El Cobre, Cuba

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Community Assessment

In Santiago de Cuba, the town of El Cobre (Spanish for copper) was named after the El Cobre copper mine, the first open-pit copper mine in Cuba. El Cobre has a population of approximately 19,000 inhabitants. It is about 12 miles northwest of Santiago Bay in the Sierra Maestra mountains in Santiago de Cuba. El Cobre is also the home to La Virgen de la Caridad (The Virgin of Charity) a statue of the Virgin Mary. This idol is housed in the triple-domed Catholic Church with the mouthful of a name, El Sanctuario de Nuestra Señora de la Caridad del Cobre (The Sanctuary of our Lady of Charity of El Cobre), built in 1927. It is an international religious tourist hot spot for Catholics and those who practice Santeria, Cuba’s African traditional religion. This idol, to the Catholic community, is the most important religious site on the entire island and has been visited by three Popes.

The recent “normalizing” of relations with the U.S. has provided a historic opportunity to support the work of the Church in Cuba. In the community of El Cobre, we have teamed up with local program coordinators, Gabriel Lopez and Leidis Tejeda, in order to support locally-led, church-run children’s programs. Because of heavy income regulations, most of the country suffers from extreme poverty, and parents have a difficult time providing for their children. This is especially true in the community of El Cobre. These programs provide children with regular nutritious meals, educational tutoring, and spiritual discipleship.

Standing strong, just two blocks from the massive Catholic stronghold, The Sanctuary of our Lady of Charity of El Cobre, is El Cobre Baptist Church, Valle Con Dios (Go With God) led by one of our partners, Pastor Alexander Coronado and his wife, Mileyma. Pastor Alex has led El Cobre Baptist Church for 10 years with 205 faithful members in attendance. He oversees a feeding program for vulnerable children that serves upwards of 100 children weekly.

Additional ministry opportunities to children and their families in the El Cobre Community include construction or renovation of church buildings, reconstruction of homes destroyed by Hurricane Matthew, relational evangelism, and training of Cuban pastors and church leaders.

El Cobre Community Summary

Municipality Name: Santiago de Cuba

Community Name: El Cobre

Total Estimated Population: 19,000

Number of Churches: 4 Evangelical Churches, 1 Catholic Church

Number of Community Schools: 0 Preschools, 5 Primary, 1 Secondary, 0 Universities

Social Composition

Age of Community Members

The assessment revealed that 55% of this community, with a population of 19,000 people, consists of youth to young adults from the ages 0-25 years of age. The population numbers drop to 10% in individuals aged 26-45. This significant reduction is said to be due to the scarcity of economic opportunity, forcing this age demographic to leave the community for larger economic areas like Havana and the U.S. This percentage is maintained at 10% for the demographic age range of 46-60 and beyond. We will need to look into the reason for the spike in the female population ages 18-25 at 30% up from 20% in the age demographic of 6-17. We do know there is some migration into El Cobre from more rural areas of the region.

Religious Affiliation

In El Cobre 40% of the population is Catholic and another 30% practice Santaria. Historically in many Caribbean countries both Catholicism and Santería go hand in hand. Santería is an Afro-Caribbean religion of African origin that developed in the Spanish Empire among West African descendants. Santeria is a Spanish word that means the “worship of saints”. Santería is a system of beliefs that merges aspects of Yoruba religion brought to the New World by enslaved Yoruba people along with Christianity and the religions of the indigenous peoples of the Americas. The Yoruba people carried with them various religious customs, including a trance and divination system for communicating with their ancestors and deities, animal sacrifice, and sacred drumming and dance. The need to preserve their traditions and belief systems in a hostile cultural environment prompted those enslaved in Cuba, starting from as early as 1515, to merge their customs with aspects of Roman Catholicism. Christianity is growing quickly at 10% of the population. Christian historically have been a persecuted group in the country. Since the level of persecution has tapered, the Christian community is beginning to flourish. There will be plenty of discipleship opportunities in El Cobre. Though 10% of the population identifies themselves as Christian only 40% of that group attend service on a weekly basis.


Community Assets

What resources exist within the community that people depend on? Our preliminary findings indicate the principal assets that exist within the community are the schools, hospitals, small stores, water systems, telephone system, mail service, pharmacy, churches, family medics, a gold mine, and the banks.

