ESL Cuba Volunteer for retired educators and ESL teachers to help Cuban youth learn English.A life changing experience for volunteer ESL teachers and Cuban youth.
A life changing experience for volunteer ESL teachers and Cuban youth.
THEY MADE FRIENDS, established relationships, and as essential components of life gained memorable experiences, forged by human ties and felt emotions that they will treasure as long as they live. – Armando Hart, then Minister of Education, in a 1961 tribute to 380,000 volunteer teachers who reduced island illiteracy to under 4% from nearly 25% prior to 1959.
Q & A

Welcome to Cuba!

Old Cuban saying, "a true friend remembers the song in your heart when you have forgotten the lyrics."

Cuban youth hold elders in great regard.

Cuban kids start dancing and…

playing their national sport early on.

Student-teacher relations are warm and caring.

Youth get best achievement scores in Latin America.

Cuban kids think taking drugs is dumb.

Ballet performance by special ed kids.

Interior of Havana's great cathedral.

A moat surrounds Castillo de la Real Fuerza.

Musicians are pervasive as their services are often state sponsored.

Everyone falls in love with Cuban dogs.

Enlarged image of world's smallest frog existing only in Cuba. Its actual size is that of a olive pit.

Farmers markets offer fresh organic produce to Habaneros.

Towering monument to Cuba's national hero José Martí is focus of Vedado's Plaza of the Revolution.

You'll help kids and teenagers learn English at the Casa del niño y de la niña [House for the Boy and Girl] in Central Havana.

University of Havana statue named Alma Mater. You'll assist students at its Faculty of Foreign Languages (FLEX) learn conversational and specialized English, pronunciation and grammar.

Students at the Casa del niño y de la niña. Photo Ron Speares.

You'll tour Old Havana's Plaza Vieja.

Oxen till tobacco rows on local farm in the province of Pinar del Río.

An optional day trip to Viñales Valley is a must.

Havana's ancient Fortress Morro.

Horses still provide rural transport for many.

Cuba has the largest collection of colonial buildings in the Americas.

Las Terrazas ecocommunity.

Hotel Nacional's Cabaret Parisien.

Las Terrazas waterfall.

Kids scan scarce newspapers aloud at lunch. The US blockade restricts print materials.

Folk dance, music and art abound.

Remote peasant hut – before 1959 this was the common form of rural housing.

Spend some free time at Havana's Eastern Beaches.

Students and teachers at morning exercise class.

One in ten cars are pre-1959.

Billboard says: 200 million kids in the world sleep in the streets, none of them are Cuban.

You'll join with friends and neighbors of a local Committee for the Defense of the Revolution (CDR) for an evening festivity.

Island-wide annual averages
Summer temp average: 81F | 27C
Winter temp average: 72F | 22C
Ocean temp average: 78F | 25.5C

PROGRAM UPDATE  ESL Cuba Volunteer is not accepting registrations for the coming period. If you'd like to be updated on Cuba Educations Tours related to volunteerism and education, please sign our Guestbook.

For a list of other Cuba tours departing in 2013 and 2014, click here.

CUBAN YOUTH are rising to a new challenge. Increasingly English dominates the internet, diplomacy, law, science, enterprise and tourism. They don't want to be left behind. They aspire to master English with the help of native speakers.

ESL CUBA VOLUNTEER was established in the year 2005 by Cuba Explorer Tours together with Cuban and Canadian educators and associations. The project is for retired teachers and ESL professionals prepared to donate their time and skills to teach Cuban youth English. Spouses and partners of ESL Volunteers are welcome to travel with the delegation.

COSTS  Volunteers cover their own expenses while on the island for three weeks. Cubans warmly embrace the generous labor and contributions of ESL Volunteers but they are not in a position to provide compensation as they struggle economically under the crushing weight of the US embargo.

LIMITED ENROLLMENT  ESL Volunteer is the only program of its kind extant in Cuba. It has official support on the island and in Canada. Only 15 applicants per session are accepted.

