Cuba is a wonderful country filled with music, art, and culture like many other Latin American countries. However, Cuba, due to its trade embargo has made its citizens remarkably resourceful. They have been recycling and reusing materials and resources, and keeping machinery running for decades. Food scarcity is an ongoing problem for Cuba, but the permaculture movement shows promising return on the energy expenditure and labour intensive process that is required to get one of these sites up and running.
The Urban Farmer, a Canadian organization teams up with the Antonio Nunez Foundation, a local Cuban organization, to educate Cubans on how start their own permaculture farms or gardens. These spaces allow people to supply their families with food, and make a small living by selling some of what they grow. This new way of farming looks at integrating people, animals, the elements, and plants to build a sustainable food source that allows a symbiotic relationship to form amongst all of the participants in this eco system, the way nature intended. Thus reducing or nearly eliminating garbage and waste, and finding new ways to use items such as tires and glass bottles that are difficult to recycle and breakdown into raw materials for other uses.
As members of the GCELE Cuba team, we were able to experience Cuba from a perspective that is very different from one that a typical tourist would be exposed to. We met a number of local volunteers, who were very knowledgable, and passionate about their work, had pride in their country and wanted to share it with us. They were compassionate, kind and welcoming hosts to all of the student travellers. As a part of the Cuba Gazelle, we were able to see Cuba for the country it is, learn about its history, see the impact of climate change, and politics, and a very different way of life than the ones we lead here in Canada. The streets of Sancti Spiritus had children riding bikes, playing with each other in the city square, and we were able to eat authentic cuban cuisine, and experienced Cuban hospitality with open arms.
The Cuba Gazelle has been running smoothly for many years, and this year was no exception, it was both enjoyable and educational for all of the students. This was largely due to our in-country expert Ron, the volunteers, and our amazing Centennial College faculty, who came together and made this an unforgettable experience. Ron has a truly inquisitive nature. Even though he’s been to the country on several occasions and had taken groups just like ours a number of times previous to this trip, he was still a sponge for knowledge and information, as well as a permaculture encyclopedia, and most importantly an invaluable resource to the team.
This GCELE to Cuba’s Sancti Spiritus has empowered us with the education required to make real differences, and made us more conscious about our actions and the impacts they have on our planet and everyone thing else that lives here with us. We were shown ways we could make small changes here in Canada that would help reduce waste, and better utilize our resources. We can start the healing process to help battle climate change, soil erosion, and decrease dependency on our current food supply systems by making these small changes such as growing some of our own foods, using reusable containers, bringing our own reusable grocery bags, and being responsible consumers.