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Discover Cuba through Voluntourism

Voluntourism is a great way to visit and discover Cuba

Story and Photography by Donne Paine

I believe hurdles in life are meant to be jumped over are and not obstacles to stop us.

When initial plans to vacation in Cuba were derailed by hurricane Irma, my heart was broken but not my spirit. I had to find another way to get to this island, which sits only 90 miles off the coast of Miami.

Enter Globe Aware, a non-governmental organization (NGO) with volunteer programs in 17 third world countries. They are a “voluntourism” group—a mixture of volunteering and touring. Initially waitlisted, I joined a group of four in December for a week, and had an experience not to be forgotten.

Cuba is much more than classic cars and cigars. It is a country full of pride, friendly people, salsa music on every corner and ingenuity to be admired.

There has never been a more exciting time to take part in volunteer travel to Cuba! I was enchanted with a world unlike any I could imagine. Music abounded in the streets, there was hardly any traffic and smiles were everywhere. The embargo has meant severely restricted commerce and access to affordable food, but it has also preserved and insulated a culture unique in the world.

Globe Aware’s mission is to promote cultural awareness and sustainability. The eco-agricultural project our group was involved in was building a terraced garden of coconut and coffee plants to prevent mudslides onto a poor neighborhood, Casablanca, on the hillside of the Christo monument across the river from Havana. We would drive over in one of the classic cars and take a ferry back. And walk…wow did we walk.

Our accommodations were located in the historic center of Old Havana, a two-minute walk from the capitol and 10 minutes from the Plaza Vieja, in a neo-classical building from the 1920s, which still retains the original floors, doors and windows, with a balcony overlooking Old Havana. I was asked to add to the graffiti on the walls before I left.

We did a walking tour of Old Havana and the newly gentrified areas of the city. We went to the Che Guverra, Revolution Museum and The Museum of Art, where only Cuban artists are featured. The countryside of Cuba is beautiful and filled with rolling hills and exotic caverns. Our trip included an organic cigar plantation, complete with hand-rolling demonstration.

Cuba is changing in what looks like a positive way. I asked several members of our group to give a quote about their experience, which gives you an idea how others felt.

“A place lost in time and caught in an adolescent phase. Cubanos are full of love, pride and talent in all aspects of life, industry and art. The island, while so diverse, stands so united” —D. Mancinelli
“This was my fourth trip to Cuba in the past year. My first three were quick jaunts coming off cruise ships. But this trip I decided to spend 10 days to explore Havana. There is so much to see, experience and learn, and yet I only still saw so little. Everyday there were surprises and paradoxes. We saw pretty bad living conditions, but then went to a trendy nightclub, Fabrico de Arte Cubano, which was very nice. One big surprise was going to Nazdarovie, a restaurant nostalgic of the old Soviet Union days. When you go to Cuba, be open, observe, get off the beaten path.” —Juliet Teixsira

Here are a few questions that might help anyone interested in traveling to Cuba:

  1. Is it safe? At no time did I feel unsafe. The streets are busy with police walking the neighborhoods. No evidence of gangs, loitering unsavory types or panhandling.
  2. How much freedom do the people have? From my observation people moved freely about.
  3. Are Cubans friendly to Americans? Those I met were friendly to everyone.
  4. Were there any challenges going into the country? None, as long as your necessary paperwork is in order.
  5. Were there any challenges coming out of the county? None.
  6. Wifi? Almost non-existent. It is hard to find a wifi card, which is four dollars per hour and finding a hot spot is almost impossible.
  7. Toilet facilities? Most toilets do not have toilet paper, so bring your own.
  8. What is the food like? Rice and beans are served with every entrée. The food is simple and reflects the meager supply available. But ooh the Mohitos—the absolute best and filled with tons of mint!
  9. Gifts to buy? There is a large market that sells T-shirts, leather goods, bongo drums, and cigar accessories. There is also incredible art.
  10. Would I go back? Yes, and not just because of the salsa music at every watering hole, but because of the people, who are warm, friendly and eager to be recognized.

About Cuba:

Although home to more than 11 million people, Cuban culture has been shrouded in mystery to most North Americans because of prolonged economic and political strain between the United States and Cuba. Cubanos are proud, educated and often quite happy to share opinions. Isolated for years due to the “blockade,” their culture has been influenced by many others, none perhaps as heavily as Spain, Africa and the United States. Full of music, derelict buildings, joy and sorrow, Cuba offers few material pleasures, but immense humanitarian rewards.

© 2013 Pink Magazine & Millen Publishing Group, LLC.

