Report from Cuba – By Pam Cromer, Team Leader Global Volunteers’ historic first volunteer team is doing important work – not only meeting the community’s labor requests, but building long-lasting relationships. This is the foundation of every successful program – important, directed work, and compassionate, open-minded volunteers. When combined, long-term change can occur. Each volunteer teaches English in the evening…18 to 40 students divided among the team. During the second week, four groups of students aged 16 to about 40 have formed. Everyone’s enthusiastic and serious about this landmark opportunity! The volunteers love the teaching, the students are grateful….a win-win! Our host partners provide clear direction, and respond to new requests as more and more community members become aware of the available service. They’re impressed these Americans have come to work directly with them – completely apart from the tourism trade! They reiterate how important English is to their futures. We’re told this is the greatest gift we can provide.
The farmers are so happy! We work with five farmers in the morning at two different farms. These are cooperative gardens which supply vegetables to daycare centers and provides affordable produce to low-income residents. The farms are efficient and healthy. We’re able to accelerate their harvest and weeding – enabling farmer to plant new sectors and tend to equipment repairs. Working one-on-one with volunteers, they’re laughing and are such good sports. They’re hopeful the steady stream of volunteers will help transform local output – setting an example of people-to-people effort across the island. The regional directors report they’re impressed with the volunteers’ commitment and energy.
Meanwhile, the maintenance work at the church starts at 8AM and breaks a few hours later. The local men and the assigned volunteers are very proud of the improvements they’ve made to the structure on the roof. It’s a reminder of pioneer days when community members came together from across the country to raise one barn, harvest a field, or repair a farmhouse. In Cuba, such cooperation remains a primary element of the culture as well as their government.
We’ve also worked with seamstress at the church. Four women volunteers and one male volunteer love the opportunity to collaborate so intimately with community members. Everywhere we go, we’ve been graciously and enthusiastically welcomed! I recognize several local residents from my past programs….and they’re so happy to engage us in Ciego now as “partners.”
Our people-to-people exchanges build on earlier activities with people in Ciego, Moron and Havana. But, now the relationships are greatly enriched by our delivery of humanitarian assistance – demonstrating in the most visible way possible our genuine commitment to the Cuban people. It’s true – working together is the most sincere expression of respect and companionship.
The hotel staff have gone out of their way to welcome us, as usual. In Ciego, we walk almost everywhere BUT at night we take horse carriages at the end of work at 9:00 p.m. The walk to our daytime work projects takes about 30 minutes and it is pleasant, as there’s often a breeze in the a.m. and at 5:15 when we walk back to the restaurant for dinner and then to our teaching assignments.
This is a WONDERFUL, meaningful and exemplary service program! And, most important, we ARE making a difference in the lives of our Cuban friends! It’s humbling and inspiring to be on the ground at this historic time – on this historic program. We’re the ambassadors of peace and understanding.