What Cubans taught me about justice

by Sierra Robertson-Roper

For the first week of May, I partook in the first ever International Justice Camp in Cuba, organized jointly by Niagara Diocese and the Episcopal Church of Cuba.

The event brought together 25 Canadians and 25 Cubans to explore the theme of “Common Good: The Promise of the Reign of God.”

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Delegates to the Justice camp from Niagara Diocese standing on the patio of the retreat centre in Matanzas, cuba. Photo: Submitted

Together, delegates participated in one of three immersion experiences centred on a social justice topic: Food Security, Social Engagement or Economic Justice. These experiences brought people to justice projects in places such as Havana, Itabo, Cardenas, Matanzas and Varadero. What ensued was a week of deep spiritual connection, life giving reflection and much learning. Visiting Cuba has dramatically changed my views on justice making, and what our role as Christians is within that.

In Cuba, justice making looks very different than it does here. In Cuba, community aid projects are rarely supported by the government. In many cases they operate illegally. This is because of the rhetoric in government propaganda which states the country is self-sufficient, and the government has created prosperity for all. In the state’s view, supporting community based justice projects is equal to admitting they have failed to provide for their people. As a result, such projects are run by Cuban citizens and are privately funded—faith communities especially have taken up this work. In addition, it is illegal for Cubans to protest or lobby the government for assistance. As a result, the Cuban people must work at a grass roots level without asking for governmental support.
In spite of the challenges, Cuban people are doing amazing things.
In Havana, delegates visited programs such as “Cuba Emprende” which helps young entrepreneurs start businesses, and “The Colony”, a shelter for disenfranchised elderly men.

In Itabo delegates visited a farm—started by Bishop Griselda of the Episcopal Church of Cuba—which aims to provide sustainable fresh produce to those in the community and education about environmental stewardship.

In Cardenas, delegates visited The Christian Centre for Reflection and Dialogue (CCRD) which provides a number of programs such as clean water provision, organic farming, care for the elderly and disabled, counselling and support for the victims of domestic abuse.
In addition, churches across Cuba are the hubs of communities by providing safe clean water to all people, food for the hungry and friendship for the lonely. The hard work and determination of the Cuban people to care for one another is inspiring.

Cubans can teach us a lot about justice making.

As Canadians, we have many privileges which we take for granted. We have a government that allows its people to voice their opinions. We live in a country where the government invests in aid projects and organizations. It is our responsibility to utilize these tools to serve our communities.

My trip to Cuba renewed my faith that justice can prevail on earth. Justice happens when passionate people work together for what is right. Justice-making is something anyone can do. Justice happens when we love our neighbour as ourself, while working to live out our baptismal covenants on earth. It’s not about how official what you’re doing is. As one of the presenters at the CCRD told me, “We have been doing this work for 25 years, 20 of those years illegally—but being legal hasn’t changed what we do. We have always brought people together.”

I pray that we as Canadians can take a page out of the Cubans’ book, fighting for justice no matter what challenges stand in our way.

Sierra Robertson-Roper can be contacted below: