Following recent travel on a People to People mission to Cuba, I have been reflecting on the experience, especially with respect to the educational level within the country. The trip was an educational journey for our entire group and again reminded me of the necessity for us to have multiple interactions, in a variety of settings, to understand ourselves and our place in the world.

You may know that Cuba is a poor nation. Stores contain relatively few consumer goods. Many people depend upon donations of clothes, cosmetics, medications and other necessities from visitors. Large buildings are reminders of days of past glory, but they are crumbling from lack of maintenance. Yet, there is a positive spirit visible in the people. Innovation and creativity abound. Adaptive reuse of many items is commonplace. There is a “can do” attitude throughout the island. There is a visible level of work ethic in the people.

During this two week period, I learned that the resilience of the people, the innovation and the motivation to strive for a better tomorrow, is directly linked to their overall level of education. Cuba is one of the most literate nations in the Caribbean. Formal day care education begins at age 3. All students are required to attend school through the ninth grade. However, most continue on through high school and beyond. As a result of free education through college, and indeed professional degrees, there are many engineers, doctors, accountants, etc. available to serve their communities.

This investment in people has meant that they are able to keep 50 year old cars running. Orchestras, dance troupes, choral ensembles, and visual artists enrich the community. Language skills make it possible for many people to interact with international travelers. Health care is readily available. Care for the elderly and disabled is assumed as a community responsibility. Yes, there are problems; yes there is a limit on what many individuals might achieve. However, there is also hope built upon a level of knowledge and ability that is sometimes missing here in Detroit.

This experience reconfirms and solidifies my belief that the greatest gift that we can give a young person is a high quality education. Everyone benefits, no matter what other challenges the world presents to their community. Thus our work at the DPS Foundation has even greater significance for me as a result of leaving it for this brief period of time.