by Mindy Xu ’19
We followed our morning routine, taking the bus and stopping at Starbucks, before arriving at Unique Rehabilitation Center. This is a facility that takes care of mainly seniors, but there was one young amputee who was also there. After taking a tour of the four floors and getting a sense of their schedule, we immediately noticed they were severely understaffed. We were only able to help distribute coffee, interact with the residents through memory and word games, helping them go to the dining area, and serving the lunches to the residents. It was mentally difficult to see the conditions in which the people had to live in, and to know that there was little we could contribute to help. Though after this heavy experience, we went to the Lincoln Memorial and got pizza, which was a good stress release for all of us. The last activity of the day was another YSOP dinner, and this time, I helped prepare the garlic bread. I was originally sitting with my usual group, but Kim encouraged me to go sit at another table. Angel came and sat next to me, and we immediately bonded through our love for Kpop music. Jumping from talking about Big Bang to BTS, Angel and I established a strong connection. As we ate dinner, the conversation switched to heated topics of racism and feminist issues, of which Angel had firm opinions. We shared our thoughts on these prevalent problems in society, and after desert, Angel went to sit with her other guest friends. It was disappointing that some familiar faces were not here, but also refreshing to meet and establish relationships with new people.
by Anisgul Stanikzai ’19
It is our second week of our service trip. Today we did our served at the H.D.Cooke School, a public school. We took two buses to get there and it took us an hour to arrive. The school was well staffed and very clean compared to other places we volunteered. The minute we arrived each member of my group was assigned to work with a first-grader. We read books to them aloud and worked on new vocabulary.
We were not the only volunteers to read to the children as there were some other older people from the community, too. The children we were reading to needed help because they struggled with reading and pronunciation. During the time we spent with them, we taught them how to read and helped them use new words in a sentence. It was a very good experience because some of the children were very excited to read their favorite books. Each one in my group enjoyed spending time with those children. We were happy to have the chance to chat with those children.
by Andrew Fallows ’19 Matt Majeske ’19
Today was our final work day in West Virginia. Despite the cold and wet weather we finished strong. Out front a group finished the porch and laid the post for it. Another group worked on the sides and the underside of the front porch overhang. Laying protective soffit and J channel. At the end of the day we discussed all that we have accomplished over this past week. While we were standing around talking it started to snow a little bit. After work, we met up with all the people that help us through the week for dinner at Rudy Tuesday.
by Javi Vidal ’20 and Jake Armbruster ’19
Today at approximately 6:15, we woke up extremely tired. It was our final day in Cuba and we were going to hike to the bottom of a waterfall (1700 feet). We went with some of the younger members of the church.
It was exhilarating watching the bus climb up and down significant angles on a wet dirt road. We started our hike around 10:30. The trail was extremely slippery due to recent rainfall and very steep, but we finally made it down after about an hour. At the bottom, the waterfall flowed into a swimming hole where some of us took a brief swim and a natural shower!
Afterwards, we turned around and climbed back up, stopping many times to catch our breath. At the top, we ate a delicious Cuban meal with a view over the valley.
When we got back to the church, we were greeted by the Moorestown Friends School students who are doing service here for the next eight days. While it was fun to see new faces, it was also a bit chaotic as we all had to reorganize to make room for everyone. They are about to start their Cuban adventure just as we are about to finish ours.
Tomorrow is our flight home! We loved the trip to Cuba and will definitely miss it, however, after two weeks, we are looking forward to our homes.
by Eugene Anku ’20 Isaac Lee ’19
Today we continued with siding at the worksite. Since it was our third day doing it, we had become more knowledgeable about the procedure. It was a quick process and by lunch time we had already finished the left side of the house leaving only the back which we began after lunch.
Two people measured and cut the soffit while three of us set up the H and J channels and then fit the soffit. Our cooperation and experience made the work almost rhythmic and fun. After we finished, we went to the front of the house to help the others with porch and discuss the plan for tomorrow.
