Reflections from Linda, a recent Cuba Global Volunteer, on serving alongside the Cuban people:
I recently had the privilege of participating in a two-week humanitarian trip to Cuba through the auspices of Global Volunteers. The trip more than met my expectations and was educational, fulfilling and gratifying. I felt that as a group we made a real impact serving the Cuban people as they did on us. I know that the experience definitely left an undeniable impression on me, as I feel it did on the other volunteers based on their journal readings and daily messages.
Our trip was in the town of Sancti Spiritus, a 500-year old city in central Cuba. There were 22 volunteers, including 9 who participated through a scholarship program from the University of Central Missouri.
I, along with 4 others, worked daily in the community vegetable garden, weeding and harvesting the crops with primitive tools. We worked alongside several local Cuban people. It was both tedious and gratifying work. We had a farewell celebration with our newfound friends on the last day. The manager of the garden read a letter to us (translated by a fellow volunteer) that reflected their deep appreciation for our hard work, with a heartfelt invitation to return again next year. He wrote that we were the hardest working group that had visited them this year.
In the evenings I, along with another volunteer, practiced English with the locals. As circumstances would have it, the people that we worked with were all advanced. For several nights we practiced with several college students and a recent graduate. We utilized several of the exercises for advanced students from the Teaching Guide that Global Volunteers provided. The exercise on “Creating a New Society” was particularly relevant as it afforded an opportunity for the exchange of cultures and the younger persons’ views on their own society. They presented us with gifts on the last night and I have remained Facebook friends with two of the university students.
During our free time in the afternoons I met a local transgender boy. Being a transgender woman, it was a wonderful chance to meet a local Cuban with a non-conforming gender identity. He was likewise thrilled to meet me (he had never met a transgender person from another country) and we became close friends, meeting and talking daily. He also introduced me to others in the trans community and I learned much about how the society there treats trans people. He and I remain close friends on Facebook. I have recently sent a clothing box to the community through our local host.
We also had the opportunity to visit Trinidad, on the southern coast of Cuba, and Old Havana. We learned much about the culture and society of the Island and its people, the revolution in 1959 and its aftermath, and the economic struggles that they face today. We also danced to Cuban music; enjoyed the local cuisine, which frequently featured rice, pork, chicken and beef; visited the Ernest Hemingway and Revolution museums; watched the revolutionary celebration on July 26; attended religious services; relaxed in the hotel pool; were driven around in vintage, mostly American, cars; and visited many local merchants. There is much more to learn and know about this peculiar island than just old cars and cigars. My understanding of the Cuban people and their society changed quite significantly from what I may have understood previously about the country. It has also motivated me to seek the changes necessary to resume normal trade and other relations with the Cuban government and its people.