Reflections of Eco Cuba Network Participants
Here are a few comments and letters of support we have received from them
and from participants on these research tours:
Dear Eco Cuba Network,
I want to tell you how much I have appreciated working with Eco Cuba Network over the past 15 years. As International Program Manager for Solar Energy International, I could not have led all those tours to Cuba on Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency without Eco Cuba Network. Your connections with scientists, engineers, and others working in sustainable development in Cuba have been crucial to the success of our tours.
Since 1996 the renewable energy tours to Cuba have helped renewable energy professionals in the US connect with their counterparts in Cuba, allowing them to share information and experiences. Cuba has made great strides in energy efficiency programs, which we can learn from here in the states, and Cuban professionals can learn a lot about renewable energy programs from their US counterparts.
Eco Cuba Network has been key in developing these relationships, and providing travel and logistical support for these trips. I look forward to offering many more of these trips in the years to come, to help people learn about the amazing work Cuba has done in sustainable development, and to bring together Cuban and US professionals who are both working on these critical issues.
Founder, Appropriate Development Solutions
Former International Program Manager, Solar Energy International
Thank you so much for all of your help in making the Cuba trip possible for me! It was a truly beautiful experience. I am just now processing everything, and in my reflections I've recognized that the trip will have of significant effect on my life. I am inspired by the Cuban people and their ability to invent, adapt and focus on sustainability in such a difficult, hard reality.
I am back in my neighborhood and am sharing my Cuba experience with everyone. Folks from the Center for Sustainable Engagement and Development (CSED), here in the 9th Ward of New Orleans, are thankful that I was able to go to Cuba. We hope to one day be as successful as the Cubans in creating urban gardens, and energy efficiency educational programs. Three or four of my friends from the CSED would like to go to Cuba with Eco Cuba Exchange in November and learn more about Cuba's sustainable agriculture initiative.
With the opportunity to meet Jesse Fink I was able to network and talk to him about Mill Stone Farm. He agreed to send someone from Mill Stone to the 9th Ward and work with us at CSED in a train the trainer program. This is exciting for all of us in the neighborhood! I also was able to meet a gentleman named Paul Scheckel who wrote a book about saving energy and cutting utility costs. He agreed to come down to New Orleans at some point and give a presentation in the 9th Ward.
So as you can see the trip was a huge success. I am thankful. Now is the time for action and I hope to apply what I have seen and learned in my neighborhood!
Please send your address as CSED and I would like to send you a small gift thanking you for your help.
I hope to stay in touch with you. Please come down to New Orleans sometime and visit. Food – Music – Good People!
Home Energy Rater
LEED Green Associate
401 Andry Street
New Orleans, LA 70117
“Ha'ina Mai Ana Ka Puana”
the story is told…
by Luanna Peterson, Honolulu, Hawaii
During the first two weeks of June 2012, Roberto Perez, the Environmental Education and Biodiversity Conservation Program Director for the Antonio Núñez Jimenez Foundation for Nature and Humanity in Havana, Cuba, visited the island of Oahu in Hawaii. Roberto’s historical two-week visit to Hawaii served as a catalyst for much bigger things to come! His stay here was borne from an idea, a thought, a passing suggestion, really.
Months before his arrival, Jesse Lipman, Food Programs Coordinator at Kokua Kalhi Valley, and I had met one afternoon to share our experiences in Cuba. Both of us traveled to Cuba during 2011 with Eco Cuba Exchange. Our trips to Cuba had been so transformative for the both us, we knew that we couldn’t leave Cuba in Cuba. Somehow, we had to introduce Hawaii to Cuba and Cuba to our dear home. We could see the ripple effects of such a relationship even before the pebble was cast. Hawaii and Cuba share so much in common, how could the relationship not thrive and help to evolve both island nations?
It was apparent to us that Hawaii and Cuba, through their environmental, historical and agricultural landscapes, could be strong allies in their struggle to become sustainable through self-determination and horizontal collaboration across class, race, and national boundaries. Even within Hawaii, we found that collaboration amongst groups and organizations that shared similar goals, was lacking.
Cuba has progressed in the areas of sustainability, community-building, and self-determination over the years. Whether it is a result of the revolution, the will of the people, political leadership, or factors still beyond our comprehension – being the amiable acquaintances we are of this country – their accomplishments are impressive and deserve examination.
Why would we choose Roberto Perez to kick-start this endeavor? Was it simply that he was Cuban? Roberto was the natural pick for us to begin this journey for reasons beyond the obvious. Yes, he is an internationally-renowned permaculturist and sustainability expert, and yes he is a wonderful representative of his culture and people, but it was more than that. Last summer when I met him in Cuba, the first thing I noticed about him besides his laughter and love for the spoken word, was his sincere desire to be an agent of change not only in his own country but the world over. His enthusiasm was infectious. Sitting there with him, as Cuban jazz threatened to drown out our impassioned conversation, I thought why not bring Roberto to Hawaii? I had no idea how I would do this, but the thought was a start.
