Cuba

by Sara Shreve-Price

It was another busy day in Cuba for the George School crew. We woke up early to have breakfast and be on the road by 7:30am. Today we focused on cultural exploration. We spent most of the day in Santiago de Cuba, the country’s second largest city.

We visited the main cemetery and the monuments to José Marti, Fidel Castro, the Buena Vista Social Club’s Company Segundo, and main other prominent Cubans. It was interesting to see the different customs here in terms of memorials. We also saw two museums.

Lunch was delicious as usual. Then we had the afternoon to explore central Santiago de Cuba. Many of us went shopping and looked around the city. The students enjoyed siestas during the ride back to Holguín.

After dinner we had an evening meeting during which many of us reflected on how much more complicated the world is than it first appears. Finally, a few of us went to choir rehearsal while everyone else played card games and chatted. Now we are hanging out in our rooms getting ready for bed (which honestly looks a little more like a dance party than whatever you as a reader are imagining). Then we are off to sleep in preparation for another early day tomorrow.

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Rwanda

by Clarence Kwong ’19

The work at the library has come to an end, and we make our finishing touches. The pictures on the wall look great as well. Organizing books into categories isn’t necessarily fun, but it makes everything easier to look through for English learners. In addition, we planted grass seeds and orange trees in the library backyard in hopes for a more lively landscape. We also learned about a group which created their own banking system. It was interesting to learn how they kept each other accountable as they also held their own responsibilities as members of the group. Later on, some of us played soccer, basketball, and helped kids to learn to use Microsoft Word. Afterwards, we listened to Congo refugees speak about their life at the refugee camps. It was disheartening to hear about the rough circumstances that they have previously and currently faced. However, I am glad that we have the exposure to refugees and their situations. At last, we have dinner where there were Rwandan tribal dancers. It is fascinating to see that these people hold so strongly onto their roots. Ultimately, today was an insane day, and I hope that we all have just as good of a time to come!

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Cuba Day 8

I woke up to Sara’s wake up call. I was running relatively late this morning.  We ate breakfast as usual and dove into hard work. Today, we started plucking wheat out from the ground; however, this did not take long and our truck arrived outside. It took about 10 minutes to arrive at our destination, we stopped by a government building with people waiting for us.

Our activity today was meeting “young communists” who were about 40 years old. One of them was a History professor at Holguín University.  He passionately talked about the rise of the Cuban system and how before the Revolution, the dictators were manipulated by the United States. One of the interesting things he said was that every year Cubans submit a plea to the United Nations, and within the proposal they ask to lift the Cuban Embargo that has devastated the Cuban economy decades. Every country in the UN voted for the embargo to be lifted, except Israel and the United States. Many of us were shocked. It is interesting to see the juxtaposition between Cubans in Cuba and Cubans in the United States, because they both have reasonable opinions about the government.

Being from China, I personally love the political system here where there are no social classes in Cuba. Education, health care, housing, and more are all provided by the government, which embodies the true definition of communism. In Cuba, there are no illiterate people and they have the most doctors per capita. This is truly a unique country that is progressive in human rights and equality. Moreover, Cubans do not believe in working for money. I know. It is a rather unique definition of freedom, but they believe there is no dignity in life once a person is enslaved by monetary limitations. He said a newly drafted constitution is in play and the first article is going to be about working for the sake of service and for the people. This sounds like a Utopian society where everyone lives equally, but let us see how it plays out.

Admittedly, I wanted to ask more questions, but it was 12:40 and I was too hungry to stay there any longer. We went back to the church and did more work after eating. One of the better experiences today was after dinner.  We all went salsa dancing at Leo’s dance studio. We had so much fun and the day finally came to an end.

I would love to talk to the students here in Cuba that are my age so I can get to learn about their perspectives of the education in this country. It was a tiring but fruitful day and I am willing to experience more of this country as we now only have 7 days left. I have fallen in love with Cuba and I will make sure to come back to visit Havana and this Church again.

