During a week-long adventure in service, eleven-year-old Fletcher and his mother, Christie, found gratitude for each other and the Cuban people through volunteering. They learned about themselves and a different culture by leaving their everyday life behind to embark on a volunteer journey. Even though Fletcher is only eleven years old, he flourished while serving and his mother had a front-row seat to witness his transformative experience.
First-time Global Volunteers Christie Chmar and her eleven-year-old son, Fletcher, decided that rather than taking a standard vacation over the summer, they would embrace the spirit of service and spend a week volunteering. Prior to joining their Global Volunteers service program, Christie had volunteered for several organizations closer to her home in Maryland. She brought Fletcher on this service program because she wanted him to “understand the importance of helping others and share the common human experience in all of its ranges.” When thinking about where to serve, Christie decided to travel outside the United States so they could experience a new culture together. Christie chose Global Volunteers’ Cuba program because it was in the same time zone so no jet lag, and she was interested in learning more about Cuban politics and culture.
While in Cuba, Christie and Fletcher worked on two main community projects – assisting in a children’s school at an inner-city church and engaging Cuban youth in English conversations in the evenings. Throughout the week, they both found that these projects provided them with a deep sense of purpose. Even with the language barrier, they built friendships and fostered good intentions between themselves and the people with whom they interacted. Christie noted how impressed she was with Fletcher, especially when she saw him conversing with adults. She said Fletcher was “open-minded, positive, and truly a joy to be around while we were there. At only eleven years old, he was the youngest person and the only little boy…his innocence created a levity and accessibility for the rest of the group.”
“At only eleven years old, he was the youngest person and the only little boy…his innocence created a levity and accessibility for the rest of the group.”
– Christie Chmar, Cuba Volunteer
Through their conversations with the local people and the experience of immersing in a new culture, both mother and son enjoyed learning important lessons. Christie remembers watching Fletcher learn to adapt to a different lifestyle by reading by the light of the moon, conserving electricity during scheduled blackouts, and relying on community members for some of his essential needs. As Fletcher adapted his behaviors to the change in environment, Christie could see his mindset shift as he started to see a bigger picture of life through a new lens. She says, “I think Fletcher learned to adapt to his surroundings and ever-changing schedule. He learned to be a more mindful traveler and person in general. He started to understand that less can mean more on certain occasions and that engaging with others is a gift. He learned to make each day count and help others.” Without the modern conveniences of home, Fletcher learned to be more resourceful, more understanding, and more resilient. At the same time, according to Christie, “He began to see that circumstantial differences in lifestyles do not define people.” She says, “At home, we tend to stay within our comfort zones and don’t interact with others in the same way as we do when trying to bridge cultures and languages. I was able to view my son from an entirely new perspective as I watched him immerse himself in Cuban culture, and it was truly incomparable!”
Christie reported that she initially felt some uncertainty about how Fletcher might handle the long days of travel and a week of volunteering but felt the cultural experience would be worth it. To her pleasant surprise, she found that Fletcher “did an amazing job and made me so proud!” He taught English to students (ranging from children to adults) and jumped at the chance to help with anything asked of us when we worked at the local churches with the children.” By volunteering and exploring Cuban culture alongside him, Christie watched Fletcher flourish and display leadership even when having conversations with people more than twice his age. As a mom, Christie appreciated that “Fletcher and I were able to share this incredible opportunity together.”
“At home, we tend to stay within our comfort zones and don’t interact with others in the same way as we do when trying to bridge cultures and languages. I was able to view my son from an entirely new perspective as I watched him immerse himself in Cuban culture, and it was truly incomparable!”
– Christie Chmar, Cuba Volunteer
In addition to strengthening the bond between mother and son, Christie and Fletcher built friendships with many Cubans. From the bus drivers to the guest house owner to the people with whom they engaged in conversations, they found that the Cuban people are joyous, friendly, and always willing to share a laugh. Reflecting on their experience, Christie said, “I learned to trust in others and have faith that people are inherently good. I learned to take chances with my son and that parenthood is a bond in and of itself. Sharing successes and failures can uplift both parties. I learned that Cuba is a beautiful and complex place full of culture and vitality. I learned that I will never regret volunteering to help others.”
The overarching theme of Christie and Fletcher’s week of service was one of gratitude. They appreciated the Cuban family who welcomed them into their home, and “treated us as one of their own and made us feel at home.” She reflects on the friendliness of those they met during their time in Cuba saying, “Even the good-natured shuttle bus drivers became our friends by the end of the trip and posed for our cheesy scrapbook photos. Everyone that we came in contact with during our trip was kind and helpful! My son and I made many forever friends that we continue to keep in touch with in various ways.”
The chance to travel abroad together in such a meaningful capacity was an opportunity of a lifetime for the mother and son duo. Through their time volunteering in Cuba, they learned more about themselves and how they can work together as a team to accomplish their goals. In Christie’s words, “We made memories that will surely last a lifetime!”