North-South students go on virtual field trip to Cuba
Travelling to Cuba is the highlight of the North-South Studies (NSS) Profile in the Social Science Program at Dawson.
“Every year, we go to a country in the South,” said Gisela Frias, the North-South Profile Coordinator. “This trip strengthens solidarity and establishes bonds and often lifelong friendships among the students.”
The past two academic years, the students travelled to Cuba and previously, they travelled to Nicaragua.
Crucial component of NSS
“The Field Trip has been a crucial component of NSS as a means of supporting student leadership, global citizenship and solidarity,” Gisela said. “The Field Trip has actively engaged students in a learning process about the Global South and its relationship to the Global North. It has involved students in field research as well given them an opportunity to experience cross-cultural learning while attending talks and conferences, and participate in community development projects.”
Faced with the pandemic, what could they do? “At first we postponed the trip from December to May,” Gisela said. “As time went by, this option did not seem viable. However, it is unthinkable to not have a trip so we started talking to our partner in Cuba.”
Dawson’s Cuban partner
The Martin Luther King Centre (MLK Centre), affiliated with the Cuban Council of Churches, is Dawson’s on-the-ground partner. Founded in 1987, the MLK Centre promotes solidarity and justice, as well as social and community development. Committed to the Cuban people, the MLK Centre also promotes integration, learning and solidarity between Latin American and North American nations.
Gisela explained that the MLK Centre’s work is based on transformation through popular education and that a big part of their work involves welcoming delegations, such as Dawson’s. “They raise awareness about struggles throughout the world,” she said.
When Gisela found out that the pandemic had hit the MLK Centre hard. “They had not been working for a year,” she said.
The MLK Centre and Dawson College organized a virtual field trip to Cuba that is as experiential as possible. Last semester, the students started learning about Cuba just as if they would be making a real trip.
They came up with the idea of having nine different encuentros, which Gisela described as gatherings. There are themes for each gathering, such as Democracy, Anti- Imperialism and Sovereignty in Cuba, Heath Care and COVID-19, and Food Sovereignty and Urban Agriculture.
“During the encuentros students are encouraged to engage through questions and discussions, and by sharing. We are all participants, no one is a bystander,” Gisela told her students in the course outline notes.
The class meets every Monday for the gatherings. Every week, the MLK Centre tour guide takes them somewhere by video and then they have a lecture and discussion. The MLK Centre also provides an interpreter. For example, on International Women’s Day, they had two speakers: one from a women’s sewing workshop that is linked to a domestic violence program and another was a journalist linked to the feminist movement in Cuba.
The student experience
Two students shared their experience on the virtual field trip to date.
Heïdi: “So far, I’ve learned a great deal about grassroots organizations working in Cuba, and how they identify themselves within the social climate of the island. As a class, I feel that since the beginning of this semester we have deepened our understanding of just how complex the political framework of Cuba is, and most importantly, of how thorough it is as providing alternative models of development and organization. I’ve been especially taken away by the passion of each speaker we’ve had a chance to discuss with, as they seemed to carry such pride for their work!”
Ariela: “During this course, I have learned a lot about the true colours of Cuba, since the class gives us the possibility to interact and gain knowledge from the people that live there. With this experience the knowledge gain is much more valuable (personally), since it is from people that experience those circumstances in their daily life and learning from them is more enlightening than obtaining information from a textbook. I have learned how the embargo has affected the Cuban population as well as how Covid-19 has affected Cuba overall.”
Ariela, Heïdi and their classmates must keep weekly journals, do a field trip video report and participate in fundraising activities. Usually, the funds are used for the trip and the programming in Cuba. This year, the funds are needed to support the programming offered by the Martin Luther King Centre and their development work.
The North-South Studies Profile has set up a fundraising page through the Dawson College Foundation. Donations can be made here.