Local teacher travels to Cuba on teaching grant

GLOVERSVILLE – For Gloversville Middle School eighth-grade teacher Danielle Lambert, the educational trip she took the first two weeks of July was life-changing.

“Every person I met was a beautiful person. The trip was incredible and I believe I have made some lifelong friendships,” said Lambert. “I would love for the opportunity to go again.”

Lambert applied for, and was awarded, a Fund for Teachers $5,000 grant.

According to the organization’s website, Fund for Teachers “enriches the personal and professional growth of teachers by recognizing and supporting them as they identify and pursue opportunities around the globe that will have the greatest impact on their practice, the academic lives of their students and on their school communities.”

The organization sent 489 teachers from across the United States to 74 countries this year.

“I wrote the grant and it has to be very detailed and it has to explain how you will accomplish your goals,” said Lambert, who said eighth graders study foreign policies, so her goal, she said, is “to use Cuba as a case study.”

“I am going to write [a teaching curriculum] where students can look at text, artifacts and art and compare it with the changing relationship with the United States,” Lambert said.

One of the ways she will be able to accomplish that is through the itinerary for the trip put together by Essencial Travel.

“The airfare alone was $1,200, so I called them up and said I have $3,800 and this is what I want to accomplish,” Lambert said, adding that after a few tweaks, she had a full schedule meeting Cuban artists, dancers and local residents. She also was able to attend a local artists venue held in an abandoned factory that went on for blocks, see a Cuban beach and tour sites such as the mogotes in Vinales.

“This one artist I met does black on black or white on white,” explained Lambert. “When I walked into his place, all I could see were these white or black canvases and I thought, ‘what?’, but once you get at a certain angle, you suddenly realize he has these beautiful paintings in them.”

One of those, she said, was one large piece he did to express his grief over 9/11.

“You can see the planes flying into the towers and the chaos it was causing,” said Lambert. “It was amazing. He has to be very careful [when painting about the American/Cuban relationship.] After [President Barak] Obama was there, he felt comfortable enough to take the [Cuban and American] flags he had previously painted black and paint them their real colors.”

She said everyone she talked to was very interested in the changing relationship between the two countries.

“Some people see it as a family disagreement,” Lambert said. “The relationship with the U.S. is important to everyone and is on everyone’s minds.”

She added each person she talked to was concerned if Donald Trump is elected president.

“From what he said about the Mexicans, and they are all Latin, 100 percent were worried about a Donald Trump presidency,” said Lambert.

She said many seem to view the Castros as elderly grandfathers who have done some good things, but whose time as come.

“But they also respect them and won’t just kick them out,” she said.

Lambert said she was also surprised by the lack of poverty, violence and crime.

“I have travelled. I have been to Africa and Latin America and I have seen deep poverty. There is nothing like that in Cuba. There is no starvation, but there is also no way to move upward,” Lambert said.

She also said Cuba is not in the dark ages when it comes to technology.

“People like the cars and think [Cuba] is so 1950s, but they are really progressive. Everyone has a cell phone, but the service is terrible,” she said, adding the residents were also curious as to how Americans deal with the violence that seems so commonplace.

“There is no fear of terrorism in Cuba and I was getting lots of questions of how do we deal with the fear and crisis,” she said.

Another night she found herself on a boardwalk where people gather at dusk to hang out and socialize.

“At first I was worried and was wondering what had I gotten myself into,” said Lambert.

She soon realized, she said, Cuba did not have the same problems many of American communities are plagued with.

“They don’t have guns, there are no drugs, no crime,” said Lambert, who admitted it took a little while to relax and enjoy herself that night.

But even though the people tend to be progressive and wear modern clothing, many things about Cuba is vintage.

“And some of Cuba is like the 1850s. There is no machinery, so you could see someone plowing with oxen while talking on a cell phone,” she said. “Most of the people are very intelligent and everyone has a working knowledge of English.”

Lambert said after spending time with some people who helped her during her stay, such as her driver, she feels the experience has changed her forever.

“Cuba is amazing,” she said. “It is so beautiful and the people are so wonderful -there are a couple of friends I made who I believe will be lifelong friends.”