My Learning Journey in Sancti Spiritus

Feeling anxious about what my next 10 days were going to be like, I hopped on the plane with 14 strangers and off we went to Sancti Spiritus, Cuba. For the next 3 hours, my imagination was free to run and wonder what exciting things were just a few short hours away from me. We stepped off the plane and as I inhaled with much excitement we started our journey!

We all gathered on the back of a bus with benches for seats and windows as air conditioner and our suitcases packed between our legs! An experience you might ask – absolutely! The next five hours were full of an experience like no other gaining friendships and seeing the world beyond my typical norm. We arrived at the foundation we would be staying at for the duration of our stay and the greeting, although a language barrier, was very special and inviting. One thing about the foundation was whenever we walked through the doors the table was set every single time with delicious meals prepped for us like clockwork. Beautiful dinners of fresh local fruits and veggies, freshly squeezed fruit juice from local farms – it was wonderful.

As we began our adventures, day by day the experience got greater and connections became stronger. The team work was phenomenal. I have never been part of a team who worked so collaboratively in my life. We laughed we cried but most important we worked together. We saw tarantulas and encountered scorpions, slightly shocked by the shower head (it pays to know the language and read the signs 😂😂). It was used to heat the water but clearly had written do not touch shower heads.

Those are just a few of my wonderful experience but let me touch on the amazement of the utilization of material and waste matter that was so efficiently reused to build garden beds and dead leaves and grass used as mulch to turn into amazing soil. This way they reused human and animal waste to create soil from mother nature. It was so amazing to see the beautiful gardens flourishing with fresh tasty fruit and not to mention the all natural medicinal plants they had for many different illnesses. I was truly inspired by the hard but not too challenging work the Cubans had put together. They have done the gardens in a way that is so amazing and eases the work load daily.

I was truly inspired when I returned home I had reused 2 old BBQs I had and cleaned them lined them and created beautiful garden beds that have now started to grow carrots, tomatoes, green onions, squash and more. To touch on modes of transportation a tad, the coolest experience we had was riding a horse and buggy. Though our horse took a little hissy fit and decided which paths he wanted to take and when, it was quite the experience. The truck we took was an open back and that is something I’ve always wanted to try. Every morning we woke, ate breakfast and on the back of that truck we went.

The Cuban friends we made were so amazing and accommodating. They taught us to dance salsa and took us to a wonderful beach (I might add we were stung by jelly fish, just another experience to add to the list 😁) but the friendships gained were friendships kept. We swapped emails and keep in touch on a a weekly basis. It’s amazing how the experience continues to flourish even after the project is over. One last piece I would like to add is they have taught me so much in such a brief time. My eyes have been opened to a world of amazing new opportunities that I continue to carry with me.

By: Alysha Morris

Categories: Cuba, GCELE, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Sancti Spiritus, Cuba – GCELE Experience

By: Inez Tarditti-Falconer

Sancti Spiritus, Cuba… Where do I even begin? This GCELE was literally a trip of a lifetime for me. I learned things I never thought I could learn, went through experiences I never would have imagined, met Cuban friends that I never thought I would have met and travelled with an amazing group of people from Centennial!

While in Sancti Spiritus, I really got a taste of what it’s like to live in Cuba. I went on this trip with the mindset that I would be helping the people there, but in reality, the people of Cuba taught me and helped me more than anything. I learned a lot about the permaculture movement happening in Cuba and what that meant in regards to their food security. It was moving and inspiring to get to know how the Cubans we met lived a life that revolved around nature and taking care of the land, while living off of it as well.

Many of the farmers were teachers, engineers and ordinary people with other jobs. They had farms and gardens as a side activity. I thought this alone was moving because taking care of these farms and gardens is a big and task requiring a lot of hard work! Since I know how to speak a bit of Spanish, I was able to speak with some of the farmers and I honestly learned so much from them. They are so wise, knowledgeable and humble in all that they do – it was amazing to meet people like them.

All of my new Cuban friends are always in my heart and without a doubt, I will be returning to Sancti Spiritus to see them again!  I also got the chance to plant banana trees, papaya, sweet potatoes and coffee. I was actually in the dirt and planting! It was such an awesome feeling, mainly because, before this trip I would have never ever thought I would be working in a farm and getting dirty – or even planting anything at all!

