Centennial College

Food Security in Cuba – An Introduction

By: Gun Chong Yang, Nursing Student

GCELE: Pathways to Community Food Security in Sancti Spiritus, Cuba

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My name is Gun, but you can call me Chino because that was my nickname during my time on this Global Citizenship and Equity Learning Experience. Along with 14 other students and staff members of Centennial College, I was given the amazing opportunity to travel to the humble city of Sancti Spíritus, tucked away in the heart of the island country of Cuba, to learn about food security and permaculture.

Food security can be defined as having access to affordable, nutritious, and sustainable foods or food resources. Food insecurity, as one could probably imagine, is the opposite of that. When we think of food insecurity, we tend to conjure up images of impoverished children living in war-torn countries and poor, undeveloped nations. On this trip, however, we were taught to re-imagine and reflect on those images not from a political & economic perspective, but through a socio-cultural lens.

Cuba has gone through an incredible amount of social, political, economic, and cultural growth and transformation within the last 30 years. This is the result of an economic crisis, known as the “Special Period”, that began in the late 1980s due to a halt to the import of oil, food, and other goods from the Soviet Union. With their economy already damaged by the trade embargo set by the United States in the 1960s, the effects of this crisis were felt all over the country.

During the Special Period, Cubans all around the country had to ration their food supplies and limit the use of any fossil fuel-dependent machinery due to their lack of oil. Many farmers suffered greatly because they could not use their large tractors or harvesters and could not easily transport the goods that they produced any more. This also meant that urban communities began to see a decrease in accessibility to foods as well. People were becoming hungry and increasingly reliant on the government for support. Cuba was in need of a solution that would provide food security to its citizens during this vulnerable time.

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Luckily, a few teams of Australian volunteers came and shared with the Cubans a new method of sustainable farming that could be easily integrated into the lives of citizens, both urban and rural, and was seen by the Cuban government as a method to combat the increasing amounts of hunger and poverty that were beginning to spread throughout the country. This new agriculture vision was known as “permaculture”.

Permaculture is the combination of 3 words; permanent, agriculture, and culture. It is a system of beliefs that revolves around the development of sustainable agricultural systems that closely resemble natural ecosystems.

Natural ecosystems, like the earth, are considered to be self-sufficient. This means that they require little to no maintenance in order to proliferate on their own. There exists cycle in nature that all organic material can enter to be broken down into the basic building blocks of life; carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, and nitrogen. New plants can use the products of that breakdown, combined with the seemingly limitless amount of energy from the sun, to supplement their own growth. This happens on a large scale all over the planet and seems to have worked so far in creating massive, self-sufficient ecosystems (think large rainforests!), so therefore by integrating these biochemical laws of nature in their own farms, permaculture farmers have been able to produce a large quantity of healthy and sustainable vegetation.

A lot of the food that we eat comes from monoculture farms; farms that only produce a specific crop (e.g. orange farms). Monoculture farming definitely has its benefits, but it is not a sustainable method of farming. They reduce biodiversity, make it harder to recycle nutrients, and often rely heavily on chemical pesticides and fertilizers.

Permaculture is a different take on the typical monoculture farming that we see today. One of its concepts involves incorporating a wide variety of plants and using them in a way to maximize each plant’s individual development. This is almost identical to the First Nations’ “Three Sisters” concept, where corn, beans, and squash are grown together because each crop has a unique characteristic that provides a benefit to the other two, maximizing their growth potential.

On  the third day of our trip, we planted banana circles at a farm named “Lo Real Maravillosa”. Banana circles are another type of system of crops like the ones described earlier. By planting banana & papaya trees and sweet potato roots in a circular mound with a pile of compost in the center, the circles act as great natural composters, abundant sources of food, and storage sites for greywater or rain.

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Another concept that is a part of permaculture is the idea of producing no waste. Many of the foods and waste products that we simply throw away today have huge amounts of energy and nutrients left over that can be re-purposed. The whole idea of composting is to break waste down into dirt that is enriched by the nutrients that were trapped in the waste before. By composting kitchen scraps and food wastes and turning them into dirt, farmers can save money on fertilizer and produce better yields of healthier and tastier crop.

