It has been an intense Summer for Cubans. First, in mid June, President Donald Trump announced he would undo the Obama era of friendship with a bit of his antagonistic cold war language. Shortly thereafter, in early August, Raul Castro announced he would freeze any new business licenses , which tossed a wrench in the machine of a budding entrepreneurship that raised hopes for this generation. It’s been punch after punch for the Cuban people. Until now, the silver lining was that Cuba was headed toward “high-season” expecting a boost of travelers for the existing “cuentapropistas”, despite the fear of Trumps scary new travel regulations. It is after all, still legal to travel to Cuba with an authorized tour leader under one of 12 reasons.
Enter Irma. Boom pow. The utter blow. There’s no need to share the details. We’ve all seen the photos. It’s time to act fast to clean things up so they can get back on their [already fragile] feet. What is most important now is to lend support, despite all this good-guys-bad-guys rhetoric between US and Cuba. What I find more powerful is the amount of Cuban-Americans pulling together resources and contacts to make a difference. Moreover, I’m impressed by new individuals, non-Cuban, who have poured themselves into crowdfunding campaigns, and preparing to travel to Cuba with the funds as soon as this month. I’ve seen various mainstream NGO’s set up shop in the Caribbean. The island of Cuba, however, is extremely unique because, for starters, there is no UPS or FEDEX boxes between both US and Cuba. Telecommunications is a mess, and Cubans cannot text an American cell phone either. Checking internet requires a walk to a hotel lobby, or wifi park. Nothing is simple in Cuba. In addition to the barely slim NGO’s that the Cuban government allows on the island, it seems that humanitarian work in Cuba is essentially very grassroots, friend-to-friend, neighbor-to-neighbor. I’ve heard many puzzled colleagues this week ask “How can I help in Cuba?”. Here’s a clean sweep of immediate actions:
(Photo: Irma package from Cuban baseball player Yasiel Puig’s organization)
VISIT CUBA ON YOUR OWN
1- What to Bring: This checklist is the best reference for a “care package” today. Since there is no shipping of boxes to Cuba, this is what creates the biggest sense of helplessness when aiding Cuba. We’re hoping that after this damn embargo is lifted, that US and Cuba can find a diplomatic place in their hearts to finally open UPS or FEDEX to Cuba.
2- Airport Restrictions: One more important thing to learn is the quantity rule at the Cuban airport. No more than 5 same items or above are allowed to pass into the country. That means if you try to fly in (for example) eight of these Pamper packs, the customs agents will grow suspicious that you are bringing in the diapers for commercial purposes, and creating a black market. Absurd, I know. Don’t get me started. We learned this the hard way when flying into Cuba with Questlove who so kindly carried in 50 free Okayplayer watches in a separate roll-away bag. The mini-suitcase never left the airport, and well, we got jacked by customs. Just be creative with how many things you buy. On a busy day with lots of flights, the overwhelmed customs agents will not notice or count your belongings, but just realize, this is a “hit or miss” moment, so be mindful of this rule.
IF YOU CANNOT VISIT CUBA
If you are not flying into Cuba any time soon, and since you cannot ship anything to the island, the next best thing you can do from the outside is send money. One of the brilliant ideas I’ve witnessed in the last few days of Irma is this organization called ADOPT A FAMILY. Their model includes shipping boxes to a family in St Thomas. Of course, this model cannot entirely be done in Cuba but there is one piece of this concept that could work well.
If any reader cares to “Adopt a Family”, remember that there are 3 ways to help any Cuban family directly from the outside:
1- Western Union – Send direct money into the hands of a Cuban family. Details here.
2- Cell Phone Credit – With a simple online payment via credit card (or Paypal) to DING, an American can add cell phone usage minutes for a local. Remember that in Cuba, there are no competitive phone companies like AT&T, Verizon, or Sprint with monthly phoneplans. There is only one company — ETECSA, and all cell phones function as “pay by credit”. To do this, you will need the exact cell number of resident.
3- Internet Credit: This is credit that is donated so that a Cuban can spend more time online. It is paid to the same company as cell credit, but you will need the locals email address to add credit to their internet account. These final 2 things can greatly affect a family’s productivity for communicating with the outside world during a rough time. Visit DING to add credit to someones Cell or Email address (for internet time).
If you need help finding a family to support, send me a note on this comment board to match-make you with a Cuban family. If you choose to do this process, it will require some patience for you to use these online platforms, but once you “get it”, you will move swiftly and supply constant credit. The best part is, you will be in daily contact with an actual Cuban family.
VISIT CUBA WITH A SUPPORT GROUP
On the dates of October 25 through 30th, the CubaOne organization will be spending five days in Cuba helping out the communities most in need of cleanup and rebuilding. The stops include cities most affected by Hurricane Irma across three provinces (Ciego de Avila, Sancti Spiritus and Santa Clara).
This trip is open to anyone and everyone who wants to help. Just agree to 3 things:
1- Each participant must fundraise $1,500
2- Each participant must pack a bag of supplies
3- Each participant must be ready to get to work helping the Cuban people.
If you’re down to join the adventure with soul, sign up at Cuba One Irma Relief.