Learning about permaculture in Cuba opened my eyes to our own food security in Toronto and what that really means for us. I also stayed at the foundation’s museum, and something that I had to get used to was the water shortage. Mostly during the days, the water would run out and return in the evening. I never had to deal with anything like this in Toronto, so it was something that made me realize just how grateful I should be for something as simple as having unlimited access to water in my home. From the drives in cars from the 50’s, to the delicious food, to the vibrant energy of the Cuban people, to the endless laughs and memories, I can honestly say that I enjoyed every second of it.

All in all, this trip was unreal. When I was back in Toronto and it came time to tell all my friends and family about it, I found myself having difficulties putting it all into words. It’s one of those experiences that you just had to be there to really get it! I am so grateful to have been given this opportunity by Centennial. I think that GCELE’s are such an amazing part of this College. Because of this trip, I have memories that will last a lifetime, lived through experiences that have changed me as a person and made amazing new friends. Without a doubt, this GCELE was absolutely and unforgettably INCREDIBLE.

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International Development in Panama

As a student in the International Development Program at Centennial College, I had the opportunity to participate in the Faculty-Led International Program (FLIP) to Panama of the Services and Global Experience (SaGE). As the program’s name implies, the idea was to complement our learning at Centennial College with experience abroad, to know more about the work of international organizations on the ground.


The destination was the City of Knowledge (CoK) in Panama City. CoK is a hub where UN agencies, Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs), think tanks and educational organizations share a space to facilitate mutual cooperation on development issues.

The academic aspect was our top priority in the trip. We had a valuable and incomparable experience. But, we also had the opportunity to taste and enjoy the Panamanian culture. We took a tour of Panama City and learned about historical and cultural sites. The visual contrast between the old and new parts of the city was surprising. The city has two different faces standing literally beside each other; that was like being in two completely different parts of the world when we were in fact in the same city.

As expected, the gastronomy is highly based on seafood as the city is surrounded by water – so we got to try it. But, as expected for travelers like my classmates and I, we decided to try different things every day, not only from Panama but also from different Latin American cuisines. Food lovers would understand why we do not regret it!

According to one of our hosts, diversity in Panama City can be compared to Toronto but on a smaller dimension, as one can see many people from different backgrounds in one city, this can be attributed to the Panama Canal and its importance in trade for different nations. Our trip was short so we experienced just a bit of that diversity.


My recommendation: If you get the opportunity to participate in this kind of experience, just take it! It will force you to get out of your comfort zone, challenge you to adapt to a new environment, open your eyes to different realities, allow you to experience a little more of the world you live in, know more about different people and cultures rather than what you are used to and, along with all of that you will learn a little more about yourself. If you get an opportunity to go to a different place, learn, discover, do yourself a favor and be a traveler, not just a tourist.

Violeta Bastida
International Development

panama dancers

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La Rioja SIP 2017

Hola chicos!

My name is Tobi and I am a second year Baking and Pastry Arts Management program student. I attended the SIP this summer at the University of Logrono, Spain. I stayed in a residence close to the university and got to experience all the flavours and colours of Spanish life. I arrived in Spain, knowing very little Spanish. It was definitely a culture shock not understanding everyone speaking around me…and to me. However, as each day progressed over the four weeks, I learned more and more. I met some amazing locals along the way and even had the opportunity to hike one of the mountains in the area with local friends.

Spanish culture is amazing! The siesta  – they are not kidding about this. Many businesses close by 3pm and do not open until after 5pm…and for good reason too. It is hot in Spain in the summer! Temperatures can soar during this time and it can be just plain uncomfortable to be outside at times given my Toronto blood! The days are longer and dinner starts later, after 9pm. The food is unbelievable and I recommend to everyone to sample the wonderful variety of tapas (or pintxos in Basque language). My favourite is patatas bravas. Fried potatoes plus liquid mayo plus tomato sauce is a wonderful, wonderful thing.

In terms of the course, I took level A1 Spanish and was in a class of about 13 other students from all over the world ranging from South Korea to Australia to the Ukraine. We each shared our cultures and truly embodied the beauty of diversity. We all successfully completed the course through the caring guidance of the most charismatic and engaging profesora. I started the course a bit intimidated over whether I would be able to grasp the concepts. I finished more eager than ever to tackle the next level. It was an absolutely life changing experience and I recommend a global experience such as this to anyone. I met some amazing people, was immersed in a vibrant culture and have lots of stories to last a lifetime. Thank you SAGE and Centennial College!

