On a previous post, Mari told us about her overall experience volunteering with adult children. Here she talks about her experience volunteering as a family in Cuba and overcoming the language barrier.
As only the second group to volunteer in Havana, the structure for our work developed over the weeks. We relied on our creativity for senior center activities and a curriculum for English conversation with the various church-affiliated students seeking to improve their language skills. How would the kids do with an improvised road map?
At first, questions were raised about whether the senior center was the “right” project given limited some of their Spanish, but there were enough of us in our larger Global Volunteers group with sufficient Spanish to facilitate effective communication. And the kids learned quickly enough that the language barrier was compensated for in other ways.
Calling bingo, singing songs, chatting with assistance from others, taking photos, cleaning, painting and warm embraces were all things they could and did provide to the seniors. As for the English students, they each developed their own approaches by tailoring class to the level and interest of the students. For my youngest son and his advanced student, they stumbled into identifying and teaching idioms as a way to guide conversation and focus their studies. For my older son and his girlfriend and their beginner students, they focused on basic conversation and vocabulary, with slang sprinkled in at the request of their young adult students.
In two short weeks, the kids (and we) bonded with those with whom we worked, the couple who housed us and with fellow volunteers. They were able to get to know a small sliver of the beauties of Cuba and the Cuban people. Processing it all and sharing that experience with them feels like a wonderful gift.
Words seem inadequate to describe this experience, and as amazing as my son’s girlfriend’s photos are, they don’t capture the fullness of our experience volunteering as a family in Cuba: the challenges; questions and answers; bumps in the road; connections; reflections; triumphs; and the small, quiet moments of just being together.