Discovering Cuba: Leading Our First Teen Service Program in Cuba

On our first day in Cuba, someone told me that Cuba “no tiene sentido ni razón” (has no sense or reason) and with each passing moment in Cuba, this becomes more apparent.

As a leader, this is my seventh ARCC trip — I am used to being flexible and rolling with the punches, but leading a teen service program in Cuba takes this to a whole new level.

It’s a special time here. We are the first to run volunteer trips in Cuba, and while our plan was originally to build a porch for a boy with cerebral palsy, right now there are no cement blocks in this part of Cuba. Our partners have been trying to locate blocks for some time; when they go to government and private stores, they are met with the same response: a shrug and a simple “no hay” (there are none).

Taking a Trip To Cuba with ARCC
I’ve realized that we are not taking a trip in Cuba, but that Cuba is taking us on a trip and we are all enjoying the ride. The work is incredibly rewarding. The widowed grandmother taking care of her disabled grandson smiles and thanks us profusely. We gain some perspective on our lack of blocks when we are told that the stores don’t even carry water, or that this grandmother has been asking the government for a new bed for years.

Meeting Cubans Face-to-Face
The locals taking care of us share openly their thoughts of the government, and we sit in awe imagining the lives of Cubans in this moment in time. Still, there is something amidst all of this that pulls us in: Our Cuban friends, the cars, the horse-drawn carriages, the delicious pork, the crowded buses that appear to be straight out of the USSR. We are practicing our Spanish and interacting with a lot of Cubans in a way few Americans have.

This is a service program, but we decompress in the heat of the Cuban afternoons and talk about our experiences; we splash at the beach and debrief our days. We play riddles at dinner for hours, and chant, sing, and dance at evening circle. The group is bonding quickly, and we have an amazing group of kids who play along with our games and enjoy being ridiculous with us. Cuba may not have sense or reason, but it is rubbing off on us…and I’m beginning to wonder if sense and reason are overrated.

Written By ARCC Leader Shannon T.


ARCC Programs has offered summer service & travel programs for teens for over 30 years. With travel programs for teens on six continents, there is something for everyone. Find a summer program on our website or request a catalog today.