I remember visiting a man named Edison’s farm and noticing that the ground we were walking on was covered in something that wasn’t dirt. He told us that they were rice husks; waste products from a local rice mill. Edison made a deal where he would take all their waste and use it on his farm. The rice husks would naturally degrade and the nutrients trapped in them would return to the soil, thereby enriching and protecting his soil.

Even human waste can be re-used. For this reason, almost all of the farms that we visited had composting toilets, or dry toilets that collected our waste products, which were added to compost to help make nutrient-rich fertilizer through the bacterial breakdown process. Human waste also contains a lot of bacteria that, during the composting process, produces methane gas, which was used to power some of their stoves.

The final permaculture concept that I will talk about is setting limits and sharing the surplus. Many of the farms that we visited did not only produce food for themselves, but made an excess that helped to feed the rest of their communities. They also sold some of their crops in the local markets. By taking only as much as they need for themselves and ensuring that there is enough for others as well, then there will continue to be enough for all in the future.

This trip taught me extremely valuable knowledge on food security, the country of Cuba, and permaculture. I will definitely apply this knowledge in my future career as a nursing student and I am very grateful for the new perspective I’ve been given on agriculture and food. Thank you, Centennial College, for this amazing opportunity. Sancti Spíritus, I’ll be back!

 

 

 

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My Experience in Cuba 2017

My trip to Cuba, Varadero was a trip of a lifetime! As I look back at this experience, I am incredibly grateful to Centennial College to have given me this opportunity. Before my departure to Cuba, I was very nervous but excited to be going to a country I’ve never been before. Although my GCELE group had a lot of meetings provided by our leaders to prepare us for this experience, it is completely different from when you are there. Arriving at the Juan Gomez airport in Varadero, I was already in love with Cuba, especially at how hot it was compared to Toronto. We took a school bus to where we were staying; Casa Del Carino, our home for the next ten days, it was beautiful place with an incredible view of the beach in the background.

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The school bus we took to Casa Del Carino

On the second day, we visited two local farms. The first farm was a developing farm called Rosy farm the owners were a very loving couple and were generous to allow us to explore their land. The second farm was more developed with a lot of different crops and animals. An interesting part of this farm was the farmer had invented a solution without the use of chemicals called EM. This solution could be utilized for many things, but one thing that amazed me about it was he used it in his bunny cages, and there were no bad odours from the rabbit’s cages at all!

 

 

 

The Jardines Bellmar was the farm we worked on for the duration of our trip, and let me tell you it was a lot of hard work! Being in the hot sun, cutting down trees and weeds with machetes was something I’ve never done before. But for Roberto and Cusa the couple who own the farm, I give them a lot of credit to be able to do that every day and without so much help. Working on the farm, it made me reflect and take a look at how much effort and hard work goes into the food that is put on my plate every day.

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Cuban food!

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Hut on the farm made from organic materials

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Roberto (In red) & Cusa (In green)

 

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My grade 8 student (Ian) & I

 

Being in Cuba was a memorable experience for me. I was able to meet amazing, loving people, from Roberto and Cusa to the fabulous ladies who cooked breakfast, lunch, and dinner for all of us every day to the grade eight students who worked with us on the farm.  At times the media can portray Cuba in a negative way and before coming here, I had some of those negative images and stereotypes within me. But after ten days of being in Cuba, I honestly believe how the media portrays Cuba to be untrue. Although they may not be the richest people, they are rich with love, family, and culture and that is something that radiates in every single Cuban. Cuba is a beautiful place that I definitely plan on visiting again…. Viva Cuba!

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Off the grid for 10 days

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GCELE Cuba, Varadero

May 2017

Written By: Alison Spice

            Mission: Go unplugged for 10 days. That means no internet, no emails, no social media, no calls and no text messages. Do you accept the challenge? “Hmmm ahh, I guess so. YES! Challenge accepted.” Alison replied, with quivering uncertainty in her voice. Would you have taken the same challenge? Most wouldn’t.  At first, I was scared. The first two days I felt incomplete and bare. I felt like something was missing. I wasn’t able to look at my Facebook when I had a minute or two to pass by. I wasn’t able to check my numerous emails. But, in reality the reason I was so reluctant to give up my phone; was the fact that my phone made me feel safe and secure. I feel complete, I feel connected and I feel safe having my phone in hand.

