Ottawa, December 31, 2021 - From November 20 to December 4, 2021, Cuba welcomed the 27th Ernesto Che Guevara Volunteer Work Brigade from Canada. It was composed of people of different ages and origins, but they were united by the same feeling: to know the Cuban reality from within.
After more than a year of COVID-19's worldwide spread, the Brigade did not hesitate for a second to follow its plans to travel to the island, with the objective of observing the achievements of the Cuban Revolution, as well as the impact of the economic, financial and commercial blockade imposed by the United States for more than six decades.
During its stay in the Caribbean nation, the Brigade carried out volunteer work, participated in cultural, social, economic and political meetings, as well as in the march in honour of the medical students murdered during the colonial period on November 27.
We got to know more about the experience of its members during their last visit to Cuba and their opinions on the matter:
Janine Solanki – Janine is the National Coordinator of the Che Guevara Brigade and this was her 11th trip to Cuba. Janine lives in Vancouver, Canada and is a volunteer organizer with Vancouver Communities in Solidarity with Cuba and works as a software project manager.
“Even though I have been to Cuba 11 times now, and mainly with the Che Guevara Brigade, each time is a unique experience where I am always learning something new about Cuba. Cuba never ceases to inspire, and this was especially true during the 27th Che Guevara Brigade, when we came to Cuba in an especially difficult time due to the Covid-19 pandemic and the brutal U.S. blockade on Cuba. It was very powerful to be in Cuba during this special time of reopening, and everyone felt very safe and well taken care of by all of our Cuban hosts, especially by the Cuban Institute of Friendship with the Peoples (ICAP) and Amistur.
What we saw is that despite all these challenges the revolutionary Cuban government is not only taking care of their people, but are also empowering the Cuban people. We saw this with the success of their remarkable vaccine development and immunization campaign against Covid-19, when we learned how Cuban university students and tourism workers mobilized in the efforts to fight Covid-19 at the height of the pandemic. We also saw this empowerment in the development projects that has identified vulnerable neighborhoods and worked with local communities to build infrastructure and services to meet their needs, which our brigadistas volunteered in.
In contrast to the lies told by the vicious western mainstream media campaign against Cuba, we met Cuban doctors, cooks, students, teachers, construction workers, artists, farmers, and people from all walks of life who are steadfast supporters of their revolution.
We were in Cuba for the 5th anniversary of the passing of Comandante Fidel Castro, and we started our day with a small commemoration organized by the workers of our accommodation with the CDR (Committees for the Defense of the Revolution). When we listened to the song "Cabalgando con Fidel" everyone held hands and sang along, remembering this great leader that meant so much to them as Cubans, but also us brigadistas from Canada and the US. I was deeply moved and fighting back tears, but when I looked around, I saw that our Cuban hosts, both men and women, were letting their tears flow. In this moment I felt the meaning behind the saying "Yo soy Fidel" (I am Fidel) which we heard at many actions and events we attended”
Stuart Ross – Stuart lives in Guelph, Ontario. He had visited Cuba before as a tourist and doing a trip like the Che Guevara Brigade was a “retirement goal”. He also joined the Calixto Garcia Brigade directly after the Che Brigade.
“The Che Guevara Brigade tour of Nov 20-Dec 04, 2021 was both inspiring and frustrating: inspiring seeing the extraordinary successes of the revolution, and; frustrating learning of the suffering caused by the cruel, illegal U.S. blockade.
As a former tourist in Cuba, I had no idea what the U.S. had been doing. The Che Guevara experience is a highly recommended immersion into the realities of Cuba. I am left in awe of Fidel and his brilliance establishing a socialist system strong enough to challenge the giants of U.S. capitalism.
I told a friend I was going to Cuba, and she told me to be careful as there was a revolution going on there as she had seen on our media. During my stay I witnessed instead the opposite of anti-revolution finding a solid, committed citizenship with a fierce loyalty to the real revolution. Viva Cuba!”
Beyaz Almas – Beyaz lives in New Westminster, BC and works as a tree planter. The Che Guevara Brigade was her first trip to Cuba, and she was the youngest person (22) on our trip!
“I can only describe my experience as positive. I went into the brigade somewhat blind to what the program would be like, and I came out of it with so much knowledge of Cuba. My own opinions of how the country functioned prior to visiting Cuba didn't really exist. Being able to visit schools, hospitals and places of community was so interesting and exciting because it was new. Cuba is a country so different from what I have grown up seeing in Canada.
I'm not sure if this is considered an anecdote - but it is something that I realized being in Cuba.
In many cities across Canada, including the one I was born and raised as well as the city I live in now - there are tents to be found set up in parks and along trails. They are there because people have nowhere to go - because our system does not protect us from extreme poverty. I realized being in Cuba, that Cuba is still considered a poor country; a country with their own problems. But in the entire time I was in Cuba (almost a month) - I didn't see a person living on the street. It's not to say that Cuba doesn't have a single person perhaps living on the street - maybe I just didn't see it. But it's completely impossible not to see it in many cities across Canada. So, I thought that was really interesting and amazing. Not seeing businessmen walk over people begging for money every morning was quite refreshing.”
Bala Sithamparapillai – The Che Guevara Brigade was Bala's first trip to Cuba, after many years of supporting the Cuban Revolution from afar. Bala lives in Vaughan, Ontario and is a tutor, father and new grandfather.
“I was enthusiastic to learn more about socialist Cuba when I embarked on the 27th Che Brigade on November 20th, 2021. The program was so intense, interesting and inspiring all together. I volunteered in many places with other brigades, Cuban people, and young Cuban communist party members. We learned history by floral offerings at the founding fathers’ monuments of Jose Marti, Fidel Castro, and also fallen revolutionary fighters against the bandits in Viñales Valley. Every afternoon we had lectures about the Cuban economy, grassroots community organizations CDR (commune), Cuban democratic and Electoral System. I visited Havana’s Capitol Building (Parliament), National Institute of Oncology and Radiology, “Denouncement Memorial” (Here I learnt of the CIA’s atrocities), Bay of Pigs (Cienaga de Zapata) lost American invasion in 72 hours, and community cultural centers such as KORIMACAO and Gaston.
“If you think only ‘I’ you get ill, but if you think ‘we’ and act, we all prosper.” I heard this quote from a speaker when I visited Viñales Valley. It has been vibrating within me throughout the stay in Cuba and even after I returned home. There are many examples of Cubans dedication, sacrifices, and solidarity to build a better Cuba.
The cruel event 150 years ago resulted in eight medical students murdered by Spanish colonialist on November 27, 1871. However, Cubans commemorate it every year similar to May Day. On that day, we boarded the bus at 4 am to go to the rally. When we reached Havana University, students from universities, schools and working Cubans gathered there. We heard revolutionary songs and music from the crowds. It gave me inspiration and hope after many years. With this wonderful feeling, I marched with hundred thousands of students and also carried the Che’s banner throughout the march. It was a long, powerful and emotional rally. I had the privilege of the rally being led by Cuban President Miguel Diaz- Canel. The hope that the Cuban people gave me in solidarity against imperialism will stay with me forever. Viva Cuba.”
The Cuban people are deeply grateful for the infinite expressions of solidarity from Canada, especially from the Ernesto Che Guevara Volunteer Work Brigade. Cuba will always welcome them with open arms.
EMBASSY OF CUBA IN CANADA.