Geri says serving in Ciego de Ávila, Cuba for two weeks with her daughter Bridget was a journey of discovery. Together they acquired new skills, explored a new culture, and learned something new about each other. Bridget and Geri share a few highlights of “volunteering as mother and daughter” with Marketing Assistant and Greece Country Manager Sam Pinakoulaki.
Geri, how did you choose Cuba for your volunteer vacation with your daughter?
Geri: My daughter and I had both wanted to participate on a volunteer vacation together. The perfect opportunity came up when Bridget finished her year-long master’s program. At the same time, I had a break before starting a new job. I didn’t know anything about Cuba – the country, the people, or the culture – but Bridget had always wanted to go there, so I was excited at the chance to explore Cuba.
What was your experience with the Cuban people?
Bridget: After being in Ciego for a few days, my mom and I felt completely comfortable walking around, smiling, and conversing with people on the street. In general, we had plenty of opportunities to explore Cuba. Everyone we met was extremely welcoming and seemed genuinely happy that we were there. For instance, once when we went to get ice cream one day, there was a man in line with us who didn’t speak any English. But he realized we didn’t know what we were doing and guided us through the process. He ended up sitting and eating ice cream with us, and wanted to treat us, too. We were continuously surprised by how friendly and hospitable everyone was.
“We were continuously surprised by how friendly and hospitable everyone was.”
Geri: The Cuban people were so warm and welcoming, that we made so many new friends and connections that will always stay with us. I’ll always remember how caring our host family was – making me “special meals” one day when I wasn’t feeling so good. Our host partners at the church, our host family, and our team members – we will certainly not forget the relationships we made. They helped me explore and understand the Cuban culture. I learned that the Cuban people are loving, family-oriented, educated, and have the same hopes and dreams as we do. Experiencing a different culture as we did makes us realize we’re all more alike than we are different.
“Experiencing a different culture as we did makes us realize we’re all more alike than we are different.”
How did your volunteer assignments enable you to connect with the children and adults in the community?
Bridget: In the mornings, I helped out at the community garden with Yanel, a local project leader, and Eric, another Global Volunteer. Yanel came by our casa particular (the home where we were staying) each day, and we walked to the garden together. Since we spent each day together in Ciego, we were able to get to know each other quite well, and he taught me a lot about his life in Cuba. In the evenings, I was assigned to work with advanced English learners. The first night I was paired up with 18-year-old Leonor, who had just graduated high school, and had won a place at the University in Havana studying Industrial Design. This just happened to be my undergrad major, so we had an immediate connection, and I found out we had a lot in common. Over the next couple of days, a few of her friends joined us for the English sessions. Most of the teens I interacted with spoke English pretty well, so we spent a lot of the time getting to know each other. So much so, they ended up coming to the community garden with me and Yanel in the mornings so we were able to spend more time together.
Did you have time to explore Cuba in other ways?
Geri: Living for two weeks in the Ciego de Ávila neighborhood with our host family really helped us explore Cuba and gave us a picture of the Cuban way of life. We would not have experienced this as a tourist. Every morning, we felt like we were part of the community walking to our jobs, as we saw peddlers with their fruits, neighbors selling coffee, mothers getting children off to school. We were able to participate in some of the local celebrations — church services (one where everyone sang “Happy Birthday” to me) and ‘ugly fruit’ day at the senior center where everyone brought an ‘ugly’ or unusual fruit. There were games and dancing as well, plus we all tasted the fruits. It was apparent how close-knit and caring this community is. We also had the opportunity to enjoy local musicians, the theater, and salsa dancing.
On our people-to-people part of the program in Havana, we were treated to a tour of Old Havana, Hemingway’s House, a tour in a 50’s car, where we drove through parts of the city we hadn’t yet seen. One of the most amazing and inspiring places though was Muraleando, a community arts center started to provide art and music lessons to children and adults in the neighborhood. It was a unique peek into how the local people are spending their time and talents to improve the lives of their community children. I loved it!
How has this program impacted your life?
Bridget: This whole experience has changed the way I think about travel. It was a reminder of the common things we all share and want as people. I’m now interested in experiencing the culture, exploring the country, and understanding the perspective of the local people rather than visiting a place to see it from a tourist’s point of view. Before we left for Cuba, it was a little “mysterious” to us. We were unsure what the people there would think of us as Americans, given the current political climate. When we arrived, it was extremely refreshing to be greeted with friendliness, and get to know our hosts in Cuba through honest conversations, a lot of jokes, and sharing pictures of our families and pets.
“It’s a reminder of the common things we all share and want as people.”
Explore Cuba as a Volunteer. Invite Friends, Family, and Colleagues to Join a Service Program.
As a small island nation, Cuba offers a rich history and culture to explore. Our people-to-people program enables you, your family, friends, and others to experience life in Cuba up close, like Geri and Bridget.
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