Government assessing ways to assist students in Cuba
With one option being to send cargo at a cost of well over US$30,000, parents and Government are discussing ways of assisting Vincentian students studying in Cuba to access certain necessities.
A ZOOM meeting was called on Sunday, May 17 by parents of Vincentian students studying in Cuba with various officials including Prime Minister Dr Ralph Gonsalves, to discuss the issues their children were facing as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.
Eli Francis, who chaired the meeting said it was clear that the students there may not be able to travel until December 2020.
“So coming home for the August holidays, being in quarantine here for perhaps two weeks and when you go back again, another two weeks doesn’t make sense, so I think we all settled in our minds that they would not travel for the August holiday vacation hence the need to ensure that supplies get to the students,” he said.
Based on a quotation from Caribbean Airlines, Francis said that it would cost US$30,810 or EC$83,187 for a maximum 3,969 pounds in cargo to be transported to Cuba for the students.
The students have complained about not having access to food items to supplement the meals that they receive from the Cuban government.
Access to fruits, vegetables, hygiene products and other necessities has also been difficult, especially since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.
However, Prime Minister Dr Ralph Gonsalves said at Sunday’s meeting that it may not be practical to send cargo to Cuba, given the cost of the charter.
“To pay US$30,000 to take up packages, I don’t think that’s a realistic option…,” the prime minister said to parents.
Gonsalves said a more practical option would be to focus on finding creative ways to get fruits and vegetables to students to help strengthen their diets.
And he suggested to SVG’s ambassador to Cuba, Ellsworth John that arrangements be made to facilitate this on the ground.
“At least, if one meal a day or alongside with any other thing you get to eat, you can eat ital, fruits and vegetables, I would say that that will be something which is good to eat and if it is available at the stalls…,” the prime minister said.
Gonsalves expressed concern particularly for female students, who may be having difficulties accessing feminine hygiene products.
And he said that while he could not speak to the nature of the students’ diet or the other issues, “I suspect that the subject I just raised will be one of those which is among the more problematic”.
Gonsalves questioned whether it was possible to use a shipping company like DHL to send lighter packages which could include those feminine products.
Another issue that some students have encountered is that their bank cards have expired, making it difficult to access funds.
One parent pointed out that shipping agency DHL may be able to ship cards to Cuba for approximately $260.
And others proffered that parents could pool all the cards together to send in one package so as to minimise costs.
Arlene Regisford-Sam, the chief personnel officer, who was also present at Sunday’s meeting, outlined the assistance that will be given to students in Cuba.
She said discussions were held between the Chief Personnel Office and the Office of the Prime Minister, in which a decision was made to give priority to students studying in Cuba and Russia.
“We have decided to give a financial aid based on the directive of the honourable Prime Minister and also based on the information collected via a needs assessment that was sent out,” Regisford-Sam said.
The chief personnel officer indicated that this financial aid will be to the tune of EC$1,500 each, which will be credited to students’ bank accounts.
The Prime Minister said the amount may be reviewed as students may have to stay in Cuba for longer than anticipated.