Cuba’s chronic economic crisis has been severely exacerbated by Covid-19, as the country – already depressed and unstable – feels the negative impact of the uncertain global economy and strict travel restrictions.
The total closure of its borders halted tourism – its only source of financial stability – sending the country spiraling further towards a state of emergency.
In a nation where basics such as food, medicine and personal hygiene and sanitation items are already in short supply, the circumstances have become ever more dire.
The cancelation of Jewish communal missions from organizations such as ORT, which help deliver these critical items to those who need them most, has contributed to the crisis.
Cuba’s demographics compound the situation. The country has an aging population, and a large percentage of society is at-risk or in greater need. Despite free public health care, lack of resources means even minor procedures that were already rarely available are now near impossible. The pandemic means pharmacies are in ever-greater need of medical equipment and supplies, including PPE, ready to be distributed to the public.
ORT in Cuba
ORT Cuba was established in the 1940s to provide vocational training to the 11,000 newly-arrived Jewish immigrants who fled Europe and sought refuge there. ORT now works closely with both the Jewish community and the general population, providing critical workforce training programs and supportive health and social services to the Jewish and non-Jewish communities.
ORT has established education and training programs, including:
- Courses including Cuban literature, Arts, Jewish and general history for more than 90 underprivileged seniors aged 65 and over at the Jewish Senior Center
- An intergenerational summer program for children and their grandparents
- The Cuban Business Training Center which provides entrepreneurs with classroom instruction in human development, marketing and management, finance, accounting, sales and customer service, and business development
In 2012, ORT Cuba opened a computer classroom in the Joshua White Community Center in Arroyo, an impoverished municipality of Havana. Three-month courses in all aspects of IT skills, such as web design and video editing, are available for 250 students.
A second initiative at the center provides educational and cultural programs for children, teenagers and seniors. Participation in this project offers children skill development and the acquisition of knowledge in arts and languages. Seniors can work to improve their physical and cognitive skills and enjoy social interaction. The program runs in three locations in Havana and has provided supplies and shared expertise with children’s homes and orphanages.
In 2018 and 2019 ORT Cuba coordinated the visit of students from the CIM-ORT school in Mexico City and arranged Tikkun Olam activities during the visit. The students distributed supplies directly to those in need. Delegations from the Canadian Jewish community have undertaken similar trips.
Our response to Covid-19 in Cuba
In the spirit of that compassion and generosity, leaders at the ORT-affiliated Colegio Isaac Rabin school in Panama City, Panama, undertook a Covid-19 relief collection project in response to the rapidly escalating crisis.
The high school students enthusiastically rolled up their sleeves, packing donated goods and supplies including basic household goods, clothing, food and over-the-counter medication.
The relief shipment from ORT was delivered to Havana and the supplies will be distributed throughout the island, thanks to the generosity of ORT supporters.
Further support came last October with a virtual fundraising event hosted by World ORT and ORT America. Supporters heard from ORT students in Panama who visited Cuba, as well as ORT staff and those working on the ground in Cuba to assist those in need.