In praise of people-to-people programs

HAVANA (Prensa Latina) Programs designed to introduce individuals cross-culturally, particularly in cultures divided antipathetically by politics, have had enormous success in the world, not only for the families and individuals directly involved, but many times with far-reaching ripple effects.

An example of this is the experiences of two Philadelphia women and their relationship with Cuba. Since Pam Martin's and Debra Tupe's first trip to Cuba in 1999 with the Philadelphia White Dog Café, both women have been intensely involved with Cuban-related activities and ideas, according to their particular specialties, which have benefited many people on both sides of the Florida Straits.

After her 1999 trip, Pam, with a Master's degree in International Peace & Conflict Resolution, went on to found Molimar Export Consultants, Inc., which introduces US businesses to the Cuban market. She is also a much in-demand speaker to various organizations and academic institutions about current U.S. policy.

Debra, a member of the occupational therapy faculty at both Thomas Jefferson University and Colombia University, was impressed by Cuba's health care and education systems in Havana and the local communities' role in these systems.

She has returned annually to Cuba and, with Colombia University, has established a program with Dr. Jorge P. Rodriguez Fernandez, specialist in Neuropediatrics at the El Centro de Rehabilitacion y Neurodesarrollo in Cardenas, Cuba, to provide occupational therapy students and faculty opportunities for cultural exchange, cross cultural teaching and research.

Pam and Debra were also instrumental in founding the Philadelphia-Cardenas City Friendship Association, which has, among other activities, promoted people-to-people exchanges between the United States and Cuba and provided Jefferson University students and faculty the opportunity to explore occupational therapy practice in a different social, cultural and political context.

Besides the Children's Neurology Rehabilitation Clinic in Cardenas, where she has worked with Dr. Rodriguez and staff, Debra has also connected with the Havana Psychological and Sociological Research Center, the Federation of Cuban Women in Cardenas, a school for children with autism, a regional hospital, a senior center, and a family doctor clinic.

Both Pam and Debra, presently in Cuba, expressed optimism that the new US administration will relax restrictions and facilitate more such people-to-people exchanges with Cuba.