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Winrock International

Volunteer Post

People-to-people exchanges in Cuba

President Obama and Cuba’s Raul Castro held an historic meeting this past weekend in Panama, marking the first time that the leaders of these two countries have met in person in over five decades. Winrock is also glad to have recently completed our first face-to-face meetings with Cubans, just last month.

DeAnn McGrew, Winrock’s Director of Volunteer Technical Assistance, was one of the team members who participated in our first exchange in Cuba. In today’s blog post, DeAnn shares her impressions and insights from the trip:

“In March, I had the pleasure to join three volunteers [farmers/entrepreneurs] on the first Winrock assignment in Cuba. The objectives of this initial assignment were to conduct a needs assessment among farmers, cooperatives, research institutes, and service providers with special attention on production, post-harvest and value-added processing, and distribution/marketing, as well as to share expertise on topics such as organic certification, food safety, livestock management, financial analysis, and business planning.

This was such a rewarding trip! Cuba was a feast for the senses – warm sunshine and tropical ocean breezes, a dazzling array of colorful antique cars, the amazing architecture of Havana, the rich tradition of wonderful music, vibrant visual and performing arts, salsa dancing (with farmers!), and the FOOD. Throughout the trip, we enjoyed delicious local Cuban food, from the farm lunches which included a bounty of fresh, organic produce, to the amazing farm-to-table meals served at local paladares (a new wave of private, mostly family-run restaurants).

It was also the first time in almost a decade where we were beyond the reach of smart phones, routine email, or internet connectivity. Without the usual bombardment of technology, it seemed as if time stretched out in front of us. We lingered longer at farm visits, asked more questions, took more pictures, and immersed ourselves in the local culture.

But all of this served only as the backdrop, or scene, for that which made this trip so fulfilling – the person-to-person exchange – and illustrates the true warmth and hospitality of the Cuban people. Each day, we had engaging conversations about agriculture and the environment, about family and community, about social values, and about history, politics, and the embargo.

When asked what kind of support was needed, one farmer responded,

‘The most beneficial thing is the exchange – the friendship between Americans and Cubans – and the rest follows.’

The local representative of the national farmer’s association seconded that notion by adding,

‘Every exchange leaves good things on both sides, and Americans are always welcome in Cuba.’

Development in Cuba will be on Cuba’s terms, as it should be, but we look forward to continuing the conversation, and promoting more people-to-people exchange to strengthen relationships and learn from one another.”

testing honey straight from the hive!
testing honey straight from the hive!
rows and rows of mint (for mojitos, of course!)
the team in John Lennon park in Havana