Cuba – Part II

Journeying through historical sights and visiting Cuba’s LGBTQ community…here is Part II of our Cuba series.

Each new day brought with it new excitement and wonder.  We stopped in the Plaza de Revolución; the focal point of the Cuban government and one of the largest city squares in the world.  At 77,000 square feet, the Plaza has been the site of many political rallies, and it’s where Pope Francis famously held mass in 2015.  It’s two steel memorials, featuring two of the most important heroes of the Cuban Revolution, Che Guevara and Camilo Cienfuego, is one of the country’s most iconic images.

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We traveled through Fidel’s childhood neighborhood, and ate lunch in a restaurant with his son at the table behind us.  Speaking with some locals, we learned about Cuba’s churches, and how many of them are considered “sanctuary locations.”  Places where groups meet in secret to discuss the hardships of communism while plotting its demise.

We passed pockets of revolutionary groups gathering on street corners and proselytizing communism at the top of their lungs, as they waved pro-socialist literature in the air.  They’re called CDR Watchers (Committees for the Defense of the Revolution), and their job is to remain vigilant and vocal, while spying on their neighbors…looking for those who oppose authoritarian rule.

By mid-week we’d talked with dozens of people on a wide range of issues.  History, art, food, weather, and the importance of smoking a good cigar.  As well as politics…an often times jailable offense should the conversation happen to spill into the wrong ears.

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And while life on an isolated Communist island is hard enough, being gay and living there presents an entirely new set of challenges.  Maintaining an LGBTQ lifestyle in Cuba isn’t an illegal offense, but it is offensive in the eyes of the government.  We witnessed it on our last night in Havana.

On the other side of Chinatown is a bar called, Cabaret Las Vegas.  We’d read about it earlier in the week, as we trudged along on the government-monitored-wifi-hotspot we’d picked up on in the park.

Las Vegas boasted the biggest drag show, in the biggest gay section of Havana. The term “big” is relative, as the “section” was nothing more than a corner with a bar, restaurant, pizza shop, and the club at the opposite end.  Big or not, it was a popular spot.  Hundreds of people gathered along the sidewalks, laughing and dancing to the muffled sounds of different disco tracks, all blending together from the four locations.  It was a festive party in the street…a mini Mardi Gras, where beads had been replaced with slices of pizza and Caipirinha’s.  Just under the surface, however, a germ of danger was waiting to be exposed.

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Standing at the door to Las Vegas was a gaunt young man in a ripped white shirt, with skinny white jeans and worn out white Converse sneakers.  He reminded me of an emaciated John Lennon walking across Abbey Road.  Although, his hair and height was considerably shorter.

“We don’t open for another hour.”  He said.  Looking at my watch it was nearly midnight.  We asked if there someplace to get a drink.  Someplace other than the crowded spots on the corner.  “Follow me.”  He said, as he left his post at the door.

Walking 10 feet in front he asked us to stay behind.  “It’s better not to draw attention.”  He said.  “I’ll go first.  You follow.  We’ll meet at a table once we get inside.” 

Our new friend entered the coffee shop, briskly brushing past a police officer who was arguing with 3 teenage girls standing on the steps of the shop.  The girls wore matching knee-high denim miniskirts, and shared a terrified look on their face.

We entered the shop thirty seconds behind the mysterious man in white, who had secured us a table.  Gesturing with both hands, he offered us a seat in the remaining two chairs.  It was all very covert.

“What’s the story with the girls outside?”  We asked.

“They’re waiting to get into the club and the police don’t like the way they’re dressed.”  He replied.

“And the police don’t want us talking to tourists.  That’s why I needed to walk ahead of you.”

Through sad brown eyes that stared right through us, he began his story.  His name was Martez; 33-years old, soft spoken, and recently released from prison, having spent 12 years of a 15-year sentence.  His crime; selling Marijuana cigarettes.  Although, his real crime, he told us, was being gay.  Martez had never left the island and his parents had never clued in on his lifestyle.

“That’s got to be difficult.”  I said.

“It was easy.  I’ve spent half my life in jail.  They never visited.  They never paid attention to me before that.  I don’t have a relationship with them.”  He said.

His words lacked any form of empathy.

We talked about the Pulse shooting in Orlando and asked what the communities response was.  “What’s Pulse?”  he asked?   An asteroid could be hurling towards us with only a few days of human life remaining.   And while the entirety of the world’s population braced for impact, Martez and his friends would be going about their normal routine.  Closed off from all things news and all things social media.   And for a moment his unplugged world seemed comfortable enough.

