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Molding 'tigers' into good citizens

By Mark Potter, NBC News correspondent

Over the years, while covering many different stories in Cuba, I would walk into the famed Hotel Nacional and be greeted by a bellman named Jorge Pupo. And during all those times, I had absolutely no idea who he really was.

On my last trip, though, as I was leaving that hotel one day, NBC's Havana Bureau Chief Mary Murray stopped me and said, "I want you to meet someone."

She then formally introduced me to Pupo and told me his amazing story. And that is how tonight's Nightly News "Making a Difference" story was born.

Image: Nightly BlogBy day, Pupo makes a modest living helping foreign tourists at the hotel, feeding and clothing his family with the tips he receives in dollars and euros. But on his own time, he teaches and counsels as many as 90 children from the same tough, run-down Havana barrio where he lives. And he does it all for free, up to four times a week.

As you'll see in our report tonight, Pupo has a black belt in Tae Kwon Do and instructs these kids in the martial arts. Some have become tournament champions. His primary goal, though, is to use the sport to instill respect and other important values. He also wants to give these children something beyond the poverty, broken homes and hopelessness into which they were born.

Before shooting the story, we visited Pupo, his wife and his own children at his modest home, where he talked excitedly about his teaching mission. And we walked with him through his neighborhood known as Jesus del Monte. The children he works with there are proudly known as Los Tigres, or more formally, The Tigers of Jesus of the Mount, in English. Everywhere we went, kids of all ages would run up or call out to him--from balconies, porches or doorways. He is known by all there, and is beloved.

Unlike most stories reported from Cuba, this one makes no mention of political passions or conflict. It's simply the tale of a humble and dedicated man making an extraordinary difference in the lives of so many people around him. Seeing him only at the hotel, you would have no clue.