Community Partner since 2007.

Mothers around the world

In honor of Mother’s Day, we wanted to take a moment to recognize how our volunteers celebrate and support mothers around the world. From Tanzania to Ecuador, Montana to Greece, volunteers support mothers in developing communities in so many ways: encouragement, time, nutrition, self-sufficiency, recognition, heart, helping hands, peace, mentoring, and camaraderie.

Top 10 Ways You Can Support Mothers Around the World

 

1. Encouragement

Being a mother is perhaps the hardest job in the world. It’s a job full of joy, but one which also presents many challenges, especially when paired with providing for your family and being in charge of household tasks. Volunteers provide support and encouragement for mothers around the world by spending time with them, listening to their struggles and their hopes, and sharing their own stories.

Recently in Ecuador, a team of four volunteers had the chance to sit down with an Ecuadorian mother, Daniela, in her home. Daniela shared her experience of becoming a mother at the age of 18; her husband’s struggle to find employment where he is paid on time; and her difficulties in dividing her time between working, studying, and being home to take care of her children. Daniela shared with us the progress of her studies to complete her high school diploma and how she hopes to go on to study law, saying there are so many people in her community who need the help of a lawyer who is honest and who won’t steal from them. The volunteers listened intently while Daniela spoke about what she hopes to give back to her community and they offered encouragement and support to this determined mother of two young boys.

Mothers around the world

Volunteers with Ecuadorian mother Gloria with her children, nephews, and nieces

2. Time

One volunteer told the story of a mother and her children on the Blackfeet Reservation in Montana, who lived on the far end of the tribal land, did not have a car, and had no real consistent access to anyone except each other. That volunteer shared the gift of time and companionship with this woman and both came away from that afternoon more hopeful and more connected.

3. Nutrition

In rural Tanzania where nutritious food is not always readily available, pregnancy can be a stressful time. Volunteers on short-term service programs help ease that stress by helping expectant moms embrace how important it is to get the nutrients their babies need to grow and thrive both through education and by helping distribute micro-nutrient packets to add to their food.

Mothers around the world

Tanzanian mothers drinking tea during a workshop on nutrition

4. Self-sufficiency

In the little village of Anse la Raye on the island of St. Lucia, mothers and their children live in houses that are built one next to the other with no land in between to grow fresh vegetables. Our volunteers work with mothers to establish and grow food in container gardens so that they and their children can get the nutrients they need from fresh vegetables they grow themselves.

Mothers around the world

Volunteer Bill and community leader Marie-Louise planting an EarthBox in St. Lucia

5. Recognition

Team members help recognize and elevate mothers around the world in our partner communities, and many such mothers live in places where resources are scarce and support systems weak. Daycare centers for very disadvantaged families in Ecuador provide young mothers with a safe, nurturing environment where they can leave their children while they go to work each day to provide for their families. This also gives some mothers the opportunity to go back to school.

Because two-thirds of our volunteers are women, and the majority of our volunteers have taught in the classroom, Global Volunteers are natural role models for the equitable treatment of girls. Volunteers demonstrate that women and men can perform any job and be successful in any career.

6. Heart

Greece is in the middle of a refugee crisis, with more than 62,000 refugees in camps throughout the country, and the majority of those refugees are mothers and their children. Most of the refugees are from Syria, Pakistan, Iraq, and Afghanistan. A volunteer told the story of packing supplies, all donated by Cretan people, to distribute to refugees — primarily mothers and their children — in various camp sites throughout the country.

Mothers around the world

Volunteers Vita and Kathy with Syrian family in Greece

7. Helping hands

Sometimes the most important thing volunteers can provide is more hands to feed and nurture little ones. The caretakers at the daycare centers where Global Volunteers partners in Calderón, Quito in Ecuador have a heavy work load of caring for ten one, two, or three-year-olds each. On top of caring for their charges, they are responsible for lesson planning and cleaning tasks. And most of the caretakers are single mothers themselves, who go home to cook, clean, and care for their own children after a full day’s work. Volunteers in Ecuador help to alleviate the caretakers’ workload a bit, and provide more one-on-one attention to the little ones.

