Guantanamo, Cuba

I LOVE photojournalism and just photographing people doing what they normally do so wanted to share with you some photos around the town and streets of Guantanamo.  Ken, one of our team mates loves kids and was so smart to bring bags of candy and toys to just randomly give out whenever he could.  He would see kids playing in the street and would toss them a baseball or soccer ball out of nowhere and they would just explode with excitement.  We all stayed in homes where people had extra rooms that they rented out just a couple blocks from the church. Each morning (very early:-) we would hear a guy yelling to let everyone know he was selling fresh bread, loud diesel engines zooming by, and the clip clop of horse and buggies.  There were a lot of dogs, both stray and pets.  There was one that looked down on us from the roof everyday as we walked by.  There is a school right across from the church, and for gym class or recess they just string a rope across the street so cars couldn't cross and then would play soccer and run races.  The old cars are so cool and weird to see.  On the outside they are painted bright colors and look amazing.  Pastor Raidel has a blue 57 Chevy, and when you open up the hood it has a diesel Toyota engine, Fiat carburetor, 2 sets of different tires and makeshift whatever parts so that it runs.  There were people gathered in the town square as they do have wifi hot spot guys that for $1 will connect your phone. I tried it one day, and it really only worked for texting not for email or social media which was actually kind of nice for a change!  There are just a few options for stores there and they all pretty much have the same thing as they are all run by the government.  There's a picture below of one that had things like clothes and cookware and appliances.  The pricing was similar to what you would see in the US which didn't make sense to us since their incomes are $12-$20 a month.  They told us that since they are government stores, it doesn't matter if they sell things or not and that there is a huge black market where people go to get things at prices they can afford.  It was such an interesting place, like nothing else I've ever seen!  Our last day on the way out was spent in Havana so I'll be posting some of my favs from there next!

Marriage Bootcamp Cuba Style

The 2nd part of our trip even more important than setting up the bridal boutique was teaching a workshop on marriage.  In Cuba, they don't have marriage conferences and endless amounts of books and online info available to them like we do here.  At Bay Hope we have a really awesome pre-marital mentoring program for engaged couples so our team pulled out the most important parts and taught 4 workshops that each of the 30 couples rotated through.  The topics were communication, spirituality, family history, and personality.  They rented out a little resort in Guantanamo that was about 20 minutes from town.  It was a beautiful setting and the weather was amazing.  I was just helping keep time and photographing everything so I got to see all the groups.  Our couples did an amazing job and were so excited to teach, and the couples were just soaking everything in they possibly could! That night was a feast with an entire pig that had been roasting all day and lots of games, it was SO much fun.  We need to do more of that!  They ended the evening with giving each couple a little cup of coffee and a piece of candy.  It was so remind everyone that there will be bitter times and sweet times in life but that it's all worth it.  Before we left the next morning, the couples wanted to us to hear their stories.  So, we all gathered in a big group and one by one the couples shared their struggles and the things that had overcome, it was truly amazing.  Pretty soon, they'll have their own mentoring program led by their couples!

Operation Bridal Boutique Guantanamo

The first day of our mission trip in Guantanamo, Cuba was setting up a bridal boutique full of gorgeous gowns.  We had 14 duffel bags vacuum packed with 86 gowns, veils, jewelry, and accessories that were generously donated by individuals and Tampa Bay wedding gown boutiques.  We had even more than we could bring so the rest of the gowns will be brought on future trips. The store owners and personal friends of mine and everyone I asked was so excited to be a part of this effort!  There was a team of 15 of us who actually went but there were so many others that were a part of making this happen.  The room you see below is in the pastor's house that is attached to the church, it was one of their kids bedrooms that was transformed into a bridal boutique.  The people in Guantanamo generally make between $12-20 per month, that is correct per month!  So, most people can't afford to have a wedding let alone a gorgeous gown.  The purpose of this boutique is so that the church has a micro business, where they can rent these dresses to the community for an amount they can afford.  The concept is just plain awesome.  After we had it setup, the ladies on our team helped each of the 30 brides find a dress, veil, and jewelry to wear for the big wedding celebration that would be happening on Wednesday. "Digo si al Traje" is Spanish for "I said yes to the dress!" so Zul wrote a little sign and I had some of them hold it just like we would here:-)  While we were doing that, the guys were hard at work painting, sanding, and repairing the outside of the house.  The very last photo is of our whole team in the room they had just finished so that we would all have a place to eat meals together.   THANK YOU to these boutiques Isabel O'NeilSomething Blue Bridal Boutique, The Perfect Dress, Olga's Bridal, Goodwill and everyone who played a part in, this it was truly amazing!  

