Sunday in Holguín

By Kayla McDow ’20

Today we went to our first real religious service at the church in Holguin. This was very interesting and strange for me because I am not used to the atmosphere of a church. I was expecting more Quaker-like sessions but so far more Quaker-identifying Cubans lean into the Christian aspects of Quakerism. This approach makes me wonder the difference between regular Christianity and Quakerism here in Cuba.

Later, we went to a beach about forty-five minutes away. It wasn’t as nice as the first one. There was trash everywhere, the water was dirtier, and there were so many people. I’m glad I didn’t wear my bathing suit. Then we ate at a restaurant that took two and a half hours to bring our food, but that was okay because from what I saw everyone enjoyed it. Everyone was grateful, especially since we are now more aware of the food shortage going on. We didn’t really see it in Havana or Matanzas.

I can’t wait to get to work tomorrow! We are going to go work with children with disabilities which should be fun for everyone.

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OUR WEEKEND IN WEST VIRGINIA

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By Eugene Anku ’20 Isaac Lee ’19

This weekend we could finally take a break from digging and fully immerse ourselves in the West Virginian culture. Not wanting to lose any time, we woke up early and went straight to the Organ Cave. We learned so much about the Civil War and how the confederate soldiers tried to get gun powder without being discovered. We did laundry on Saturday afternoon and had a very interesting conversation about history with an elderly person in the laundry service. Then we went bowling that evening, surprisingly Isaac won and got a high score of 143. He tried to play two songs in the jukebox but it never got played. On our way back, we picked up Overlord, a Nazi zombie movie for our team bonding activity. The movie was amazing and we learned so much about history and science fiction. On Sunday, we moved out from our first home and went to our second home. It is extremely spacious and it has more than one bathroom. We got Wendy’s for lunch, which in our opinion, is much better than Burger King. Our new residence has a basketball court so we played basketball all day long. We are all excited to work at the new site tomorrow.

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Last day in Matanzas

By Claryn Troup ’19

Today , I woke up to the sounds of a rooster and the oinking of pigs. Everyone got ready for breakfast. We had eggs with bread and butter. After that, we had to get ready to go to the garden.

This is our second day taking weeds out of a garden. Although the sun beamed down, Ileabeth’s music playlist and conversation with friends made the experience a lot easier. After we finished with the weeds, we piled them in a stack so they could be burned.

After we ate lunch at Le Fettuccine. The pasta was amazing. The bus took us back to the hotel, and it was time to get ready for Roxanna and Fernando’s wedding. In 2015, Roxana studied for one year at GS. The church was decorated really nicely. The bride and groom looked stunning. Although I understood only 75 percent of what was said, I enjoyed the ceremony a lot. When Roxanna threw the bouquet, I caught it. The view was amazing. Looking out at the ocean, colorful houses, and birds in the sky made the experience all the better.

Tomorrow we are off to Holguín which is the final destination of the service trip. We will be on the bus all day so we won’t be able to blog tomorrow. We’ll try to blog on Sunday.

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FIFTH DAY OF THE WEST VIRGINIA SERVICE TRIP

By Matt McMullen ’20 Cooper Feiner ’20

Today was our first rainy day, which made the ground muddier, but, luckily, we all had our muck boots to get us through the day. We worked on siding and putting up J-channel for the soffit. We split up into two groups, one group working on the porch and the other group working in the back of the house. Today was the last day we worked at the site we’ve been working at since Monday. We’ve been building a house for Nikki and her family. We are sure going to miss the dogs that laid around the yard!

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Washington, DC, Thursday, March 14

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By Chloe Lentchner ’19

Today was our last day of service of week one. I am in Kim’s group with Josh, Mindy, Peter and Cat. At 8:30 a.m. we woke up and left for our day. As usual we boarded our bus to head into the city. Our service was held at the Oasis Senior Center, which we learned was a place for homeless seniors to visit, rest, get their clothes washed, and get food. The center itself was located in the basement of the Lutheran Memorial Church. When we walked in the doors, there were around fifteen people sitting around playing games, taking a nap or socializing. Faces lit up as we entered and the program director immediately came up to talk to us about our task. We were asked to play games and socialize with the people in the center. There was a lot of competitive Uno games happening, but we all learned a new game and a personal favorite at the center called Rummikub. We played countless rounds of the card game until it was time for us to return to YSOP headquarters.