USA VOLUNTEERS are encouraged to participate and we are able to assist with a number of legal travel options.

GUIDES AND ITINERARY  For the entire three weeks you'll have full time support from our expert Cuban guide and translator, plus assistance from our staff in Havana and Vancouver as needed. A day-by-day itinerary is available at the bottom of this page. Click here for a summary of itinerary highlights.

Dr Mimi Champagne
READ ESL REPORTS  This season's feature report is contributed by November 2007 ESL Volunteer Dr Mimi Champagne. Read her story and view her photographs. Here's an index of previous testimonials from ESL Cuba Volunteers.

INDEPENDENT VOLUNTEERS  Many individuals write to us and ask for assistance in volunteer placements outside this program. Sadly, we are unable to assist as this is the only volunteer program available on the island.
Week 1 is an unprecedented eight-day orientation tour of Havana and environs, combined with activities, events and encounters to help you get to know Cuba's unique educational, social and political systems. During this amazing overview tour you'll meet many Cubans who'll will explain the characteristics of their country and culture. Many of the visits and encounters are specially sanctioned and only available to the ESL Cuba Volunteer. (See detailed itinerary below).
Weeks 2 and 3 consists of classroom teaching at two levels and times:
You'll work in the mornings at the University of Havana's Faculty of Foreign Languages (FLEX) with a Cuban professor(s) teaching conversational English, pronunciation and grammar to her/his students.

Volunteers with specialized academic backgrounds may teach technical English at one of the University's many specialized faculties, such as Geography, Psychology, Mathematics, Physics, etc.
Dr Mimi Champagne
Casa director Rosita Sardiñas.
Afternoon teaching is at the Casa del niño y de la niña [House for the Boy and Girl] from 4:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m. with primary students and/or from 5:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m. with secondary students. The Casa is a community-based inner-city project offering painting, music, dance, computer labs, and other skill development workshops to students after their regular school day. It also supports learning for teens and adults in the neighborhood. Its modest facilities comprise classrooms, a playground and small library.

The English program at the Casa del niño y de la niña was initiated by the March 2005 ESL Cuba Volunteers. You'll have the choice of planning and teaching English language courses to children, teenagers or mature students. You design and prepare your own class content and methodology. You work directly with one to three students. Click here to learn more about the origins and objectives of the Casa school.
Some volunteers may opt to teach only at the Faculty of Foreign Languages in the mornings, or at the Casa del niño y de la niña in the afternoons, then explore Havana the rest of their time. This is OK.
Accommodations  Clean, comfortable, economical, private rooms at Havana's three star Hotel Saint Johns, located in the cultural center of the city. International-style buffet breakfasts are included in costs throughout your 22-day program.
Criteria for participation  You must be a team player, flexible and eager to collaborate with your Cuban hosts and volunteer colleagues. The rewards of your experience are dependent upon motivation to provide an ESL curriculum of your design or at the request of Cuban teachers. Spanish language skills are not necessary. Level of physical exertion consists of walking up to 20 blocks per day (however taxis are inexpensive and abundant). Fitness in hearing and sight is a bonus. We do not, at this time, have disabled options available.
ESL Cuba Volunteer is endorsed by the British Columbia Teachers' Federation (BCTF), supported by the Cuban Ministry of Higher Education, Cuban Federation of Teachers, the University of Havana, and is organized by Cuban Education Tours, a Vancouver Canada-based tour operator dedicated to building ties of friendship and understanding between the people of North America and and Cuba.
Join the first and only volunteer program for North American educators to work in Cuban classrooms to tutor students and assist Cuban teachers in English language skills. Be among the 30 select volunteers who enter this exclusive program annually.
Help return to the Cuban people their decades of assistance to third world countries in the areas of healthcare, education and literacy. Contribute your ideas and talents in a most meaningful way to a people who've always been there for others regardless of nation or color. Learning English means greater academic, career and leadership opportunities for Cuban youth.
Cuba ranks tops in the Americas for excellence in education – language, scientific and health specialties in particular. Education is free and open to all. Yet, because of the U.S. blockade, assistance from friends abroad helps sustain the model curricula and objectives of the Cuban people.
Learn all about the island, and witness and experience a humanistic society in contrast to the consumer-driven existence many North Americans endure.
Relish the rich history, architecture, art and culture of Havana (64 things to do and see in Havana) and western Cuba.
Make life-long friends with Cubans from all walks of life, including your students and their families, and with your volunteer teacher colleagues.
SEE DAY | 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 | 10-14 | 15-16 | 17-21 | 22 |
UPDATE!  A summary of new itinerary activities and program additions is available by clicking here.
Arrival at Havana's José Martí International Airport.

