From Brooklyn to Cuba with love
St. Edmund Prep students visit day care centers
A group of Catholic high school students took the trip of a lifetime when they traveled from Brooklyn to Cuba on a humanitarian mission.
Twelve students and two teachers from Saint Edmund Preparatory High School in Sheepshead Bay recently visited Havana for a week of service in coordination with the organization Fundación Amistad.
Prior to the trip, the students took part in the school’s Hunger Awareness Project and decorated the school cafeteria with statistics reminding their fellow students of people who are not as fortunate as they are. On that day, the entire school was challenged to walk in the shoes of those less fortunate and to restrict their spending for food and other non-travel expenses to $2.00.
The journey to Cuba was filled with a diverse set of activities.
During their time there, the students and their adult chaperones met one of the families they are working with at Padre Felix Varela Cultural Center. They later they toured Havana, where they saw Revolution Square and other sites.
The teens visited with the Salesian Sisters, a Catholic religious order, at their convent. The visit was important, according to St. Edmund officials, because the funds raised during the Hunger Awareness Project will be donated to the sisters to help them establish a day care center on the grounds of the convent. The group toured the facility and the site of the new center.
The students shared dinner with a youth group at the Padre Felix Varela Cultural Center. By the end of the evening, the Americans and the Cubans were friends. They even played a game of soccer together.
Several St. Edmund seniors who went on the charity mission to Cuba said the experience changed their lives.
Edward Carr said he believed that President Barack Obama was on the right track when he re-established diplomatic relations between the U.S. and Cuba. “He definitely did the right thing,” he told the Brooklyn Eagle.
The Cubans and the Americans had a lot in common, according to Carr. The Cubans are big fans of the HBO series “Game of Thrones.” Their favorite sport is soccer.
Carr recalled how touched he was when a group of children in a day care center sang “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star” for the Americans.
The group spent time at a day care center in Rincon at the Sanctuary of San Lazaro so that the students could understand the importance of their mission.
The students shared milkshakes with Archbishop Juan de la Caridad Garcia Rodriguez, the archbishop of Havana, who told them about the church in Cuba.
One highlight of the trip came when the Americans visited the Padre Usera Day Care Center and worked with children from ages two to four.
That same afternoon, they toured an artist’s workshop. José Rodríguez Fuster, an artist specializing in ceramics, painting, drawing, engraving and graphic design, discussed his work with the visitors.
“I went there without expectations,” said St. Edmund senior Gerald Rehill. “We didn’t expect some of the personal stories that were there.”
Rehill and his fellow students were surprised by how easily they made friends in Cuba and by how warmly they were welcomed by the children in day care facilities.
Havana also has beautiful buildings, Rehill said. When the St. Edmund contingent was there, the Cubans were in the process of restoring an art museum.
“We made connections. They took us in with open arms,” Melissa Nereus told the Brooklyn Eagle.
At one foster home the students visited, a three-year-old boy named Michael called Nereus by her first name. “He wanted me to pick him up,” she recalled.
Nereus, whose family is from Haiti, said there wasn’t much that surprised her during the trip. “My family is from the Caribbean,” she said.
One of the adult chaperones, Deacon Ronald Rizzuto, said he got as much out of the journey as the students did. “I learned that it’s not material possessions that are important. It is relationships,” he said.
Rizzuto is glad he went. “I was hesitant to go. I thought, ‘Oh my gosh, Cuba is formidable territory.’ But the people were just so open, so welcoming. They’re just like us,” he said.
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