S-Trip! Destination: Cayo Santa Maria, Cuba
This year's volunteer program in Cayo Santa Maria had a huge focus on cultural exchange, which is something we at S-Trip! place a lot of value on. Students were able to learn so much about Cuban culture in smaller groups and interacted with the locals on a very personal level. On the first day with the small group we sat in a classroom and went around asking each other questions and singing national anthems to each other. Students were very curious about Cuba and the Cuban staff were very curious about Canadian culture. We spoke about the changes happening in Cuba since the recent developments in relations between the US and Cuba. The Director of the school, Maria Victoria, said that baby steps were being made and that Cuba was being pulled out of its isolation and reintroduced to the world stage. As a special treat, the mother of once of the children in the school passed by to give us some milk-sugar desert as a thank you for the work we were doing with the school. Our S-Trip! travelers enjoyed the sign of gratitude even more than the sugar boost!
The school's art teacher also directed us in the Cuba version of musical chairs: when the music plays, the boys have to dance around the girls. The moment the music stops, you must find one elbow to link onto. Cuban or Canadian, young or old, familiar or strange, it did not matter! In that moment they were linked to a new friend. Those who failed to find an elbow had to complete a challenge: cross the school playground doing their best interpretation of a cow on a hot day, or running like a chicken, or side-stepping like a crab! This provided a great laugh and good pre-work energy boost!
The tour of the school grounds included the garden that S-Trip! travelers planted in March, featuring some pumpkins that were ready to harvest! The local students proudly showed us their vegetables, happily played soccer with our travelers, and were curious to learn how to make paper snowflakes. In addition to decorating the library, computer lab, and kindergarten classroom, our travelers learned how to mix cement, replace windows, and install a new fence. A special touch included a CANADA <3 CUBA mural on the back wall of the school, as a way to commemorate their time together.
Some highlights for our travelers included seeing the local students perform a dance show and learning a bit of salsa from them, and sampling guarapo (sugar cane juice) at the sugar cane museum. Some of the students said that is tasted like the milky sugary leftovers of a good cereal bowl! Smiles, tricks and sports stories were all shared during the short breaks they took between activities. In the words of Ijaz Habib from Eastwood Collegiate Institute, the best part about the day was "meeting the most amazing people, leaving my comfort zone in order to learn something new".
Written by Jose Burgos, the on-site Volunteer Coordinator for Cayo Santa Maria.