What are the main sources of income for community members? There seems to be some instability in livelihood due to scarcity of work. The main sources of income are Timbirichi (food vendors), Cocheros (Horse and buggy taxis), Criadores de Ani-males (Animal breeders), and Vendedores Ambulantes (clothing vendors). During our study, we discovered another source of income that is prevalent outside of the Christian community called Florecos. Florecos are men and women who sell small statues, idols, and flowers for the purpose of worshiping and giving honor to the Virgen de la Caridad (The Virgin of Charity) a statue of the Virgin Mary inside of the Catholic Church. The hope of the Christian community is that the Florecos decrease in number while other economic opportunities increase.

What do people in the community value most? There seems to be a high value placed on family and education. El Cobre is a tightly knit group of men, woman, and children who value family and education. Due to the economic challenges in the community, families must band together in support of one another. Most families realize that in order for there to be an opportunity for their children, education must be a priority.

What motivates people to want to live in the community? There is a sense of community, tradition, and the hope that someday things will be better. However, after reaching the age of 18, many of the youth are leaving the community to look for greater opportunities either in Mexico City or the U.S.

Most Important Community Assets

El Cobre has a slightly rural feel but is located in an urban area. There are several assets within the community that are common to more urban communities. Though there are a number of significant community assets available, most people in the community still struggle with obtaining economic resources.


Clean Water

The vast majority of households have water piped into their homes. The Cuban government has provided this water to most families. There is a small percentage of families who live in the outer lying areas of El Cobre who do not have piped water. Although this water is being piped into homes it is not filtered. Each family is responsible for obtaining their own system of filtration. This will be a possible area of community development. Our numbers suggest that 95% of the population have access to “safe” drinking water. It is questionable how safe the water is to drink since there is limited filtration provided.

Community Members with Access to Clean Water

How Water is Accessed


All education in Cuba is free and provided by the government. By law, children are required to attend through secondary school (Equivalent to high school in the U.S.). According to our statistics, only 5% of youth are not in school. The majority of those that are in school work in order to provide additional resources for their family. After secondary school the level of education they achieve is optional.

There do not appear to be much of a difference in educational attainment between the economic classes. Those children who are part of families that are rich attend a university at a similar rate as those who come from families who are poor. So what are the barriers students face to achieving their educational goals?

Five factors that impact the education of a child in El Cobre…

1) Parents views on education. Some parents do not see the importance of education, but instead, they believe the child should work and contribute to the household as soon as possible. Perhaps these parents did not achieve a higher level of education themselves, and as a result, do not see the need for their children.
2) Although education is free, each student will have their own academic challenges. For those that struggle with a particular subject, tutoring (for a fee) is available. Most parents are unable to afford tutoring or special academic help.
3) Divorced parents who have competing priorities.
4) Food security is an issue with many families in EL Cobre. Children will leave their homes for school without an appropriate meal. Concentrating without proper nutrition is very difficult. Many children drop out of school because of this.
5) No quinceañera. The Quinceañera is a celebration of a girl’s fifteenth birthday with cultural roots in Latin America but celebrated throughout the Americas. The girl celebrating the birthday is a quinceañera. This birthday is celebrated differently from any other as it marks the transition from childhood to young womanhood. When a family in El Cobre can’t afford to celebrate the quinceañera the girls feel a sense of shame and often struggle with self-esteem issues. As a result, they choose to drop out of school rather than be around their peers.

Highest Level of Education for Those Living in Poverty


Hypertension (30%), diabetes (20%), and cancer (20%) are the three highest health concerns in El Cobre. We suspect that diet and lack of exercise are contributing factors to both hypertension and diabetes. We are uncertain as to the reason for the percentage of people suffering from various types of cancer. It has been noted that skin cancer is a problem in Cuba due to the high-intensity exposure to the sun’s ultraviolet rays. Most of the people in El Cobre follow the traditional routes of treatment like self-medicating (30%), family doctors and hospitals (20%), and local clinics (10%). There are some in the community that follows less traditional routes like witchcraft (5%). And for the Christian minority prayer is a treatment option (5%).

Common Health Problems

Access to Healthcare

Livelihood, Problem, and Uncertainty Analysis

These three analyses are used to identify the specific components of a community’s development plan. In each analysis, the top three to four concerns are chosen and plotted on the community empowerment index chart below.

Livelihood Analysis

The livelihood analysis is a tool that examines the primary sources of income in the community. It answers the question, how do the majority of people that live in El Cobre make money?

