Global Volunteers’ partnership with the Cuban Council of Churches (CIC) was cultivated in 2007, before we were formally able to establish a service program on the island. Then, in 2012, we obtained a license to engage American volunteers in support for the Cuban people in Havana and Ciego de Ávila. Following is a brief history of ECCC and their ground-breaking relationship with Global Volunteers.
by Global Volunteers Alumna Wendy Tung
The Cuban Council of Churches (CIC) was founded on May 28, 1941. But Former Prime Minister Fidel Castro’s 26th of July Movement and the Cuban Revolution against the military dictatorship of President Fulgencio Batista complicated the impact the organization could have on Cuban society. Although the Catholic Church was a significant political influence, because it remained closely tied to Spanish colonialism, Cuba was for decades a self-declared atheist state under Castro’s rule.
By 1977, the view of CIC broadened through cultural and academic support through non-Christian member institutions, such as the Hebrew Community and Yoga Association. In 1992, the Cuban Constitution was amended to declare it a secular state. “Although constitutionally, Cuba is an atheist country, now even Christians can be members of the communist party and government,” said Pastor Eduardo González, Global Volunteers’ Cuban host and secretary general of Coordinación Obrero-Estudiantil Bautista de Cuba (COEBAC).
CIC immerses itself in any area of life where it can make a difference for the better, Eduardo says. For instance, the Council maintains projects with European NGOs that range from working on the inclusion of people with disabilities, providing and encouraging entrepreneurial job opportunities, a joint venture with the Cuban Health Ministry and the Christopher Blinder Mission, a German organization, to provide equipment, supplies, and expert surgical training for cataract removal and vision improvement of people in every major hospital in Cuba.
In addition, CIC has been involved with co-sponsorships of cochlear transplant projects carried out by hospitals in order to improve hearing conditions of individuals, mainly children. The Council also has a catastrophe and disaster team that is in charge of applying for funds to help communities affected by natural disasters such as hurricanes and through this they have been able to provide relief aids to thousands of people affected by natural disasters.
CIC’s motto is “United to Serve,” Eduardo explains. They extend their services to any church whether or not they are members of the council, and also to groups or individuals regardless of their religious orientation. That’s why working with Global Volunteers seems natural, he says. “We help people to understand the value of cooperation and solidarity among human beings.”
“More than anything, volunteers have helped to strengthen the links of our two peoples affected for so long by political differences, building bridges of love, kindness, and understanding, showing the real spirit of cooperation, and the solidarity of the American people. We believe that has been our greatest benefit.”Pastor Eduardo Gonzalez, Global Volunteers Cuba Host
A Shared Agenda of Peace, Reconciliation, and Action
“Volunteers have been helpful in our work because they don’t come like conquerors with their own agendas,” Eduardo says. “They come and lay their hands, spirits, enthusiasm, and resources of all kinds on our designated specific projects in support of the Cuban people.” Volunteers work hard with “humility and respect,” he points out, and demonstrate sincere admiration for and encouragement to the Cuban people.
The volunteer English conversation programs help to prepare community members with a valuable skillset, Eduardo says, because tourism is fast becoming an important income source for the Cuban people. Volunteers can engage with small groups of adult learners to practice conversational English skills. While polishing vocabulary and pronunciation, learners and participants often enjoy sharing life stories about family and work life. “In addition, working on houses of lower-income residents has been another area where volunteers have been very helpful,” added Eduardo.
“Volunteers have been very effective in community gardens and participating in neighborhood sewing workshops where various items are created to be sold.” Eduardo explains that the workshop proceeds benefit social outreach organizations.
Global Volunteers’ work in Havana includes help for seniors at elderly facilities run by various Christian churches. Elders and staff eagerly welcome volunteers as new friends – sharing stories and common interests and playing games and singing songs in Spanish and English.
Eduardo stresses that volunteers also have time to enjoy Cuban music, sample a variety of Cuban cuisine, and gain an invaluable understanding of the history, culture, and traditions of the Cuban people.
Sometimes there might be concern among potential volunteers whether they might actually take away the jobs that the local people can do. However, according to the secretary general, volunteers do not deprive anyone of paid or unpaid employment. Quite the contrary, Eduardo says, “volunteers with their own involvement, show us areas where local citizens could also make a difference, and people to whom we could be of help with simple actions.”
“More than anything, volunteers have helped to strengthen the links of our two peoples affected for so long by political differences, building bridges of love, kindness, and understanding, showing the real spirit of cooperation, and the solidarity of the American people. We believe that has been our greatest benefit.”