Field Note #145: Community in Cuba


For most of my life, Cuba was sometimes mythical, often mysterious and always misunderstood. As a child of baby boomer parents, I was taught that Cuba was ruled by a dictator, a sponsor of terrorism, a symbol of backwards development, a reminder of the perils of communism and an existential threat to my freedoms. As a millennial (albeit, an older millennial) studying development in college, Cuba became a victim of Western Imperialism, an alternative development model and a glimpse into what a classless society can look like.

Then, in August of 2017, I traveled to Cuba for the first time with Wine To Water staff from the U.S. and Colombia. The purpose of the trip was to distribute over 500 water filters throughout the island nation to families in need of clean water. Our mission was not covert (we had acquired proper visas and permissions from Cuban authorities), but it did feel like we were living on the edge (we weren’t). Our Cuban hosts took extremely good care of us as we moved from west to east across the entire country.

Aside from seeing a lot of pre-revolutionary period American vehicles on the road, most of the stereotypes I held coming into Cuba fell away with each passing day. Cuba was very safe, and we were welcomed into the communities we visited, sometimes by local government authorities.  While we were well fed and well taken care of, resources for average Cubans, including fuel and clean water, were scarcer than I expected. Nevertheless, the Cuban people are some of the most educated I have ever had the privilege of working alongside. They were aware of their need for clean water and actively advocating for changes and improvements. As a result, the water filters were received with gratitude and turned into tools to empower families and bless neighbors.

Currently, we are being asked by our Cuban partners to bring back more Sawyer water filters, and help fund water systems through a micro-enterprise model. While I cannot say with certainty what the future of Wine To Water in Cuba will look like, I can say that we will work to continue strengthening this partnership and empowering the Cuban community through clean water.


- Eric, Director of Operations


Anna SmithCuba, Sawyer, water filter, Eric