Cuba Wedding Mission

Last week I got to be a part of a mission team that traveled to the town of Guantanamo, Cuba! I have to say, it was one of the most interesting places I have ever been.  My church here in Tampa, Bay Hope Church, has a sister church there.  This mission trip was totally unique as it was geared around marriage and weddings, my favorite of course! We brought down over 80 wedding gowns, veils, jewelry, hair/makeup supplies donated by boutiques and individuals from Tampa Bay  to setup a boutique at the church there, taught a marriage workshop, and ended the trip with a huge wedding for 30 couples that I got to photograph! Every day this week I'm going to give you a peek into what we saw and did.  The photos I'm posting today were from my personal favorite part of the trip.
     The first 5 photos are what the neighborhood around the church in Guantanamo looks like.  The streets are loud with kids out playing, horse and carriages plodding by, and in the evening groups of me play dominoes on the street corners.  People there live in very small generally 1 or 2 room apartment like row houses.  I got to do a super mini session with each of the 30 couples the day of the wedding as they got ready.  All of these couples have already been married from anywhere between 9 months and one couple over 45 years.  Most of them never ever had a wedding ceremony, or gown, let alone photos to remember it by.  All the couples either attend the church or are missionaries that are sent out by the church.  The missionaries literally walk for miles a day into the mountains to do their mission work without knowing where they are going to sleep or what they might eat that day.  I wanted each couple to feel special and see how beautiful they looked. So, I used a different spot right there in the neighborhood that matched what they were wearing.  My Spanish isn't super stellar so I couldn't have done it without Zul, one of our team members who translated and was the most amazing photography assistant!  There's not really access to get prints made there very easily and so I brought my little 4x6 printers so we could surprise the couples with a framed photo as a wedding gift.  When their pastor saw the prints he told me something I will never forget.  He said that he's walked by those places countless times and didn't see them as beautiful, but seeing how they look in these photos gave him a new perspective on the beauty in his neighborhood.  There's so much more I could say about these couples but I'll let you see for yourselves.  

Haiti Take 4: Destiny Village and Project 81

 

In my last posting I took you to Village 87 and through those images you saw the poverty of the children living there.  Yet, just 10 kilometers down the road there is hope!   Near village 87 is an amazing place called  Destiny Village.  It is an orphanage with 30 children.  All of these children were near death in the surrounding villages when they came to Destiny Village. But they've been given a new chance at life.  Now, they represent a hopeful future for the country of Haiti. When we first met the children I was shocked that they understood me.  All the children learn English along with their native Creole and French. They all go to church, school, and have hopes and dreams of becoming singers, mechanics, teachers; one young man even wants to be the future President of Haiti! Mark, with the bus, captured the heart of our entire group with his sweetness.  Clairemont (I'm not sure if I spelled it right!) is a little 8 year old girl who was an amazing singer and dancer.

 

 I hope these pictures can express how happy and healthy the kids are at Destiny Village.  The night and day difference between these kids and the ones we met just hours before in the villages was awe-inspiring.  Like I said, hope is on the horizon!  You will see several pictures of a fence and open land. Destiny Village is partnering with Project 81 (www.project81.org) with the hope of turning this open space into a gathering place with a community center, school, church, clinic, and place to get food and clean water.  It is in walking distance from Village 87, Village 81, and other surrounding villages. Project 81 wants to provide a hope and a future to the children of these villages.  We are going to be partnering with Project 81 on this vision, as well as some of the initiatives of Mayor Gayel in Port-au-Prince.  It's all in the works and I'll be sharing more soon on what we'll be doing.  My prayer is that these photos would prick your heart to help in any capacity, because great or small, the opportunity is here! 


