“Behind you.  Quick!”  Martez said, motioning with his head.  Outside the three young girls had apparently lost the argument with the police office and were being placed in the back of his car.

Finishing our drinks, we made our way to the Cabaret, as Martez resumed his spot – 10 feet ahead of us.

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By the end of the trip we’d met people who were happy, content, frustrated, scared, and downright angry.  And while the political spectrum ran from one extreme to the other, the one thing everyone had in common, was the struggle.  Whether for freedom with capitalistic independence, or communist state-run assistance, everyone was aware of the restrictions and poverty that surrounded them.

And while there’s much to envy about the wealth the rest of the world has, many Cubans we met were mindful of what else those foreign countries endure:  a populous with soaring education debt, low literacy rates, homelessness, out of control gun violence, and a health care system in disarray.  Those things are available in Cuba.  Everyone can go to college.  In fact, many Cubans have multiple degrees.  Crime is barely visible and health care is available to everyone.  And while it seems the younger generation appreciates those benefits, those we met were fully aware of the toll it is taking on them and their country.

Beauty permeates Cuba like flowers poking through a rusted metal fence.  We found it in  music, food, culture, architecture, and most of all her people.  People equipped to live a life, but forced to do so in a controlled and confined space.  Traveling is about understanding cultures and embracing the unknown.  We were fortunate to have been able to take advantage of president Obama’s easing of Cuban/American relations.  Now, with the new administration’s policy rollbacks, it’s anyone’s guess as to how those relations will be impacted.

 

Spiderman – Everyday Hero

By

You don’t need Spidey sense to be a superhero.

In “Philips Everyday Hero,” part of an Australian campaign for Royal Philips by Ogilvy & Mather London, a disheveled guy leaps out of bed, consumes a hasty breakfast (in the shower!) and wrestles into a Spider-Man suit before struggling to get across town.

The action is set to an acoustic cover of Paul McCartney and John Lennon’s “Revolution.” It follows Spider-Man through sometimes thankless acts of everyday do-gooding, and concludes with “Make a Wish”-level warmth.

“Inspired by a true story, we tell the story of a window cleaner who dresses as Spider-Man to entertain ill children,” explains Eva Barrett, Philips’ global head of brand advertising. “He believes that cheering them up helps them recover faster: Sometimes laughter is the best medicine. It’s a wonderful example of how empathy and insight into people can make a difference. His ethos reflects ours; we wanted to celebrate it.”

The ad ends with the lines, “At Philips we see healthcare differently. There’s always a way to make life better.” As these words appear, a boy in a hospital gown approaches the window and presses his hand to Spider-Man’s. Other children join him.

Aimed at healthcare professionals, the spot hopes to change brand perception by illustrating how Philips puts people at the heart of its healthcare strategy. In spirit, the work echoes a recent ad by Saint-Vincent-de-Paul, which is recruiting elderly care volunteers by demonstrating that loneliness can’t be assuaged with robots. Like that piece, this ad emphasizes the importance of the human touch amid technological disruption.

“We start with people,” Barrett says. “We want to improve people’s lives through meaningful innovation.”

The campaign includes a 30-second TV spot, out-of-home, digital and social media. Editorial partnerships have been inked with the Australian Financial Review and the Guardian Australia. On “Innovation and You,” Philips’ own storytelling platform, the brand is sharing other true stories like this one (it notably leads with an enormous visual of a man dressed like Elvis).

“Many people have grown up with Philips,” Barrett goes on. “We’re over 120 years old, but most people aren’t aware of the groundbreaking work we’re undertaking in healthcare. We believe in delivering products and solutions that truly put people at the heart of healthcare, and improve patient outcomes. Our ‘Everyday Hero’ campaign shows how we find new ways to make healthcare better.”

Inspiring Stories To Give You Hope After A Less Than Inspiring Year

 

We thought sharing NPR‘s favorite, most inspiring stories of 2016, would be a nice Christmas present.  Inspiring you to remain hopeful after the (insert catastrophic phrase of your own here) year we just shared together.  These stories certainly helped shape our New Year’s Resolution.  Not gym membership, seeing the doctor more often, or adding more travel commitments (although, we’ll do those things).  But also our determination to raise our voices a little louder…get involved just a little bit more.

So let’s all have ourselves a wonderful holiday season…and get some rest!  We’ve got work to do in 2017.

Merry Christmas and a Happy (Happier) New Year to all of those committed to Just DO Something…Anything! to make a difference.