40% of the people in the community work for the Cuban Government. The vast majority of economic opportunities are with the government. In recent years the Cuban government has permitted independent business. Twenty percent of the people are animal breeders, primarily pigs and chickens. Another 20% work in clothing resale. They import used clothing from the U.S. and other countries and resell them on the streets of El Cobre. The final two major sources of income in El Cobre are horse and buggy taxis (10%) and food vendors (10%). Food vendors are primarily women who sell a variety of things to survive and support their families. We are looking at how we can support the local economy in the above areas as well as explore new ideas of local commerce.

Jobs Held by Community Members

Problem Analysis

The problem analysis identifies the major problems or concerns that exist in the community. The top three problems that exist in the community are the lack of jobs and economic opportunities (40%), sexual exploitation (20%), drug and alcohol abuse (20%), and the breakdown of the family (10%). Wages in Cuba are low and make it very difficult to support a family. Even with jobs that require a degree or a certain level of expertise, wages are low. Many families are seeking alternative ways to earn money. Sexual exploitation is a problem that has the community concerned. Internet pornography, prostitution, sexual exploitation of minors, and homosexuality are all issues the community is looking to address from a biblical perspective. Both drug and alcohol abuse is a problem and concern of the community. There is growing concern in the community that the traditional Cuban family is deteriorating. Perhaps many of these issues can be addressed by taking a look at the family through the lens of scripture and God’s Word.

Major Problems that Exist in the Community

Uncertainty Analysis

The Uncertainty Analysis is important because it identifies extraordinary events that occur in a community that is often “freakish” in nature. These events may be intermittent but they create an instability that destabilizes a community. In other words, they are events that breed fear with-in a community which eventually can undermine any attempt for community development to be successful. The top two areas of uncertainty that exists are hurricanes (30%) and earthquakes (30%). There are fairly significant fault lines that run down the center of Cuba as well as throughout the southern region. Small tremors occur fairly frequently. Fresh in the mind of most Cubans is the tragedy that happened in Haiti from the devastating 2010 earthquake. Still fearful, having recently weathered Hurricane Matthew in September of 2016, the people of El Cobre wonder how they will survive the next hurricane. Mosquito-borne illnesses (20%) are a deep uncertainty as well as drought (20%) that ultimately drives produce prices sky high.

Sources of Uncertainty in the Community

The number one uncertainty for this community is political protests that spring up at any time and disrupt everyday life. These protests create blockades to getting gasoline and shut down major supermarkets. While these protests do not occur within the Trigo community, they definitely have an impact on the population.

Community Empowerment Index

The Community Empowerment Index (CEI) represents the degree to which the people within the community feel empowered in each area of development. It is also possible to prioritize each of the development components by using the CEI. The CEI uses three concentric circles. Each circle is an index, or an indicator, that shows how the community perceives the degree of control they have over a particular aspect of their development. The CEI is a visual tool that shows the level of empowerment perceived by the community. The greater number of dots in the inner circle, the more the community feels empowered in their own development.

INNER CIRCLE: The innermost circle represents what the community feels they have complete control over. It is what they believe they can do to address each of the components of development.

MIDDLE CIRCLE: The middle circle is where the community needs help from others outside the community. This help can come from a nonprofit, the government, and/or any other outside entities.

OUTER CIRCLE: The outer circle represents things beyond what the community and/or outsiders can do. Some ascribe this to God, spirits, or less intangible things that cannot be controlled by the community or outsiders.

Community Development Plan

Christ-centered, holistic, child-focused community development is a comprehensive approach that allows the Gospel of Jesus Christ to impact the spiritual and physical needs of vulnerable children, their families, and their communities. In holistic development we address some of the most basic human needs; safe water, quality education, health and wellness, and economic development. We segment each area of development and ask the question, how can the Gospel message be integrated into initiatives like safe water, quality education, health and wellness, and economic development.  We answer this question by establishing third-party Christian partnerships.  We can’t be the experts in every aspect of development so we partner with organizations and groups that love Jesus and are experts at what they do. Together, along with the community, we prioritize the needs and determine the best approach to meeting their spiritual and physical goals.  A development plan is then created and over a period of years, Forward Edge, its partners, service teams, and the community work together in transforming lives in our locations.

Community Development Priorities

Based on feedback received from El Cobre community members through the Community Empowerment Index, we’ve created the following list of community development priorities:

  1. Economic development training
  2. Animal husbandry and food vendors
  3. Professional vocational training
  4. Mosquito-borne disease prevention
  5. Breakdown of the family
  6. Substance abuse
  7. Earthquake preparedness