You're greeted by your Cuban guide and a professional bus driver.

Your group is transferred to Vedado's Hotel Saint Johns for a private check-in and welcome cocktail.

Evening is free for you to settle in, rest up, dine out and explore the safe warm streets of your new Vedado neighborhood.

Breakfasts at your hotels are complimentary from 7:00 a.m. to 10:00 a.m.

Historic Havana.
Morning walking tour of Old Havana, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. We'll visit four of the five historic plazas that make Havana unique in the western hemisphere. We'll stop at museums and many other attractions.

Lunch on your own. Your guide is available to advise on venues and cuisines to meet every taste and budget.

Afternoon is free to wander the colonial streets and markets of Old Havana, or return to your hotel.

Tonight we have a Cuban band playing for us. You'll learn how to perform and dance to Salsa, Son, Rumba, Mambo and other popular Cuban rhythms from the band members of Grupo Dulce María.

Cubans come in all colors. They are proud of their multicolored offspring.
Morning air-conditioned luxury coach tour of the most important sites of Modern Havana such as the Capitol building, the Grand Theatre, Central Park, Prado promenade, the Revolution Square, University of Havana, Cemetery Colon, Malecón seawall, and the Miramar, Central Havana and Vedado neighborhoods.

Lunch on your own. Your guide is available to advise on venues and cuisines to meet every taste and budget.

Afternoon meeting and discussion with Nidia Gonzalez, president of the Asociación de Pedagogos de Cuba (Association of Cuban Teachers), to learn about the work of this organization.

Evening is free to investigate Vedado's cultural hotspots, paladars (private restaurants), sights and sounds.

Walk and shop Havana's safe warm streets.
Morning tour of Superior Institute of Art (ISA) led by Sonia Ortega of its office of international relations. This is a great opportunity to talk to students and professors, and see the work of the coming generation of Cuban artists.

Next will visit José Fúster, one of Cuba's most important ceramists and painters at his whimsical studio in Jaimanitas, just outside of Havana.

Followed by a visit to the Angela Landa primary school in Old Havana for an overview of early childhood education methodology.

Afterwards we'll tour the Escuela Taller for Restoration and Museology. Here we'll learn about important efforts for the rehabilitation of buildings, preservation of artifacts and exhibitry.

Evening venue is Peña del Chan Chan at the Casa de La Amistad. We enjoy the music of a traditional septeto band playing live – an occasion to practice your new dance steps with Cubans!

Attend folk dance and the ballet.
Morning visit to the Circulo de Abuelos [Circle of Elders] in Los Mártires Park to participate in morning exercises and other activities.

Followed by a visit to the Casa de Abuelos of Cayo Hueso. Here we'll meet with retires and discuss the role and contributions of old people in Cuba.

Now we'll have a familiarization gathering and welcome at the Casa del niño y de la niña (House for the Boy and Girl) to get to know your Weeks 2 and 3 afternoon teaching venue, staff and students.

Afterwards we'll visit a community clinic/family doctor's office to witness the island's free universal healthcare system in action at the grassroots level.