Sincerely,
JDSA

Clockwise from upper left: Dr. Forster Amponsah; a Malick Sidbe photo taken in Mali; a global garden of radio; Chewa the TB-sniffing rat; another Sidbe photo; Olympic medalist Fu Yuanhui of China; the New Mexico cave where a superhero bacterium lived; poverty fighter Sir Fazle Hasan Abed; calligrapher Sughra Hussainy; activist Loyce Maturu.

Jason Beaubien/NPR, Courtesy of Malick Sidibe and Jack Shainman Gallery, Katherine Streeter for NPR, Maarten Boersema/APOPO, Gabriel Bouys/AFP/Getty Images, Courtesy of Max Wisshak, Courtesy of BRAC, Ben de la Cruz and Toya Sarno Jordan/NPR 

There was no shortage of sad news in 2016.

And because we’re a blog that covers global health and development, we covered a lot of those sobering stories: the toll of diseases like Zika, the bombing of hospitals in conflict zones, the suffering caused by poverty and by discrimination against women.

But we published a lot of hopeful stories as well. We asked our team at Goats and Soda to pick some of the stories from this year that inspired them the most. We hope you’re inspired too.

Of Periods And Bugs

My favorite inspiring story from this year was about the Chinese Olympic swimmer Fu Yuanhui who made headlines for telling the world she was on her period. I love that woman — breaking boundaries and taboos effortlessly.

My favorite story that I wrote was the hero bug story. We forget that to fight antibiotic resistance we need the help of the bacteria. —Michaeleen Doucleff

A Rat With A Nose For TB

My favorite piece on Goats and Soda in 2016 was “Chewa The Lab Rat Has A Great Job, Good Retirement Benefits.” African giant-pouched rats like Chewa are trained to detect TB — and they’re faster and cheaper than lab machines. You can tell from the photos that the lab technicians really love their helper rats. —Malaka Gharib

Unstoppable Women

I love watching the video of Sughra Hussainy creating calligraphy. When she was a kid in Afghanistan, girls couldn’t go to school. That didn’t stand in her way. Today she’s a gifted artist with big dreams: “I just want to work hard at this. And of course, become world famous.”

A favorite story I wrote was an interview with Loyce Maturu, a 24-year-old from Zimbabwe who was an orphan, HIV positive and abused by a relative. And she had TB. And tried to kill herself at a low point. As the headline says, “She almost gave up — but didn’t.” —Marc Silver

Dazzling Doctor

Dr. Forster Amponsah has star power. You can see it as he walks the halls of the Koforidua Regional Hospital in Ghana. Interns’ and patients’ eyes track his movement. Amponsah through sheer force of will and against incredible challenges has built up a surgical department in his public hospital. The surgeries he’s performing would be considered routine in a U.S. hospital but some days in Ghana they appear as small miracles. —Jason Beaubien

Irresistible Radio

Our story about Radio Garden, a website that lets you listen to stations around the world, was my favorite story. Just point your cursor at one of the thousands of green dots on a map of the globe. Listen to talk radio in Uganda, jazz in Morocco and punk rock in Hawaii. It’s a fun way to feel a connection to distant cultures. —Ben de la Cruz

A Photographer And A Poverty Fighter

This one is poignant given the extremism and political violence plaguing Mali, but I felt so uplifted reading Ofeibea Quist-Arcton’s tribute to the late Malian portrait photographer Malick Sidibe. His black and white images from the 1960s and ’70s captured dancing couples, pensive matriarchs and youngsters showing off their grooviest outfits — a reminder of a hopeful time when Mali was newly independent and, as Quist-Arcton put it, “relishing its freedom and having fun.”

One of my favorite interviews was with “the most influential poverty fighter you’ve never heard of” — Sir Fazle Hasan Abed, founder and head of BRAC, the anti-poverty group. BRAC helped pioneer a program that gives extremely poor families an asset like a cow or a goat. It’s an approach that has likely improved the lives of millions. —Nurith Aizenman

Free Heart Screenings Are Saving Lives

Each year thousands of healthy kids suffer sudden cardiac arrest and death due to heart conditions that have gone undetected. Many have no prior history of heart disease and are stricken without warning. The real tragedy is that many of these deaths could have been prevented with a quick, affordable, safe, non-invasive and painless test known as an electrocardiogram (ECG or EKG).

To help prevent disabilities and death from sudden cardiac arrest, Saving Young Hearts provides free heart screenings that can detect risk factors and conditions associated with sudden cardiac arrest. The heart screenings include a heart health questionnaire, blood pressure reading, heart sound check, electrocardiogram and in some cases, a limited echocardiogram. The results are reviewed by board certified cardiologists.