Hasta luego,




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SIP Youngsan University 2017

I looked around the room for the last time; the room which became my sanctuary for the last four weeks. With a smile on my face, I slowly shut the door and walked through the hallway. Soon, I will be in the arms of the ones I love.

Annyeonghi gyeseyo! Thank you for the wonderful memories.

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5 Things I Learnt About Yukata ćľ´čĄŁ


I always wonder and admire others from across the planet and was curious on what it is like growing up in another country, like Japan. But now I am living my dreams and in the SIP abroad Japan for the summertime. It’s the first time that the Nagoya Gakuin University in Japan have a partnership with Centennial College for this.  So, it’s exciting for me to be in Japan and in the first group of Centennial students to be part of this too!

One exciting planned activity from the program I tried was trying on a yukata for the first time and wearing it to the Atsuta Shrine.  Though I was curious on wearing one, it changed my perspective. It’s a lot of work. Here are 5 things I Learnt About yukata.

By: Sherry Ing, SIP Japan 2017 Participant

  1. During the summertime, there are many summer festival in Japan. A casual outfit that is worn by the people in Japan are ‘yukata’, during these festivals. They are a light cotton version of a kimono and are worn by everyone.
  2. There are many different types of obi ribbon 🎀 and how it is worn. In our experience, we worn a Tsuke obi. It was an interesting insight for me to wear a Tsuke obi, it is shorter and worn tight around the waist. When I taken a deep breath in, the obi sash would unwind itself and I had to have it readjusted again. Two people had to help me with it. The separate bow part is attached with a wire at the back of the obi. So, I had to make sure I don’t lean back on it when I sit in a chair with a back. Or it will go off centre from the back and you will have to readjust it.
  3. Geta (下駄) are wooden sandals worn without socks with the yukata. There are male and female version. The female version fits for smaller foot sizes only and for tinier foot. I have a wider foot, so part of my toes were outside of the small foot frame. Also, I bought Tabi socks with the geta. But, socks are worn for the colder season.
  4. You wear it with your undergarments. So, walking in the yukata, it takes small steps and movements, or everything will open up and undo itself. Also, you will sweat profusely, while trying to hold it all in.
  5. I wore a pink pattern with daisies. Usually, each person wears a different colour with a pattern that represents their age. Younger people wears brighter colour and bold motifs.
  6. Okay there is a sixth point in this.  It’s a lot of work! We had three people to learn from who skillfully tied the obi and wrapped the yukata on us. Walking in the yukata takes patience, but helps with the delicate movements.  Also, to sit down, it is recommended to sit with both legs to together and to the side or you will give out the wrong impression.
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Permaculture and Composting!

April Mandaliti
GCELE – Pathways to Community Food Security – Sancti Spiritus, Cuba (May 2017)
Bridging to University Nursing – Flex

Permaculture, to be put simply, is magic. Permaculture is not a job, it is a lifestyle. There are three basic rules that Permaculture follows:

  1. Care for the Earth
  2. Care for the people
  3. Share the surplus

Rule #1 is self-explanatory; care for the planet, reduce, reuse, recycle, care for nature, and care for animals. Rule #2 is again self-explanatory; care for yourself, and care for each other. Rule #3, on the other hand, is something that will stick with me – share the surplus. Sharing in Cuba isn’t just a rule; it is intuitive within the Cuban culture. Cuban people do not have much, but that does not stop them from giving, whether it is back to the Earth, to each other, to nature, to animals, even to those who have more than them. This is something that I will forever cherish, and implicate into my life at home – hopefully gravitating this energy towards others.

More about Permaculture theoretically: it is a chemical-free, self-efficient food forest. All aspects of nature are needed, and are also nurtured. For example, one female farmer explained to us that she use to pay for horse manure. She eventually bought a horse, who now gets to live on a farm and eat fresh crops. In return, the farm receives fertilization from the manure. This manure adds to the composting aspect of Permaculture.