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Volunteering for One Week in Peru with Globe Aware

Service, Sights, and Rainbows!

Many of you have shown interest and asked what it’s like to spend a week of your vacation time volunteering abroad. We want to devote this post to showing you how a week of volunteering abroad can bring you so close to one country while giving back and simply…traveling.

We traveled with GlobeAware who organizes volunteer vacations which are typically one week; they are structured to give you time getting to know the community, work on various service project, spend time with locals, and of course see the surroundings like a tourist all in 7 days.

You heard us right, SEVEN days only! That still sounds too long? I did this over Thanksgiving week and only took 3 vacation days, yep, that’s not a lot and I’m sure you can skip one year of Turkey. Your family will forgive you.

Here’s a taste of the Cuzco program day by day.

Day 1 – Arrive in Cuzco!

Arrive early AM. Have a light breakfast, take a nap until the afternoon to catch up on unslept hours in the air.

We didn’t think we were hungry yet but boy were we in for our first surprise – the incredible lunches! Lunches seemed to be the larger meal of the day, usually starting with a delicious rice soup and today we experienced quinoa crusted chicken! It’s as delicious as it sounds – crispy & tender – why don’t we have this?

After Lunch, Rosio our wonderful host, takes us through a walk through Cuzco city. I had no expectations of the city but the pure romance of it really captivated me. There were cafe’s, restaurants, pubs, and shops with beautiful local artifacts.

Don’t be surprised to see locals dressed in native bright dress walking with dressed Alpacas. Selfies are welcome for a small tip!

Quick Tip: Don’t rely on debit cards to withdraw local cash – bring some cash to exchange in case the ATM’s don’t work!

Day 2 – Touring Cuzco and the Sacred Valley

Yes! Another chance to see Peru: we were taken on a full day tour of the Sacred Valley. The trip included an overlook over Cuzco, Sacred Valley, Pisac Market, Salt Mines, and other stops.

Couldn’t help but pull over and take in the Sacred Valley Views.

Day 3 – First Work Day

We’ve done so much so far, time to work!

One of our big projects included helping with painting the outside of the Alberque and building brand new bunk beds.

The House, or referred to al Alberque, also translates into Hostel, hosts kids that live in rural areas during the school week. The kids need to attend secondary school which is not primarily available in villages outside of Cuzco so their parents send them to the city during the week to live and attend school. Secondary school is highly valued in Peru and families will do whatever it takes to send their kids to continue their education. The Alberque hosting program is not readily available to any kids and due to lack of resources can only host a handful of kids at once.

The GlobeAware volunteers play a big role in sustaining the hosting program for these kids so they can continue their education.

We spent the day prepping the outside for painting and began painting.

As mentioned earlier, the lunches were something to look forward to.

Each afternoon after lunch we got the chance to take a rest or nap. Working in high altitude could tire you out if you’re not acclimated. Then back to work until about 5:30 pm each day.

Dinner is also meticulously prepared for the volunteers; always a delicious surprise!

Day 4 – Work Day

We spend Day 4 in a similar manner: paint, lunch, nap, paint, dinner, and activity with the kids.

It was important for us to spend time with the kids at the Alberque, each night we were to create an activity for the group – we opted for Yoga! The kids were excited, loved the poses, and actually tuned into meditation. Try to get 20 teens to stay quiet an still for 10 minutes – it was miraculous!

My friend and co-volunteer Cassie inspired her team at Michigan Office Solutions and one of her clients to donate brand new clothes, tooth brushes & shoes to the kids staying at the Alberque.

One of our activities was to talk about dental health and the importance of brushing your teeth the correct way.

Finished painted building.. we got some help but it was a HUGE project complete! Also there are like 7 sides to the building!

Day 4 – Macchu Picchu

YAY!

This was our free day and of course we spent it exploring the World Heritage Site – Macchu Picchu.

This Cuzco program really allows you to experience Peru as a tourist and a local. With two and a half days of available excursions and tours you feel like you’re still traveling while providing value to the local community.

Day 5 – Work Day Village

In the morning we picked up some fruit for the kids at a local market. I could have spent hours at this market eating, taking photos, and just taking in the local life.

Once we arrived at the village outside of Cuzco, with our bare hands & feet we created clay and put together a stove for a kindergarden class.

After lunch we helped with the construction of a large community greenhouse.

The volunteer program does require a donation which varies depending on where you go. The donation you bring goes toward materials used in the projects and the community you service. We were excited to see that this community could have a green house to continue growing fruits and veggies for their families.

