Cuba trip – perspectives

On 10 December, 16 students set off to Havana to experience eight days of Cuban culture and society. Here are two perspectives from the trip.

By Bella Evershed, 6.2

The Global Awareness trip to Cuba was a splendid escape into a potentially stagnant Havana, as you could clearly see the repercussions of the US embargo on the architecture and vehicles. In spite of this, the city was bustling and extremely welcoming, and we all found it refreshing to escape the Christmas lead-up, with its intense advertising overload.

We had varying levels of interaction with the locals, weaving together a picture of what Cuba looked like to them – the impact of the US embargo was still evident, but they were thriving in spite of it. Through the Cuba Solidarity Movement, we observed and asked questions in various different meetings, including the CDF (a workers’ union), a female empowerment agency and a student union.

These interactions were the most beneficial in understanding the people’s view of politics under the communist regime and how Cuba stands on an international platform compared to other great powers. For example, post-revolution Cuba has massive gender equality in the workplace, more so than the UK, with 53 percent of parliament female and 70 percent of doctors and lawyers.

The government also value the importance of the young voice and have a large youth turnout at elections, as Cubans are able to vote at 16. The student unions all over Cuba have a direct link to the government; they were able to meet with Fidel Castro twice yearly before his death and now continue with the vice president. It was interesting to see how valued young people are in translating their political agenda to the top tier of government in such a structured and well organised way, and made us all a little envious of how they are able to utilise their political voice.

Overall, it was a very interesting experience visiting a country on the cusp of huge change, as the embargo had relaxed, opening up trading which may soon direct Cuba down a very different path.

By Abi Wharton, Head of Global Awareness

As a Global Awareness trip, this was an opportunity for students to immerse themselves in different Cuban organisations and develop a deeper understanding of the development of education, health and politics in a system which has been under a US economic and trade embargo for 60 years.

We visited a number of different schools engaging in joint English-Spanish conversation classes with Cuban students. A highlight of this was the opportunity to follow each other on Instagram – the internet has only become available to Cubans in the past couple of years. We were treated to musical performances at one of the leading music schools in Cuba, as well as experiencing what was being achieved in a school for students who are visually impaired. One of the most striking impressions was what was being achieved despite limited and dated resources. This linked to visits to numerous health centres and hospitals. All Cubans are entitled to free health care and the Cuban medical system is seen as being one of the best in the world, despite or perhaps because of the embargo. This led to wide comparison with the NHS and the current issues surrounding this.

We attended a meeting of the Committee of the Defence of the Revolution as well as a Cuban Students Federation meeting and a talk from one of the leaders of the Cuban Women’s Federation. This gave the students the opportunity to find out more about the most pressing issues facing Cuba at the moment and discuss the impact of current relaxation of some Communist laws and what this means on a day-to-day level for the people. They were most impressed with the direct involvement that students have with the government and their ability to directly impact the evolving constitution. They also learnt a great deal about the emphasis placed by the Communist government on the role of women, ensuring that equality remains a primary concern.

Cuba is a country in a massive state of flux and students were able to apply their theoretical understanding of political ideas to day-to-day lives and people – a rare opportunity in a rapidly changing world.

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Trump and Brexit makes for lively discussion with US students

lake-forest-academy-live-chat

By Jonathan Selby, Head of Government & Politics

On Thursday, 23 February, Global Awareness, Politics and Economics students enjoyed a live discussion with Lake Forest Academy in Illinois.

This was the brainchild of Head of Global Awareness, Annabel Smith and marks a ‘first’ for Bedales. It was fascinating discussing Trump and Brexit while live with the American Politics students and gave interesting insights into Trump and American Politics; for instance the students did not seem worried by the fact that Trump got three million fewer votes than Clinton, explaining that this ensured that low density population rural states were not eclipsed by high density liberal cities.

The American students were interested in how we viewed Brexit. We had our Brexit-favouring expert George McMenemy to offer a considered reflection, ably assisted in the discussion by Kirstine Gernaa-Knudsen and Tom Reynolds. Lake Forest were interested in the link between Brexit and Nationalism and the whole question of immigration where we found links with America and much to discuss.

This was a distinctly different and refreshing lesson and we hope to repeat the exercise form time to time. Thanks to Lewis and Bedales ICT for setting up the technology and especially to Annabel for pursuing her contact at Lake Forest to such a fruitful end.

Bedales hosts head of DEFRA

By Jonathan Selby, Head of Government & Politics

On 22 November, the Politics Society was lucky enough to host Clare Moriarty. Clare is the Permanent Secretary (head) of DEFRA (Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) a department that employs thousands of people. She comes then, from a very senior position at the heart of government and it is not often that after a lecture students and staff ask if that lecturer could be persuaded to return, yet this was what happened.

Clare’s hallmark was a wonderful clarity as she spoke about the Civil Service, DEFRA and Brexit. Not normally a fan of power points, this was an exception – for the slides were brilliant. I recall, for instance, a triangular representation of the Civil Service and government. Virtually the whole triangle was coloured green to represent the Civil Service (enormous) and the top was red to represent the Government (tiny). In an instant the size and importance of the Civil Service was brought home.

Clare spoke with real authority and you could see why she had been promoted to head of DEFRA. She was also very modest and there was no sense of self-importance, just the sense of complete competence and confidence. She used an interrogative style, frequently asking questions of the audience. It kept the students’ attention. For the final question session, after 20 minutes I had to draw the session to a close. It was a sure sign of the interest that had been awakened. Clare, should you read this – please regard it as an invitation to return.