OREANDA-NEWS. April 22, 2016. In March 2016, three separate groups from Salesforce traveled with Globe Aware to Cuba during a historic time of change.

An important and unique part of working is Salesforce is our 1-1-1 philanthropy model, in which Salesforce donates 1% of equity, product, and employee time to certified nonprofit organizations. This year, Salesforce added one more day (8 hours) to this model, giving all full-time employees eight business days to use as VTO (Volunteer Time Off).

Globe Aware, which organizes service-focused trips around the world, has only recently started offering trips to Cuba, after diplomatic relations resumed between the United States and Cuba in the latter half of 2015. In March 2016, Globe Aware offered three week-long programs that were part volunteer, part cultural awareness. It was a unique chance to participate in a people-to-people tour of a country that has been closed to Americans for over 55 years.

As part of our structured itinerary, we visited a local senior center where we were able to spend time with a lively, welcoming group of seniors playing dominoes, painting banners, and salsa dancing. On another day, we visited Las Terrazas Orchids Eco project, which is a Cuban government reforestation initiative. There we learned about the spiritual meditation center that has replaced a formerly abandoned, garbage-strewn plot of land. With our hosts, we planted coconut trees, which will help prevent mudslides in the area. Lastly, we got to meet Papito and tour his famous Barbershop Museum and its accompanying school. There he teaches a vocation no longer supported by the government to anyone wishing to learn. With the neighborhood, he has also led the building of a new barbershop-themed playground, providing a safe haven for local children.

The week of March 20th, the week I went, was an especially exciting and historic time. President Obama visited that same week to meet with President Raúl Castro, making Obama the first sitting US President to visit Cuba in 88 years. All of Havana was excited for the visit. Citizens and tourists alike came out in droves to catch a glimpse of the motorcade going by throughout the day. Palm trees were planted along the streets lining the Capital, extra lights were added to dimly lit roads, and squads of uniformed men fumigated buildings to eradicate mosquitos. That Friday, the final night of our program, the Rolling Stones performed a free concert — the first international rock concert ever performed in Cuba — for over 100,000 people at the Ciudad Deportiva in Havana. It was truly a week to remember.

What I’ll remember most about Havana is the noise — the constant music that seems to come from every building, the voices in the street (people are rarely in their homes), the warm friendliness (and curiosity about America) of each person we met, the abundant amount of food at every meal, the lack of most amenities Americans take for granted, and of course, a week without technology. It made the days feel longer, advance plans more necessary, and also gave a brief glimpse into a world unaffected by most modern conveniences.

Havana is such a beautiful city, with classic cars, crumbling facades, and a rich legacy of revolution, American mobsters, Hemingway, and the world’s finest cigars and rum. Enjoy just a few snapshots from our trip.