Cuba Program Host Pastor Eduardo González began the new year with high hopes that 2021 will deliver many new and returning Global Volunteers to Ciego de Ávila and Havana. “Your fingerprints have marked our hearts and communities, and we welcome you back as soon as it is possible,” he announced in his latest update. Read on for news of COVID-19 vaccine trials in his country, and preparations for new work projects to improve local people’s lives.
“We longed for your presence in 2020,” said Cuba Program Host Eduardo González. “COVID-19 managed to keep us apart physically but not spiritually, as many of our American friends kept in touch; expressing concern about us and showing solidarity at this difficult time.”
Eduardo reported that while the virus ravaged the population, the loss of tourism and trade has devastated the economy. On top of U.S. sanctions, the quarantine periods exacerbated shortages, including food, which has left average people impoverished. “But you know Cubans!” Eduardo retorted. “Our sense of humor, solidarity and great spirit continues to grow even in the midst of scarcity and COVID-19.”
Always Looking Ahead to Brighter Days
Eduardo said his church community’s “Pandemic Project” has been re-imagining the current Ciego de Ávila Community Center as a hub for programs serving seniors, youth and women. In 2020, the congregation’s long-term plans were physically manifested in an architect’s rendering of a rebuild beginning in early 2021. The large-scale project will generate community volunteer work for years to come, and once Global Volunteers service programs re-start, Eduardo will assign team members to assist with labor and daily programming at the re-emerging facility.
The current center is well-known to alumni volunteers as the venue for afternoon and evening English conversation sessions. “We’re investing our resources in building materials to expand and renovate now,” said Eduardo. The plans show a two-story structure including dormitory lodging. Only the original arches inside the former residence will remain at completion. The new kitchen and dining hall behind the current building have already been roughed in and roofed, Eduardo reported. “All the funds we have received from Global Volunteers have been invested in this project, plus donations from US churches. Work on the project is ready as soon as volunteers arrive.”
New Space, New Services
Eduardo said “Centro Comunitario” will afford many more activities to serve the community at large. “Initially, we will do an elder day care where seniors will be delivered by relatives in the mornings and picked up in the afternoon. We’ll offer exercise classes, healthcare lectures, entertainment and meals,” he boasted. Laundry service and will also be provided, and purified water will be available for seniors to take home.
“Volunteers can be involved in all these services – the water purification plant, in the laundry service, and working in the kitchen and meal services, as well as other elder daycare activities,” Eduardo asserted.
In Cuba, care for dependent people primarily takes place in the home, because of cultural norms and a lack of nursing homes and senior day centers. However, when there’s no one at home to tend to the needs of aging relatives during the work day, the options for safe care are extremely limited. This new service at at a roomy community center will meet a critical need for parish families and others throughout the community, says Eduardo.
Youth recreation and women’s empowerment programs are also included in the plans. Eduardo said providing girls’ and women’s skills training and safe social spaces nurtures leadership opportunities which advance gender equality. Work preparation and support is important to build on the significant gains women have made in recent decades. Although Cuban women earn the same salaries as their male counterparts – 66 percent of Cuba’s professionals and experts are female, as are 50 percent of healthcare workers – inequities in access to opportunities must still be addressed, Eduardo maintains.
“We will be open to any program that could benefit the community, as this is still a dream in progress where we’ve spent most of our COVID-19 quarantine,” Eduardo admitted. “As we have funds available and people willing to help us carry out our dreams, we will build it.”
One recent hurdle was the successful re-designation of the community center as a charitable institutional structure, which will lower utilities and other standard operating costs.
Meanwhile, Vaccine Trials Begin
Eduardo said as new cases of COVID-19 are dropping, a cooperatively produced vaccine known as Soberana 01 is being tested on the island, and may be available throughout the country by March or April. BioCubaFarma is working together with Cuban institutes and universities to build capacity for distribution, “with the goal of millions of doses once the studies are concluded.”
“We’ll be ready for you as soon as you’re ready for us,” Eduardo teased. “We do not plan to go anywhere else. We will be here waiting for you!!”
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