INTERNATIONAL WORK BRIGADE INFORMATION LEAFLET 2004
To maximise your contribution to international solidarity and get the most out of your trip it is vital that you make sure that you are as well informed as possible about the current situation in Cuba and it’s historical background.
The Brigade is organised twice a year in conjunction with ICAP (Instituto Cubano de Amistad con los Pueblos) to show support for the Cuban people and their Revolution by working, listening, learning and by just being there. It is not a package holiday where you have the right to complain if things are not as described in the brochure. You should be prepared for last minute changes to the Brigade programme and accommodate these with understanding and tolerance. Remember that Cuba, despite enormous progress, is still a developing country facing an economic blockade, the vagaries of oil and commodity prices and the inequalities of international trade. You may find faults in the system, so do the Cubans, which is why they consider the Revolution still in progress. You are not expected to praise everything in sight; the Cubans are more than willing to argue issues and discuss problems. Many of you may not have lived and worked with a group of comparative strangers before. If all goes well, you’ll have a few weeks to remember with pleasure and gratitude for a long time. You will make good friends and learn a lot. But it is up to you to make it work. There are bound to be hiccups in the system, minor irritations and misunderstandings. You may discover that you don’t like some of the food, the heat, the intensity of the programme. You may also find that some of your co-brigadistas drive you up the wall. Apart from the suntan lotion and work boots be sure to pack large doses of tolerance, selflessness and good humour. It only needs one person to make life difficult for everyone. Don’t let it be you. Do not make promises you may not keep when you get home - in the heat of the experience it is easy to say you will write letters or send photographs or books etc. Don’t do it unless you intend to follow through.
Part of the reason you are going to Cuba is to work. So when ‘La Victoria’ plays in the morning no ducking back under the covers, get up, get dressed and get working! Most of the work is in agriculture fruit picking, planting, clearing weeds, cutting grass, hoeing etc. But you should also be prepared for construction work loading / unloading cement, gravel, sand, filling foundations, painting etc.
For one evening during your stay the responsibility for the entertainment will be yours. Every European Brigade has to make a contribution. It could be songs, dancing, a sketch, mime etc. If you plan it now you will have time to organise props, make-up, scripts and musical instruments. And there is no getting out of it.
Make sure that all your luggage is properly labelled and locked. Lockers in the dormitories do not have locks. Place all valuables such as money, tickets and your passport in the camp safe.
How much you take will be up to you, but whatever the amount, it is best to take your cash in low denomination dollar bills. Credit cards - as long as they are not drawn on US banks - are probably the best and least expensive opotion You will not be able to change travellers cheques into dollars at the camp. Do not take ‘American Express’ travellers cheques, you will be unable to change them.
Your visas will be processed by Cuba Support Group through the Cuban Embassy in Dublin.
Although there are translators at the Camp you will get more from your trip if you take some time to learn a little basic Spanish before going.
There is plenty of food, but you should get used to the idea of rice twice a day. Beer, soft drinks and rum cocktails are available from the Camp bar. Bottles of rum from the Camp shop are about$5. There are also many places to eat in Havana.
Cuba is hot with temperatures reaching more than 30C (90F). The sun is extremely strong - you can get SERIOUS burns in less than 1/2 an hour. Take sensible precautions, use plenty of sun block or high factor sun cream and cover up particularly when working or visiting the beach and acclimatise slowly.
Get a medical check-up before you go to Cuba. If you have any long-term or recurrent medical problems - even minor ones - make sure you take any drugs and equipment you need with you. If you feel that you may face potential difficulties then speak to someone who has specialist medical knowledge of Cuba and inform the Brigade Co-ordinator. It is strongly recommended that you take out travel insurance. The Cubans will take great care of you at all times and if there is an emergency there is a doctor and nurse in residence at the medical facility on the camp.
You should take two sets of work clothes. The aim is to cover as much of you body as possible to protect you from insects and the sun. Trousers or leggings and long sleeved and high necked shirts. A cotton neck scarf will also be useful. You should also take strong work gloves. You will need strong work boots and good socks to wear with them. Off duty, cotton is essential for coolness. Shirts, T-shirts, light trousers, skirts, dresses, beach & swimming clothes - be prepared for hot weather. A light sweater/jumper for cooler evenings, lightweight raincoat for those occasional downpours. Sandals, comfortable shoes, sun hat. Wearing trousers and long sleeves in the evening will protect you from mosquitoes. You may also want to take a set of smarter clothes for more formal occasions.
An important aspect of solidarity work is the dissemination of information. Try to make the best use of the overview you will have acquired of the current situation in Cuba. You could approach your trade union branch, political group etc. to give a report back of your experience. Cuba Support Group is always looking for people to help organise future Brigades. You should also consider writing articles for local newspapers, trade unions journals and for Cuba Today