 

Having no phone meant more conversations, more adventures, more sleep and more thinking. It was refreshing. I was no longer being controlled by my phone. I didn’t have to look at my phone each time the screen lit up with a notification or a sound “blinged” to see who or what was just texted. I connected with people face to face not from screen to screen.  I got to know people.  I went for evening walks. Not having a phone opened my eyes to just how consumed I have become to this piece of technology. It made me realize the importance of human connections. To actually listen to our friends and families instead of listening with one ear while navigating the latest “status update” on Facebook.

 

Besides my reality of having no phone, my days where hot, sweaty and tiring. Some days were spend clearing fields with a machete for fruit trees to be planted or helping with the construction of a compost toilet. Each day was a new adventure. I remember the day I ate a hot pepper even though it was green. Thinking it wouldn’t be too spicy. Boy, was I wrong! It was CRAZY hot! At least 10 times hotter than the seeds of a jalapeno. Yes that HOT! My face became instantly flushed and my eyes began to swell up with tears. And to think people complain about the Cuban food being so bland. I only have a picture of the hot pepper not of my face after eating a green one. Wow, to think what would have happened if I too a bit of the red one?!!

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I had the most amazing fresh fruits and vegetables I have ever had in my entire life. The Cuban food had its own unique flare. I developed and new-found appreciation for the food that reached my plate each day.

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These were all new experiences that I would not have had the opportunity to do here in Canada. The wealth of knowledge I now have from this “once in a life time experience” is unmeasurable. Then, what is the next step. What do I take from this experience?

 

To step back. To embrace life. To give back. To teach others the importance of permaculture and the importance of spending time with family. At the end of the day we never have enough time. Time goes by too fast. That is why time is priceless.

 

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United With the Great Leaders of Today

By Sharrmini C., GCELE Jamaica 2016

Volunteering at the Power to Be International in Negril, Jamaica was one of the most memorable experiences I’ve ever had, especially because it was my first experience interacting with kids in a camp environment. I was so excited to teach, motivate and empower the kids, the minute I landed in Jamaica.

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But there was one particular valuable experience I have had with two campers in my class. After lunch time, I was supervising the girls’ dance group when one of the campers confronted another and said that she couldn’t accept her in the dance group. There was a rush of thoughts going through my head – How do I solve this conflict? Should I comfort the camper, whose feelings just got hurt, first? I decided to comfort the camper and then give a talk about inclusion to the girl, who confronted the camper. As I was teaching a lesson to the girl, I asked “How would you feel if she didn’t want you to be part of the dance group?” The girl responded “I don’t care if [she] didn’t want me to be in her group”. I was expecting her to say something completely opposite of her response. I figured the inclusion talk didn’t work so, I decided to ask for help from a staff member about the situation. When the staff member and I went back to the girls’ group, we saw all the girls smiling, laughing and practicing the dance and they were acting as if a conflict had never even happened. The camper who confronted another came to tell me she apologized to the girl for not including her in the dance group.

I was there to teach and motivate the kids, but I was also there to learn and grow with them. Despite the conflict, I’ve learned that unity is one of the most important concepts of being a great leader. Unity helps one another grow as individuals and learn from each other. A leader who unites people to accomplish a goal and to resolve an issue is a great leader. A great leader who unites people together brings success to the team. When the kids got together to finish their dance routine after the conflict, they taught me about unity and how to be a great leader. This particular experience has showed me that we must not resent each other after a conflict has occurred but to unite and to become a better leader every day.

 

 

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Voices

Author: Anna-Kristine Psomiadis, GCELE Jamaica 2016

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The GCELE experience was one of the greatest experiences I have had and I am grateful to have received the opportunity to be a part of it.

Participating in the camp was so amazing and taught me so much. The children along with the camp inspired me and taught me to ignore the negativity not only from life or others but from myself, it has always been a challenge for me. I learned about self-motivation and being true to myself regardless of stigmas or any negativity. I learned about the power of being self-confident and the freedom of being true to yourself. Although I am still working and learning how to do this they have helped me come a long way and for that I am forever grateful; it is a lesson I will never forget and will always hold close to my heart.

