By Los Angeles Region CEO, Jarrett Barrios

HAVANA, CUBA – In November, I traveled to Cuba for the 31st time, as part of my ongoing humanitarian work with the island nation. Accompanying me this time was Tennessee Region Red Cross CEO Joel Sullivan and New Jersey Region Red Cross CEO Ana Montero. Myself, along with the other Red Cross CEOs and delegates from six states, including Red Cross board members from around the country, met to discuss different models of community engagement for emergency and disaster preparedness. Our discussions focused on community based disaster response efforts currently active in Cuba. Cruz Roja Cubana has very few staff and, similar to our region, they rely on mobilizing the power of volunteers to carry out their mission. This makes the planning phases of emergency preparedness all the more important.

While there, I also had the chance to speak with Maria Varona-Hernandez, the Director of International Humanitarian Law and the Head of the Restoring Family Links program for Cruz Roja Cubana.  Varona-Hernandez is a former Cuban Supreme Court Justice and this was the second time I had the pleasure to speak in person with her.

While there, it was evident that eastern parts of the island were still recovering from Hurricane Matthew, the devastating category 4 storm that made landfall only a few weeks prior to my arrival, in October of this year.  Because of this recent disaster, during our discussions we emphasized the importance of training in Cuba’s community preparedness education model. We found that for a country like Cuba, a special focus must go toward training people how to evacuate safely in-land during hurricanes and other life-threatening tropical storms. I’m looking forward to seeing the progress made when I return to the island next November.


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