The Ghost Colleges / Fernando Damaso

Patio of the former La Salle High School, 13th Street between B and C, Vedado.

Some, hopelessly lost, a few dedicated to other purposes with better luck, others collapsing, and most in an advanced state of accumulated deterioration, the large Havana private schools, both religious and secular, that existed before 1959, are irrefutable proof of irresponsibility and negligence with respect to the care of national possessions.

La Salle of Vedado, the Marists of the Vibora, the church schools of Guanabacoa, Havana and the Vibora, Baldor, the Edison Institute, the Ursulines, St. George’s, Arturo Montori, Our Lady of the Rosary, Our Lady of Pilar, others, both male and female or mixed, without years of maintenance or repair or shoddy repairs and a bit of “rouge” on their facades, are sad bad examples that everyone can see. And something similar happens with those in other provinces.

Major financial resources were dedicated to building boarding schools in the countryside, and not on preserving the existing architecture dedicated to teaching, during the years of the fever to link agricultural work and study at all costs, in a narrow interpretation of a Jose Marti, precept. The large private schools, designed and built to meet all educational requirements, are now old ghosts scattered around our cities. The agriculture-education experiment, both from the point of view of teaching as well as production and economics, now most of these junior high and high schools in the countryside are also abandoned and in a deplorable state, or in the process of adaptation as homes and shelters for farmers and agricultural workers.

The large private schools were stripped of their original names, renamed using the official ideological saints and totally transformed, not for the better, into gray institutions, they have lost their personality and traditions, achieved in years of the exercise of teaching. In addition to these losses, the generational link is also lost where grandparents, parents, sons and daughters and grandchildren were students at the same school, becoming teachers and students in a large family, to which belonged for life. To be a graduate of La Salle, of the Marist,s of Edison, of Belén or the Ursulines, to cite just a few examples, was part of personal identity and proclaimed with healthy pride.

Despite the time elapsed and the many avatars, from time to time we find former students of these schools, who mostly remember their school days, and their teachers and classmates and some transcendental moments spent in their classrooms and patios fondly and with nostalgia. It is true that, with the first storm winds of the “hurricane of January,” a considerable number left the country and those who stayed, the few, molded their lives to the new imposed conditions in order to survive, now without the possibility to reunions every five or ten years in the same school, as this had ceased to be.

There are, not officially recognized, some alumni fraternities in the country, which join together according to the colleges they belonged to. I know in detail of the Piarist Alumni Fraternity, comprising the male alumni of Havana and Vibora and the alumnae of El Cerro, which, despite many difficulties, and the continued aging of its members, meets every three months, in the old, rundown places that were the Pious Schools of Havana in San Rafael and Manrique.

On the agenda, they regularly speak of the successes and achievements of their members and their needs and problems, as well as reports on the deceased in the last quarter, they are old professors or students. Also they learn about the major Piarist activities in other countries, where these schools maintain their presence.

These quarterly meetings become a forum for fellowship and friendship, despite passing of the years. Alumni of the Marists, De La Salle and Belén, to a greater or lesser extent, also have them. All function due to the tenacity of their members who don’t accept the disappearance of an important era in education in Cuba.

Sometimes, going over and over the old Reports of each course, which was kept in the majority of the schools, have images of those years with the known names and faces, and we never stop comparing these to the present. Then the memories take on their own life where poets, engineers, architects, artists, lawyers, teachers, soldiers, traders, businessmen and even politicians, of either sex, all appear, who, in earlier times, were mere students of these schools. Each one marked by a different destiny, but most with a great longing for those unrepeatable times and the absurd and unnecessary loss of a tradition.

To save the great schools that are still standing, should be a demand and citizen outcry, as they constitute material and historical value, as well as being an important part of the identity of the municipalities, provinces and the country, and even more of generations of Cubans.

Marist College in Vibora
Former La Salle College, B Street, Vedado
Former La Salle College, 11th Street between B and C, Vedado

All photos by Fernando Damaso.

Translated from Diario de Cuba

6 May 2013