Six members of my Raleigh, NC book club were able to visit Havana, Cuba in October 2022 thanks to Cindy White, owner of P2P, a Cuban travel agency, and, as luck would have it, a member of our book club. Cindy inspired our group — especially after we read a novel about the Cuban revolution and its personal toll — to make the trip and to bring with us much-needed supplies through Pack for a Purpose. Together we delivered 17 suitcases filled with donations to two Cuban organizations.
As we learned, Cindy’s connection to Pack for a Purpose is closely connected to her personal history and story. Her parents left Cuba in the early 1960s and hadn’t returned to the island until travel restrictions eased in 2009. When she and her family visited their homeland after decades in the US, they, as dual US-Cuban citizens, decided they wanted to share their heritage by arranging trips to expose people from all over the world to Cuban culture, history and natural beauty. They also knew they wanted to do something to more directly help their fellow Cubans, so they partnered with Pack for a Purpose since the values of each organization align so perfectly.
While in Havana our group stayed in impeccable, modern accommodations arranged by Cindy, enjoyed Cuban food and entertainment, rode in classic cars, toured historic sites and learned about the daily challenges average Cuban citizens face thanks to the insights Cindy and our P2P guides provided. This was not merely a fun girls trip to a Caribbean island, however. We saw with our own eyes the long lines of Cuban citizens waiting for food and gas. As we observed and heard about what life is truly like in Cuba, we wanted to do something to help. Pack for a Purpose offered us a way to give tangible and immediate support to the Cuban people.
Our donations included medical supplies, personal hygiene products, clothes, hats, reading glasses and other items Cindy had told us were in short supply. A highlight of our trip was when we delivered these items personally one afternoon to the Mitrani Senior Day Care Center and the Patronato Pharmacy. The director of the Mitrani Senior Center, which serves about 100 elderly people in need of hot meals, medical attention and social interaction, greeted us warmly and with gratitude and proudly gave us a tour of their facilities. At the Patronato Pharmacy, which offers much needed medical supplies to Havana’s citizens, Cindy and our amazing guide, Juan Carlos, described the medical system in Cuba and the shortages of even the most basic medications. We understood this even more clearly when, at the end of our trip, Juan Carlos gratefully accepted a bottle of Advil from one member of our group. This simple, over-the-counter medication, readily available to us, was a treasured gift to him.
This exchange and all our Pack for a Purpose donations made us realize just how much we take for granted in our lives in the US and the impact we can have when we make even a small effort. Our trip broadened our perspective and opened our eyes to basic needs in another part of the world. Beyond learning about Cuban history and culture as tourists, Pack for a Purpose gave us the opportunity to act directly on what we observed and to make a meaningful and positive difference in other peoples’ lives, create good will and build bridges between us as individuals.