The National Literacy Campaign awakened the memories told especially to Juventud Rebelde by two of its protagonists, Nury Díaz Hernández and Julia Bárbara Oña Ventosa
Baby and Nury were not known in 1961. The first lived in the factory houses of the Santa Amalia sugar mill, in Coliseo, Matanzas; The second was from a wealthy family and resided in the city of Santa Clara. However, life united them in an unprecedented historical fact: having eradicated illiteracy from Cuba forever.
"I was a popular literacy teacher, one who taught in the place where they lived," recalls Julia Bárbara Oña Ventosa, ‘Baby’. "My father had recently died, and my older brother, responsible for the family, would not allow me to go on the Campaign because I was only 11 years old.
"I wanted to participate anyway, two of my sisters were in brigades, and the way to give my contribution was in the place where we lived, in the batey of the Santa Amalia sugar mill, today Battle of Yaguajay. There were five illiterates there, and I was able to teach them to read and write.
"My students were adults. I knew them all, because I had grown up in that place. They were the parents of my friends, it was all very easy. Everyone was willing to learn. They were older people, they had difficulties, but they took to it with great enthusiasm.
"However, I had a heart-breaking experience. One of my students, Ángela Sánchez, was the mother of Antonio de Jesús González Sánchez, who was in the Militia School of Matanzas. Her interest was to learn to be able to write letters.
"When the mercenary invasion happened in Playa Giron, he went to fight with the militiamen and was killed. Angela was left desolate, she did not want to continue studying, but her desire to write a letter to Fidel that all the literate did, and to thank him for the Revolution, was the motivation that maintained her in the classroom.
"I remember especially the letter written by another of my students, José Lozano. He thanked Fidel and told him that he knew that his children would have a secure future.
Nury Díaz Hernández was in the Conrado Benítez Brigade and says that they were first sent to Fomento, near the Escambray, but that area was very dangerous, because there were bands of counterrevolutionaries and they gave the order to remove all the girls. Then they sent her to a small village called Manaquitas, which is part of Santa Isabel de Las Lajas, in Cienfuegos.
"I was placed in the house of the couple Elsa and Ramon, who had two adult children. None of the four could read and write. I was 12 years old, so they saw me as a little girl, they protected me, they did not let me do anything, I think they found me upset, because I had never been in the country, everything scared me.
For Nury, literacy was to discover her country. "I had studied in a school of nuns, I lived in a bubble. When I heard Fidel say that there were illiterates in Cuba and I knew the reality of my land, it was an awakening, and I immediately wanted to join the Campaign. I always say that the Battle of Ideas did not begin with the kidnapping of Elian, but with the very triumph of the Revolution," she says.
"Something very singular happened to me: I arrived at my home with the form to join the Contingent, and my parents had to sign it. That same day, my dad arrived with a ticket to take me with him to the United States. I did not want to leave, and my mother supported me. He left us and we never heard from him again. "
Nury remembers with some nostalgia her life in the field, when he learned to wash in the stones of the river. "There were other farm workers nearby who came to the house of Ramon and Elsa to receive classes, but there was an old man, about 80 years old, whose name was Manuel, who became a problem.
"When the Campaign colleagues introduced me, he closed the door in our faces and told us that he did not want anything. He was disaffected with the Revolution and had a very bad temper, the people there were afraid of him. He used to call me "maestrica" or "brigadistica".
"But something unexpected happened. When I turned on the lamp of the brigadistas to give classes, Manuel was impressed. There was no electric light there, and it was very bright.
"He was hiding outside the house of Ramon to look, and one day he told me that he wanted to see the lantern up close, to make one for his house.
"I, with my arguments as a 12-year-old, replied:" You can see the lamp up close if you come to class. "He got quite annoyed, but little by little he got closer, I got him to sit in the classroom, learn the letters, to write his name and to read, although he could never write well.
"When Cienfuegos was declared a territory free of illiteracy, an ceremony was held, and Manuel was there. He told me: "Brigadistica, you made me suffer, but you're so tiny that I never thought you could do this to me." He hugged me and made me cry. "
Nury's story moves Baby, and she agrees that there is nothing more beautiful and dignified than the work of the literacy teachers: helping the needy, a constant in the thinking of Fidel and the work of the Revolution.
Gathering of literacy teachers
In order to bring to the younger generation to the epic that the Campaign meant, a group of Havana literacy teachers created a gathering. "The idea came in the award ceremony of a contest launched by Juventud Rebelde, about the 50th anniversary of the Literacy Campaign, in the section ‘The key of the elf’," said Nury.
"Today, the group has about 600 literacy teachers, and the project has been extended to the provinces of Villa Clara, Cienfuegos, Sancti Spíritus and Matanzas.
"Among the objectives are to group together, spontaneously and voluntarily, participants in the Campaign and to carry out various recreational activities, meetings between generations, for learning and dissemination of history, which allows us to continue working for the education of the people."
Translated by ESTI