Mothers around the world

Caretaker Anita with volunteer Alyssa and her one-year-old charges in Ecuador

8. Peace

Global Volunteers’ mission is to wage peace and promote justice around the world. In Cuba, you can wage peace and represent the United States in a positive light while getting to know Cuban mothers. Volunteers serve at a sewing circle in Havana where mothers and grandmothers create table runners, bags, and decorations to sell, thereby giving them a source of additional income to provide for their families.

Mothers around the world

Volunteers Susan and Ann at church sewing circle in Havana

9. Mentoring

When you share your own parenting skills and experience, you’re sharing your story by way of your own struggles and triumphs as a parent. For instance, a pregnant woman or new mother in Tanzania can be baffled and fascinated by knowing that a baby in her womb can hear it’s mother’s voice. Stories about the first time you sang to your unborn baby and when you first felt a kick immediately creates a common bond of trust. Volunteers have taught new mothers to sing to their bellies. That’s been a lot of laughs! Talk about the sound of the mother’s heartbeat in her fetus’ ears and how that sound comforts him/her immediately after birth. Even when the infant is in her mother’s sling carrier, the baby can feel her heartbeat at the same time.

Mothers around the world

Mothers and their children with two new hand-washing stations in Tanzania

10. Camaraderie

Through listening, sharing, teaching, and working together, volunteers offer mothers around the world their camaraderie. In singing songs, playing games, doing repairs, caring for children, volunteers and mothers around the world offer each other their camaraderie.

mothers around the world

Volunteers teaching mothers conversational English at daycare center in Ecuador

To learn more about how you can celebrate and support mothers around the world or volunteer with your own children, check out these blog posts:

Click here to learn more about these programs to support mothers:

Cuba | Ecuador | Greece | Montana | St. Lucia | Tanzania 

 

Working Vacation in Cuba with Global Volunteers

Considering a working vacation in Cuba? Read here as Cuba Global Volunteer Thomasina reflects on her two-week experience in Ciego de Ávila serving and learning from the Cuban people.

A Working Vacation in Cuba

I’ve supported the concept of Global Volunteers for many years, but I didn’t embark on my first trip until just last year, in 2017. There was always a reason to put off a “working vacation”: I didn’t have the funds, too much going on at work, etc… But one day it dawned on me: the stars have aligned and I have no more excuses – let’s do this! Now the question was “which country?” Naturally, I never pick anything easily. For example, when I had to pick a language to learn in college, I knew I could breeze through Spanish since I took it in high school… But no, let’s learn Japanese! When deciding to live abroad, I could have picked a land more suitable to my culture… But again, no, let’s move to Saudi Arabia! So which country posed the most challenge, I thought. CUBA! After all, Americans are discouraged to travel there. I heard horror stories about this country when I lived in Miami. And I’m a devout Capitalist. I’d like to see how communist really live. I had one impression going into this project and a vastly different one coming out.

Thomasina with one of her new friends in Cuba.

“What united us was a love to help others.”

The best part about a volunteer vacation, compared to a normal vacation, is it really gives you a better perspective as to how people live, think, and believe. I learned a lot about Cuban history, a history that goes way beyond Castro’s Revolution, and its rich culture. I met people who love life regardless of their circumstances. I saw great creativity and engineering expressed through their art and everyday appliances. But I not only learned more about the Cuban people, Global Volunteers provided an opportunity to learn more about people from America (and one spicy British lady) who ventured to Cuba to volunteer. Our team was young, old, left, right, believers and non-believers. Our two weeks together allowed us to learn more about opposing viewpoints and grow as people. What united us was a love to help others.

I could go on and on about how wonderful my working vacation in Cuba was, but I’ll let my pictures do the talking. I had an awesome team and team leader. The Cuban people couldn’t have been more hospitable. And I know in the end, we made a difference in the true relationship between Americans and Cubans.

