Community College all-stars go to Cuba

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Peter Briguglio
Campus News

This April, during the CUNY spring break, 16 CUNYAC scholar-athletes will do something that would not have been possible mere months ago. A group of selected players and administrators will travel to Cuba as part of the conference’s 7th Goodwill Tour. All six of the conference’s community colleges will have a representative taking part in the charitable efforts.

Johanna Castro of BMCC, Ashley Suarez of Bronx, Johanna Palma of Hostos, Stephanie Hahn of Kingsborough, Kailyn Richburg of LaGuardia, and Daomi Burch of Queensborough have been selected to make the trip to the formerly forbidden country.

“Our Scholar-Athletes will have an extremely rare view of America’s playground of the 1950s,” said Zak Ivkovic, the conference Commissioner and the organizer of each of the seven trips. “Cuba is a place which many consider to be an exotic, lively place where time stood still, with a population that is warm, resourceful and defiant. This is indeed an opportunity that very few Americans can say they have seen and enjoyed since the late 1950s.”

With the U.S. and Cuba opening up diplomatic relations for the first time since ties were severed during the Cold War, CUNY jumped on the opportunity to send its students there for a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Previously, the CUNY Goodwill Tour has made stops in the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Argentina, South Africa, Italy and New Orleans.

“The fact that a group of 16 ordinary students are going to be traveling together to a country that has been rarely visited by Americans in the last 50 years is a great opportunity.  I can’t thank CUNY and my athletic director enough for choosing me to be a part of this,” stated Ashley Suarez of Bronx Community College Women’s Volleyball.

Participants will begin their trip with a tour of the capital city of Havana. There, CUNY student-athletes and staff will get an overview of Cuban life, culture and customs.  They will also have an opportunity to visit Old Havana. The tour will also include a stop to the Capitol Square, which seated the Cuban Congress until 1959.

The trip will continue with a scenic excursion to the west coast of Cuba, including the Pinar del Rio region.  The city is located in a major tobacco-growing area and is the center of Cuba’s famous cigar and rum industries.

Later in the week, student-athletes and staff will get a rare opportunity to meet with Omar Linares, who is considered one of the greatest Cuban baseball players of all-time.  They will also have an opportunity to attend a baseball game at the National Stadium.  Most importantly, while in Havana, CUNY students will take part in a clinic for local youth at the training center and will also spend time visiting a local hospital.

The Goodwill Tour will then venture onto its second destination—Cienfuegos, a city located on the southern coast of Cuba. Nicknamed the “Pearl of the South” because of the beauty of its bay, it features many French influences. While stopped here, participants will tour the city of Trinidad and the site of the 1961 Bay of Pigs Invasion which attempted to overthrow dictator Fidel Castro.

The tour will end with a scenic hike in Topes de Collantes—a nature preserve park in the mountain ranges of Cuba, highlighted by many beautiful waterfalls. The trip will conclude on May 1st with a return trip home to New York City.
The group will surely return home with experience and memories that will last a lifetime.

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