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MLK Scholars Take Trip to Cuba

Written by Gabriella LoBue
5/10/2017

MLK Scholars taking part in a Service Learning Project in Havana, Cuba. Photo by Alexis Powell

Each year over winter break, the students in Ithaca College’s Martin Luther King Scholar Program travel to an international city for one week. Once there, they research social justice issues, meet with members of the community, visit places of historic and social significance, and attend lectures on topics specific to the country. This year, the juniors and seniors spent a week in Havana, Cuba. In addition to listening to speakers and going on informational tours, the students also participated in Service Learning projects at four different social institutions, each of which offered a unique learning opportunity.

The first project took place at Colectivo de Creacion Artistica Trance, an organization that promotes the socio-cultural work of diverse communities through the creative arts. Their members create a medium through which expression and storytelling is made possible. For example, some explore their “inner world” through painting, while others may express it externally through martial arts. The scholars practiced their own community-building when they broke into groups and collaborated to create paintings. Upon completion, they reflected on how each individual’s contribution added color and depth to the image, in the same way that someone’s personal experiences can add to the overall dimension and dynamics of a group.

The following day, the students visited Murleando, an old water tank building renovated and transformed into a community art project. Murleando boasts stunning murals, sculptures, and other art pieces that add a vibrant atmosphere to the property. For their service learning, the scholars were given the task of cleaning the streets by removing weeds from the curb, and sweeping up debris and leaves. This humbling work helped keep the community clean and beautiful, and the scholars gained their own respect for the project that consistently offers its participants a place for creativity and innovation.    

The students also visited Cabildo Quisicuaba, a social and cultural project that aims to create a space for healthy socializing and promotion of intelligence and creativity. By prioritizing high-risk communities, this organization empowers individuals with HIV and AIDS as well as drug and alcohol addiction. The scholars helped the site prepare and serve lunch to those who regularly receive meals from the institution. This gave the scholars insight to the daily service that Cabildo Quisicuaba offers to its community members.

On the final day, the scholars visited an Afro-Cuban neighborhood, and attended their Service Learning project at Proyecto Salsita. Both the outside and interior walls of the building are plastered nearly from floor to ceiling with newspaper clippings, and are ornamented with crafts made by children of the neighborhood. The property also features antique appliances, such as typewriters and television screens, repurposed as art sculptures. After a brief tour, several scholars crafted papier-mâché apples with some of the local children. Using newspaper and string, a teacher showed them how to make unique pieces of art out of simple materials that may have otherwise been discarded. This was a special experience for many of the students as they saw how the children interacted with each other and their environment, and demonstrated interest for both their art and their community.

In less than seven days, the Martin Luther King Scholars gained a greater understanding of the complex history, structure, and politics of Cuba. And through the Service Learning projects, they received an up close and hands-on experiences that gave them insight into several communities. Though each institution offered a different perspective of and lesson about the culture, there was one common theme throughout each site: The love that many Cuban people share for their country and communities exemplify the agape love Dr. King spoke of. That is, an unconditional love that transcends and serves even in the most challenging of times.  



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