Summer Journeys: Havana Nights

Caleb Hannon is on track to earn two diplomas at commencement in June: a traditional Taft diploma, and a specialized diploma, awarded by Taft’s Global Studies and Service (GSS) department. Introduced in 2014, the GSS diploma program combines rigorous coursework with service at home and abroad.

“I like learning about different people and different cultures,” says Caleb. “I want to dig deeper and envelop myself in another culture; there is no better way to do that than travel.”

A seasoned traveler who has spent time in Europe and Asia, Caleb had very specific ideas about what his next travel experience would look like. He hoped to visit a location that was in close geographic proximity to the US, but that was culturally a world away; service to the local community was a must. Cuba fit that bill.

Caleb traveled with a Global Works, [link] an organization that combines service initiatives with cultural immersion. He spent two weeks traveling across the island nation with a program guide and a dozen students from across the United States, staying with host families along the way.

“Being with a family was a great way to really learn about daily life in Cuba,” Caleb explains. “Being part of life on an island where everything is government run—where there is little room to expand beyond the norm—was unlike anything I have ever experienced.”

The group visited cultural and historical sites in Havana, Cienfuegos, Trinidad, and the Bay of Pigs, working in the community along the way.

“We did some gardening with a local farm initiative that supplies food to the community,” Caleb says, “and some weeding and landscaping at an art gallery, where we actually had the opportunity to create art that they could sell.

They also worked with an organization focused on providing women with skills they need to enter the workforce.

“We met girls as young as 10 there, and women as old as 90,” says Caleb. “It was amazing to see.”

In fact, what impressed Caleb the most throughout his journey was the spirit of the Cuban people.

“In many ways Havana seems lost in time. There are old cars everywhere, and many of the buildings are stark and in disrepair. But the people have so much life and so much hope. They are always looking forward to bigger and better things—the heart of the people is hopeful and energetic.”

Caleb’s travel was made possible in part by a Poole Fellowship. Established in memory of Robert Keyes Poole '50, Taft master from 1956 to 1962, Poole Fellowships are awarded each year to enable Taft students to engage in travel or in projects consistent with Mr. Poole's lifetime interest in wildlife and the environment.