Photos from Thomasina’s Experience in Cuba:

Hands on help

Volunteering gives you the chance to be a part of something bigger than yourself, find purpose, and use your civic responsibility for the greater good. On a Global Volunteers service program, you can provide hands on help to communities in need around the world. Without the help of volunteers, our partner communities would struggle to meet their basic needs. As a Global Volunteer, you won’t just be a bystander watching how local people are working for their communities – you’ll be an important part of that local development process. You’ll be right in there, working alongside local people who seek to better their community.

“I love rubbing elbows with young people of other cultures.”
– Dr. Bill Chase, 5-time Global Volunteer 

We have all kinds of projects around the world and so surely there is one that is the perfect match for your skills and interests. Join us. Take the leap to get your hands dirty, make a difference, learn about yourself and another culture, and help a community in need.

Here are the top 5 ways you can provide hands on help:

Top 5 Projects Providing Hands On Help

 

1) Paint and Repair Buildings

If you can wield a paintbrush or pound a hammer, we need your skills. Help preserve and maintain community facilities by renovating, repairing, and painting classrooms, community centers, health clinics, and childcare facilities. Brighten the lives of children by providing nicer facilities with a fresh coat of paint. Help with plumbing, electrical, and carpentry assistance. Teach young people to develop their trade skills. If you have experience in any of these areas, you can be of tremendous assistance in many communities.

Cook Islands | Cuba | Ecuador | Greece | Peru | Romania | St. Lucia | Tanzania | U.S.A. – Montana | U.S.A. – West Virginia

Hands on help

Volunteers Sue and Fran paint a mural in the Cook Islands

2) Tutoring and Classroom Teaching

Is math, chemistry, physics, geography, or biology among your passions? Tutor children at the primary or secondary school level. Work one-on-one and in small groups with students of all ages. In some communities, you will assist teachers and in others, you will plan your own lessons and activities. This may be the most fun you’ve ever had!

Cook IslandsPeru | St. Lucia | Tanzania

Hands on help

Volunteer Don tutors students in Peru

3) Gardening

Do you have a green thumb? Help establish, plant, weed, and harvest household, school, and community gardens. Help community leaders, students, and parents raise bountiful crops of fruits and vegetables.

CubaPeru | Tanzania

Hands on help

Student volunteers gardening alongside Cubans

“This has reminded me how good it feels to connect with others and how rewarding it is to give to others.”
– Melissa Ferrell, attorney and mother who volunteered with two of her sons in Ecuador

4) Parent Workshops

If you have a background in healthcare, food, nutrition, education, or business, we need your skills in Tanzania where volunteer professionals conduct interactive workshops with pregnant women and parents. Parents thirst for knowledge and want the appropriate technology so they can ensure the health and well-being of their children. You can present on a variety of topics, such as staying healthy during pregnancy; caring for newborns; healthy diets; child brain development; growing fruits and vegetables; raising poultry; preparing nutritious meals; positive discipline; psychosocial support; stress management; disease prevention ;and using games and toys to stimulate babies’ physical, social, cognitive, and emotional development. In coordination with our staff and Reaching Children’s Advisory Committee Chair, you select your topic. Our Tanzania staff will translate your presentation. Use your expertise to give hands on help in Tanzania!

Tanzania

Hands on help

Volunteer Ruth giving a presentation to Tanzanian women

5) Childcare

Offer the “extra” attention at-risk kids crave and deserve, while also mentoring them in social skills and hygiene. Stimulate their young minds and bodies. Work with children 1 to 5 years of age through co-creating arts and crafts, playing with toys, reading storybooks, teaching hand washing with soap and water, and more.

“I feel extremely fortunate to have spent the last week in Calderón with everyone at the daycare center. Although we did accomplish a lot in terms of SMART goals, it just doesn’t seem right to call it ‘work’. It truly is an opportunity.”
– John Fiegel, Cook Islands and Ecuador volunteer

Cook Islands | EcuadorPeruSt. Lucia | Tanzania

Hands on help

Volunteer John, Teacher Karina, and children giving thanks for their lunch in Ecuador

 

“I wish every American could do a Global Volunteers adventure. To get “into the trenches” in another culture is deeply humbling.”
– Suzanne Cochran, Ecuador volunteer

 

Be the change you wish to see in the world by providing real hands on help, as requested by communities around the world. Work under local leaders’ direction to improve their communities, and be a positive force for change. You can do this! 

