El Capitolio, or National Capitol Building in Havana, Cuba. Image courtesy of ARCC Programs
MILL VALLEY, CA, –This Summer, several American high schoolers will be traveling to Cuba on two 14-day trips to combine culture with community service on an island that hasn’t seen groups of American teens for nearly 60 years.
Organized by Adventures Cross-Country, ARCC Program, the trip comes on the heels of the recent lifting of travels restrictions to Cuba by the Obama Administration. The ARCC Programs’ work and study in Cuba represents the first time in 56 years that an American youth group will be performing volunteer or community service work in Cuba. “This is a pretty exciting trip as we are not aware of any other American youth group going to Cuba to work on community service projects since the embargo,” says Scott von Eschen, President of ARCC Programs.
The first part of the fully licensed program will run from July 3-16 while the other is from July 31-Aug. 13. Before departing for Santa Clara, Cuba, students and leaders will gather overnight in Miami for briefing on what to expect when they get to Cuba. In Santa Clara, Cuba, students will have direct knowledge of the people of this once forbidden island and experience a nation teeming in color, passion and lively Salsa music, all framed by the backdrop of the Caribbean.
Ciego de Avila in central Cuba has been selected as the base of operations for these trips. For the first seven days, rotating teams of youth volunteers will divide their time among a local community center, a community garden and two local English language schools where they will assist the conversational English skills of people ages five to 60.
Assisting in English language schools is integral to the trips to Cuba. With improvement in the American-Cuba relationship, it is expected that there will be an influx of U.S. tourists. Enhancing the conversational English skills of native speakers will not only promote better understanding but also a deeper experience of the Cuban culture. While at the community center, students will engage in light labor, including painting buildings, basic carpentry, cleaning and event preparation. To keep students engaged after work at the first center is completed, other community structures needing improvement will be identified as projects for the students.
At the community garden, students will work alongside paid community laborers to plant, weed, harvest vegetables and assist in other areas, including the prevention of plant disease and improved seeding methods among many others.
The community garden is an essential part of the Ciego de Avila in central Cuba. In addition to providing organic vegetables for children’s day care centers, some of the vegetables are also sold to community members at substantially below-market costs. Working at the community garden is also an opportunity for students to learn about installing and maintaining innovative earth boxes, irrigation systems and hydroponic gardening methods. There is so much to gain from these trips says von Eschen:
Our presence in the community will certainly be a novelty for the citizens of Ciego de Avila as few Americans have traveled here since the early 1960s. No doubt there will be many fascinating exchanges between our students their new friends as almost six decades of separation are erased by our visit.
The trip to Ciego de Avila in central Cuba is not just about work: Students are also in for a lot of fun. The student volunteers will spend two days in the Caribbean beach paradise of Cayo Coco on Cuba’s tropical northern island chain. There, they will explore nature, food and surf in this setting for Ernest Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea. Student volunteers will also take a seven-hour air-conditioned bus ride to Havana, a ride that is bound to reveal more of this mysterious island hidden for so long from American eyes. Describing the Havana, Cuba trip, von Eschen notes:
Havana is a city frozen in time but aching to join the 21st century; a fascinating blend of the colonialism of days long gone and a city ready for its modern debut. Our two days in Havana give us ample opportunity to explore the city. We visit Hemingway’s favorite haunts, take guided tours of Old Havana and El Malecón (a seawall stretching all Havana Harbor), visit famed museums and still have plenty of time for shopping. We even have the unique opportunity to dine with a University of Havana economics professor and discuss the dramatic economic and social changes underway in Cuba.”
The trip to Cuba is one of the trips organized by ARCC Programs to engage students through the world of volunteer projects. For over three decades, ARCC Programs have inspired young people from their comfort zones to experience the world through the lens of volunteer projects, language immersion and adventure worldwide.