See photos.

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Cuba

By AnnaRose ’19

Our service group and a group of church members took a day trip to Gibara, a coastal town about an hour away from Holguín.  On the bus ride there, our guide explained how the Cuban education system worked, and how Cubans attained jobs.  Education is free, and mandatory until ninth grade, although nearly all Cubans will continue their studies past then.

On the drive we passed many forts from the early nineteenth century. There was also a good view of the bay, which we would end up paddle-boating and kayaking in.  Ike, Angie, Priya, and JoceLyn n were in one paddle-boat, while Alice, Maddie, Courtney and I were in another.  Aaron and Ahmed, and Eric and Miranda, rowed about in kayaks, and they stuck by the paddle-boat I was in as we moved about the bay.  Courtney and Alice were the ones who were paddling, but they seemed to be good with the load.  It was fun to explore the bay, even though we couldn’t swim in it because of the water quality.  Ike, Angie, Priya, and JoceLynn were a couple minutes late getting back to shore, but then we were on our way to explore a cave.

The cave had more graffitti than I expected, and more bats, but it was a new experience to  aim my headlamp at the cave walls to see if there were any interesting rocks.  As we walked around the dirt floor, many people, including me, took pictures of stalagmites and columns.  At one point, on the way back to the cave entrance, we stopped for a minute to stand in the dark.  It was scary, but thrilling.

As we drove towards the restaurant for lunch, we saw many of Gibara’s houses and buildings. We stopped at a lookout to take pictures of the town and the bay encircling it.

The restaurant, named La Cueva, served us seafood, mostly shrimp and crabmeat. There were also platters of rice and beans, vegetables, and plantain chips.  Aaron continuously stopped by where Miranda, Courtney, Sara, Ileabeth, Roxy and I were sitting in order to get more plantain chips. It wasn’t just the plantain chips that were good; you could say the same for all the food. Spaghetti or pork was available for those who did not want to eat fish. There was a small zoo attached to the restaurant, and Miranda, Courtney and I stopped to look at a parrot.

After lunch, we traveled to Gibara’s main square, where we could walk around for half an hour before we had to go.  Most of us stopped at a grocery store to take a look around.  While there might not be as many products as in American stores, there didn’t appear to be a lack of products for sale.  Ike, Angie, Priya, JoceLynn, two sisters from the church named Maylen and Mitel, and I looked around for ice cream.  It took a while, but eventually we were able to find another convenience store that had ice cream. As we walked, Jocelynn, Angie, Maylen, and Mitel talked about their shared love of K-pop (Korean pop music), especially BTS.

As we returned to the church, it started to storm, and while the rain w as refreshing after a hot day, it made everything hard to hear.  We rested before dinner, and then went for a walk towards a nearby plaza.  Roxy joined us, and Ike stayed behind to practice singing with the church chorus.

Walking the short distance from the church to the plaza at night didn’t feel unsafe, especially as our resident street dog Chica was beside us, barking at any bicycle that passed.  We made our way to an ice cream parlor opposite the plaza.  Miranda, Maddie and Alice debated what questions they might ask a group of communists we would meet tomorrow, and Courtney and I talked about our upcoming trip to Santiago.  Eric was mostly interested in eating his sundae.

After returning to the church, we heard part of a song that the chorus was singing, and they sounded great.  Angie and Priya joined Ike, and they all seemed to be having fun, judging by the singing that I could hear.  Others headed upstairs to play card games or journal for a while. After the evening meeting, we went to bed, tired after a full day.

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Rwanda

by Nora

As you may have heard, Sofia, Camille, and I have a buggy and dank room. Nonetheless, we woke up well rested and excited to start the first work day in Byumba. But, as I turned to remind Sofia to get up, I saw a twitching, dying grasshopper. Then, Camille asked me to turn around to kill a spider on our bed. It was a buggy start to the first work day at Byumba.