The weather was nice and lunch was filling as always, which put us in our usual high spirits. Although Mike was in charge of porch construction, he was nice enough to check up on those of us who did the siding. He made jokes and interacted with us frequently keeping the atmosphere lively. Today was tiring but we all feel proud at the amount of progress we have made on this house.
by Cooper Feiner ’20 and Matt McMullen ’20
We had our half day today, which was a nice break from working. While we were working, a few of us worked on the deck, while others kept working on the siding. After our time working, we had the ability to go in to the town of Lewisburg, which has been named “coolest small town in America”. We explored the town, went in to a few antique shops and tourist attractions, and cooled off with a scoop of ice cream from a local dessert shop. All in all, it was pretty interesting, and a pretty cool town.
by Miles Pinnock ’19
Today we painted a church in nearby town called Floro Perez. In my opinion, it was the best work we’ve done so far on the trip. It was the hottest day we’ve had and afterwards everyone was so tired that we all took naps inside of the church. Despite that though, we painted the outside of the church a very bright baby blue, including the facade. I painted the entire left front wall and then gave it a second coat with a roller. Then helped out with Claryn, Cheri, and Kayla painting the two columns on the veranda. It was very rewarding, hard work. I fell asleep after I was done. We had a great lunch at a restaurant nearby and then came back to the church where I fell asleep again. We left the church around 3:45 and went to climb La Loma de la Cruz. It was 465 stairs and you could see the entire city from the top. It was so serene that I couldn’t even grasp the entire beauty of my surroundings with my phone, it was one of those moments where you just have to be there in person. After that, I (along with Cheri and Ryan) had dinner with Eric and his wife at their home where we conversed about Miami and cats over delicious pizza, spaghetti and bread pudding. A great night! Tomorrow we will take a hike and visit a waterfall but we need to leave at 7 am.
by Archer Euler ’20 and Adam Schnitzer ’20
It was the second day on the second site. The crew was split into two separate groups each working on different projects and different parts of the house. One group was with Rick and they were finishing the siding on one side of the house. When we were done with applying the siding, we moved to adding another J channel that way we could apply a roof or barrier from the under side of the roof from the real world. They had holes in it so that way the wood would be able to breath. We had successfully finished J channeling and applying siding to one side of the house. So the new goal is to apply siding and a J channel to the opposite side of the house. This time, we won’t have to rely on ladders because we built scaffolding so that we could have a platform to stand on while we were working. We started working on the second side but it wasn’t exactly as easy as we thought it would be since there were a plenty of spiders and other unwanted bugs. The second group had helped out with the porch out front. They installed girders and cut beams for the foundation. Creating these beams took a couple steps. This included measuring, marking, sawing, and grinding the planks.
by Ryan Oster ’19
I think today painting the church was one of the most tangible accomplishments we’ve made since coming to Cuba. Although the church was very small, it seemed to have not been looked after in regard to its appearance in a while. I was glad we could use a bright color to repaint the walls because this way the difference before and after could really stand out. The workers for the church seemed very happy with our work and were more than grateful we did all four walls and the outside pillars when they had only asked us to do two.
Also, one of the most meaningful experiences not involving work since our arrival, having dinner at local families houses, was something that I realized to be an experience that few non-Cubans would ever get to have. I think it also was convenient that our host, Ismael, was only 27 years old and had a brother the same age as me. Being more or less from the same generation, we were able to relate to many of the same pop culture references that aren’t as prominent in the generations older than us. I also noticed that he was more in touch with the fact that English was not our first language more than older Cubans, and was surprised to hear that he and his brother knew more English than most Cubans I had talked to. I was also amazed that at the age of 27, Ismael was able to support a wife, 5 year old son, and brother (along with the help of his aunt and mother, all under the same roof). He handcrafts artisan goods such as handbags (bolsitas), wallets, and backpacks, and his wife paints them. Every few weeks, he takes a 10-12 hour bus ride to Havana to sell his items in street markets, in which he employs others to sell his goods for him.
Ismael sells most items for under 15 dollars even though I know many people in America who would pay upwards of 40 or 50 dollars for the same item. He was happy to tell me that there is always a constant demand for his craft due to international tourism. It was different to hear Cuban who felt very secure in his job. Seeing someone being as relatively successful at a young age as Ismael was surprising because it’s not often you see the same in the US.
