Cuba volunteer with vintage car

Volunteers working with Cuban students of English – both adults and youth – discover sharing the language is the best way to share insights about life. This Cuba Volunteer reflects on a week of service…

By Rene Moquin, 5-time Global Volunteer.

impressions of Cuba

The author tutoring Cuban students of English.

As a longtime volunteer with Global Volunteers, I have no illusions about teaching conversational English, painting a wall or pulling weeds. Instead what is happening here in Cuba is a bonding between two peoples after a too long period of absence. Cubans welcome Americans.

Throughout the week, I have tutored several Cuban adult students including Paula, a 41-year-old Cuban nurse who lost her husband less than a month ago to cancer. Paula was quite willing to share feelings about her loss with me. Laughter seemed to break through the sadness, and is the glue that bonds our relationships with other Cuban students. As the week progressed, other Cuban adult students joined us. As my teammates will attest, the range of English proficiency among the students varied widely.

Although I tend to be positive regarding coming changes to Cuba, again views among our Cuban students varied widely. Time will tell. During one evening class I noticed that there was laughter at each table. At that point I knew we had bonded with our students; our new Cuban friends.

Cuban students escort us to our horse buggies

Our daily mode of transportation in Ciego de Avila.

Yet, while we’re “brothers, ” we’re still separated geographically and politically.

Isolation best describes how the country of Cuba is politically, economically, culturally, and in terms of infrastructure, separate from the U.S. The various forms of transportation speak to this isolation: The vintage American cars of course, but also worn-out bikes, scooters, horse drawn buggies, buses, trains, etc.

Reflecting on the first week in Cuba, I recall my first impression when our plane landed in Santa Clara. Upon landing, applause broke out in the plane: families visiting, vacationing or reuniting with families after long periods of time. For Cubans, it was a time to celebrate. For us Americans, we were venturing into a country isolated for 50-plus years.

I don’t know if any of us were prepared for the heat and humidity at this time of year. (I’m sure sweating is good for the soul.)

Thought for the Day: None of us can save the world alone, but each of us can do something.

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