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Life Lessons Come From Dancing

By Marlene Tran, GCELE Jamaica 2016

While volunteering at the Camp Power to Be, I learned a life-changing lesson. With the help of the campers, I’ve learned to focus on doing what I enjoy and not fear much about how other’s will judge me.

As I watched and learned how to dance from the campers, I realized how powerful music and dance can be. They didn’t seem to care about what the audience will think of their dance, nor how others will think of them. They just danced to the music. I was surprised to see the campers dance so freely as it reminded me of how uniquely different we are – there was something I could learn from them.

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Rehearsing before the talent show.

The talent show day finally came and my heart was pounding because we were in the spotlight and the audience was watching. My knees were tense, but jerked into action the moment I heard the music start. I looked around at the campers and thought “Wow, I did not know I had the courage to dance on stage, but I am doing it, and I don’t regret a single thing of it.” I no longer feared what the audience thought; I was having so much fun and thought about how regretful I would have been if I stood on the sideline watching the performance.

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Volunteers, campers and I dancing on stage at the Talent Show.

As a nursing student, I stress and wonder a lot about my future self – will people see me as a good nurse? Does this profession match with who I am? I tend to overwork myself in order to fulfil society’s ‘ideal image of a nurse’, but I’ve learned from the campers that life can be less stressful if you focus on fulfilling your goals and not the goals of society. Just like dancing, I should not stress about how others will see me in the future, instead, I should focus on achieving my current learning goals – like enjoying my clinical placements, and mastering my skills as a student. Only then, will I feel less stress and cherish my time as a nursing student more.

After the trip to Jamaica, I have used this learning experience to remind myself:

Don’t worry about what others think because most of the time, the one who takes risks will learn more than the one who just watches on the sideline 🙂

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Can’t stop dancing – even after the Talent Show has ended!

 

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My Unknown Home Away From Home

By: Anidra Francis, GCELE Jamaica 2016

It all began with a resume, an interview, patience and an acceptance. The process to get on the GCELE Jamaica team was one of the most nerve racking parts of the GCELE itself. I was introduced to nine strangers, who like me were seeking a unique experience. All of us had come from all walks of life and we were all anxious to begin a life changing journey. I did not know these people and they did not know me but we all trusted each other to work as a team and live together as a family for 8 days.

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From the very beginning of my experience I was exposed to the reality of being in a new world. Although I myself am from Jamaican descent, I never realized just how fortunate I am to live in a place like Canada. The first day at Camp Power to Be was so enlightening because of how welcome I felt amongst the volunteers and campers who had come out at 9am to learn about the importance of literacy, the power to be strong, united, a leader, trustworthy, kind and last but not least awesome!

The kids were so unique and each one had a different story to tell. Some acted out to seek attention and acceptance and others remained silent as to not make themselves known. They were all amazing to me because they always came back to the camp the next day with a positive attitude, smile and a “Goodmorning Miss!”

I tried every day to put myself in their shoes and see this experience from their point of view. I understood that being at camp was one of the most important experiences of the summer for the children. I caught myself several times thinking “Wow, it is too hot to be outside. I need some air conditioning and a cold bottle of water.” Only to realize that majority of the children did not even have air conditioning in their homes and some of them did not have access to cold bottles of water. All they had was a pipe to catch water from.

The moment that will change me forever was the last day after the talent show. When the excitement wore down I realized that my experience was over, that these kids were going to go home and forget my name and that I would be going home. I was so shocked that I grew so attached to these kids and how much they changed my view of what is important in the world. The youth everywhere are our future and some don’t have the guidance or the opportunity to thrive and grow to be their best selves. I believe that if people invested in children as much as they invested in clothes, shoes and electronics each generation would support each other’s potential and growth.

I went home feeling empowered and changed for the better. I felt that no matter what I do as long as I am setting an example for the youth, providing them with guidance and any resources I can give that I could make a difference. I came home with new friends that I know I will keep for a long time because we shared such an important experience together. The Camp Power to Be was aimed for the youth at the camp, but I believe they changed me as well. I feel like a new person and I feel now that everyone can make a change. Like a flower all that is needed is fresh soil (support), a seed (you) and a little water and sunshine (positive people and positive vibes) in which to bloom.

