The land known for music blaring, activity in the streets, and rum flowing freely was eerily quiet when the team arrived. No soccer games were being watched, and many stores were not open. The president of Cuba had died, and nine days of mourning had been declared. During that period, a team from Virginia Global Response and Canadian Global Response came—not for the night life, music, or soccer, but to work with the Eastern Cuban Baptist Convention and coordinate how the three conventions could partner when disaster strikes.
The people of Cuba have yet to recover from Hurricane Matthew, which made landfall in early October 2016. The international news reported no deaths in Cuba and only a dozen or so homes damaged in Barocoa. However, several items went unreported. The most damage occurred 35 miles south of the extreme east coast in Punta de Maisi, which had 100% of homes damaged and at least 75% destroyed. Hundreds of families were impacted. Population statistics report that there are 315,000 people living in eastern Cuba.
The Virginia/Canada team spent two days instructing Cuban youth leaders in disaster response. Forty leaders attended the training event, five of whom were from the area most impacted by Hurricane Matthew. The Cuban churches performed at an incredible level after Matthew hit, but they felt they could have done a more efficient job in their response. They desired training so they could meet even more needs during the next response.
At the conclusion of the two-day training, the five youth leaders went back to their homes in the impacted area, and the training team prepared to visit them there. When the team arrived, the newly trained youth leaders had already filled journals with the assessments they had made overnight. They had become advocates of their communities and could now ask for assistance in a meaningful, data-driven, compassionate way.
The youth leaders had been asked to find 30 families who were in need of new roofs. Their assessments would deter–mine which families received new roofs from the resources sent by churches in Virginia and Canada. The training team verified the youth leaders’ assessments (by a random sample) and found that they had applied their training well beyond the two-day investment.
In the remote community of Punta de Maisi, it was not hard to find a damaged or destroyed home. Therefore, the youth leaders had to look beyond the roofs and homes to the families who lived within. The leaders chose families who clearly had no opportunity for a roof unless they received assistance.
One of the most touching images was a 78-year-old man, wearing 30-year-old clothes perfectly cleaned and without a wrinkle, thanking the team for his new roof. He was a dignified man who did not gush with emotions but expressed thankfulness from his heart for the love and compassion shown to him and his family. He had never seen that kind of love before in his life. He was amazed that God’s people would come from a distant land, especially from America, to care for his family. His expression of thankfulness took five minutes without a single word of repetition.
In addition to the 30 roofs purchased by the churches supporting the training team, a week’s worth of food was provided for 200 families.
Teams will continue to respond to Cuba, assisting the Cuban Baptist Convention with ongoing Disaster Relief training and with responses to the devastation. Music has returned to the streets, but the need remains to assist the people in their recovery.
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