IF YOU CAN’T VISIT, LET THESE PEOPLE GO FOR YOU
(Photo: Carlos Kako Escalona)
Cuban-based photographer Carlos Kako Escalona is flying to Cuba this Friday, Sept 15th. “We are raising money to buy basic supplies, food and water for their neighborhood” says Brenda Figueroa, his friend based in Miami. $10, $5 or even $1 counts. Carlos is heading to Cuba with the first round of funds made by Sept 15th. Him and Rachel Rojas will be handling the funds in Cuba, since they are very connected in the community and are highly trusted. They both live on the island. They want to mainly get help to the inner provinces where people have been most affected. The second round of funds (if more is collected), would be flown in personally by Brenda before the end of November.
To donate to this group of committed friends, visit Go Fund Me Aftermath
(Photo: Amanda Bjorn)
Amanda Bjorn is heading to Cuba soon. She just launched a campaign with Rocio Yepez of Fisheye Journey, which reached way past goal of 2K this week, instead making $2247! Their new goal is $5000. They will be bringing down the funds to the island asap.
Rocio says “We will be using this money to buy supplies here in Florida and Texas, which we will then transport to Cuba as early as next Thursday, September 21, 2017. These supplies will be divided into various packages that we will distribute evenly to friends, clients, schools, and community leaders over the course of a week both in Havana and Caibarien, a northern coastal town that was hit the hardest by the Hurricane”. Visit their campaign at: GOFUNDME/CUBA
If you prefer to send a care-package, please send it no later than September 25th to:
Rocio Yepez at PO Box No. 111205 Carrollton, TX 75011
If you are in the LA area, email firstname.lastname@example.org for any other goods to deliver.
Yasiel Puig Valdés, the Cuban baseball player with an incredible story, has a foundation called “The Wild Horse”, which is also his nickname. The moniker was given to him by legendary Dodgers broadcaster Vin Scully. While playing for the Los Angeles Dodgers of Major League Baseball, Yasiel joins the Cuban Community in the greater Los Angeles area in helping to raise funds to provide relief to hurricane victims. Any donation is welcome and will be distributed to Catholic Charities USA Disaster Operations which distributes 100% of donations received directly to affected communities. Last I checked, his Irma campaign acted super fast with a deadline of Sept 11th, so please double-check via the site if his hurricane campaign has extended. If not, there are many other Cuba initiatives to support regardless. Visit his campaign here.
Meet Pablo. This one-man campaign has the least infrastructure, but it comes from a hungry person ready to help, and more importantly, he is a body flying into Cuba to mule in the goods. Having received $685 out of his $5000 goal, this Cuban photographer named Pablo Diego is based in New York and has 11 days left on his Indiegogo campaign.
“Everyone that knows me knows that I’m really active when it comes to helping my beautiful island as much as possible” he writes. “With this fundraiser I’m trying to bring as much food, water, and basic necessities as possible to the most affected areas in Cuba. Even the smallest contributions make a big impact for these families in need who are now left with nowhere to go. I plan to fly myself down there to bring all your donations and the necessary help. Please, open your hearts and let’s come together to put food in their bellies, clean clothes on their backs, and give the communities strength to rebuild.” To donate, visit his page. I’m certain he would accept a care-package in New York to fly down to Cuba, as well.
This other campaign is run by a Cuban actress living in LA (she was born and bred in Cuba). “My goal is to raise funds and help buy food, shelter and general supply for Cubans affected by the area facing El Malecon in Havana” writes Mariel Garriga. She has managed to raise $2028 of $5000 so far. She adds: “We want to support the community with water, food, shelter and supply. Any help counts. Because of the embargo isn’t easy to support the local community with easy transactions. We will personally handle the donations and be sure they will arrive to Cuba. We will post what we used the funds for as soon as the campaign is over.”
To donate or inquire more, check out her campaign at GoFundMe.
This particular organization are run by OG women. They work with the church since 1999, but since 2005, Friends of Caritas Cubana has provided needed services to the Cuban people – all with transparency to both the U.S. and Cuban Governments. Some of their efforts on the island take place in private homes or basement churches. They go to Cuba, at their own expense, at least twice a year to visit programs funded, conduct resource audits, provide technical assistance, and assess needs on the ground.
Their words: “Our primary objective is to help meet basic needs-water, food, and shelter, and so, our immediate plan is to raise funds”. You can listen to their story in this introduction video. Visit their donation page at Caritas of Cuba /Irma Relief.
EVENTS TO KEEP AN EYE ON
In Cuba: The guys at Arte Corte are more than just a barbershop. Over its short history, it has evolved in vision and scope, starting a partnership with the Office of the Historian of the Havana City, transforming into what is today, a Local Development Community Nonprofit Organization.
“We are working to organize a concert next week in our community to raise funds for those in need.” says member Camilo. Stay abreast for details on their instagram and please tell all your friends in Cuba, both visitors and local.
In New York: The NY based party called Cumbancha is currently locking up a bigger venue to throw a big Irma Relief night this month. The word “Cumbancha” refers to meetings that people attend for have fun, drink and dance. Usual party hosts are resident DJ’s BJoyce & Sabine Blaizin (Oyasound), with Okai Musik doing live drumming. You’ll be donating to a good cause, plus shaking your booty to Afro-Cuban House, Latin, and funky beats. Stay tuned for details on the upcoming bash on their official Cumbancha Facebook page.
That’s it for now….
This is the general energy bubbling within Cuban circles on a grassroots level. The trick is to carry lots of donations into the island by hand, and this will require a solid well organized community. If you can’t give money, please share, or comment below, and join the discussion to lend tips, contacts, or resources. No es facil, pero no es imposible.