by Ava Helmer ’19
Martha’s Table is a food bank that provides classroom spaces for teaching children ages 1-4, and has a kitchen that makes food for 200+ people by sending a free food truck to two locations in the city. We were put to work in the kitchen, which was large clean space. Tammy and Kenzie cut zucchini, Chris and Charlotte pruned broccoli, Anisgul chopped tomatoes, and I started on mincing around 50 cloves of garlic. Having previous experience in food prep from a summer job, I finished the garlic in about 10 minutes. I then moved to the first onion of many. After doing another task in a different room, I then returned to the room where everyone was chopping. All 5 people in our group were simultaneously cutting onions, and as soon as I entered the room I bust into tears from the onion juice. Everyone in the room was balling and sniffing from the sheer amount of cut onions. We prepared and packed tins that would later be given to anyone who needed a meal.
by Josh Saskin ’19
Today we woke up at 6:00 to go to Reading Partners at Seaton Elementary. Welcomed by a volunteer for the program, we learned about the basics of the curriculum and had a crash course in how to go about tutoring the children. My first student was Eliana, a kindergartner who did not seem to want to participate at first, but became more open after we discussed our mutual love for cats and tacos. Later, I had Brandon, another kindergartner. Brandon did not like to respond in English, and when he wasn’t calling me a poop, he answered my questions in Spanish. Each of our group members had 4-5 students, which was definitely way more than we had initially anticipated after hearing from other GS students on the trip who had been there yesterday. After we left the school, we headed to the national mall, where we met up with the other group for lunch at the line of food trucks. From there, we took the metro back to the church for our final YSOP dinner. Tonight we made breakfast for dinner, and I could tell that our group was much more comfortable with taking control in the kitchen. At my table, I met some nice students from NYU who were there on an alternative spring break. I enjoyed talking to Sarah, a first year grad student who majored in international relations and minored in Mandarin. I joked with her that despite being best friends with someone who was Chinese for the past four years, I could barely hold 30 seconds of conversation. At the dinner, my table played Uno with Tish and chess with Rob. I enjoyed the final dinner reflection as well, because we tried to make a word cloud using our 5 words that come to mind when thinking back on the last two weeks. Among the most common words were joy, community, humble, and respect. On our way home, I realized that we’re in the final leg of the trip, and I’m sad to be done with the dinners. While at first I focused on the fact that they were tiring, I now look back on them with gratitude and appreciation.
By Andrew fallows ’19 Matt Majeske ’19
Today was our first day at the new worksite near Lewisburg. We started the day with moving the bunks from our previous house and enjoying the sunrise. Then we moved job site materials out of the Habitat truck into habitats thrift store. The new house was smaller then the previous site. This house lacked a porch. One group of students were tasked with installing the porch, setting up the frame and taking measurements. Another group started to complete the siding on the side of the house. Which was difficult because we had to make sure that the slope of the roof exactly matched how we cut our siding sheets. After we returned to the Rhenna center where we played another round of basketball. We also prepared food for tonight dinner.
by Owen Buxton ’20
Today we went to a home for the mentally challenged. I initially thought that it was a home solely for children, but I soon learned that the age of the average patient was 45. We didn’t really do much at the home, which was actually pretty disappointing. I was really looking forward to playing with some kids. Instead, we took a quasi-tour of the facility and stood around a whole bunch. One highlight was a 3 year old named Cesár. Cesár has Down’s Syndrome and is too freaking adorable. We watched him toddle around and throw his shoes. We also watched a girl with Down’s sing and dance, which was really cute. We then returned to the church and I chilled out on the roof for a bit and took a short siesta. Later in the day, Cesár and a few of the other patients came to the church and we played with them. I had brought a few bags full of LEGOs with me from home, so I took those out and everyone loved them. I showed them Batman, Superman, and all the things they could make with the plastic bricks. Because food is to tight in Cuba right now, the church we’re staying at can’t feed us. Instead, we were divided into small groups and distributed among families in the community. Jayde, Joseph, and I were sent to Fernando’s house for dinner. I was apprehensive at first, but I think we all ended up having a wonderful time. We discussed a variety of topics during dinner (which was muy delicioso), including chicken fighting, Volkswagens, internet access, and the Spanish-American War. Fernando’s wife prepared us some bomb pizza and spaghetti, and for dessert we had bread pudding which was freaking fantastic. The night was filled with laughs, a lot of Spanish, and good food. Tonight’s dinner was a highlight of the trip.
P.S. – Mom, send me pictures from Disney so I can see them when I get to Miami. Also, buy Cheerios for the house I miss them so badly.