At the library, we quickly organized ourselves and got to work. A group of us cleaned the walls, another bought paint, and the rest helped design the pictures for the walls. As soon as the paint arrived and wet walls dried, we began to paint. Now that we have had a set of workdays under our belts, painting went much faster. We finished the main room of the library, the hallways of the library, and almost all of the outside’s painting and design.

After an accomplished day at work, Jeffrey, Ashleigh, and I decided to run back to the guest house. It was mostly downhill (the main reason we ran back and not there) and many Rwandans laughed at us running by. We arrived before the bus (with the rest of the students) arrived!

I am looking forward to another work day and run tomorrow!

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Cuba Day 6

By Miranda ’19

Today we went back to work. Our day started out by having breakfast at 8, we had pineapple, eggs, packaged toast, and bread with butter. As soon as breakfast ended we headed back to work to finish what we had started on Friday. We pulled over 16 barrels full of sand to the second floor then we bucketed them up to the third floor (the roof) where we had previously put the rocks from last week. Throughout this tiresome process we had rotations to reduce the work and to give people a break.

We ended work around 12:40 and started our nap session shortly afterwards. During our nap session we munched on my goldfish, Ike’s Milano cookies, Maddie’s pop-tarts, and Alice’s crackers. Everyone was so tired to the point where they didn’t care where they slept. Alice, Priya and I made make-shift beds out of chairs; while Maddie, JoceLynn, Annarose and Angie all slept on beach towels. Courtney, Eric, Ahmed, and Aaron all slept in their beds.

After our hour and thirty minute “nap”, we all went straight back to work but this time filling up water for the community from 2 to 5. The two men, who help us build the church, showed up a little after five to help us continue construction. This time we moved 12 long metal bars and multiple tin roof top pieces from the ground level to the first floor then immediately to the second. Lastly we formed an assembly line to move cinder blocks from the ground up to the second floor.

After we finished all of our hard work it was supposed to be time for dinner but we had time to spare so we all decided to walk 15 minutes to La Loma de La Cruz ( which is a giant hill with over 462+ steps!).

After the hike we all feasted on rice with shredded beef and green peppers. For dessert we had jello and banana cake. Following dinner, Ahmed and I played Spit, the card game (I won by the way), and JoceLynn and Maddie also played afterwards. After our games we all went upstairs and played a mini game of apples to apples followed by our meeting that occurs every night. Overall today was tiring yet fun and I can’t wait to see what is in store tomorrow.

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Cuba

cuba (2)

by Ahmed ’19

The service today was not too long but was very early in the morning (editor’s note: the service began at 9am). We sang a song and performed a dance for the service. It was a special service because it was fathers day. It was finally time for the thing we have all been waiting for: going to the beach. The bus ride to the beach was really chill. It was air conditioned, comfy, and I saw a lot of beautiful scenery.

We went horse back riding as the first thing we did once we arrived at our destination. Personally I just wanted to go to the beach but I was wrong. Once we started riding I had so much fun. I got a really good horse. I started going slow at first but then I learned how to maneuver my horse and once I did that I was able to do so many things. Everybody was going way too slow and I wanted to go faster. Oh my god I loved riding that horse. It was so much fun. Near the end more people started riding their horses fast and Eric, Maddie, Aaron, and I started riding our horses together really fast. It hurt so much. I thought I was going to die because I kept bouncing up and down on my horse.

Then we went to lunch which was so good. We watched part of the Brazil vs Switzerland and we saw Coutinhio score.

Then we finally went to the beach and it was so much fun. We took so many pictures and enjoyed the view. The water was so clear and there were so many fishes. We tried to catch them but it didn’t work. When we went in the water we took videos of us messing around in the water. It was beautiful. None of us wanted to leave, but sadly we had to. Everybody was enjoying their experience at the beach.We took some fire pictures there. Today was by far the best day. We all want to go back for a second day.

The food here has just been amazing. We all ate dinner together and it was also really good.

