No: 2

Winter 2001

A fantastic
Cuban experience

Every year Cuba hosts delegations of people from all over the world in what has come to be known as the "work-study brigades".
Angela Giannakopolous went recently and reports back on a fantastic experience.

Australian delegates have been travelling to Cuba for eighteen years, and along with the New Zealanders are officially known as the "Southern Cross Brigade". The 2000-2001 Southern Cross brigade arrived in Cuba in December of 2000 and stayed there for a little over a month. The delegates range from very young to quite old and are from diverse backgrounds.

While the "work-study" title of the brigade seems a little intimidating, the brigadistas (as brigade members are called in Cuba) are in no way overworked. Although there is a good reason for this title.

While in Cuba, the brigade members engage in volunteer work, usually helping out in the countryside. However the work accounts for only a few hours each morning for about a week.

The "study" element involves engaging in the many cultural, economic and political activities that Cuba has to offer.

This year's brigade was lucky enough to travel throughout the whole of Cuba, whilst also enjoying the opportunity to live with Cuban families for a week in Santiago de Cuba (on the eastern part of the island). Many brigade members felt that this was a particularly special experience as they had the unique opportunity to "live as the Cubans do", enjoying their great generosity and social development.

The group also stayed for a few days in Santa Clara, a Cuban city that feels as though it has dedicated a large part of its soul to Che Guevara, Commander in Chief of this area during the Cuban Revolution.

Brigade members also visited a number of schools, pre-schools and specialised schools including the Latin American School of Medicines. This is a program set up by the Cuban government that grants scholarships to students of Latin America, Africa and more recently, North American students, who cannot afford to study medicine in their own countries.

Cuba then sends them home as fully qualified medical doctors.

The brigade members also had the opportunity to meet with representatives of some of Cuba's mass organizations, among these: The Women's Federation of Cuba; University Students Federation; the Federation of Trade Unions of Cuba; and the Youth Communist League.

There were plenty of opportunities for the brigade members to ask questions and find out more about the reality of Cuba's political and social situation in an environment that was refreshingly open and frank.

Brigade members also had plenty of opportunity to enjoy Cuba's cultural side, not difficult in a country whose culture is so vivid.

A walk down any street will give any visitor the feeling that they are definitely not "back home". The great musical tradition and the importance of dance as a form of "communication" and expression left us in awe!

For Australians, these work-study brigades are organised through the Australia-Cuba Friendship Society. They are indeed a great way for anyone interested in finding out more about Cuba to experience the country in a way no ordinary tourist can.

To enquire about future brigades contact the Australia-Cuba Friendship Society in your State.

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