The Ernesto Che Guevara Central Pioneers Palace, located in the Havana municipality of Arroyo Naranjo, and inaugurated by Comandante en Jefe Fidel Castro Ruz on July 15, 1979, is without a doubt a center for the enjoyment of Cuban children and adolescents.

On that day, the leader of the Cuban Revolution stated that a “Pioneers palace is essentially a training center, an educational center, and perhaps the most important kind of training center; for technical, cultural, patriotic, sports training, but essentially a training center. That is what a Pioneers palace is.”

In Cuba, the José Martí Pioneers Organization (OPJM) brings together children aged six through to 14, when they reach middle school.

Founded on April 4, 1961, the youth organization aims to instill humanist values such as love for the homeland, fulfilling one’s duty, responsibility, discipline and solidarity, in its members.

Based on these principles, the country has over 125 Pioneer palaces, all of which are state financed, and whose primary function is to provide vocational training through career guidance groups; as well as promote members’ continual development and effective team work in this regard.

These types of institutions emerged in the former Soviet Union, the first of which was founded in Moscow in 1923, after which others were gradually established until there existed 3,500 in 1971. The initiative was also implemented in various socialist countries in Eastern Europe, which disappeared after the fall of the socialist camp in this part of the world. However, some continue to exist in Vietnam, China and North Korea.

These centers were envisioned as spaces to consolidate young students’ formal education, promote creative work, sports and extra-curricular activities, with the aim of instilling in children and adolescents a sense of devotion to their work and the principles of collectivism.

Every day, the Ernesto Che Guevara Central Pioneers Palace receives 4,000 children and adolescents from Havana, during its morning and afternoon sessions, from Monday through Friday. Courses last eight weeks, at the end of which students leave with essential knowledge regarding potential career paths to pursue in the future.

The director of the institution’s Healthcare Department, Elaine Marrero Ramírez, explained to Granma International that the facility currently offers 115 specialties; has 12 exposition halls, and 16 areas run by Central State Administration bodies.

Activities are overseen by the Ministry of Education, while the Ministry of Science, Technology and the Environment (CITMA) provides advisory support.

All areas covered by the center are affiliated with the country’s network of universities, scientific establishments and accredited institutions, with guidance groups providing information on specific professions in every sector.

Marrero Ramírez also noted that “There are vocational departments which have 16 guidance groups. The biggest is industry with more than 20 specialties. Meanwhile we have eight in the healthcare department. All are designed to engender professional skills and conduct.”

The career guidance groups to be offered each school year are previously defined, with the center’s instructors visiting educational institutions in the capital to explain the details of courses and recruit students.

“Unfortunately,” stated the director, “we are unable to accommodate all Havana’s pioneers given the limited capacity of the Palace and transportation. The organization is located on the outskirts of the city and we depend on a fleet of coaches affiliated with the School Transportation Enterprise.”

Courses end with a “celebration of knowledge”, during which students demonstrate what they have learned and the new skills they have acquired. Meanwhile, a national exposition to present the best results of these groups is set to take place this coming May; when the Palace will open its doors to the public as students become expositors, presenting their knowledge across different branches of the sciences, technology and services.

Regarding activities associated with healthcare careers, Marrero Ramírez stated that “We teach through games. We have various simulators and students learn how to measure blood pressure, take a temperature and blood, as well as perform other procedures.

The most important thing is to instill in them hygiene and cleanliness habits, ensure that they know how to identify certain illnesses and search for vital signs.”

Meanwhile, Herenia Carrillo Pérez, a nurse with over 30 years experience working at the center, highlighted the popularity of the institution’s outreach work among pioneers.

The organization arranges visits to educational establishments in different communities to explain the various professions featured within the healthcare career guidance group. The project is called “Children, professions and trades” and undertaken with children starting in fourth grade and above.

Many students are attracted by the prospect of medicine, nursing or technology (mid-level, laboratory, X-ray, or optometry technicians, and physiotherapists among others).

“Among other things, love for one’s profession, and its contribution to helping people, are taught within the nursing group. Although students may choose different career paths, these values are essential throughout life. We also talk about loving the homeland, children’s rights, and we always emphasize Cuba’s solidarity work with other countries around the world,” noted the specialist.

Carrillo Pérez has had the pleasure of meeting young people who as children attended the center, and are now working as dentists, doctors or nurses in the country’s hospitals and polyclinics: “Such cases motivate me to continue my vocational training work,” she commented.

Heidi Hernández Martínez, Anabel Betancourt Despaigne, Cristina Pérez Luis, Jennifer Lazo Mustelier and Daniela Hernández Alonso are just a few of the many pioneers who attend the healthcare groups every Tuesday morning.

The young students, all in eighth grade at the Raúl Suárez Middle School in the Havana municipality of Boyeros, are pleased with their choice, and expressed an interest in studying Medicine after having attended various career guidance groups since elementary school.

In this regard, Heidi Hernández Martínez explained that “Here we learn how to help our comrades, friends and families; we learn that medicine not only benefits Cubans, but also many people around the world.”

The eighth graders all understand the significance of Comandante en Jefe Fidel Castro Ruz’s remarks when he inaugurated the Ernesto Che Guevara Central Pioneers Palace almost 38 years ago: “The activities of the Pioneers Palaces should not reflect what we are today, or what we have today, but what we will be, what we aspire to be tomorrow, what we want to have tomorrow.”