Earlier in the year I traveled with a licensed, non-profit, humanitarian group that "strives to foster better awareness and understanding between the citizens (of Cuba & the US) through a relationship of mutual concern and respect, and to provide self-help projects...that relieve suffering, bring relief, ease tensions, aid learning, brighten lives and bring happiness to individuals and groups in a situation of stress, isolation, illness, poverty, deprivation, scarcity and meager resources."
For the past several years I've helped on the States-side of the operation, loading shipping containers of donations, doing graphic work for the environmental campaign posters and books, but this was my first time being able to actually go to meet the people for whom the work was being done. After one night in Miami, we flew into Santiago and visited one of Cuba's renowned artists, Lawrence Zúñiga Batista, as one of the projects this trip was to finish up a cultural book on Cuban artists originally from Baracoa.
After a quick stop to view his pieces, we continued on to Guantanamo for dinner with Irania Garcia, who was one of CNN Heroes for environmental efforts as she turned a trash dump into a garden after her daughter died of cancer related to environmental poisons stemming from the dump. It was amazing to meet her and hear about the work she's been doing, but we still had a 4+hour drive ahead of us, so we had to get going. Before the night was over, we finally arrived in Baracoa, and rested for the week ahead.
The next morning, I woke to a beautiful view over the town, mountains, and the ocean. We quickly went to work and over our 4 days in Baracoa had a busy time meeting several more artists, visiting galleries, putting on a business seminar, distributing books, doing inventory of the last donation shipping container to make sure supplies got to where they were meant to, meeting with a handicap center, and viewing some of the recent hurricane damage and restoration efforts.
The people of Baracoa treated us like special guests, always greeted us in the streets, and even put on a cultural event for us complete with an art exhibit, local music, poetry readings, and a local traditional dance show. Before we left Baracoa on the way to Havana, we worked on a few more projects including visiting a seaside village completely destroyed by Hurricane Ike and doing some work in a UNESCO national park. Over all it was a lovely unique experience.