Iowa Development Director and Global Volunteers Alumna Ann Sweeney has found a familiar second “home” in Ciego de Ávila, our partner community in Cuba, which will again host volunteers after a nearly three-year pandemic suspension. On her last service program in 2018, Ann rekindled connections with “old friends” in a community garden, where team members assist local farmers, and shares those memories here.
By Global Volunteers Alumna Ann Sweeney:
Enjoying the breathtaking sunrise over Ciego de Ávila, I anxiously awaited the arrival of my fellow Global Volunteers for another stimulating morning of service in my part of “El Rabanito,” the community garden in Ciego de Ávila. A new group of volunteers arrived, full of energy, enthusiasm, and willingness to weed and water crops while discussing a variety of topics. “The garden group” walked to the work site armed with bug spray and sunscreen. The team enjoyed an impromptu pit stop for a cup of coffee prepared by a mystery barista behind an iron gate. When the team arrived at the community garden, the work began… or did it? With fresh flowers in my bandana, I recognize familiar faces and immediately begin the conversation. These exciting reunions are a tribute to the power of connections made in the garden.
Beyond absorbing water and other nutrients in this rich organic garden soil, I find myself increasingly nourished by the conversations between the volunteers and local Cuban workers. Today’s a little different; the group arrives on foot, led by Yanel (our local program assistant) and a couple teammates who are taking photos because several will depart Cuba after this first week.
Deep in conversation, we reflect on the remarkable welcome we received upon arrival and the loving spirit of the Cuban people. Some volunteers, including myself, are veterans of Cuba service programs and speak fondly of the local Cuban people as family, even remarking that each return visit is like a family reunion. We also made the observation of how comfortable and safe we all feel in Cuba. We expound on the fond memories of musicians practicing outside the hotel in preparation for an upcoming musical event, and gratitude for the willingness of the local people who look out for everyone’s interests and needs.
This group, in particular, never seems to run out of questions or topics for conversation; we’ve discussed so much these past few days with the livelier conversations revolving around what volunteers taught and learned during the conversational English sessions at the community center throughout the past week. Other topics included: visiting Cuba, and other volunteer destinations, traveling as solo travelers, participating in volunteer service programs with family members, and so much more! Who would have thought a few people could tell so many stories and ask so many questions!!
By the end of the first week, the “garden volunteers” had slowed the pace and remarked on a clearer understanding of “building relationships” rather than pulling weeds in record time. Each day, we interacted readily and more frequently with the hard-working gardeners. I hope the pace slows even more! A slower pace may allow all of us to get closer to people, expand our horizons, rejuvenate ourselves, and experience greater joy. I hope Global Volunteers continues to serve the community of Ciego de Ávila because being part of a team and serving in Cuba so enriches my life, as I hope the service experience enriches my fellow team members’ lives too!