Nine members of Portland First Unitarian church helped launch the Global Service Corps Cuba Buenos Vecinos “Good Neighbors” Service-Learning Program January 2 – 16. Included in the group were Cuba-UUPortland coordinators Henry Schwarz and Susan Rinker, along with Global Service Corps (GSC) Founders and Directors, Rick and Maxine Lathrop. After a week of cultural and project orientation in Havana, the group travelled to Matanzas, the home of the Afro-Caribbean religion Santeria), Rumba and the University of Matanzas. We were welcomed by the University of Matanzas Vice President and faculty of the university English department, and began work with department staff and senior students on the development of a curriculum to teach conversational English to Cuban university students.
This two-week pilot project’s goal was to further develop and test the GSC conversational English teaching approach that has been utilized in Cambodia and Thailand since 1995. Our group was warmly welcomed by all Cubans we met and especially the University of Matanzas English department staff. The timing for the launch of this program was very fortunate, since the Ministry of Education recently announced that all university students would need to be proficient in English before they could graduate.
GSC is continuing to develop this program and has plans in the near future to add service-learning components focusing on sustainable agriculture and public health. Service-learning trips are scheduled to begin each month of the year, ranging from two week introductory programs up to six month full immersion programs. GSC is pleased to be collaborating with Cuba-UUPortland by offering UU members and other service oriented participants this opportunity to play a vital part in improving understanding and relationships between the US and Cuban people. The following recent announcement from Reverends Bill Sinkford and Kate Lore outlined this Expansion of First Unitarian Engagement with Cuba:
We would like to inform the First Unitarian community of some recent decisions by the Social Justice Council, the host organization of Cuba AyUUda. The Council has approved a new and expanded mission for our work to support Cuba-US improving relations and to more fully embody the Unitarian Universalist values of mutual understanding, appreciation of diversity, and service to one another.
Our Cuba activities are taking on a new look and will focus on facilitating and supporting cultural appreciation and US-Cuban friendships through music, service and travel. To represent this new focus, we are changing the name of this group from Cuba AyUUda to Cuba-UU Portland. Therefore, Cuba AyUUda is no longer associated with First Unitarian and is being decommissioned. As initial projects, we will support a new Cuban music academy in Havana and host the outstanding Solfa Cuban youth Choir to come to Portland. These projects are co-directed by Henry Schwarz and Susan Rinker, Chair and Vice Chair of Cuba-UUPortland, members of First Unitarian church.
In regard to travel, Cuba-UU Portland is now collaborating with Global Service Corps (GSC), a non-profit organization founded and directed by First Unitarian Portland members Rick and Maxine Lathrop. GSC has been providing international service-learning programs for 22 years in five countries and is now developing a service-learning program in Cuba. We expect this program to begin in early 2016. There will be several service-learning travel opportunities to choose from ranging from two weeks to three months. For students, academic credit will be possible. The mission of the GSC Cuba service-learning program is fully supported by 1st Unitarian Portland.
We will keep you informed about the Cuba-UU Portland music activities and the GSC service-learning travel opportunities as they develop. We have a new website currently under construction. It is live, though, so check it out! It includes more information about Global Service Corps www.cubauuportland.org
Rev. Kate Lore, Minister of Social Justice
Rev. William Sinkford, Senior Minister
To learn more, visit the Cuba information table in Fuller Hall or go to www.gobalservicecorps.org