Hands on help

Teachers Jorge and Karen with volunteers Lena, Jen, and Justin in Costa Rica

Chat online with a Volunteer Coordinator about which of our programs best suits your skills and interests. Chat online about volunteering abroad

Cindy Murray - Global Volunteers Team Leader

We’re grateful for all that Cindy Murray has contributed as a Global Volunteer, Team Leader, and supporter to help children and families worldwide since 1997. We’ve excerpted her story from her local paper to inspire and inform.  Enjoy!

Cindy Murray’s curiosity and passion to help others has led her to one of her most rewarding experiences yet — Global Volunteers.

For over three decades, Global Volunteers, a nonprofit organization, has offered people an opportunity to get out of their comfort zones, travel, and make a difference. “ There’s a wonderful dynamic that happens when a group of people get together with a common goal and experience working alongside local people who you may have never met before or you might not even have a common language with,” Murray said. “In our bigger and more complex world, it seems more and more important to just connect. To look into someone’s eyes and smile without concern of their job title, salary, or what their house looks like.”

Murray was raised where connecting and serving with others was a core value next to education and family. Her mother helped the disabled; her father helped the visually impaired. Murray was exposed to some of life’s hardships at a very young age. However, she’s always believed that “differences are to be celebrated and honored.”

Murray has made an impact on many lives during her twenty years with the organization. Some of her projects have included practicing English with locals in Cuba, building a community center in Costa Rica, and rehabilitating miners’ homes in West Virginia. However, Global Volunteer’s biggest focus is around relationships rather than manual labor.

Cindy has managed teams in West Virginia who help rehabilitate former coal company homes.

“This isn’t the kind of experience where you’re going to be able to go home and tell your friends and family that you built 17 houses and painted 23 doors,” Murray explained. “It’s not about quantity. It’s really about making friendships and connections with the locals. That’s what promotes peace and justice.” Becoming a team leader in Global Volunteers has given Murray the opportunity to witness and observe people’s connections within these communities. She said, “It parallels my career in theater and entertainment, creating and delivering experiences for people to have away from daily life, away from whatever challenges they may be going through.”

Murray also works for Walt Disney World’s entertainment operations. In fact, she is one of the masterminds behind Animal Kingdom’s “Festival of the Lion King,” a show slated to run only five years but now on its 20th.

“I’ve been very fortunate to combine curiosity, service, and connecting with other people into both my career and what some other people might call hobbies,” Murray said. “I ventured off into the arts because I believe that culture, theater, and entertainment can also positively impact the world and people.” Murray feels extremely grateful and humbled by the experiences she’s lived through Global Volunteers. “ The giving of who you are to others is so rewarding, and I’m not sure everyone knows that,” she said. “ These experiences bring life alive. I love nonfiction. I love reading about other people, and I love documentaries — seeing about other people — but this is real. This is authentic. These kinds of experiences give us a little glimpse of what it’s like to live somewhere else.” Global Volunteers began as a hobby for Murray; now it’s a part of her. She urges anyone who wants to make a different to start small but to start.

This article originally appeared in the College Park Community Paper.

Global Volunteers do-good island escapes

Looking to Do Good? Consider These Do-Good Island Escapes

Some of us are drawn to beaches, others to mountain vistas.  But when we want to escape from the daily pressures of life, many of us choose service as a way to refocus our minds onto something larger than ourselves. So, can you combine a sincere desire to do good with “bucket list” travel? Yes!  And further, you can do it without guilt. Our do-good island escapes direct you to important work with cohesive communities – all while you enjoy the cultural and scenic allure that make these destinations internationally popular.

do-good island escapes

Every island has it’s own character. You can combine service with a do-good island escape every month of the year.

These do-good island escapes may be exactly right for you. Many tourist destinations keep their significant social problems out of public view. But, this self-defeating practice keeps their populations from thriving. Global Volunteers’ objective is to provide service opportunities on development projects wherever and whenever they’re requested.

