Cuba is so full of life! The people, the politics, the arts, the culture, the nights, the mornings, the children, the elders, the streets, even the soil of their organic gardens…so full of life! Somehow it all mixes and moves together in ways which make you forget about sleep and language barriers as you dive into it all. How do I know? I’ve traveled on the Ernesto Che Guevara Volunteer Work Brigade and experienced it for myself. The Brigade is a unique 3 week journey that for the past 20 years has given people across Canada the opportunity to volunteer in Cuba and be exposed to life on the island in ways unimaginable on any other trip.
Last year’s 2012 Che Brigade was centered in the province of Holguin, with a major excursion to the city of Santiago de Cuba. Over 40 people from all ages and from across Canada participated as ‘Brigadistas’.
On one of our first days we woke up in the early morning darkness of May 1st, and as the sun rose we saw hundreds of thousands of Cubans streaming in to celebrate International Workers Day with their annual march and rally. There was literally no end in sight to the people joining the rally from 3 directions, all carrying colourful signs and flags, and singing and chanting to celebrate their Revolution.
We worked side by side with Cubans rebuilding houses destroyed by hurricanes – sharing work, water, and laughter with new friends. We also worked in one of Cuba’s famous urban organic agriculture farms, cultivating rich soil with the knowledge that the produce provided not only for the farmers and their families, but was given to the daycare across the street and the hospital around the corner.
We walked through Holguin City during the world renowned ‘Romerias de Mayo’ Festival. For one week every storefront and every corner of every public square was taken up with countless artists presenting their crafts. The city itself became one giant living art exhibit created by the people and for the people, and which never stopped moving and never slept.
We entered high schools, hospitals, trade union centres, women’s centres, universities, and factories to tour them all directly and speak with the professionals (and professionals in training) making them all run. Nothing compares to the clean calmness of a Cuban hospital or the enthusiasm of an international student from Angola studying medicine for free in Cuba.
We also met economists, judges, parliament members, and historians whose knowledge and patience surpassed even the eager questions of more than 40 ‘Brigadistas’!
We ventured through the winding, neon sign filled streets of Santiago de Cuba, a historical epicenter of the Cuban Revolution. We imagined the young underground revolutionaries darting between the narrow buildings around us, and saw the bullet holes in the Moncada Army Garrison, a former site of violence and torture which has now been converted into a museum and elementary school.
Of course we did our best to keep up with the dance lessons provided at block parties filled with young and old Cubans who invited us into their houses to share smiles and stories. We also swam where the two clear blues of the sky and the Caribbean Ocean met, and then walked from the most beautiful beach we have ever seen to an even more beautiful beach around the corner!
In the end we were left wondering how time can be so full and pass so fast. We also learned some of the answers to how a tiny island which has been blockaded and attacked by the most aggressive and dominant country in the world for the past 50 years, can still be so full of life and an example for building the better world we all know is necessary.
You know what the best part is? You can join the Che Guevara Brigade this year and see it all for yourself! There is no age limit. Brigadistas from 7 to 77 have all enjoyed incredible and fulfilling experiences on the Brigade.
This year’s Che Brigade takes place from April 23rd to May 15th, and will once again be led by National Coordinator Dave Thomas. We will be in Havana for the march of over a million people on May Day, and also making a very special trip to the historical Isle of Youth. All of the fundamental aspects of the Brigade will be included, such as the volunteer work with Cubans, the tours to places of interest, the presentations and question and answer sessions, the art exhibits, the exploring, the swimming , the dancing, the friendships, and the learning.
If you have never visited Cuba before, this is the absolute best way to go as the Brigade cost covers your food, accommodation, transportation, and translation. All you need to do is focus on really experiencing everything around you! If you have already been to Cuba, this your best opportunity to dig deeper into a fascinating society and also make an important contribution through your volunteer work.
So what are you waiting for? Join the Brigade!
If you would like more information about the Che Guevara Volunteer Work Brigade to Cuba, you can visit the website at http://www.canadiannetworkoncuba.ca/brigade, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org, or in British Columbia, you can also contact B.C. Coordinators Tamara Hansen and Thomas Davies at 778-882-5223 or email@example.com
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