MANZANILLO, Granma.–The evening of March 28, 2002, waiting in a plaza on the city's waterfront, didn't cause Sheila Pons Delgado the chill she felt as that tall man, dressed in olive green, approached her.
The impression left a usually talkative Sheila speechless, as Fidel peppered her with questions: "How do you feel? How do they treat you? tell me about your studies.
All she could manage to answer was: "Good, very good."
She now explains the importance of the course to her, after leaving school and becoming a mother at an early age, Sheila said, "The life of a young woman without any training can easily become difficult. I was pregnant, depending on others, my desperation growing…
"The day I began the course, with other youth from different backgrounds and stories, who had left school and gone awry, I felt a door open in my life.
"I put all my effort into it, as if, on that night I met Fidel during the inauguration of the Integrated Development Course, I had taken on a great commitment to him, to my family, to myself.
"I arrived at the school with my little boy, I didn't miss a class. My renewed passion for studying took all of my time, to the point that I became a leader in the Federation of Secondary School Students … and from all podiums, I defended Fidel's magnificent idea, even against some with prejudices who described it as a mistaken investment, 'paying delinquents to study.'
"That's what some people said, and today there is no better response than the thousands of my classmates who became eminent doctors, lawyers, teachers, engineers… I am especially proud to be part of this group.
"I, myself, was able to reach my dream, starting with that course. Later, when I was preparing to start medical school, a teacher friend told me there was one opening to study Health Psychology. From among a sea of candidates, I won the spot, and, yes, I am here today, with my dream come true, thanks to this brilliant idea of my Comandante en Jefe."