The School Snack Is The Most Recent Victim Of The Economic Crisis In Cuba

The school snack, which began to be distributed in 2003, included a glass of soy yogurt and a bread roll that could contain sausage, cheese, ham or a croquette. Photo is of a ‘morning assembly’ at an elementary school. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Natalia López Moya, Havana, 5 September 2022 — A kiss at the door of the house and his mother’s gaze following him until he turned the corner was part of Jeancarlos’ routine this Monday. The eleven-year-old boy resumed school on September 5, and, unlike a few months ago, he will no longer be able to have even half a bread roll for a snack.

Since school stopped for the summer holidays, a lot has changed on the Island. The blackouts were prolonged, the Cuban peso sank in the face of foreign currency, and flour became an increasingly scarce product. The cookies and rolls that underpinned the students’ snacks have practically disappeared.

“In order for him to take a roll with something in it to school, someone in the house has to stop eating their own,” explains Jeancarlos’ mother, referring to the rationed products. But the sixth grader is not the only student in the family. “My daughter started first grade, and I gave her my roll because she’s small and doesn’t understand why she can’t have a snack,” she explains.

Days before restarting the school year, she investigated possible solutions. “A small package of cookies costs 100 pesos at a minimum, and there is nothing to give my son, so I won’t even tell you about that option because it doesn’t solve the problem,” she explains to 14ymedio. An informal merchant sold her “a soda extract that guarantees that at least he doesn’t bring just water to school.”

Recently, the young Trilce Denis launched a sour diatribe against the ruler Miguel Díaz-Canel through a video posted on her Facebook page. “Now I want to know, when school starts, what snack will be given to the children; I’m already sick from nervousness,” she said.

Denis complained that even when she could arrange a snack for her son, he would have to eat it next to other children who couldn’t bring any food. This concern is shared by many parents who fear an increase in social inequality expressed in the economic inability of families to offer bread to their children.

The contrasts are seen not only in the quality of footwear or the backpack in which students carry their books, but also in the mere fact of having some cookies, sandwiches or bread, which means belonging to a certain social class that has access to stores in freely convertible currency or receives remittances from abroad.

Ulises, 43, landed this Saturday in Havana from Miami. After arriving in the United States six years ago, it’s the third time he’s returned to the Island to visit his sister and two school-age nephews. “Most of my suitcases were full of food,” he tells this newspaper. “Drinks of all kinds, flour, cookies and bread,” he says.

“I brought her everything they need for next month’s snack. Then we’ll see how to manage so that they can bring something to eat to school, but for the moment at least they have solved the first month.” Instant soda powder, milk powder and some jams were part of the “family rescue,” as Ulises called his luggage.

“With the flour I brought, my sister has already started making her own bread because no one can eat the bread from the ration book: it’s acidic and hard.” But the first days of school won’t be the most difficult test for families with children and teenagers. “Normally, during this first week of September, everything is more relaxed. The worst will come later,” admits Ulises.

On the site for classified ads, there’s an abundance these days that promise “packages of cookies ideal for school snack” or “assorted jams in independent envelopes, perfect to take to school.” But prices deter many potential buyers. A package of four sweet cookies with “chocolate chips” at 200 pesos shows the increase in inflation.

“It’s not just about putting something in your mouth; at this age teenagers are very sensitive,” said a father outside the ’Protesta de Baraguá’ Junior High School in Central Havana. “My son tells me that he doesn’t want to bring anything because he feels sorry for his friends who don’t have anything, but that means he goes all morning without eating anything, which can’t be good.”

Outside the school, while the students were getting ready for the first morning, some parents recalled that there was a time when “a hearty snack” was implemented for secondary school students. “The government didn’t want the kids to be wandering the streets, so instead of going out at lunchtime they were given bread with something inside and yogurt,” one mother said.

That school snack, which began to be distributed in 2003, included a glass of soy yogurt and a roll that could contain sausage, cheese, ham or a croquette. This was so the students didn’t have to go home at lunchtime, because many didn’t return to school. But the initiative, supported by the economic comfort that Venezuelan oil allowed, barely survived a decade.

“I’m one of those teenagers who threw bread around the school and played ’throw the sausage’,” said one of the parents outside the Centro Habana Junior High school. “Who would have thought that I was going to be here now dreaming that at least my nephew would have something like that?” Times have changed, and now the snack is a luxury that few can afford.

Translated by Regina Anavy


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