For instance, in 1988, our partners in the Cook Islands asked for help on programs to discourage youth from emigrating to New Zealand, and taking their talents and potential with them. Read on:

cook islands do-good island escapes

Savannah, volunteer in the Cook Islands, engages preschoolers in a reading lesson.

Cook Islands “Do-Good Island Escape”

The original Cook Islanders were a hearty and self-reliant Maori people, who traveled the seas to settle distant volcanic islands – and created a distinct, colorful culture reflecting the natural beauty of their homeland. But by the 1980s, the Cook Islands’ vitality was challenged by economic pressures – which drove the country’s youth abroad. Our work started at the very foundation of Cook Islands society – with the children, to ensure they have the sustained support and opportunities to keep them on the island when they mature. Today, you can tutor students in math and literacy, stimulate and encourage toddlers, help catalog library books, paint and repair buildings and more – all while escaping to one of the most beautiful places on Earth!

do-good island escapes in St. Lucia

Young volunteer Bailey explains card game rules in a St. Lucia primary school.

St. Lucia “Do-Good Island Escape”

One of the top do-good island escapes – St. Lucia in the West Indies. Carefree and unspoiled, the island boasts the famous Piton spires and dramatic bays adored by international celebrities. But, even the cruise ports struggle with pockets of abject poverty. We began working with Anse la Raye’s schools and community organizations in 2012 to support and enhance children’s growth and competency. You can tutor and teach students of all ages in sunny classrooms. You’ll discover that although you’re surrounded by the most captivating scenery in the Caribbean, the most beautiful visions are the smiling faces of St. Lucian children!

crete do-good island escapes

A summer English language camp favorite for volunteers and students alike!

Crete “Do-Good Island Escape”

The do-good island escape on Crete is unlike any other. The craggy and romantic shoreline reminds you of the fishing villages and olive groves of a simpler time. Ancient ruins echo the throbs of civilization’s birth. However, families living on this Mediterranean jewel have not fared well in a decade of failed economic policies. Since 1996, we’ve worked in partnership with local people to help re-build capacity at every level – starting with the youngest students. Teaching English at lively coastal language camps combines the best of this do-good island escape – purpose and escape into beauty!

Cuba do-good island escapes

Where else but in Cuba can you catch a salsa beat with a farmer in a community garden?

Cuba “Do-Good Island Escape”

The iconic scenes of a Cuban do-good island escape – colorful salsa dancers, classic American automobiles, architecture of the Spanish and Moors – reverberate a complicated history. Traveling back in time is this island’s allure. The bonus of true community service and people-to-people exchange is hard to match anywhere else in the Western hemisphere. Since 2007, we’ve worked with our partners to support the Cuban people – their hopes, dreams, and goals. Enjoy this do-good island escape before the country’s character is changed by inevitable modernization!

Time to Enjoy the Best of Island Culture

Whether you long for a laid-back vibe or a high-intensity Cuban beat, you can combine service with a true do-good island escape. At the end of every work day, and on weekends, you and your teammates have time to explore cultural, historical and natural attractions throughout the island.  Contact a volunteer coordinator today to learn more!

See more scenes from these island volunteer vacations here.

volunteering abroad comforts the soul

Jeff started volunteering abroad after a personal loss. His journey of healing lead him to a new journey – as a Team Leader for Global Volunteers. This is Jeff’s story – about how volunteering abroad comforts the soul. 

Jeff admits his story is deeply personal. When he lost his wife to breast cancer, he also lost his sense of direction. Depression filled the void and he knew he had to regain his life’s purpose.  But how?  His compassionate employer recommended a sabbatical. But, Jeff knew that sitting around a pool wouldn’t give him the centering focus he needed.  He sought something more meaningful. So he started looking for an organization that would give him the opportunity to volunteer and work oversees.  He quickly found Global Volunteers online and selected a program teaching conversational English in Italy.  He surrendered himself to the experience, to the challenge, the culture and the gratitude of his students.  In this small southern Italian town, he felt the comfort his soul longed for.

