Thank you Les for taking suitcases to Veradero, Cuba! [NJT Toronto] Les said that “Cuba was wonderful and the people were incredibly warm and welcoming.” read the rest below…
“My brother and I both took suitcases with us to Cuba on December 12, 2017. We flew from Toronto to Veradero airport and the customs process was very smooth and easy. I had decided to drop off my bag in Havana in the Centro neighbourhood near my Casa at the Polyclinica Abel Santamaria on Maximo Gomes (Monte). Centro is the most densely populated part of Havana and it is where the majority of working class Cubans live. My stay there was wonderful and I found that as soon as I got away from the tourist core the Cuban people were very warm, welcoming and open. They wanted to know about me and were happy that I had come to visit their home. On my third day in Centro I walked down to the clinic with my suitcase.
The reception I recieved was confusion first, then a mix of happy gratitude and unfortunately a sense of reservation and fear. Using the letters provided was a great help in communicating with the staff as my Spanish is poor. However, even after I found the right person and cleared up who I was and why I was there the clinic staff were very weary of accepting the donation. They asked me many questions: did I work for the government, did I bring gifts for other Cubans as well, did I give gifts to the police, the government? Many phone calls were made and the clinic staff were debating in Spanish. Ultimately they turned me away, too afraid of what might happen if they accepted the supplies. They directed me to take the supplies to a local branch of the government and thanked me very deeply for trying to help. At this point I had to make a decision to follow their request or try another clinic.
I decided against giving the bag to the local government and instead took it to another Centro clinic, Clínico Quirúrgico Freyre de Andrade on Avinda Carlos III. This experience was very different. I was immediately taken to an office where a doctor gladly signed any forms I had and thanked me for the supplies. I was in and out in 10 minutes. They did refuse the pictures, so I only took one outside of the clinic.
We took my brother’s suitcase to Viñales to the clinic just off the main road. Viñales is a gorgeous farming community that grew a tourist area in the past few years. Much less hustle and bustle than Havana and easy to get off the tourist path and visit the local restaurants and take in the nature of the valley. When we got to the clinic it looked abandoned, parts of the outside wall were missing and the grounds were littered with rubble and debris. When we got to the other side of the building we were surprised to see a doctor standing outside. We took the suitcase to him and explained what it was for and were quickly ushered in to an office where the staff gladly accepted the supplies and thanked us.
Cuba was wonderful and the people were incredibly warm and welcoming. They are also extremely well educated, hard working and proud. However, it is clear from being to the clinics that there simply aren’t enough materials to go around. I would definately take another suitcase with me on future trips. The Spanish language letters were of great help especially for someone like me with very limited Spanish.
I would like to thank everyone that donated the supplies and the suitcases, all the volunteers that packed the bags and everyone involved with NJT for doing the work that allowed me to take these supplies to the Cuban people. It made my trip even better, being able to connect with the Cuban people and see the reality of the day to day work in the clinics. I will definitely volunteer again on future trips.