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Camp Power to Be, Literacy Program

Daniel Mogbojuri, GCELE Jamaica 2016

Centennial College took me and other students to Negril, Jamaica for a life changing program organized by Power to Be International. The program was from July 16 to July 24. For some us, including me, this was a whole new feeling because I’ve never had the opportunity to participate in a program with so many kids.

DanielThe first day for me was tough but the next couple of days were a lot different. I had the chance to know and understand the kids and found out how cool and understanding they were. The kids are really smart and sure we had difficult moments! However, the kids know why they are there what they wanted.

At first I thought we were just there to teach and help the kids with literacy, but then I realized I was learning a lot from the kids too. They taught me about their culture, music, shared stories and language. A lot of people from around the world can really learn from this program.

I also got to know fantastic people I came with, who I am grateful to have come across in life. This GCELE was an eye opener for me and it allow me to appreciate things more. I am really grateful to Centennial College for selecting me for this program and also am happy to have met everyone at Camp Power to Be.

 

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Beyond a Traveler’s Eye

By Chantal Hudon, GCELE Jamaica 2016

Upon an island far away from home, there is an existence of a cultural, agricultural and spiritual crowd who come together to celebrate life. We call it Jamaica. Many people have seen the world, but how many have truly seen beyond tourism?

SAM_2223If you have never been, keep reading….

The skies are clear, the water has a taint of aqua blue, the sun warms every citizen, every crop, every tree and every beam plummets into the Caribbean Sea. Oh what a feeling! Jamaica’s temperature is about 35 to 38 degrees Celsius on a regular day… Still you can witness their citizens with long sleeves or heavy jeans working hard day and night.

As you begin to understand the life in Jamaica, citizens have been engaging for many decades in agriculture, farming, construction and governmental effort in order to survive this life. Living in Jamaica has become more sustainable over the years and continues to bloom although there are still some corners of the island that needs care, attention and dedication. Negril is one of them.

The camp Power To Be International was created to address some of the equity and social justice issues that exists in Negril; education, lack of resources, and negligence of youth development just to name a few. What this camp provides is a safe place where they can live, laugh, learn but most of all, be themselves! The mission is simple, “Helping youth discover their Power to Be”.

ChantalCoverEveryday, there was a morning assembly in order to create excitement at the camp. The students would dance to their favourite theme song, learn what the “Power to Be” characteristic was for the day and how they were able to implement this in their behaviour. As you meet the students for the first time up to the last day, you instantly make connections and most importantly, long lasting friendships. These our students who will never forget our faces and what we have contributed for them in a week time!

Through all this experience, I have felt much of this culture shock transforming itself into really what I would call culture appreciation. I have learned the importance of engaging in global communities who are less fortunate than I. Together, we can make a change. It is not about how big this change 369f9a1is, it is about the effectiveness of each and every one of us contributing to it. As global citizens, we come together to create this positive global change to see its effectiveness, to inspire others to do the same and to be a part of something much bigger. If we have the power, the strength, the leadership skills, but most importantly the will and urge to make a global change,then I’d say it starts with YOU!!!

 

 

 

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Learning From the Best Teacher

Javier Garate Alfaro, GCELE Jamaica 2016

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At the Camp Power To Be Literacy and Leadership Camp in Negril, Jamaica I made a friend who reminded me of a younger me. I did not spend much time with him because I did not want to show preference above all the other campers. However, every time I had the opportunity to talk to him, I shared as much advice as I could and asked as many questions as the time let me. I felt he is the kind of person that this world needs – he is part of the next generation.

One day he was unusually quiet. I just walked next to him without asking because I did not want to invade his privacy. He told me that his grandfather passed away a week ago and this was the reason why he was sad. I hugged him and told him that his grandfather is in a better place. I did not know what else to do. Then, he left running towards the rest of his friends: the Gorillas, as they named themselves. A lot of questions remained: Is he ok? How is he doing? Should I do something else?

A wonderful kid taught me how to grieve. I was supposed to teach him, but I was the learner. Jamaica has been a reminder that we must be humble and learn from kids and not to believe that they only have to learn from ‘grown ups’. There is also another message: Canada and its’ students can learn a lot from Jamaica. We must know that the world has a lot to share and they are willing to do so. Let’s open our senses and be humble always!

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