Haiti Take 3: Village 87

Some may find these images disturbing, and honestly my goal is to illicit emotion.  And my hope and prayer is that you will not stop with just emotion, but you will be moved to action and fight against the unjust and inhumane conditions in Haiti. On the way to the small village we were to visit, we found beautiful coastlines and vistas that would rival any Caribbean country.  One unique and telling feature was that within feet of beautiful blue ocean water were cactus and dry ground.  I'd never seen that before. The images you will see below were taken of the people in a tiny place called Village 87.  It is a place that almost no one goes to and doesn't even have a name.  87 stands for its distance from Port-au-Prince, 87 kilometers. This area was devastated during the hurricanes last year and the people there don't have access to clean water or food.  The infant mortality rate is shocking, with some estimates as high 75%.  As we handed out portions of rice, it was heartbraking to see the hopelessness on the people's faces.
 
There are 2 images that stick in my head.  First look for the baby that has what looks like powder on him.  The man holding him didn't get in line to get some rice. He sat on the side and had this look of despair on his face that I will never forget.  Second, find the boy running with his bucket to the rice, holding up shorts that are several sizes too big. I don't speak Creole, but the boys were clearly asking me if I had shoes to give them and I hated that I didn't.  They don't have any, and I can't imagine walking for miles everyday with no shoes.
 
Like I said, this is a place rarely visited by outsiders, and there are 100s of villages like this all over Haiti   This is the reality of Haiti. Almost.  There is hope for Village 87.  There is hope for Haiti.  I'll show you that hope in my next posting.



















Haiti Take 2: Delmas Region

Port-au-Prince has 3 mayors, each responsible for a different part of the city. On Wednesday, we had the privilege of spending the day with the Mayor of the area known as Delmas, Jean Gael. He and his advisor spoke candidly about the people, history, and challenges of Haiti. He took us to one of the slums in his region so we could see first hand both the progress and obstacles that exist. Concrete houses line the hillside as far as the eye can see. There is currently a very small clinic, church, and school for the tens of thousands of people in Delmas.


Jean showed us a new school and church that will be larger and more accessible to the people. He also took us to an empty building that will be the site of the first hospital in that entire region. It is empty right now, but his dream is to have it be a fully functioning medical facility. Many of the pictures below are from the 2nd and 3rd floor of this building. The first picture is a view of the future hospital.

As we drove, the main streets looked like a big market. I asked the Mayor how we were to get through. He said they just keep honking and eventually everyone moves! So that's what he did, and we drove right through the huge crowd of people, it was pretty amazing!!! Standing on the rooftop taking the pictures you will see below, I got lost in the sounds of barefoot kids playing in the streets, the smell of fried food cooking on the corner, and music blaring from open windows. Although I was taken back by the sadness of their circumstances, I was inspired by the resilience and hope on their faces. My next posting you will see a very different story in one of the villages we visited, so more to come!

 


















 

Haiti - A view of Port-au-Prince

Last week I was in Haiti, you may have seen my blog post when I was bored in the airport waiting for the rest of the team to arrive:-) These images will be part of a documentary that will hopefully be used to build awareness and action on the need there which is very staggering and significant. I am going to do several blog postings this week and next to give you an idea of what we saw and felt while there. The first posting is going to be of some images in the city of Port -au-Prince. Here's some of the stats as well. It helps put into perspective some of what you will see. I found this on National Geographic so I assume it's pretty accurate.

 
Total Population 
8,288,000




Capital and Population
Port-au-Prince; 1,961,000
Area
27,750 square kilometers
(10,714 square miles)
Language
French, Creole
Religion
Roman Catholic, Protestant, Voodoo

Currency
gourde
Life Expectancy
51
GDP Per Capita
U.S. $1,400
Literacy Percent
53
It takes about 1.5 hrs of flight time to get there from Tampa so it's amazing how close it is, but yet so far away.  In the next few days I'll talk more about the issues and things that we saw.  These were taken as we were driving around the city, from the car. I asked permission to take their picture when I could, but keep in mind these are through the windows as I saw it driving by. Port-au-Prince is a very busy and colorful city. Jobs are very scarce so people were selling anything from water to art. The streets are very crowded and the carry everything possible on top of their heads. The taxis and buses were painted neon colors with people hanging on the top and sides while they speed down the streets.  One guy below is pulling a cart with tons of tires, it was pretty amazing.  Take a look below and you will see the expressions and how beautiful the people are.  Tomorrow, I'll be posting some images and stories on the slums in Delmas. 


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