Dear CNC member groups,
The 24nd Che Guevara Volunteer Work Brigade took place from April 30th to May 12th, 2016 and was once again a great success. The group size was much smaller than usual this year, for reasons that will be discussed, however there was strong group cohesion and high participation from all brigadistas. The group consisted of 25 members from 4 provinces and 2 members from outside of Canada. The identified genders were 12 women and 13 men. 19 had been to Cuba before, with 8 of those on a previous brigade. The age ranged from 19 to 80 with 12 members under the age of 30 and an average age of 47.3. CNC groups that sent members are (in no order) the Vancouver Communities in Solidarity with Cuba (VCSC), CCFA Toronto, CCFA Winnipeg, Manitoba-Cuba Solidarity Committee, the Communist Party of Canada, the Young Communist League, and the Communist Party of Canada (Marxist-Leninist).
Ontario - 13
British Columbia - 7
Manitoba - 2
Québec - 1
W. Australia - 1
Washington (USA) - 1
The brigade stayed at the CIJAM camp in Caimito municipality, Artemisa province, for the first half of the trip. The stay here was enjoyed by all and there were not any major problems.
The brigade then continued to Cienfuegos province, where we stayed at the hotel Passcaballo in Cienfuegos city. Our stay here was very nice and provided a good departure point for our activities in the province and our day trip to Santa Clara, where we were greeted by the Villa Clara province's ICAP representative. On the first morning in Cienfuegos we were welcomed by the provincial ICAP body with a wreath laying in the Plaza de Armas.
Like in past brigades, there was a focus on educational visits and solidarity-building activities. These were emphasized through our tours to local institutions like schools, hospitals, work places, neighbourhoods, and historical sites. This year we arrived the day before International Worker's Day on May 1st, so we spent our first day getting comfortable at the camp and preparing for the excursion to Havana. The May 1st march was enjoyed by all as we experienced the Cubans passion for building their revolution and the support they have for it. The May 2nd International Meeting in Solidarity with Cuba was very educational for brigadistas as they learnt of the worldwide struggles in solidarity with Cuba and how much good Cuba has done on the international frontier.
There were 5 mornings volunteer work, with two taking place at a cooperative micro-farm near the camp, one day landscaping around the camp itself, and the two latter days at a large farm in the valley near Cienfuegos. On two days we were joined by members of the FMC and LJC, respectively.
This was the second year that the brigade had been changed to a two-week program from a three-week program. The length was enjoyed by all however it felt that with the total trip being 12 days, an extra 2 days would have been perfect, however with the Cubana flight schedules we had to settle for a shorter trip. Nonetheless, all important aspects of the program were included this year. Considering that the purpose of shortening the trip was to attract more students and workers, there needs to be more reflection on this change as we build our brigade participation numbers and receive more feedback.
One issue that was brought to my attention was that ICAP donations must be given through me, the coordinator, so that donations can be properly tracked upon arrival in Cuba and be ensured that they go to the proper person who is responsible for taking donations.
Accessibility during the brigade for our senior participants was met to their satisfaction except one part when the flat-bed truck transferring our brigadistas to the farm through a dirt road did not have enough front seats for the 3rd member who could not climb the back of the truck. With the brigade size increasing, more participants will need to have their accessibility needs met, and this must be coordinated with ICAP and Amistur.
Going further, ICAP will be providing the rough draft of the 2017 program by June, 2016, and promotional materials are already being produced. With the 25th anniversary of the brigade next year and a strong program itinerary, there is a high expectation from ICAP and from the brigade coordinator that each CNC group prioritizes the brigade. The proposal is for the brigade to visit the Eastern provinces, flying into Santiago or Holguin before going to Guantanamo, then Baracoa, and ending in Santiago, staying at each city for 3-4 days. The brigade will take place during the same time period to be in Guantanamo for International Workers' Day. The following year the plan is to move the brigade to the summer time, and perhaps returning to the beginning of May for the 30th anniversary.
ICAP noted that Canada sends many tourists but that's not represented in the brigade size. They hope to have more than 50 people on the next brigade. To ensure a strong brigade turn out, CNC groups should prioritize the brigade in their plans of activity, starting from this summer. Brigade-specific events such as report backs and info nights, along with promoting the brigade at other events, can increase the visibility of the brigade and encourage people to register. Groups should attempt to send an executive member on the brigade, and set a goal of number of registrants from their respective town. It was also noted that a promotion campaign that ties in with the campaign to return the Guantanamo Naval Base to Cuba could be a good way to raise awareness of both the brigade and the land issue.
It was noted by a brigadista that our online presence can be stronger. I will be planning out a strategy to strengthen this, as our online material is how most potential registrants connect with us. A new brigade guide will also be made for the upcoming year. A proper promo plan will also be written for CNC groups to use to successfully promote the brigade.
I am available for further discussion on this report.
Che Guevara Volunteer Work Brigade Coordinator