Some of the nation’s first volunteer service trips to Cuba are being organized by a Twin Cities nonprofit long involved in international volunteerism.
Global Volunteers, based in St. Paul, has launched two-week Cuba tours that combine volunteer work such as teaching English and building community gardens, along with cultural events and a chance to check out those famous 1950 Chevys.
“This is an opportunity for Americans to legally volunteer in Cuba,” said Bud Philbrook, CEO of Global Volunteers. “It’s a landmark program.”
Founded in 1984 by Philbrook and his wife, Michele Gran, Global Volunteers has long taken teams of volunteers to less-developed countries to work on a variety of service projects. They work in 17 countries on five continents, ranging from Mexico to Tanzania to Vietnam.
The volunteer work includes repairing buildings, building container gardens, helping with child care, and nutrition education, said Philbrook.
The new Cuba program builds on a smaller project started by Global Volunteers in 2012, which brought visitors for shorter term educational tours of Havana and the city of Ciego de Avila in central Cuba.
Because of the U.S. trade embargo, licenses from Washington to run that project were burdensome to get, said Philbrook. And participants could only spend a certain amount of money per day and engage in certain activities.
As the U.S. dismantles the trade embargo, sending volunteers to Cuba involves far less red tape, said Philbrook. That is helpful, because Americans are eager to see a country they were long barred from visiting.
“The response has been tremendous,” said Philbrook. “We are sold out through March  in Ciego de Avila, so we have accepted an invitation from a second community.”
Visitors participate in full-day work assignments and have opportunities for “people-to-people activities” on weekends and other times. For more information, go to www.globalvolunteers.org.