Friday, March 23, 2012

American University Alternative Spring Break in Cuba

This travel seminar took place March 10-17 in Cuba.  The theme was Education and Social Justice. 
J. Crew.  Mango.  Filibuster.  Roadie.   Sassy.  Girl with a magnet tattoo. 
What do these things have to do with Cuba?  Everything.  They are nicknames a CGE group from American University bestowed upon themselves while spending a week in Havana. I share these seemingly inconsequential monikers to demonstrate not only the uniqueness of the individuals, but also to communicate the special group dynamics that make an international seminar like this an exceedingly significant experience. 
Those group dynamics do not just happen.  A group becomes dynamic when people step up to the plate, eager to engage.  A group becomes dynamic when they exhibit confidence blended with sensitivity.  A group becomes dynamic when the questions do not cease and answers from inside are not withheld.  A group becomes dynamic when they grab hold of each moment as one where learning can be had.  And if not learning, then a little bit of fun.  A group becomes dynamic when they offer one another companionship deep enough that it results in terms of endearment.  Dynamic, this group was.
And without these group dynamics, which provided support and encouragement for each individual, Cuba wouldn’t have been Cuba for these students.  During a visit to a school, I watched one student (at the invitation of the Cuban teacher) step to the front of the classroom and engage each child in the room – without a second of hesitation.  At another school, I listened to an American University student eloquently and sensitively explain U.S. attention to the Cuban Five when a Cuban student asked her opinion.  Yet another group member, who plans to teach science in the future, utilized an early morning chat with our translator (the fabulous Edelso Moret, professor at the University of Havana) to get his advice on the development of a classroom activity.  They seized moments to interact with Cubans in a truly Cuban way – through conversation, dance, and song.  I will never forget their joint rendition of “We Are the World” with Cuban high-schoolers.  It was off-key, most of the words were missing, and I would never listen to it again by choice.  But it is a beautiful memory for me. 
Ultimately, as their CGE leader, when I asked them to jump, they said, “how high?”  Not really.  But when I asked them to push, they said “how hard?”  And I said “hard enough to make our bus start up again!”  We had a few bus issues, obviously.  Even in those moments, frustrated by being stuck, they showed flexibility, compassion, understanding, and solidarity with our Cuban hosts. 
On behalf of the American University group, I thank Edelso Moret and Rita Maria Ojeda – our Cuban friends and guides – for their invaluable contributions.  Dynamic, you are.  
By Jesse Haas

Monday, March 5, 2012

CGE's first people-to-people licensed Cuba group is a success!

CGE's first group traveling under a people-to-people license recently returned from Cuba.  It was an intensive week with excellent information-sharing, learning, and fun.  The group was comprised of professors/educators, artists, retirees, corporate and non-profit workers - each bringing different perspectives into the experience.  
Some highlights of the week included: 
  • A visit to the National School for Circus Arts where we participants were able to meet with administrators and students and watch a unique performance
  • Hearing about Cuba-US relations from a professor at the University of Havana's Center for US and Herispheric Studies
  • Traveling to the rural community of Puerto Esperanza and speaking with farmers about their lives pre-revolution and after, as well as how recent economic changes are impacting them
  • Participating in a guided tour of the Museum of the Revolution, which made key historical events come to life,
  • Meeting contemporary artists and seeing a number of animated live music performances.
  • Most participants were also able to engage with Cubans in any informal ways throughout the week to learn about Afro-Cuban culture, business ownership, and daily life. 
 Participants returned home ready to implement ideas that will build upon and share their experiences in Cuba.