Havana’s Ruins

Paula Henriquez

The boarded up day care center.

HAVANA TIMES — The Anton Makarenko daycare center was one of the first to be created by the Revolution so that working mothers could go to work. Located in a neighborhood in the Marianao municipality, this center, in need of repair, still received children of all ages and operated as a daycare center up until several years ago.

However, danger was already imminent, the building was in a really poor state and they had to close it down before they’d regret any kind of accident. The daycare center shut down and children were transferred to other institutions within the same municipality. The authorities said that they would repair the daycare center and that it would soon open its doors again.

It’s been about five years now, maybe more, I’m not sure, since that happened I never even thought about having children when they closed the center down, but I do remember the morning rush of my neighbors with their children. Now, after all of this time, they’ve decided to repair it. This center had already been taken over by kids in the neighborhood who used it to play hide and seek, the wooden windows that had remained have now disappeared, the roof was about to collapse, a cafe had been “built” in the backyard, a root vegetable stand… In short, it was used for everything but for what it was originally and initially intended for.

The neighborhood was happy to hear the news, especially the parents, of course. The nearest daycare centers were, ironically, quite far away and many can’t afford to pay for a private nanny. I decided to go have a look; I wanted to see how the repair work was going. I don’t know if I was pleased to see what I saw or if I was more annoyed. Yes, the windows were changed, or rather, put in, this time made out of aluminium; the walls had been plastered and were even painted. It looked great from the outside but the inside… the inside left a great deal to be desired. The roof had been braced with iron beams, right in the middle of each room there were huge iron beams. I don’t think this is the most suitable solution for a place where small children run around and play. Wouldn’t it have been better if the center had been repaired before it fell into such disrepair, while saving resources as well? Of course we know the answer to that question, but we always have to be a little naive and ask the question anyway.

Then, I remembered that maybe we were being selfish. How many homeless people are there now because of Hurricane Matthew? How many people are living in shelters, temporary homes, small rooms in poor… poor no, dreadful conditions, because of past hurricanes? Or simply because people don’t have the resources they need to be able to repair their homes and make them more sturdy…

However, on the other hand, we’re seeing more and more new buildings, none or nearly none of which are destined to become housing. We see repair work going on in public spaces, old buildings being demolished so as to make them into parks, but we don’t see houses being repaired or new ones being built. Or at least, relatively very few.

How can we then think about a simple daycare center? When there are schools, houses and all kinds of buildings that have been destroyed, that are in ruins. Our country’s infrastructure has been damaged so much and very little is being done to fix it. Some say that it’s a question of many years and others say that this will never have a solution.

I would like to think that it will, that one day somebody will finally think and realize that completely destroying a place, whether that’s a building, a school, a daycare center, etc., doesn’t save resources, but the complete opposite, it uses up a lot more. Some can’t even be fixed when they decide to repair them.

Meanwhile, all of us in the neighborhood are waiting for the Anton Makarenko day care center to reopen, maybe soon, parents and children will be able to enjoy this facility again, half-repaired, but at least functional. Maybe this place will become a source of inspiration for others.

Paula Henriquez

Paula Henriquez: Since childhood I have been told I should be careful what I say in public. “Think before you speak, especially in front of others,” my mother would say, and it was more of a plea than a scolding. Even today I hear her and I obey her, just that I do not speak, I write. Letters and words are my escape, my exit and daily catharsis, which printed on paper, revive me. And this picture is my refuge.