On Your Mark, Get Set, ¡Havana!

Smiles for Speech Mission Trip Cuba

As with any journey, much thought and preparation goes into making sure that the trip is a success. Careful planning and organizing involved reaching out to potential donors that could make contributions for supplies, Speech-Language-Pathologists, and individuals who dedicate their lives to helping children in need. In preparation for the trip, the SFS team stuffed their suitcases with books, toys, pencils, and supplies to complete activities with the children and spread smiles across the faces of whoever we met in Havana. 


Our first day in the city was amazing. The sun was shining, the skies were clear and blue. Antique Fords and Ferraris zipped by us on the road as we left the airport. As soon as we put our bags down, we headed out for our first destination, La Casa del Niño y La Niña, a community center in Havana where neighborhood children with learning disabilities and special needs. We were received with open arms. To show their gratitude for our visit, the children sang and danced to traditional Cuban music and taught us a few moves or two. The talent of the children attending La Casa del Niño y La Niña was incredible. Two of the children had aspirations of becoming professional singers, and with voices like theirs I can’t wait to see where it will take them. After such a wonderful show from the children, they had to get ready to leave for the day. However, there was just enough time to play the classic game of Operation with the children before they had to go home for the evening. The children were so intrigued by the game since none of them had ever seen one before. They crowded around with glee to get a turn at removing one of the pieces from the game. This presented the perfect opportunity to practice turn taking skills (especially for those students with pragmatic deficits). The children laughed and giggled every time the buzzer on the game went off and the patient’s red nose lit up. The children were having so much fun with the game, their teachers almost had to drag them out of the school to go home for the evening. 

When we returned the next day, we had each of the students create an All About Me Poster where they shared information about their interests and aspirations. The children ranging from 2nd to 5th grade gathered around on the floor to decorate their giant posters. Each of the children presented their posters to the classroom. The children dreamed of being everything from doctors to lawyers to professional singers. Despite all of these wonderful aspirations that the children had for themselves, none of the children in the room knew what a Speech-Language Pathologist did until we explained our jobs to them! Hopefully this new knowledge of our profession opened up their minds to all of the possibilities that they may have when choosing a career path of their own. 

Before leaving the school, each child took a Polaroid Instant Picture to put on their posters, a Smiles for Speech t-shirt home, and  Play-dough and balloons. The children were also presented with their brand new classroom book titled Coco based on the latest Disney animated film. The children were thrilled with all of their goodies. Many of the children had never had the opportunity to see a Polaroid Camera, have a printed picture of themselves, touch Playdough, or even blow up a balloon. These small experiences that many of us took for granted growing up were wonderful first time experiences for the students that we met. The children’s instructors informed us of how much of a help the t-shirts would be to the children and their families. In all, it was great to know that even in just two days we were able to make a difference in these children’s lives and we can’t wait to see what will come as our relationship with this community center strengthens in the future. 


Jendayi, Smiles for Speech Volunteer and Graduate student at Columbia University

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