Experiences and Impressions from Cuba

A Beautiful Country, Kind People, TSA Ready to Help as Needed

Revolution Square, Havana

Representatives from The Salvation Army USA Eastern Territory including Commissioners Barry and Sue Swanson, Eastern Territorial Leaders; Lt. Col. Stephen Banfield, Divisional Commander, The Salvation Army of Eastern PA & DE; Major A. Philip Ferreira, Director of Operations, The Salvation Army Greater Philadelphia, among several other TSA USA officers and representatives, have arrived in Cuba for a historical visit and they are already having quite a memorable experience.

The trip is the first time TSA USA officers from the contiguous US have traveled to the island nation in nearly 60 years. Our group will meet with officials of the Salvation Army of Cuba and government leaders to learn more about the country and the needs of its people. The trip is a way for The Salvation Army USA to bring its goodwill to Cuba and its gift of music from the renowned Salvation Army New York Staff Band.

These are some of their impressions and experiences relayed to our offices in Philadelphia so far, ranging from the travel itself to life in Cuba:

commissioners swanson 2-19
Commissioner Sue Swanson, Eastern Territory Leader, TSA USA and Ron Waiksnoris, Band Master, New York Staff Band

Since no one in the group had ever been to Cuba, except our Director of Partnerships, Rev. Bonnie Camarda, who happens to be Cuban, they didn’t know what to expect. Upon arriving in Havana at 1pm on Friday, they encountered an unanticipated delay at customs. The Salvation Army’s New York Staff Band, also traveling with the group, had all 30 of their instruments inspected and documented in order to bring them back out of the country. All of the paperwork had to be filled out by hand. A members of the group said he was taken aback by the scene of household items that Cubans are traveling to the US to buy and bringing back to the island nation – ranging from toiletries to blenders and even flat screen TVs. Apparently these are things residents do not have access to in Cuba. After three hours in customs, the Salvation Army group was released and sent on their way. They stopped by Revolution Square (the city’s historic main attraction) briefly, took in the sights and sounds of the city and made their way to the hotel.

Example of late-model cars. a common mode of transportation in Cuba.

“The cars are amazing,” said Aaron Harris, Music Director, The Salvation Army of Eastern PA & DE. “Most of them are 50 to 60 years old and running daily.”

They checked into the Nacional Hotel de Cuba and enjoyed a lovely dinner with live opera music in the background.

“Cubans are a truly beautiful people, open and receptive to everyone, interested in talking with visitors and explaining their cultures and learning about others,” said Harris. “They are very pleasant and kind.”

Lt. Col. Stephen Banfield, TSA Eastern PA & DE, Aaron Cohen, Advisory Board Chair, TSA Greater Philadelphia, Rev. Bonnie Camarda, Director of Partnerships, TSA Eastern PA & DE

Their needs, he says, are difficult to tell.

“The government (communist) takes care of some things, but our guide says they never have enough. Buildings are crumbling all around us. The Salvation Army in Cuba’s needs are visible. Buildings need to be fixed and updated,” Harris added.

The New York Staff Band will perform for the first time for Cuban Salvation Army officers and members, local officials and artists in Cuba. The New York Staff Band is comprised of Salvation Army officers, employees and students playing brass and percussion instruments. Founded in 1887, it has circled the globe with messages of salvation and encouragement, including such places as Buckingham Palace, Carnegie Hall, The Sydney Opera House.

In addition to conducting meetings, touring the country and the band’s performance, the group performed service projects at two corps community centers, where members painted and performed much-needed minor building repairs.

The Salvation Army Eastern Territory leaders and representatives hope this unprecedented visit to Cuba will allow them to learn how they can lend more support to their Salvation Army colleagues and the people of Cuba.

About The Salvation Army:

The Salvation Army of Eastern Pennsylvania and Delaware is a faith-based, comprehensive human service organization whose programs help individuals, families and whole communities lead healthier, safer and more productive lives. Since 1879, The Army has held a record of accomplishment stemming from its holistic approach to providing for the needs of the whole individual – physically, emotionally, economically and spiritually. The Army’s programming serves every zip code through 51 community centers and a network of volunteers throughout Eastern Pennsylvania, Philadelphia and Delaware. Programs and services include: shelter, hot meals, counseling, early childhood development, recreational opportunities, music programs, after-school arts and educational programs, job training, activities for older adults, spiritual development, and drug rehabilitation. For more information, please visit www.SalvationArmyPendel.org.

3 thoughts on “Experiences and Impressions from Cuba”

  1. Great article! FYI- the picture labeled Commissioners Barry and Sue Swanson is actually Commissioner Sue Swanson and Ron Waiksnoris, bandmaster of the NYSB.


  2. This was a truly fascinating experience… The Cuban Salvationists are a joyful people in spite of the most humble of living situations. We were able to connect with them on many levels…a true testimony to what it is to be brothers and sisters in Christ as well as members of The Salvation Army. The lives of the members of the NYSB along with those in the delegation from Philadelphia have been impacted a way we will not soon forget.


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