During the week of Thanksgiving in November 2017, a group of students from the Bachelor of Arts in Psychology (BAP) program from St. Augustine College visited Havana, Cuba. The purpose of this Humanitarian Outreach/Immersion Service Journey to Havana, Cuba was Educational and Cultural, a “People-to-People” Travel focusing on justice through a Catholic Lens. In this journey students and participants visited museums just like in tourism, but in this journey the students/participants visited Catholic centers, institutions, and social service sites doing justice in their communities. In this Humanitarian Outreach/Immersion Service Journey, students/participants were exposed to cultural experiences different from their own in that students/participants had the opportunity to immerse and learn about the Cuban culture, people and way of life in Havana. Students/Participants were provided with resources for reflection and social analysis informed by philosophical concepts of social justice and Catholic Social Teaching. On this Humanitarian Outreach/Immersion Service Journey to Havana, Cuba, the students/participants experienced a deeper journey.

Upon arrival on Sunday, November 19, students/participants enjoyed a Cuban home-made meal followed by attending evening Sunday mass at San Juan de Letrán Church, a taste of Mojitos on La Rampa at Calle 23 and a long walk home at Vedado. On Monday morning the student/participants enjoyed a meeting at Centro de Bioética with Dr. Rene Zamora who presented a discussion regarding the Cuban health care and on mental health. Students/Participants then visited the Asilo San Francisco de Paula and were provided with a tour which unable students/participants to observe the care for the elderly living in this home, some elders with over 100 years of age. In the afternoon students/participants visited La Edad de Oro, a nursing home serving people with severe profound developmental disabilities. Interaction with the residents living here was limited.

On Tuesday, students/participants took a long trip to El Rincón and visited El Santuario de San Lázaro, the day care at this location, and El Leprosorio, a residence for persons with leprosy (Hansen’s Disease) and other skin diseases. In this residence interaction with the residents was limited but students/participants had the opportunity to purchase flowers and souvenirs at the sanctuary and fresh fruit at the open market on the ride back to Havana. Wednesday was more of a tourist day with a visit to the Museo Napoleónico, Universidad de la Havana, and The Necrópolis Colón. In the afternoon, the students/participants had the opportunity to visit El Centro Fray Bartolomé de las Casas at San Juan de Letrán Church, a center for children, youth and adults providing classes in various languages and courses in computer information, family formation and religious classes for children on Saturday.

On Thursday, the students/participants visited projects sponsored by Las Hermanas Pasionistas. This is a project assisting young single mothers, including offering them employment making religious crafts for sale. The afternoon was occupied visiting Caritas Havana, a project for children and adolescents with Autism and Down Syndrome. Friday was a busy day for the students/participants as it gave the group a chance to interact with a group of elderly women living and not living at the Asilo San José. This home functions as a full- and part-time care center for elderly women in addition to providing lunch for older employees and volunteers in the neighborhood. In this center, students/participants had the opportunity to play bingo with the residents and visitors of the center. Interaction with them took place by listening to their stories and by participating in physical therapy exercises for the residents. The most joy for the residents was experienced during the distribution of donations and toiletries brought by the students/participants.

After an intense week of work not only in the city, Vedado, and Miramar but also in marginalized areas such as Víbora, Cerro, and Santos Suárez, on Saturday, students/participants enjoyed a walking tour of La Habana Vieja, historic places, La Catedral and finished for lunch at La Cervecería next to the San José Art Market. Last but not least, and as a way of saying “adiós” to Havana, Cuba, on Sunday morning the students/participants enjoyed the beautiful and wonderful waters of La Playa Santa María. At this time students/participants had the opportunity for time alone and self reflection, as well as the sharing and process of their own experiences with other group participants while in Havana. Late in the afternoon the group departed back to Chicago to their own reality, but none the less realizing that “what happened in Havana does not necessarily stay in Havana” as it is well imprinted in one’s heart and memory, and only time may or may not erase these experiences. In sum, thank you! Havana, for the opportunity of such enriching and fruitful experiences.

By Dr. Carmen Arellano: Resident Assistant Professor/Psychology Coordinator and Clinical Practice Director, St. Augustine College