“The experience was everything I had hoped for: rewarding, fulfilling…”

Fifteen years later Jeff yearned to recapture this feeling of optimism and possibility as a volunteer. Knowing Global Volunteers would enable him to keep doing this fulfilling and rewarding work, stay active and travel, he made a call to the organization immediately after he retired.  He was fully committed to throw himself into service programs worldwide. Becoming a volunteer team leader and helping other volunteers to experience the life-transforming experience he had was a strong motivation.  Jeff trained to become a Team Leader and has since led volunteer teams in Italy, Cuba, and Montana, and very soon – Vietnam.  He says he looks forward to every new journey with the same enthusiasm and hope as his first service program.

volunteering abroad comforts the soul

Jeff volunteering with Italian students.

Why Global Volunteers?

Jeff chose Global Volunteers because it allows volunteers to serve abroad for a short period of time (1 to 3 weeks) and not having to commit for many months like other organizations. At the same time, Global Volunteers sends volunteers consistently, so it is not about what one volunteer can accomplish in a couple of weeks, but about the long chain of support volunteer teams provide to the host communities.

What do volunteers gain from a service program abroad?

Volunteers give up a lot, Jeff says: time with their families, time at work, time from regular vacations. But they gain a lot: friendships that they will never loose and the understanding that they have contributed to something of value to struggling communities in developing nations.

volunteering abroad comforts the soul

Jeff with a group of students in Italy.

Imagine all the people

Back in March Jeff was leading a team of 14 women in Cuba. When a local band started playing John Lennon’s Imagine, he realized his team was living just that:

“Living life in peace, sharing all the world, living as one.”

This was what Global Volunteer has been all about: Waging peace and promoting justice in the world.

You are special to me

That same team got to witness something special. On International Women’s day, people in Cuba would go out from their houses and hand flowers to the volunteers as they walked by. When the team arrived at the community garden where they were serving, one of the workers, Adriano, gave roses to the volunteers.

“He spoke a different language, but everyone knew what this meant: “You are special to me, you are important to me.”

Volunteering Abroad Comforts the Soul

A volunteer receives a flower from local Cuban worker.

Do you have what it takes?

Take a look at your skills, at the work you’ve done, and try to match up with the various projects Global Volunteers offers in 17 countries around the world. Your skills might fit a project most appropriately. Take advantage of that.

“You may say I’m a dreamer
But I’m not the only one
I hope someday you’ll join us
And the world will live as one”

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Why You Should Volunteer Abroad

Ken is one of those people who not only tries to live happily without harming anyone, but actually invests his time helping others. He has helped in his home city of Seattle building houses for low income families, teaching at a school for homeless children, and serving at the Board of his local Girl Scouts association. But Ken hasn’t settled there. He has taken his service to the next level and embraced wonderful life experiences that many people miss on. Ken’s story tells us one more reason why you should volunteer abroad.

It all started in the 60’s for Ken when he and his wife Suzanne tutored children at risk.  They then decided to join the Peace Corps and travel to Ghana. As Ken tells us:

“We felt there was even more need in other parts of the world than in our country. Even the poorest people in our country are in a much better situation than lots of people in other countries.”

After the Peace Corps, Ken and Suzanne continued doing volunteer work in the U.S. as they raised their family. But once the children were old enough, they started volunteering internationally again. Ken tells us one of the reasons:

“We have taken tourist trips to Europe and Africa. But they are not nearly as meaningful or rewarding as doing a combination of tourism and volunteering.”

Why You Should Volunteer Abroad

Suzanne and Ken volunteering in Greece next to their teammates.

During one of his volunteer trips, Ken and Suzanne met a woman who had served with Global Volunteers and recommended it as a reputable organization. Ken and Suzanne followed her advice and went on a service program to Cuba last year. They are currently serving in Greece and have already booked another service program for Romania in September.

So here comes the big question: why you should volunteer abroad?

“I think one of the main benefits of volunteering abroad is that it builds relationships: within the team you make friends; but most importantly, you make friends with the people from the country where you are serving.”

