divide between east and west, which had its own manifestation in SVG, it was inconceivable that someone from SVG would have even entertained the idea of studying in “Castro’s Cuba”.{{more}}

Fortunately, I had the support of both parents – my mother with some apprehension. And as I soon found out, the other two persons selected were Douglas ” Dougie” Slater and Berwyn “King-o” King, whom I had known from Grammar School days, all three of us having entered school on the very same day.

Cuba was a richly rewarding experience. After spending six years there – the first studying Spanish-. I left with a Masters Degree, sound knowledge of a second language, and long-lasting friendships.

Wholesale adjustments had to be made to my lifestyle during those years. I had to develop a special taste for Cuban cuisine, eggs became a staple in my diet. I had to learn to dance the casino (a type of salsa), learn to watch baseball, not cricket, on television, and learn to develop the discipline of queueing. We queued for just about every service or to purchase products. It was not uncommon for someone to see a line of persons, joining it first to secure his/her position in the line and then enquiring about the purpose of the line.

I remember the first few weeks when King-O, Dougie and I had to patch up the few Spanish words we knew to string a sentence together which made some sense to the listener. There was one occasion in a restaurant in Havana called WAKAMBA, when King-O had to pull out a pen and resort to drawing a chicken, before the waitress understood that all we wanted to order was chicken in whatever form.

I was most impressed with the method employed by our teachers in the first year in teaching Spanish. By the time I was ready to start first year university, my conversational Spanish was reasonably good.

I was also very impressed with the development of the arts and culture, the high level of literacy, the development in sports and the quality of the infrastructure to support those disciplines, e.g. stadia, theatres.

The health system was of a very high standard and the easy access to free quality education at all levels stood out as a signal achievement of the Cuban State, shared with others in a spirit of solidarity and friendship.

I was fortunate to meet students from every continent, from far flung places such as Mongolia to even the United States. One common thread ran through all of this i.e. the tremendous sacrifice made by ordinary Cubans to provide those opportunities for thousands of young persons who could not afford the high cost of tertiary education in their own countries and regions.

While living conditions may not have been of a five-star rating, we enjoyed some of the material benefits that were not even available to most Cubans. It was this demonstrated level of sacrifice and solidarity, in addition to the social discipline, which helped to mold the perspectives of many students at that time. Undoubtedly, Cuba would have contributed immensely in shaping my philosophical outlook of life. Because of this experience, I truly appreciated what the word solidarity really meant.

I must applaud the foresight and leadership which the UPM gave in opening a new frontier for Vincentians to pursue tertiary education. Though a bold step at that time, the fruits are now being enjoyed by dozens of Vincentians, thanks to the untiring efforts of Renwick “Kamara” Rose, Dr. Ralph Gonsalves and the leadership of that organisation.