When Jesse and I decided to bring Roberto, we immediately began to contact individuals and organizations in the community who we thought would be interested in not only meeting Roberto but in building a long-term friendship with Cuba. Soul De Cuba, Mohala Farms, Kahumanu Farms, Kokua Kalihu Valley Foundation, Ola Hawaii 2020, and Malama Aina Foundation, were some the first groups to support our vision.
Jesus Puerto, owner of Soul De Cuba, the only Cuban restaurant in Hawaii, had been working to establish Honolulu as a sister city to Cuba when we met with him.
After meeting with various people in the community, we began to see that the timing of Roberto’s visit was a small part of a larger synergistic movement that was taking place. People are beginning to realize that their struggle is not theirs alone, that their story, though unique in many ways, is one that is being lived all over the world. We are realizing that as long as we are riding this wave together, we may as well look to one another – here and across oceans, for support and guidance.
Growing up in Hawaii, my elders often provided metaphors to explain important life lessons. My favorite was the fishing net and it’s symbol as a strong community. Uncle Loso would say—“ a strong village is a fishing net—made up of many knots, all of them needed and tied together, and all of them strong. If one is missing, the net falls apart and the village goes hungry.” I see Roberto and the many teachers here, there and everywhere, as the knots in our community that can bring us abundance—so long as we are together and one.
Getting Roberto here was quite an adventure. Jesse and I took this project on, knowing we both had full-time work to tend to and the responsibility of family. In hindsight, we would have liked to have delegated more responsibility early on so as ensure key tasks were accomplished in a timely manner. Moreover, the logistics of arranging travel for a Cuban citizen was quite a ride. We literally did not hear word of his visa approval until a few days before he was set to travel to Hawaii. The US embassy does not make it easy for Cubans to travel for reasons that still boggle my mind.
In the end, Roberto arrived. The minute his foot touched this island, his adventures took off and did not abate until the day he left. Word got around that a Cuban sustainability expert was here, and soon, everyone — I mean everyone! — wanted to meet him. Roberto had a lot to do with his popularity and demand during his stay here. There is something about him (and in fact the Cuban people) that is very akin to local people in Hawaii. He is sincere, generous, gregarious, and gives his whole self to any task—big or small. From dinner dates with Hawaiian elders to visits to farms from one tip of the island to the other, he never wanted for something to do.
His first week was at Ho’oulu Aina, a nature preserve in, Kalihi Valley. There he worked with migrant families, helped to build a traditional Chukkese underground oven, tended the garden with grandparents, and sat with local farmers over beer as they discussed bokashi fertilizer and the similarities in their environment. “ We have this plant in Cuba,” Roberto would say. As they walked throughout the valley, they would ask one another, “and this, how does this grow on your land?” Eyes would light up as they realized that Noni, for example, had made its way from Polynesia to the Caribbean. No one knew how, but somehow a bit of them had made its way across the pacific. It was a beautiful exchange.
From there, he visited Wai’anae Valley. He stayed at Kahumanu Farms. Father Phil Harmon was his host. Wai’anae was an important place for Roberto to visit. This dry coast is home to the largest community of Native Hawaiians. Visitors and locals alike often overlook the spiritual and historical significance of this part of the island. Settled over 2,000 years ago, the district of Wai‘anae is believed to be one of the first areas on O‘ahu to be settled by the ancient Hawaiians. Being on the leeward side, the Hawaiians have had to adapt to regular droughts. These harsh conditions shaped the values and resourcefulness of the people of Wai’anae. Overtime, new challenges and occupation by the military and foreign interests have continuously beset this community. Nonetheless, the tenacity and strength of Wai’ane has stood the test of time. The community welcomed Roberto graciously.
From here, Robetro’s journey began to spread across Oahu at the speed of light. Jesse and I begin to lose sight of the details and had to trust that he was being taken care of. I was flooded with requests for his time from morning to night. He stayed on the North shore of Oahu at Waialua Farms, hosted a film viewing at various churches, was interviewed on Beth-Ann Kozlovich, a Hawaii Public Radio show, presented with Ola Hawaii 2020, and on, and on.
He left as soon as he came. What did he leave behind? Roberto brought our community together, sparked an interest in Cuba that went beyond Fidel and Elian Gonzales, and brought fresh ideas to our own work in creating a just, self-determined and sustainable Hawaii. Last but not least, he took a bit of Hawaii with him—our Aloha and our story. “Ha'ina Mai Ana Ka Puana,” the story is told.
During the last two years, Eco Cuba Network has arranged Cuba travel for staff and students at the following organizations and universities:
COLLEGES AND UNIVERSITIES
Eco Cuba Network is a project of Green Cities Fund.