Afternoon visit to the Museum of Literacy – a must see for the ESL Cuba Volunteer!

Evening activities are optional. Schedule permitting, consider attending a Cuban baseball game, or cultural event such as opera, ballet, modern dance or the Tropicana floor show.

Capitolio in background. Classic cars rule.
Visit to the Taller de Transformación Integral del barrio de Cayo Hueso for a presentation and tour of the outstanding social programs unfolding in this small Central Havana neighborhood of 36,000 inhabitants. We'll visit the Federation of Cuban Women (FMC) project for women's orientation, an urban organic garden, a community computer center, a ciudadela [slum] being renovated, a cemetery, and the renowned Callejón de Hamel.

Afternoon encounter with a representative of the Ministry of Education for briefing and discussion on Cuba's system of no-fees, life-long education for all.

Optional evening activity: Experience the best live music in Havana at the jazz club La Zorra y El Cuervo [The Fox and the Crow].

Remnant of once walled city.
Morning visit to the Faculty of Foreign Languages (FLEX) of the University of Havana for a formal introduction to its professors and students. Here you will get to know the expectations for your Weeks 2 and 3 morning teaching venue and partners.

Afternoon exchange with Cuban ESL professors at the Escuela de Idiomas [Language School] Tamara Bunke. The school's namesake, Haydee Tamara Bunke Bider (AKA Tania), was a colleague of Che Guevara in the 1966-67 Bolivia campaign. The school's staff wants to hear about education in Canada, particularly about our methods of teaching English.

Evening festivity at a local Committee for the Defense of the Revolution (CDR). CDRs are responsible for community well-being, education, sanitation and safety. This rare event is a highlight of any Cuba stay!

World's tiniest bird shown here at actual size is called a zunzún (bumblebee hummingbird). They live across the island and are common in the forests of Las Terrazas. They are the same weight as a dime.

Tropical waterfall in the nearby eco-region of Soroa.
Morning departure to Las Terrazas eco-community in the Sierra del Rosario mountain range west of Havana in the province of Pinar del Río.

We'll tour its rural village called Rancho Curujey and enjoy a welcome cocktail while hearing about this self-sustaining community's goals of reforestation, historical preservation, environmental balance and a good life.

We'll visit its school Republica Oriental del Uruguay for primary and secondary children and talk with teachers and students who live in this community.

Next we'll meet with local artists and craft workers in their homes and studios.

Later we'll walk the incredible ruins of a French Coffee Plantation built in 1801 worked by African slaves.

Then we continue on to La Moka, an ecological hotel with trees growing up through its balconies and ceilings.

You'll have free time to swim in the fresh waters of the Río San Juan (take your swim suit) and explore the surroundings of this lush tropical paradise.

Return to Havana for a free evening on the town with your new Cuban friends and ESL volunteer colleagues.
Free day to explore the city and/or to prepare for your first class tomorrow morning.
Morning teaching at the University of Havana's Faculty of Foreign Languages.

Lunch break. Great time to explore local eateries.

Afternoon teaching at the Casa del niño y de la niña.

Evenings are yours to enjoy the city with your new Cuban friends and ESL volunteer colleagues.
A free weekend for private excursions, class preparation or social time with friends.

University of Havana entrance.
Morning teaching at the University of Havana's Faculty of Foreign Languages.

Lunch break – explore local eateries.

Afternoon teaching at the Casa del niño y de la niña.

Evenings are yours to enjoy the city with your new Cuban friends and ESL volunteer colleagues.

Havana's Airport.
Departure day to North America. We take you to the airport and say goodbye. Don't forget to save 25.00 CUC for your Cuban airport departure tax.

Keep in touch with your new Cuban friends: exchange email addresses! Bring some business cards to pass out on the island. Take pictures and keep a journal. Upon your return, we'll post them on this website for all to see and enjoy.

Come help us learn English!
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