We then went to chill at the plaza and after we played card games when we came back. Ileabeth said that she never lost a game of Sushi Go, so I played her in that and I won. People are adjusting pretty well and I think people are really enjoying it.

Check out more photos on Instagram.

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Second Day in Rwanda

by Vanessa Baker ’19

Today was our second day in Rwanda. It began with me sleeping through my wake-up call from Nora and then receiving one from Lea, which I actually woke up for. We were half asleep over a breakfast of papaya, toast, chapati, and coffee. After breakfast, we had a strenuous walk to the George Fox Primary School in order to continue our work from the day before. We were in the process of redecorating two rooms, one a library and one a soon to be computer room with the laptops we collected from GS. We had already whitewashed the rooms the day before but today was for painting the rooms a different color. After we worked for about three hours, the kids began to come out and distract us with their cuteness. Deanna chased them with paint on her fingers while they tugged at Lea, Sofia, and Ashleigh’s hair. At 1, we went to the Kigali Peace Center to have a lunch of watermelon and bread with butter. We went back to work where we finished up painting the walls and windowsills and began adding decorations. After we finished working, we went to an arts center that featured beautiful paintings from several Rwandan artists. Once we were finished walking around looking at the artwork, we went outside to find the dancing that we were promised by Polly. There was a group of kids that were practicing dances and we watched for about 20 minutes until they invited us to dance along with them! We then went to a restaurant to eat beef, goat, and chicken shish kabobs where Nora and I sung a beautiful rendition of Ed Sheeran’s “Perfect.” After dinner, we drove back to the Friends Peace Garden, the place we’re staying at, for a night of card games and not working wifi. It’s been a good two days.

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Rwanda

by Sofia Frascella ’19 

Today we went to the market in Kigali before we traveled to Byumba. We got to see how the Rwandans shop for crafts, crops, clothes and other items. As we were shopping we got to attempt to bargain to lower the prices and it was a great glimpse into true Rwandan culture. We had another delicious, authentic meal at a buffet in downtown Kigali. We then got on the road and traveled to our next stop; Byumba. When we arrived to the guest house, Camille, Nora and I were hit with a surprise that our triple had quite a few spiders and no mosquito nets. After about an hour of adjusting our room we finally found a solution. This was a perfect example of how these service trips do not always go as planned, but there is always a solution to the problems. Tomorrow we start our work on the local friends library. I’m excited to work more with painting and really hope we get to interact with the kids more!

See our pictures here!

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Rwanda Day 6

conflict in rwanda

by Shumpei Chosa ’19

Before we left Musanze to go back to Kigali, we stopped at a children’s library in Musanze. We donated 3 suitcases full of books, writing utensils, and soccer balls that we had collected or bought with our fundraiser money. The people at the library were very thankful with what we had brought them because so many children in Rwanda can benefit from them. It’s incredible how there are so many people and organizations trying to help children to get education. 

 

On our 2 hour bus ride back to Kigali, I was looking out the window and I was reminded of how beautiful this country is. There are endless mountains and everything is built on hills. I noticed that so many houses were built on steep hills and I was wondering how people get to those houses. 

 

Back in Kigali, we had our first day of HIPP (Help Increase Peace Program). It was our first opportunity to discuss the 1994 Genocide with local people and it was an eye-opening experience. One thing that I thought was particularly interesting was when one of the facilitators asked if conflict is a good or a bad thing, many Rwandan people thought it is a terrible thing, but many of us had the idea that it can be a good thing if it results in positive outcomes. I am looking forward to exchanging more ideas about peace and learn about the genocide from a local perspective. 

 

The highlight of my day was watching the World Cup at a local restaurant. I never thought people in Rwanda would be so passionate about soccer so I was really excited to be able to watch the Portugal vs Spain game with our guide Fiacre and many screaming local men surrounding us. Towards the end of the game, two men started arguing loudly about Messi and Ronaldo. It was the same exact argument that I have with my friends and it was really cool to see the world connect through soccer. I am excited to keep following the World Cup here in Rwanda. 

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