UW-Parkside students going to Cuba to serve, learn
By Kelsey Hoff
University of Wisconsin-Parkside English Professor Maria Martinez plans to take another group of students to Cuba this summer for a service and learning trip. Once the group is finalized, they will decide what service projects to accomplish based on mutual interest during the trip scheduled for July 19-27. Trips in the past have focused on biodiversity, sustainable development, ecology, cultural anthropology, and effects of the 50-year embargo that has kept Cuba from trading with many other nations.
The embargo has forced Cubans to look to other resources for sustainability; their farming is done largely without pesticides or petrol, and a very common mode of public transportation is horse-drawn carriages. It is hard for Cubans to get manufactured goods and medicines, but their quality of life indicators are very high. In recent years, Cuba has been able to trade with Venezuela and China.
The students will visit Baracoa, a rural town on Cuba's eastern coast, and a UNESCO world heritage site. Known for its biodiversity, Baracoa is a rainforest region with mountains, rivers, beaches, and abundant wildlife.
Aside from the gorgeous ecosystem, Baracoa's charm comes from Taino culture, which is evident in the language, folk healing, religion, architecture, food, music, art, and food production methods. The food, language, art, architecture, and people have a very distinct style. A hallmark of their culture is that their closed socialist system creates considerable gender and racial equality in math, science, and governance.
Martinez has traveled to Cuba periodically over the past 15 years and often brings volunteers along. UW-Parkside students have accompanied her on several of these trips, including a service learning class organized through International Studies. One student, Nico Kaminski, is making his fourth trip to Cuba this year. Martinez has collected school supplies for Cuban children for the past 10 years and still happily accepts them.
The goal that makes this year's trip different is that group members will stay with individual families, which Martinez said is difficult for Americans. Otherwise, she added, Americans are very safe and welcomed by Cubans, who practice people-to-people diplomacy, expressed by a phrase that means "the people are not to blame." Martinez describes Baracoans as "generous, warm, and curious." Some students create long-lasting friendships and meet pen pals.The photo, from left, shows past UW-Parkside Cuba visitors Stevie Cabal, Nico Kaminski, Professor Martinez, Christina Bieser, and Professor Teresa Coronado. For more information about the trip, call Professor Martinez at 262-595-2260.