Local couple returns from Cuban learning trip

Norman and Connie Galle of Hillsboro got a unique glimpse of history during their recent trip to Cuba with the People to People Ambassador Program.

President Dwight D. Eisenhower founded People to People International in 1956 with the goal of enhancing tolerance and understanding among all peoples, to promote world peace and to support youth development and the needs of youth.

The headquarters is located in Kansas City, Mo., and was relocated from Washington with the help of Joyce C. Hall, founder of the Hallmark Corporation. There are now more than 200 chapters in some 39 nations around the world.

The ambassador program offers international professional exchange for professionals to talk with others in their field and to exchange ideas.

“We went with 34 other professionals in an agricultural delegation,” said Norman, a local veterinarian. “under the leadership of Marc Johnson, dean of agriculture at Kansas State University and delegation leader. We are still thinking through what we saw and learned.”

The 34 members of the delegation represented many different professions, including a representative from the Napa Valley Winery, bankers, a poultry-geneticist, swine operators and others.

According to Galle, Bob Hudgens, assistant dean at Kansas State University, encourages students to be involved in learning about international agriculture trade.

“About 10 years ago, he used to encourage students to learn about computers,” Galle said. “That was what was up and coming. Now it is international trade. They would like to have students and professionals have as much exposure to international societies as possible.”

The Galles have traveled throughout the United States and into Canada, but Connie, office manager for the Hillsboro Animal Clinic, said this was their first time off the continent,

“It opens up a whole new world,” she said.

“We have so much to learn from other cultures,” added Norman. “We sometimes think everyone should live like Americans, but everyone has a unique environment. There are few places on earth to find a better lifestyle than in the United States, but not everyone should have to live like us.”

Norman gave the example of the Midwest practice of putting up hay for winter months. He pointed out farmers needed to plant it, cut it, and put it up all in a timely manner.

But in a country such as Cuba, where there are no winter months, it isn’t quite such a big issue if they don’t get to it today.

“There is tomorrow,” he said.

The socialist government concept was interesting to both of the Galles.

“Things are very different there,” said Connie. “The government owns everything. If you want to sell your house, you sell it to the government.”

“Even your car,” added Norman. “If you don’t sell it back to the government, they must still be a part of setting the price.

“Everyone is the same there,” he said. “A taxi driver will make more money than a medical doctor because of tips.”

“But they have one of the lowest infant mortality rates,” said Connie. “They receive good medical care.”

Besides the green lush tropical plants and palm trees, one of the sites the Galles found interesting was the famous cigar factory.

“In the cigar factory, it gets to be at least 100 degrees with high humidity,” said Norman. “The room is the size of a basketball court, and the workers are sitting very close, side-by-side. The factory we saw was the oldest continuing running factory in Cuba.

“Each worker was responsible to roll 150 to 200 cigars per day. They rolled the leaves themselves. If they were able to roll more, they were paid extra.

“Other workers were responsible to separate them into 64 different colors, and another into the boxes.”

It costs from $4 to $16 to bring cigars home.

“Everything is primitive there, everything is done by hand,” said Connie. “It is amazing. The cigar rollers work five days a week and every other Saturday. On Saturdays they are allowed to bring their children since there isn’t school.”

The Galles said they learned there were three areas in which Castro wanted Cuba to excel: medicine, education and sports.

“They have a 96 percent literacy rate,” said Connie.

The Galles described the Cuban homes as being very simple.

“There hasn’t been a lot of upkeep on the homes,” said Connie.

According to Norman, there are 24 cars to 1,000 people, and the cars are very old, dating back to the 1950s and he said they had even seen some from the 1940s.

“Most people walk, ride bikes, or hitchhike,” he said. “There are no roads as nice as our 13-mile road.”

Several of the professionals on the tour had participated in other People to People Ambassador programs, and said they had had more of an opportunity to share with their peers in other countries. But this did not happen in Cuba.

“We were limited in what we could see,” said Norman.

The Galles both enjoyed the trip and are looking forward to more travel in the future.

“There is so much to see, different people, different cultures, and possibilities of helping others,” said Connie.

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