Today’s service was different in my mind to the previous week’s worth. It was the most direct work done, and though it seemed like I was just having a good time playing games, serving food, and learning about the people in the center, I could tell that my presence made all of their days a little more enjoyable.

After returning to YSOP we had a group reflection, unpacking our week’s service and sharing all of our highs, lows, and excitements for next week. It was interesting getting to hear everyone’s thoughts on the work we were doing because there were a lot of similarities and even some comparisons. Following the meeting we headed out for some fun to the National Harbour. We all had dinner together and then explored the town by riding the ferris wheel and getting ice cream. It was such a great and fun way to end our first service week!

By Chris Chan ’19

Today my group went to do service in the IONA Senior Services. This took place in the St. Albans Episcopal church. We started off by helping prepare the tables by placing covers and utensils. After that, one of the members of the services named Nathaniel asked us to help him with distributing the food. The food we served the senior citizens included chicken mixed with tomato, mashed potatoes, carrots, along with a small serving of orange juice and raspberry yogurt. I was happy to see that IONA was aware that some of their visitors may be vegan. Therefore, we were also able to serve some vegetarian options for the senior citizens.

In addition to food prep and serving, we were able to workout and do exercises with the senior citizens. We each took a pair of dumbbells and performed bicep curls along with fast leg movement to make sure that the seniors were staying active. I think the weight training was helpful and seeing us younger students getting involved was something that motivated everyone to keep pushing through the entire workout.

Overall, the meal and the exercise were great activities for us to get to know the senior citizens that we were entertaining. I think I can speak for the group when I say the experience was pleasant. We were also very impressed with how some of the senior citizens knew a variety of languages. Ironically the senior citizens had their own cliques at tables which kind of reminded us about a high school lunchroom environment.

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FOURTH DAY OF THE WEST VIRGINIA SERVICE TRIP

By Archer Euler ’20  and Adam Schnitzer ’20

Today we continued to help with moving dirt around the house. We split into three groups. One group had went inside of the house to begin mudding the walls around the house. Another group had organized the shed towards the back of the lot as well as organize the lot itself by picking up the scaffolding and picking up the planks that lied around the house. The last group had shoveled the final dirt pile and moved it  to the sides of the house. There was a plenty of shoveling and picking at the dirt like it has been for the past couple of days.

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Second day in Matanzas

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by Julia Carrigan ’20 

Today, I awoke to the sound of screaming pigs. Though, others reported they heard a soft and smooth instrumental song play at seven o’clock, I was shaken into consciousness by the morning greetings of our neighbors, the farm animals. We are currently staying at El Semenario Teologíco de Cuba, a school which trains Cubans who want to work in the field of Religion. The campus is beautiful: there are gardens and towers and pigs and chickens. Many other tourists are staying here as well, though we are very lucky to be here to attend the wedding of Roxana and Fernando tomorrow . Roxana did her junior year at GS as apart of the Bienvenidos program.

Of course, during our stay, we were excited to help the Seminary as part of our service too. During the morning, we helped out in the garden, spending all of our time weeding. There was lots and lots of weeding. But we endured the aching of our arms as we tugged at some particularly stubborn grasses, through listening to music, talking to one another, and stumbling through conversation with those who work there. We were also given a delicious snack of bread and pear juice. In particular, I enjoyed the presence of the plethora of snails which occupied the rows and beds. Although, the strongest force that pulled us through three hot hours weeding in the sun was the promise of the beach in the afternoon.

