By Thomas Hull
Cuba is one of the most intriguing islands in the Western Hemisphere. The people have almost nothing in the way of material goods, having been thoroughly oppressed by their communist regime, but they are so happy and content with their lives. I got the opportunity to witness all this during a mission trip from the U.S. to Cuba earlier this year.
There is a strong sense of community in the lives of Cubans. To provide one example, the drivers of mass transport vehicles also carry supplies, at no extra charge, that can help fellow Cubans at whatever destination they are headed. The people of Cuba work hard for what they have, and there is a unity among them because of this — even people of different professions help each other. Students who attend college are allowed access to the Internet and have email addresses, but very few others do. The students share their email addresses, sometimes as many as twenty people using one address, so that their fellow citizens can stay in touch with loved ones. I witnessed a very busy Cuban missionary from the opposite side of the island assisting a worker in mowing the lawn just because the worker seemed to be having difficulty. That is such a rare thing to see in most places, but it isn’t strange at all in Cuba.
The average person in Cuba earns the equivalent of $20 per month, which isn’t nearly enough to feed a family, even though many items are cheaper there. At the end of our mission trip, we left all our clothes and supplies to give to the Cuban people. The local church distributed the clothes to families that most needed them.
Usually only people with money or connections own cars down there. The very lucky Cuban families who own cars care for them meticulously and pass them down through generations. Most of the cars we saw in Cuba were manufactured in the United States in the 1950s and were imported before former leader Fidel Castro came into power during the revolution. It was amazing to see cars from my grandparents’ generation in such abundance.
The original intent of my mission trip had been to build a classroom for the Las Palmas Bible Institute, a church camp in Cuba. Since Cuba is a communist country, it has no official religion, but Christianity is very strong throughout the island. The wonderful parishioners shared what little food and supplies they had with our group when we arrived. But the Cuban government decided at the last minute to revoke our building license, an unfortunate but common occurrence, so we spent the two weeks doing small jobs to make the lives of the people at Las Palmas a little easier — we rewired the buildings, repaired roads, fixed the sewage system and painted.
My whole experience in Cuba was enlightening. It was an honor to be able to witness firsthand such brotherhood among people. In nearly all aspects of their lives, the people band together to survive the hardships of life under a tough regime. It will be interesting to see how this unity among the Cuban people is affected by the changes that are soon to come, with the island being opened to the western world.
Thomas Hull is a Port Jefferson resident and rising senior at The Stony Brook School.