Globe, Latin America, United Kingdom

Silvio and the territory free of illiteracy

1961 was the “Year of education”, the year that allowed Cuba to be declared a “territory free of illiteracy”, because illiteracy was substantially reduced. What happened that year is part of the island’s history and a film directed by Catherine Murphy reminisces about it. Sunday 11 July.


Fidel Castro had been in power for two years and Cuba was facing a bleak picture in terms of education: 23% of the population was illiterate and in rural areas it grew to 42%, not to mention semi-literacy, as many had not been able to complete their secondary education.

Something had to be done. And it was done. The idea began to be planned in December 1960, although it was not until 1 January that it was launched.

It was the Cuban Literacy Campaign, which culminated on 22 December, making the island the first territory free of illiteracy in Latin America. As Unesco describes it, it was “unprecedented in the history of the Caribbean nation and a starting point for further progress in education”.

The campaign involved 100,000 students, most of whom lived in the cities, who heeded Castro’s call and voluntarily joined the initiative.

They visited every corner of the country and taught illiterate peasants to read and write. As Luisa Yara told Granma, a large percentage of these students “were between 10 and 16 years old. The majority of the students and teachers who taught them to read and write were children and teenagers. Fifty-two per cent were female.

The work and achievements of this campaign made it an example for Latin America. That is why Catherine Murphy decided to make a documentary in which the well-known Cuban singer, Silvio Rodríguez, recalls and recounts his experience. And she does so because he took part in the campaign and was 14 years old at the time.

The film is called “Silvio Rodríguez: My first calling”, was made in the United States in 2020 and lasts 24 minutes in which Rodríguez narrates the experience that defined his life when he joined the youth brigades of the Cuban Literacy Campaign and taught a peasant family to read and write.

Silvio Rodriguez. Photo by Alex Briseño / Flickr.  Creative Commons liccence.

The opportunity to attend the UK premiere of this documentary and talk to the director will be this Sunday 11 July at 7 pm. (UK time). This has been arranged by the British organisation Rock Around the Blockade, which has announced that “All funds raised go to support the Cuban Covid vaccine development programme and the campaigning of Rock around the Blockade”

To attend the event you need to register on Eventbrite. More information: Facebook event and Rock Around the Blockade.



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