It’s just as interesting interacting with the kids, watching women dig & plant potatoes, and living life in this moment.

Just as we were about to leave, one of the families of the village wanted to treat us to a special dinner. They knew it was a special holiday for us (Thanksgiving Day) so they prepared something special for us:

Guinea Pig and Potatoes.

Tastes like chicken.

Day 6 – Last Work Day Building Beds

Because of previous volunteers, the Alberque was able to purchase materials, mattresses, and build brand new bunk beds for all of the kids. Us volunteers spent the day taking apart old bunk beds, putting together brand new ones, and furnishing them with fresh mattresses and pillows. By the end of the day we had put together 11 bunk beds for the girls section of the home. They were so excited!
some of the old bunk beds we took apart

On the last day the kids put on a huge dancing and singing production for the volunteers. It was a nice farewell!

2 AM – Leave for Rainbow Mountain. 

Seven Day Adventure in Peru Complete.

Do we recommend it?

Absolutely.

Why?

  • The week is very organized
  • Projects vary from day to day
  • The food is plentiful, home cooked, and delicious
  • The host (Rosio) makes you feel welcome and part of her family
  • You get to see Sacred Valley and Macchu Picchu (can’t go wrong there!)
  • You feel fulfilled with the work and relationship you made with Cuzco, Peru, and the community
  • How can you get involved?

Go to Globe Aware (http://www.globeaware.org) and sign up for this or one of their other great programs.

 

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GLOBE AWARE LEADS LOCALIZED EFFORTS TO REBUILD IN MEXICO

Contact: Shanti Shahani                                                               FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Phone: 214-824-4562

Email: Shanti@globeaware.org

 

FOR RURAL MEXICAN COMMUNITIES

Dallas-based nonprofit gives aid to Mexican villages devastated by the September 19th, 2017 earthquake.

Dallas, TX (September 28th, 2017) – Globe Aware, an internationally recognized leading nonprofit international volunteer vacation organization, is launching a 3-part initiative in an effort to aid the post-earthquake Mexico reconstruction effort in the villages of Hueyapan, Zaucalpan, Tetela del Norte, Jojutla and Yautepec, as well as their main program location, Tepoztlan.

Globe Aware is a Dallas-based nonprofit organization that mobilizes teams of volunteers to carry out international service projects in 17 countries. Globe Aware has a deep connection with Mexico, and recognizes that these smaller communities are not receiving the help they need. The organization immediately connected with program coordinators and began relief aid by coordinating the delivery of supplies for assistance in these areas.

Globe Aware has now begun work directly with families in those locations in rebuilding their homes. Recipient families have been identified and Globe Aware is prioritizing building homes for those with single mothers and young children, as well as the elderly. Volunteers who register for the Globe Aware Mexico volunteer vacation program will have the opportunity to be a part of these critical reconstruction efforts.

Globe Aware’s Executive Director, Kimberly Haley-Coleman, stated that “In a world where many of us may feel helpless in the face of seemingly constant manmade and natural disasters, this kind of effort means not only getting much needed supplies and housing directly to those who most need it, but also allows our hearts to heal as we participate in the mending.”

The Globe Aware Mexico Earthquake Relief Fund is established to make the reconstruction process easier and quicker, and is accepting tax deductible contributions that will go directly to the reconstruction efforts. The entirety of these proceeds will be immediately implemented into the reconstruction projects in these specific villages. The funds are collected through private donations and through collaborative efforts and events with local Dallas based businesses.

Globe Aware also recognizes that there’s not a one size fits all solution as each family has different needs, and believe in the importance of preserving and respecting the local culture. Sustainable and environmentally friendly solutions such as water collection systems, Eco stoves and solar powered LED lighting will be incorporated into each family’s individual project.

About Globe Aware (R).

Globe Aware(R) is a 501(c)3 nonprofit charity that mobilizes short term volunteer programs around the world. These adventures in service focus on promoting cultural awareness and sustainability and are often compared to a mini “Peace Corps” experience. All volunteers are accompanied by a bilingual volunteer coordinator to assist the volunteer throughout their program. The program fee and the airfare to get there are fully tax deductible to the full extent of the law. Globe Aware is a member of International Volunteer Programs Association, Volunteers for Prosperity, the Building Bridges Coalition, was recommended for United Nations Consultative Status for Social and Economic Council and administers the President’s Volunteer Service Awards.

If you would like more information about this topic, or to schedule an interview with Globe Aware’s founder and Executive Director, Kimberly Haley-Coleman, please call Shanti Shahani at 214-824-4562 or e-mail Shanti@globeaware.org.

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