My friend Hanna, who gives tours to Cuba, reached out last fall to ask if I wanted to celebrate my New Year’s there. I didn’t have any other plans for ringing in 2018. And I had been saving for a trip. Cuba wasn’t on my list of places, but I appreciate the direction life can offer.
I knew celebrating New Year’s there was just going to be the dessert. The meat of my trip would be seeking the culture and inquiring about the life on this provocative Caribbean island. What better way to get to know life in Cuba than by getting to know Cubans? And, as recommended by a YouTube video on Cuba travel, what better way to make a connection than with a gift?
My mind’s light bulb turned on.
I asked family, friends, and readers to donate small items: toiletries, clothes, school supplies, etc. Life directed me once again by having almost all donations fall into one category.
From a distant, older relative, who wished to remain anonymous I received this box:
My friend Owen opened his heart with a donation matched by his employer:
On December 26 I carried a bulging suitcase into the airport…
In the city Trinidad (shown to you the last couple of articles), I stayed in the house of Hanna’s Cuban family. Within the home of middle-aged couple Olga and Carlos were children and grandchildren (and sometimes other children running in and out of this tightly-knit neighborhood.)
Before setting off, I had envisions of giving the supplies to a school, perhaps walking into a classroom and handing them to the students. But winter school break in Cuba and restrictions on outsiders entering school grounds forced another plan. How about a neighborhood approach?
On New Year’s Eve I told the three household children (ages 5-11) to instruct their friends to come by the following day at noon. The American man staying in one of the guest rooms–the American man who had given them some American sweets and showed them how to balance a spoon on their nose–had some larger gifts to hand out.
The following day more than 20 children lined up at the door.
One at a time, I handed them a notebook, two pencils, and a box of crayons.
Check it out:
As I learned when bringing laptops to a village school in Tanzania, it is becoming easier and easier to experience charity directly–even to far away places. This way, we get to shape the effort, offer the resources as best needed, and experience the act of giving to recipients in another part of the world.
Over the next two days, a couple of other students came by to ask for a donation. No problem. I had leftovers. In fact, I enough supplies to see about making a drop off at the neighborhood school.
I visited the campus a couple of days earlier.
Inside, classrooms featured state themes.
My last day in Trinidad, though, schools opened up. And a couple of hours before I hopped in a classic car taxi to Havana, my host Carlos walked me to the school, where pupils were playing outside.
At the wire-fence gate, Carlos asked some of the children where the headmaster was. Soon a woman approached. Through Carlos (and over the gate), I explained who I was and what I had in the box in my arms. The woman wasn’t the headmaster but was an administrator. She recommended bringing the supplies inside to the main office.
From hear, she said, they would distribute the supplies as rewards for good work in class.
This whole experience was a reward.
Giving to those in other countries works well for me, as a way to also connect and learn as a explore the world. But of course, one needn’t leave their country, state, or even community to offer service to others.