GREENSBORO — A regalo of Pastores por la paz.
Large duffel bags are adorned with this message – which stands for “a gift from pastors for peace”. A sports bag with this message also signifies the start of another Pastors for Peace mission in Cuba.
The New York-based organization calls it a “friendship caravan.”
For 30 years, the association has been dedicated to normalizing relations with Cuba, which have been strained for decades. During this time, Pastors for Peace has donated thousands of educational materials, vehicles, and over-the-counter medicines to the Cuban people.
This year, inside the large duffel bags will be masks, gloves, personal protective equipment and other medical supplies – pandemic-related items that are badly needed in the island nation of around 11 million people. ‘inhabitants.
Executive Director Gail Walker said it was the first time Pastors for Peace had visited Cuba since the coronavirus pandemic.
People also read…
“As COVID has mitigated some of it…we felt it was important to reconnect with people,” Walker said. “We’re not meant to be just little squares on a Zoom screen. We wanted to have this connection with people, face to face.
This latest project also brings back another tradition. Before jumping on a flight to bring aid to Cuba, a number of “caravanistas” will fulfill the educational component of their mission through advocacy channels. Aboard a van, a van and a car donated by a supporter, three groups of these people will travel through different regions of the United States.
Eventually, a road will lead them south. To North Carolina. In a church in Greensboro.
In states from New Mexico to North Carolina, caravanistas will collect donations for their trip and discuss the impact of the decades-long US embargo on Cuba and other policies, which some consider outdated.
Today, part of the caravan will travel to Peace United Church of Christ for a fundraising lunch.
Reverend Tom Warren said the money raised will go to the caravan campaign to buy COVID-related medical supplies. There will also be a discussion on the negative effects of economic sanctions on Cuba.
It’s the first time the Pastors for Peace Caravan has stopped at the Peace United Church of Christ — but it’s not the house of worship’s first outreach experience for Cuba.
Each January, the church sponsors a cultural immersion trip to the country. During the trip, participants spend nine days on the island learning about Cuba’s history, culture and people.
Warren’s first trip to Cuba dates back to 2003. He left an impression.
“I was transformed on that trip,” recalls Warren, who has since returned to the island eight times. “I was deeply impressed by universal education. It’s free for all students up to graduate school…and I was especially moved by the free health care…and crime is so low. They don’t have the problems we have. They have other problems. I don’t want to paint it as perfect, but it’s different.
One of these problems is access to medicines. Although Cuba has a free health care system, Walker said many citizens are unable to receive certain types of care due to embargo-related impacts.
A surgical intern in Cuba once told Walker that he had to delay some surgeries due to a lack of common medications ranging from painkillers to blood thinners that prevent blood clotting.
“He said, ‘Even if it’s terrible, what are we going to do?’ recalls Walker. “It’s hard to get aspirin or some other types of basic medical supplies. They are able to produce, ironically, such wonderful things as COVID vaccines, but struggle to get painkillers to hospitals when people need surgery.
Walker said the streets aren’t exactly lined with people on the verge of death, but the limited access to medicine has been disastrous for some. She knows a mother whose child died because there was no medicine to treat a rare kidney disease.
One of Walker’s friends in the country also needed lifesaving medicine. It was not available in Cuba, but could be found in the United States. But Walker couldn’t get it delivered in time.
“It was tragic,” Walker said. “One death is too many.”
The current embargo prevents companies or majority-run people in the United States from trading with the island – the measures, according to Walker, are intended to “isolate and squeeze Cuba into a corner”.
However, the embargo provides exemptions for sending food or medicine – if used for humanitarian purposes and donated to individuals or non-governmental organisations.
Enter Pastors for Peace and its many missions in the country. In his latest venture, bags filled with medical supplies will be donated to an organization called the Cuban Ecumenical Distribution Committee. This group, made up of local religious and community members, decides where supplies are most needed.
Walker said that while the donations bring relief to the Cuban people, it is not enough.
“What we bring in planes and boats and the tons of aid over the years is not what Cuba needs,” Walker said. “What they need is for politics to be removed so they can provide for their own people. We continue to do this work 30 years later because the need remains. People are suffering in Cuba.
Lately, Warren has been preparing his church’s communion hall for today’s fundraiser. He hopes to see lots of new faces and maybe enroll a few for the church’s trip to Cuba next year.
“As a Christian, it’s really about loving your neighbor,” Warren said. “Cuba is our neighbor and we want to build bridges of love, learn from each other and stop this where human beings are hurt by politics.”
Contact Brianna Atkinson at 336-373-7312.