Stories of Impact: Leocadia – Cuba

“I am a housewife and a pure ‘campesina’, but I am happy to share all my knowledge. As a member of this church, I’m always helping out where I can.” Leocadia, 70-years-old, has been working with the Orchard Church in the Seville Community to develop a plot of land purchased by the church into a small farm. Her own story is a testament to personal resilience and the importance of community support.

“When the Archbishop bought this house for the church, we always dreamed of having a vegetable garden to benefit the sick and economically challenged people in our community,” Leocadia explains. “It was a very bad piece of land because the former owners had a mechanic’s workshop. With God’s help, the commitment of Father Yosbel, and the great collaboration of the brothers of the Loyola Center, we have been able to make this dream a reality.”

For rural communities in Cuba, opportunities for economic advancement are found in farming ventures and agricultural networks. Small plots of land are used for subsistence farming and provide some additional income for communities that have little access to meaningful employment and are subject to the volatility of the Cuban economy. The Network of Loyola Centers, supported by the Jesuits and associated with the International Federation of Fe y Alegría, offer workshops to help these local initiatives flourish. Experts are working with local farmers to strengthen their economic and technical understanding, improving sustainability and output.

Leocadia, along with her niece and the support of her community, has been able to convert the abandoned plot of land into a flourishing small farm with a variety of produce. “We have planted a little bit of everything,” she says. Even despite the difficulties of cultivating this land, Leocadia is generous with all the farm produce. “When we harvest the crops, we share them because this is very difficult and we always have to help those who need it most (sick, pregnant, children)” she explains “but we also sell to the community at moderate prices, and so things are smoother.”

Another issue that the Sevilla Community farms have faced is plagues and insects which continue to threaten their crops. Rather than turning to harmful and expensive chemicals, the Santiago de Cuba Loyola Center is giving assistance to members of the SIEMBRA and COMPARTE agricultural network, which was recently launched in the country. This support takes the form of essential training and formation in organic remedies. “The pests have affected several crops, but the engineer always comes and advises us with this situation. They have brought us efficient microorganisms and tobacco, because we do not use chemicals, our productions are eminently organic,” Leocadia said.

Through the support of the Loyola Centers and the new agricultural network, 13 farmer producers and workers were able to receive guidance about ornamental plant production, pest control, and agroecological practices. These practices, along with an extensive formation in fundamental accounting, creating balance sheets, preparing budgets, and developing cost sheets, have helped them stabilize their production and increase their profits. The benefits of these programs stretch into many aspects of the lives of these rural communities, ecological sustainability, economic growth, and community development just to name a few.

Gas prices increased five-fold in Cuba, Loyola Centers are helping the community find new economic opportunities.

Last Friday, March 1st, gas prices increased five-fold in Cuba. The new prices, set by the Cuban government, jumped by 500% placing even greater stress on a population that continues to face a devastating economic environment. The island has been struggling to control high inflation and severe economic contraction for years and, as is often the case, this strain is being felt most acutely in the poorest communities.  Previous price increases have included cooking gas, electricity, and public transportation but the country continues to experience blackouts and fuel shortages.

To underline the severity of this gas price increase, a recent article from US News explained that “Under the new pricing scheme, a single 40-liter (11-gallon) tank of fuel will cost 6,240 pesos, or about $20 at the black-market exchange rate, well over the average monthly state salary in 2023 of 4,856 pesos, or $15.66.” Low stagnant wages, along with extremely limited opportunities for professional growth, mean that these rising prices are an especially  devastating blow to the island’s poorest citizens.

In response to this crisis, the Network of Loyola Centers is offering workshops and community programs to help parishioners respond to their economic challenges in new and creative ways. Magis Americas is helping to fund this wide range of community empowerment projects which teach entrepreneurial skills and foster communities of support in Cuba. 

We previously shared the testimony of Ernesto, who started his entrepreneurial journey with the Loyola Center’s workshops and has now returned to teach other community members what he has learned through his continuing formation. These workshops welcome new participants and the centers continue to offer annual artisan fairs where community members can sell their products and services.

The most recent report that our partners in Cuba shared with us highlighted the way this program is also providing opportunities for rural communities as well. The Loyola Center in Santiago de Cuba recently celebrated the launch of the SIEMBRA, a national network of small farmers. The group already includes 15 producers and is simultaneously part of the COMPARTE network, an international community for learning productive economic alternatives. This expansive network, supported by the Jesuits, helps “rural families, indigenous people, and persons of African descent through productive economic initiatives undertaken by small producers organized in cooperatives, associations, companies, informal community groups, etc.”

Stories of impact from individuals like Leocadia help to show the important role that these initiatives can have in a rural community. This 70-year-old woman has converted an unused plot of land into a simple farm that helps support her and provide for her community. “When we harvest the crops, we share them because this is very difficult and we always have to help those who need it most (sick, pregnant, children),” Leocadia explains, “but we also sell to the community at moderate prices, and so things are smoother.”

The work that the Jesuits are doing in Cuba is truly impressive. From civic engagement to entrepreneurship, from manicurists to farmers, the Loyola Centers have something to offer just about everyone. While the community continues to face increased prices for basic necessities, these Jesuit lead programs are helping community members become protagonists in their individual and communal development.