I do not think I can overstate how excited we were for the beach. We love doing service; we love painting; we love playing card games and sharing meals; we love gardening, but these are not the visions that we dream of when we have dreamed of Cuba. We dreamed of the beach. And when we arrived at Varadero Playa, we were not disappointed. The water was turquoise like you see in the postcards, but it was better than the postcards. The group broke out into cries of joy as we walked over the dunes which led to the beach. The sand was hot and soft and got everywhere. It was a glorious three hours. We walked on the shore collecting seashells. We played  spike ball and some other throwing games at which I was not adept. Some made a throne out of sand while others dug an unreasonably deep hole. And of course, we swam. We swam and swam and swam. We dived and floated in the clear waves which softly broke on the shore. Much to the relief of the parents reading this blog, we applied lots and lots of sunscreen. It was so, so, so, so good.

We enjoyed ice cream and relaxed for the rest of the day. Grateful for another productive and exciting day in Cuba.

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Washington, DC Wednesday

by Ava Doty ’20

Martha’s Table is a food bank, 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 a 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 given to anyone who needed a meal.

by Peter Zha ’20

Today’s D.C. transportation experience wasn’t the best, especially it went from the decent modern subways to the delayed buses. It is a good way for us to have a taste of what the majority of the residents here will have to go through every day. The service facility was a donation center built in a middle school, where they receive a huge amount of various clothing, namely formal clothing, everyday clothing, baby clothing, etc. We selected the clothing in good conditions and put them on display for people in need. There are also other programs for baby toys, technology supports, and school supplies. Surprisingly, the owners of the Marriot Corporation visited them anonymously, and because of their dedication to helping others, the couples gifted them a computer lab for major selection. Later in the afternoon, we had a second church dinner, where we cook food for anyone in need. There were some familiar faces from yesterday, and also new clients. The whole experience was a lot smoother since we all knew what to do.

 

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THIRD DAY OF THE WEST VIRGINIA SERVICE TRIP

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By Isaac Lee ’19 Eugene Anku ’20

Today was a half day, we went to the construction site and finished up digging so we can make a lovely house for the family. The work was hard but the sense of completion was satisfying. The fact that we completed the work in one and a half days was just amazing! Before we left, the van got stuck near the creek. The camaraderie involved in pushing the truck showed how much we have bonded over a few days. We gathered all our strength at once and pushed as hard as could to get the van out. We had lunch at Jim’s Drive in and took a picture with the manager who posted it on social media, check us out! Afterwards, we went to the Greenbrier Hotel which is a “secret” declassified underground bunker, it was so cool! They talked to us about the bunkers history and the reasons why it was constructed, mostly due to nuclear warfare during the Cold War. Now we need to get some rest so we will be energized enough for tomorrow’s work 🙂

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Arrival in Matanzas

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by Heather Thaler ’20

Today was our last day in Havana. Before breakfast, my roommates and I packed up our belongings so that we would be able to enjoy some last moments of freetime before taking off. After breakfast, we went to the Jose Marti museum in Havana. I had never read any of Marti’s poetry, but I was very interested to learn more about his impact on Cuban history and society. The plaza, with a tall grey tower and massive statue of Marti, looked to me like something straight out of Star Wars. A tour guide took us around the museum. I thought it was fascinating how closely linked the ideas of Marti and Fidel are. Previously, I thought it strange that the state would fund such a huge museum for a poet, but this experience has provided me some valuable context for understanding this. Afterwards, we went back to the church council for lunch and finished packing. Around 3, we departed from Havana. Matanzas is only about an hour away, and the view of the Cuban countryside is beautiful, so the drive wasn’t too bad. Our accommodations in Matanzas, a seminary, seem like they will be very nice. The other girls and I have an apartment to ourselves. We had dinner in the seminary’s dining hall; they served rice, beans, and meat— which I have gathered to be a pretty typical Cuban meal. After dinner, we drove to the Plaza de Libertad so that we could access the internet. Everyone was anxious to see their grade reports and call their families, but the plaza itself is gorgeous and those who are done using the internet are playing soccer or otherwise just enjoying the city of Matanzas. I am looking forward to seeing what else Matanzas has to offer in the days to come.

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