Social Discussion spent the day with the Saving Young Hearts volunteers at one of their free heart screenings at Timber Creek High School in Orlando, Florida.

Interested in future heart screening events? Please visit the Saving Young Hearts website: http://savingyounghearts.org

Shepherd’s Hope – Call To Hope

Social Discussion was proud to be a part of ‘Call To Hope’ last week – Shepherd’s Hope Fundraising Breakfast in Orlando, Florida, which raised over $170,000. Check out the video we put together for their event. And please read this article from Scott Maxwell of the Orlando Sentinel.

On Health Care, Some Yap While Others Act
April 20, 2013|Scott Maxwell

Last week, I watched two groups of people hold passionate discussions about health care.

During one, doctors, pastors and patients swapped stories of inspiration and altruism, urging everyone to help as many people as possible.

During the other, politicians tried to persuade one another to help fewer. A plan was afoot to help 1 million people. But most of the politicians wanted to scale the help back — by as much as 90 percent.

At one, attendees talked about a moral obligation to help their fellow man and serve a higher power.

At the other, leaders demonstrated their desire to seek higher office.

The first event was a fundraiser for Shepherd’s Hope — a faith-based model of providing health care to Central Floridians that has become a national role model.

The other was the legislative session in Tallahassee, where politicians are scrambling for excuses to turn away billions of dollars in federal money to provide health care for the poor.

Both groups of people often quote Scripture.

Only one of them lives the Gospel.

Shepherd’s Hope is one of Central Florida’s homegrown triumphs.

Sixteen years ago, the Rev. Bill Barnes of St. Luke’s United Methodist Church felt called to help the sick and needy around him — in a big way.

Through the years, Barnes’ vision blossomed into a network of four clinics, staffed by more than 2,000 volunteers. Doctors, nurses, office workers, assistants and more.

They now serve more than 20,000 patients a year. And the success stories will bring tears to your eyes. A former executive, hit hard by the recession, lost her job and house, then learned she had cancer. A woman who experienced rapid weight gain — only to have doctors at Shepherd’s Hope discover she had a 32-pound ovarian tumor.

They are stories of lives saved.

And when a roomful of health-care execs, business leaders, philanthropists and concerned citizens heard those stories in the ballroom at Church Street Station last Thursday morning, they responded with more than $170,000 in donations.

Now, the cavalier may simply say: Good, that’s the way it should be. Private donations should serve that need.

Such a convenient sentiment.

The reality is that, no matter how hard Shepherd’s Hope works, the line of patients at the clinics far exceeds the number that can be served on any given evening. They are often single moms who pulled their kids out of school early, hoping to see a doctor who might tell them why their little one can’t hear or breathe properly.

That is why compassionate societies provide safety nets. It is also why this country has twice voted for a president who vowed to address that problem.

Yet leaders in Florida are fighting that initiative tooth and nail.

Florida House leaders are trying to reject federal money — more than $50 billion meant to help cover 1 million people.

Instead, they want to spend state money and cover as few as 100,000 people.

Yes, they want to spend more of Florida taxpayers’ dollars to help fewer people.

That’s not just morally objectionable. It’s fiscally irresponsible.

Even Gov. Rick Scott — a vocal critic of “Obamacare” — agrees. With the money available, Scott said: “I cannot, in good conscience, deny the uninsured access to care.”

Unfortunately, no such attack of conscience has struck Florida House members — who pay $8 a month in individual premiums for one of the most generous health-care plans in America.

In fact, House Speaker Will Weatherford declared himself “excited” about the plan to help 90 percent fewer Floridians.

It was an odd emotion for man whose family received $100,000 in public health-care benefits back when Weatherford was young and his brother was battling terminal brain cancer.

Weatherford actually mentioned his family’s help in a speech — before he realized that the money came, in part, from the same Medicaid source he is now fighting to keep from other Floridians. Weatherford’s father had to help correct the record.

This is also, by the way, a jobs issue. When you’re talking about $50 billion, you are talking about money spent in the health-care industry — where jobs pay well.

What’s more, Moody’s Investor Service recently reported that states refusing to expand Medicaid could threaten the bond ratings and financial stability of some hospitals.

Yet, many House Republicans — not their Senate peers, mind you — seem to care little about the actual finances of the matter. And certainly not about the lives at stake. All they want to do is rant about “Obamacare.”

I’ll take my sermons from the folks at Shepherd’s Hope, thank you very much.

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