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      2016 Che Guevara Brigade a Hug Success!
      Participants Brought Back Great Experiences and Memories to Share!

      By Azza Rojbi

      The Ernesto Che Guevara Volunteer Work Brigade has been an amazing opportunity for people living in Canada to travel to Cuba, immerse themselves in the Cuban reality and learn about its gains and achievements. Hundreds of people of various ages, abilities, skills and backgrounds have participated since 1993. The brigade is organized by the Canadian Network on Cuba (CNC) and the Cuban Institute of Friendship with the Peoples (ICAP).

      26 participants from all across Canada joined this year 24 th Che Guevara Volunteer Work Brigade for two full weeks of adventure, volunteering, learning & fun! The Che brigade combines volunteer work with a cultural, social and political program visiting different historical sites, schools, clinics and yes, even the beach!

      The brigade visited the provinces of Artemisa, Cienfuegos and Villa Clara. The brigade arrived to Cuba on April 30th, and started its journey in the province of Artemisa. Brigadistas stayed at the Julio Antonio Mella International Camp in Caimito. This camp was also host to 200 international delegates to the May Day International Solidarity Brigade. This created a great opportunity for brigadistas to connect and exchange with social justice and Cuba solidarity activists from around the world.

      May 1, May Day, Workers Day, A Big and Special Day in Cuba

      In the darkness of the early morning of May 1, everyone at the camp awoke to the songs of Silvio Rodriguez and started to get ready for the exciting day ahead. We got in buses and drove to Havana for the International Worker’s Day celebration, where every year more than a million people, gather for the May Day parade at the Plaza de la Revolucion at the foot of the giant statues of national heroes Che Guevara and Jose Marti.

      As the sun started rising over beautiful Havana, hundreds of thousands of people flood the streets carrying colorful signs and flags, dancing, singing and chanting to celebrate their Revolution. Marchers called for the end to the U.S. blockade on Cuba and the return of Gunatanamo Bay to Cuba.

      On May 2nd, international delegates to May Day and Cuba solidarity activist from around the world gathered in the Havana International Conference Center for the International Meeting in Solidarity with Cuba. Brigadistas heard speeches from representative of the Cuban government and delegates from the solidarity movement around the world. Organisers with Vancouver Communities in Solidarity with Cuba and Friends of Cuba Against the U.S. Blockade -Vancouver participated at the conference. Brigadista Azza Rojbi, coordinator of Friends of Cuba Against the U.S. Blockade -Vancouver, spoke as representatives of the solidarity movement with Cuba in Canada. The event was important for further connecting with other solidarity groups around the world and sharing experiences. (Click here to read Azza's speech)

      In the spirit of Ernesto Che Guevara, the Brigade took part in volunteer work at organic farm cooperatives (organoponico). We had the honor to work alongside representative from the the Federation of Cuban Women (Federación de Mujeres Cubanas—FMC). We got to meet them, share anecdotes, ask questions and learn more about the gains and challenges of Cuban Women since the revolution. Brigadistas were astonished to hear about the high level of participation of Cuban women in the political and economic life of the country. 49% of deputies to the Cuban National Assembly are women, while in the case of the Provincial Assemblies, women delegates comprise 50.5%.

      The brigade program was very rich and diverse. We visited schools, cultural centers, museums, historical sights, hospitals and community projects. We also had the opportunity to meet with Cuban artists, representatives from Cuban mass organizations and from all levels of the Cuban Government, such as elected representatives of the National Assembly of People’s Power. Those meetings and visits brought us a greater understanding of how a small island which has been under constant attack by the most aggressive country in the world for over 50 years, can still be an example for building the better world.

      Another highlight of the trip was the visit to the Ernesto Che Guevara memorial center and mausoleum in Santa Clara. The mausoleum houses the remains of Che Guevara and 29 of his fellow co-fighters killed in 1967 in Bolivia. The brigade honored his legacy by laying a wreath under the grand status of Che overseeing the memorial center. The visit was very powerful and emotional as brigadistas got to learn more about the life of Comandante Che Guevara and the ideals he stood and fought for.

      The Che Guevara Volunteer Work Brigade is an incredible way to visit Cuba, to dig deeper into its fascinating culture, to learn about its social gains, to understand its challenges and to make an important contribution through your volunteer work.

      Next year will be the 25 th anniversary of the brigade. It will be a unique opportunity for you to travel to Cuba and experience the Brigade for yourself. For more information about the Che Guevara Volunteer Work Brigade, you can visit the website at www.canadiannetworkoncuba. ca/brigade, e-mail chevolbrigade@gmail. com, or in British Columbia, you can also contact B.C. Coordinators Tamara Hansen and Thomas Davies at 778-882-5223 or vancubasolidarity@gmail.com

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