Bright Light Volunteers announced that it has been honored with the prestigious 2019 Top- Rated Award by Great Nonprofits for the third time in a row. GreatNonprofits, the leading provider of third party reviews for nonprofit organizations, created their Top-Rated Award as a sort of people’s choice award for nonprofits, where volunteers, donors, and people served cast their vote in the form of a review to express their appreciation and help their favorite nonprofits win a spot on this coveted list. Read more here:
Finding Family in Cuba
By Ethan Besnard
For most Americans there is a great deal of interest and mystery in Cuba because, until recently, we have not been able to explore the country. When offered this once in a lifetime opportunity with BLV’s award winning Cuba program, it was an automatic yes for me and I knew I would enjoy every second of it. I had already experienced one BLV program and was excited knowing how much that first trip impacted my life. I couldn’t wait to learn more from a different culture and lifestyle.
Upon arrival in Cuba, there was an immediate realization that Cuba’s economy appeared to be suffering. The airport in Havana was small, run down, had no air-conditioning and little organization. As we waited for transportation, I watched dozens of Cubans carting out TVs and other electronics that were difficult to obtain or too costly on the island which resulted in Cubans traveling to other countries to make purchases. This was a shocking contrast to our quick Costco runs or Amazon orders.
Our BLV guide told us that one of our most important jobs was to help increase Cuba’s middle class, which was why we weren’t staying in hotels, but casitas: local homeowners who rent out rooms. I quickly learned there were many advantages to staying in a casita over a hotel. I was able to get to know the owners personally, became part of their community, practiced my Spanish, and enjoyed delicious home-cooked meals.
In our first night in Havana, our casita owner Maria hosted a big welcome party for us. She and her family decorated, cooked langosta (lobster which is difficult to purchase), and hired professional salsa dancers for our entertainment. Despite my language barrier, I could still communicate with our hosts through their patience and gestures. Before long, there were no more barriers and we all danced and clapped together enjoying a true cultural celebration.
Havana’s streets were lined with brightly colored 1950s cars. The buildings stood tall and closely together. The ocean breeze provided comfort from the hot sun. While Havana was overgrown with buildings and history, the small western town of Viñales was much more rural and provided warm people, beautiful views of greenery and the famous mogotes, and incredible food.
The real joy of the program came when we started our service on an organic farm in Viñales. After learning that the Cuban government takes 90% of the farmers’ crops for their own use, we knew the more we helped on the farm, the more the farmers could keep for themselves. We would walk to the farm everyday and spend hours planting, digging, weeding, and preparing for new crops. All of the farmers were very gracious and offered plenty of food throughout the day. We did our best to keep up with the farmers and could tell they appreciated our work ethic. After long days of working alongside these men, it was quite difficult to say goodbye. We gifted them tools, gloves, socks, etc. and they gifted us memories and gratefulness.
I have noticed similarities between my two BLV programs but the one that occured every single day on each program was the generosity of the local people who had little to offer; the farmers, who made just enough money to support themselves and their families gave us food from their farm, the casita owners who opened their homes for us to stay in overfilled our plates at each meal, the baseball players who played friendly games with us offered fresh pineapple to quench our thirst. Seeing the generosity of the Cubans was eye opening. While Cuba is a beautiful place, it is the people who make the country magical.
DALLAS, TEXAS (PRWEB) DECEMBER 14, 2018
Stacie Freeman, a Tennessee university sociology professor and Catherine Greenberg, a Texas non-prot executive director, joined forces to create an innovative partnership designed to reimagine, even revolutionize, global citizenship education for U.S. high school students.
“In order to effect global change, education must evolve and expand to prepare all young people to create a brighter future,” says Professor Freeman. “We both understood what needed to be done to help solve for this deficit and we felt up to the challenge. Even in this new age of technology, where ideas, money, and goods can be transported around the globe in mere seconds—the term “global citizen” is still commonly misunderstood.”
According to Oxfam Education, “a global citizen is aware of and understands the wider world and their place in it. They take an active role in their community, and work with others to make our planet more equal, fair, and sustainable.” At Bright Light Volunteers (BLV), it is believed that global citizens and leaders are created through high quality, rigorous education coupled with sustainable, international service. Through an innovative partnership with Bethel University (BU), together, they provide a ground-breaking global service learning and citizenship program where high school students enroll in a Global Service Learning and Citizenship course, for college credit or a certificate of global citizenship, prior to volunteering abroad. This unique, multifaceted approach to global citizenship education results in the deep global competence required of tomorrow’s leaders.
Greenberg reports that the BLV-BU partnership is working. Since inception, students who participate in Bright Light Volunteers’ Global Service Learning and Citizenship programs report:
Improved understanding of local, national, and global challenges
Improved understanding of the interconnectedness of the worlds’ countries and people
Professor Freeman with a group of dual enrollment high school students in Cuba.
“We’re determined to make the world a brighter place,” Greenberg smiles. “One student at a time.”
Willingness to act effectively and responsibly on a local, national, and international level Increased appreciation and respect for diversity
Improved critical thinking skills for problem solving, peacemaking, and social responsibility Increased empathy for others and the environment
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In addition to these findings, 100% of BLV high school participants graduate and attend college. This is especially encouraging in the rural, Title One schools where Freeman and Greenberg are creating opportunities. By all accounts, this dynamic duo really is reshaping the educational landscape and challenging the status quo when it comes to access to global education. “We’re determined to make the world a brighter place,” Greenberg smiles. “One student at a time.”
Bright Light Volunteers is a 501(c)(3), non-prot organization, designed to empower program participants and community partners through education and service. Specifically, our programs adhere to global service-learning best practices, which combine community service with both experiential learning in the eld and online coursework through our university partner. Our vision is to make the world a brighter place by creating a more peaceful, just, interconnected world where global challenges and opportunities are met by educated, compassionate, global citizens and leaders.
Founded in 1842, Bethel University is a nonprofit institution that is regionally accredited by the Commission on Colleges of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools. Bethel University’s mission is to create opportunities for members of the learning community to develop in a Christian environment their highest intellectual, spiritual, and social potential. This includes synchronous and asynchronous modes of education.