S-Trip! Destination: Authentic Cuba, Varadero, Cuba
For the third time over the last two years, S-Trip! travelers laced up their sneakers, slathered themselves in sunscreen, and boarded our buses to visit Proyecto Sociocultural Maravillas de la Infancia Cultivador de Sueños, a community centre in Versalles, only 40 minutes from our hotel in Varadero. Maria, the owner of this centre, is always happy to see us return, to help her vision come true for her community. The building, first erected in 1851 as a house for one of the wealthiest families in Matanzas, is well on its way to its second life as a dance studio, gallery, and educational centre, but our work in Versalles won't be done for quite some time, as Maria does not receive any support from the government for all of the renovations she is putting into the building, with the goal of making it a multi-arts space for people of all ages. Each day we visit, we are lucky enough to get a private performance from these talented young students, who are happy to showcase their salsa skills and their singing abilities!
Since we have been working in Versalles for a few seasons now, the front half of the building is in quite good shape. So this summer, we helped contribute to improvements in the back half of the building, which had piles of rubble from the years that it was left abandoned. Our travelers helped carry out all of this, to make room for the new! By the end of our two weeks in Versalles, our students got to start painting the walls of a small room that will be used as an art gallery!
In addition to all of their hard work at our labour station, for the first time on our Authentic Cuba program, our travelers received a tour of the Versalles community for a taste of the local life. One of our local staff, Manuel, grew up in a nearby neighbourhood, so was the perfect tour guide! Students got to see how everything works in this small suburb, walking past the bakery, bodega, barbershop, clinic, kindergarten, and even a shop where they make sugarcane juice, a local delicacy!
In this jam-packed day, a highlight is always the salsa lesson with David, who is the son of the owner, Maria. He never stops moving and is so patient and encouraging with all of us as we learn that we have two left feet! Take a quick look at our students as they dance with their local partners (below)!
Another fan favourite is the time they get to spend with the kids. Some of our students brought balls or frisbees to start a pick-up game with, while others were happy to enjoy a classic game of stella-ella-ola, en español! We also love seeing the dance party continue, with our students learning new moves from the local dancers (below)!
For me, a highlight is always seeing our travelers with huge, genuine smiles on their faces, despite being tired, sweaty, and hungry. I am grateful to be part of the joy that they experience in this beautiful corner of the world, and to watch them discover how only a few hours of their time can help create a big impact for this budding community centre.
Written by Lindsay Morris, the on-site Volunteer Coordinator in Varadero.