Composting is a massive part of permaculture. It requires four basic elements:

  1. Nitrogen
  2. Carbon
  3. Water
  4. Oxygen

Compost helps to sustain life on the farm, and allows the cycle of permaculture to move along smoothly. For example, one farm that we visited was unable to find a way to control weed growth without the use of chemicals. Eventually after months of trying different tactics, a truck broke down right outside the farm. The truck was carrying rice husks, and was on the way to the dump to be disposed. Rojer, the owner of the farm, came up with the thought that maybe they could use the rice husks for the weed control. Rojer asked the truck driver to dump the rice husks in their farm, more specifically in between beds and in the walkways. It has been incredibly productive, and this farm now receives rice husk deliveries to maintain the weed production. More “waste” products that are used to help manage permaculture are tires, empty wine and beer bottles, and many more. The composting aspect of permaculture has changed my life thus far in regards to not wasting food, water, clothing, toilet paper, etc. Everything has more than one purpose, and Cuban farmers taught us how to find these purposes.

These stories that I have shared do not remotely commence our experience, or our knowledge. We also learned about the Cuban culture, and were able to analyze Cuba in regards to social justice, and compare it to life in Canada. We also learned about different fruits and vegetables, climate changes, economical standings in Cuba, and so much more. The amount that we learned cannot be put into a blog. The amount that we learned cannot be put into words. A GCELE must be experienced in order to understand it. I could not recommend anything more than this trip for fellow Centennial College Students. My life has changed because of this 10-day experience, and I will be forever grateful!

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Sancti Spiritus Adventure

April Mandaliti
GCELE – Pathways to Community Food Security – Sancti Spiritus, Cuba (May 2017)
Bridging to University Nursing – Flex

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Where do I even begin? My friends and family keep asking me about my time in Sancti Spiritus, Cuba, and I am still struggling to find the right answers. People would ask, “well what did you learn about?” I would respond by saying, “Permaculture. Do you know what that is?” When my friends and family would say no, I would simply describe it by saying, “basically, it is nature working with nature to create and sustain life”. But no one would really understand. It is so incredibly difficult to understand the experience that we were given without truly being able to experience it.


I was part of a group of Centennial College students who were tremendously fortunate to be given the opportunity of participating in a GCELE. Our project was Food Insecurities. While I applied for this experience, I had absolutely no idea what I was getting myself into, nor was I aware of any food insecurities in Cuba. I was so naĂŻve. I heard about GCELE through a friend, and decided to apply impulsively, for no particular reason. The next thing I knew I was offered an interview, only to find out shortly after that I had been accepted. I was in shock; my impulsive application landed me here, and it had all happened so quickly. I was honestly debating accepting the trip. Luckily at that moment I made the best decision, I accepted the offer. I had no idea what to expect, no idea what I would be doing, who I would be meeting, or what I would be learning. The most I could think of was that I was going to Cuba to lend a helping hand, to help those in need, to assist Cubans with their food insecurities. I was so wrong.

I have never learned such an immense amount of knowledge, 6 months worth to be exact, in such a short 10 days. I thought that we were going to be helping the Cubans; turns out the Cubans helped US, taught US, changed OUR lives, and broadened OUR scope of knowledge. What did we learn most about? Permaculture and compost. More information on our experience with permaculture and compost can be found in my next blog. Additionally, I am a nursing student and was able to practice many nursing skills such as splinter removals, wound care, rash and skin irritation care, sunburn care, and more, for my peers and Cuban friends.

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I cannot express how much this trip has changed my life. On top of all of the incredible experiences we had regarding education, my group was selected so technically, and successfully. Each and every group member, which consisted of students, Centennial College faculty leaders, and our trip guide/leader, Ron, got along so incredibly well, worked together as a team quite efficiently, and became one big family. Every single member keeps in touch, and we are all currently working on future plans as a team to use our knowledge to implicate permaculture and organic food production in Canada, as opposed to forgetting what we learned and failing to make a difference. Not only did our group get along so well, but we also got along so well with the Cubans that we had the privilege of meeting, and built friendships that will last a lifetime.

The Cubans that we met were all extraordinary and brilliant individuals, not to mention some of the hardest working people I have ever witnessed. The amount of knowledge that we learned was mostly taught from them. Even though many Cubans that we met did not speak much English, we still found different ways to communicate and form unbreakable bonds. Overall, this trip was simply incredible. It surpassed my expectations. Thank you Centennial College for allowing me the opportunity to fall in love with the city and people of Sancti Spiritus. You have forever changed my life.