Why You Should Volunteer Abroad

Ken and Suzanne volunteering abroad in Greece.

So for Ken it is not just about the places you see, but also the people you meet, the friends you make, and the fruits of those relationsips:

“It is obvious that we are all interconnected. If we don’t help other countries, if don’t help other people then we are just going to have more international conflict. Volunteering abroad is a way we can participate, make friends, and reduce the chances of conflict.

“When you get to talk and work with the people, they get to know you better, and they get to know Americans and America better.”

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There Is No Darkness in Cuba

A blackout seemed to frustrate a volunteer’s English classes one night. But soon our volunteer, Jennifer, would learn that there is no darkness in Cuba.

I am going to remember Monday as a collection of sounds, lights, and … darkness!

Breakfast at hotel: The slurps of coffee and leche, the undertones of Deutsche – sprechen among the new arrivals, and the pad-pad-padding of ours shoes as we scamper across the tile to the lobby to be on time to start our new assignments.

Our walk to the community garden: The clopping of horse hooves, bicyclists pressing quietly into a strong wind, and the occasional rumble of a heavy truck or scooter. I am fascinated by the many ways people get around!  As Yanel told us gardeners this morning, a Cuban could even make a spaceship from Russian and American car parts.

There Is No Darkness in Cuba

Volunteers Breanna and Jennifer with coomunity guide Yanel at the comomunity garden in Ciego de Avila.

At dinner: Seated together after our first day of volunteering, we were all full of chatter about our new experiences.  I felt tired but happy to be surrounded by new friends – all working as a team toward common goals with the Ciego de Avila community.

And then, the electricity went out and the background music was silenced.  Without hardly missing a beat, the candles were lit and the conversations went on.  Would we be teaching tonight or not?  Would students still come, or stay home?

And, indeed, the student came – ready to learn – even in the midst of darkness.

Our first evening of conversational English started by the lights of mobile phones.  The room buzzed with voices speaking English and Spanish words, with laughter, with songs and games.  For my partner, Brie, and me, it was improvisational give-and-take learning between us and our middle-school-age students.

To cap off the day, and by this time we’re pretty tired, we arrive back at the hotel to be recharged by the beat of dance music and the sight of an amazing, athletic, and graceful dance troupe performing down in the bar area.  How lucky to see them – what a perfect ending to an amazing day.

I closed the day happily immersed in the sights and sounds of the wonderful Cuban culture, and grateful to be exchanging these experiences with fellow volunteers and the people of Ciego de Avila. Despite their struggles, there is no darkness in Cuba; not in their spirit.

There Is No Darkness in Cuba

Volunteer Jennifer checks out English student Erick’s bike.

There Is No Darkness in Cuba

Jennifer receives a flower from local Cuban worker.

Sorting Five Kilos of Beans

How Does a Volunteer React After Sorting Five Kilos of Beans? Bob, a first time volunteer in Cuba, had such a rewarding experience that he actually came up with a verse. 

Our task was to examine five kilos of black beans for foreign objects, then do the same with five kilos of white rice. I was so moved by the experience I thought it was important put it into verse:

 

The culling of bad things from our beans and our rice

Fell into the hands of two guys who are nice

T’was a task so important it had to be shared

By two guys named Bob, also known as Bob Squared!

We started out checking one bean at a time

In hopes that we hadn’t committed a crime

We soon loosened up, and culled by the bunch

Or we’d never have finished in time for our lunch.

We pulled out the beans that were withered or scarred

When suddenly Tall Bob found something so hard

“It’s a rock!” he exclaimed, I tell you the truth

“Without me someone will mangle a tooth!”

With excitement he checked, ‘til he had a bunch

Wrapped them all in a napkin, and brought them to lunch

Where he unveiled them to all, to all twenty-four.

And we thanked him profusely, ‘fore we went out the door.

So give thanks to these Bobs, one bald and one haired

To these wonderful guys, also known as Bob squared.

Sorting Five Kilos of Beans

Volunteers Ken, Mary & Richard picking rice in Cuba.

Sorting Five Kilos of Beans

Volunteers help the local community to sort black beans in Cuba.