Having retired from the education sector, Marina now provides childcare from her home, which she has converted into a playhouse known as “Las Marinitas”. Today, it is a symbol and an example for the city of Manzanillo, in Cuba’s eastern Granma Province.
It was a chance encounter that led Marina Grant Gonzalez to work with young children. One day she found herself sitting in her doorway, home alone as her mother had passed away. Marina asked a social worker who worked in the community, and who she always saw with her daughter, why the girl was always with her.
“She explained the reasons, and, on my own accord, I offered to look after her daughter. Through this, the girl became like a granddaughter to me and gained a special place in my family”, Marina recalls.
She currently has 12 children in her care, alongside her daughter-in-law Xiomara, who provides essential support. The children range from 2 to 6 years old, the age at which they leave Marina’s house to start preschool.
The children learn through play, share stories with their “Aunty Marina”, meet their age-related milestones, do gymnastics and even learn about history and national heroes and martyrs.
There is, therefore, a small space on the patio with a little table that is never without flowers for Cuban national hero, Jose Marti.
Marina finds enormous satisfaction in her work, saying, “For this job I need lots of love and a sense of vocation, as I am not a qualified early years teacher, I specialised in another area.”
But she is satisfied as she helps the girls and boys prepare for preschool and be successful in this setting. “I have enormous satisfaction because, luckily, the children who have left here are well-established in their schools”, she says.
Marina adds that it brings her great joy to see that, when the applications arrive at the Early Childhood Office, she is always recognised, “as I worked for many years in children’s circles and special needs schools at the end of my working life as an educator”. Due to the current pandemic situation, her house and patio have been thoroughly adapted to meet the strict health and safety measures put in place because of Covid-19, and which are essential to protect these young children.
At the entrance Marina has a station where the children have to clean their shoes, and she keeps soapy water and a sign in the doorway of her house, clarifying all situations.
The children also have to bring face coverings and wash their hands on arrival and on the patio, which is where Marina carries out her activities. They have towels, napkins, jugs, spoons, plates and everything necessary for personal hygiene.
“I am also never without chlorine or soap; we have a great commitment here to making sure that no child becomes ill, and that we do not get infected ourselves, and fundamentally, no one has access to the house. The parents know that they have to say goodbye to their little ones at the door, they hand them over to my daughter-in-law, and we are in charge of everything else,” she explains.
Last year, during the period of strict social distancing to tackle the pandemic, she felt heartbroken: “It was very sad because when I saw that empty patio, honestly, it affected me emotionally and I felt nostalgic for my children. Then I dedicated myself to looking for materials and I made rugs, balls, a cardboard fish tank for the children to have fun with and a ball toss game. In other words, I dedicated myself to making the educational resources I needed.”
And she forged ahead. Marina also felt very grateful for her community, who gave her lots of support, as did her family. “It is marvellous, everybody helped me, and this is something that comforts me and gives me the will, every day, to work. It is a beautiful thing that all my family and neighbours are aware of the work we do in this home.”
Marina manages her role as a self-employed worker so responsibly, and her work bears such important fruit, that the Federation of Cuban Women and the Guidance House for Women and Families in Manzanillo use her as an example and have asked her to support them by sharing her experience with other workers. (PL)