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Costa Rica 2017

By: Jessica Stephens

I live by my own quote “Live beyond your dreams”. The meaning is that you may think of an idea in your head of what you want to do in life and you set goal to achieve that status. But, instead of thinking the normal way of changing yourself you think of those around you and start to help them out in achieving their goals. All the while building character yourself. I was always an imaginative kid when I was younger and dreamed of one day helping out in my community and becoming a hero. The idea is to think of a plan that is simple however go beyond your limits and push the boundaries to live outside your comfort zone which takes effort but, in the end you’ll make a change. I was always afraid of pushing any boundary out of fear. I took the opportunity to experience a once in a life time opportunity to help out the indigenous peoples in another country. By going on this GCELE experience I learned of several ways the indigenous peoples in Costa Rica are helping to improve the barriers they face in their communities.

There is an old saying “if someone hands you a lemon you make lemonade”. Well, I believe not only could you make lemonade, but you can set up a lemonade stand and than expand it into an international chain of lemonade stands and eventually sell it for billions of dollars and enjoy the good life after that. The break down is that you think you made the most of it by making the lemonade from a lemon, but when there’s so much more to be made of the situation you are going way further than anyone else thinks you could go. It is about mentality and that kind of goes back to my quote of being something more than ordinary and being unique by thinking of not just yourself but others.


My own experience as an indigenous person and what I have experienced while in Costa Rica shows that there are various challenges facing the indigenous peoples. One key point about the indigenous peoples is that no matter what obstacle stands in their way the people work amongst themselves within the community. In Costa Rica this included communicating with the non-indigenous peoples to help in the effort. It takes a lot of communication and devotion, as well as critical analysis to spot and think of ways to help improve any situation and being patient comes along with it. I myself have a goal within the next few years to visit my fathers community in Northern Ontario where he was born and possibly work within the community like I did in Costa Rica, to help identify and solve some of the barriers that are affecting them.


Indigenous peoples may not get to experience some of life’s opportunities as others living outside of reserves do. Experiences like going to university or college and this is mainly due the remoteness of some of the indigenous communities. This is a major problem in Costa Rica as there is the geographical barrier of physical mountains which make it hard to physically get around. While in Costa Rica I noticed how much longer it took to get to places when we travelling because of the roads winding roads around mountains, and rivers. One remote community we had to travel to would be the Bre-Bre community. To get to this community we had to take a boat and walked at least 3 hours up steep mountains and hills in the rainforest. It was noted that many school children would have to walk at least 6 or more hours one way to get to school and than have to walk back at the end of the day. Several other problems that are connected to location include ones ability to access services and resources, as Diana our presenter pointed out. One solution in helping to improve this would be having the universities find ways to communicate within each indigenous community and enable students to receive the same access as others like the ability to attend college or university.

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I am Lawrence, a student of Community Development Work at Centennial College.

We went on a FLIP to Puerto Plata, Dominican Republic to bring our studies of Community Economic Development (CED) to life and to learn from the locals’ experiences.  Interestingly, all the contents and principles of Community Economic Development that was taught in class really did come to life in this context as we observed real people put these principles into practical application.

On our trio we learned that tourism is one of the mainstays of the economy in the Dominican Republic, after remittance.

The principles of CED focus on the use of local resources, by the local community to create wealth for the benefits of all, improve quality of life and enhance socio-economic well- being for people.  The principle I would specifically like to focus on are the use of and benefits to the physical environment.  There are many rich ecological resources present at different locations of the Dominica Republic that help to drive the citizens’ collaborative efforts. For example, natural vegetation within a lush nature  provides fresh and unpolluted air, fertile soil for agricultural produce (cash crops i.e. coffee, cocoa) and food crops such as bananas and so many other varieties of tropical fruits.


Mineral resources such as Amber, the sand, sea, and sun are also all natural resources that stimulate the economy and the community members’ enterprising spirit.
I observed that the Dominicans are very friendly and entertaining, they also make good use their local resources to promote the growth and development of their tourism industry. They have been very successful as many of the citizens are gainfully employed in the industry of tourism. The increases in the tourists arrival was also noticed both at airport and on a visit to one of the popular beach in a town called, Sosua.

I really appreciate this great privilege from Centennial College. Travelling to the Dominican Republic to see and observe community development principles in real action was incredible as a learning experience. This exposure is an indelible asset for me. I will apply the knowledge acquired from this trip to foster, promote and stimulate the growth of any community that I will have to work in future by helping them to identify the local resources, emphasize on their strengths, promote themselves and  encourage economic self-reliance through their natural assets and resources.


Blog design & Photo credit: Hasan Mahbub, Faculty- Community Development Work.

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