June 17, 2021
By Olga Lidia Reyes
When the roosters crow very early, Rev. Noel Rodríguez awakes, thanks God for the blessings received in life and asks for a new day full of happiness and joy for all.
“Lord, today I especially thank you for being part of a program that trained me to survive and help my people in the midst of a global disaster.”
After drinking coffee with his wife, Noel begins his work as pastor at San Juan Episcopal Church in the town of Palma Soriano in eastern Cuba. The social isolation generated by the impact of the COVID-19 crisis forced him to maintain contact with his congregation through telephone and social media networks. When the health situation allowed, he visited the elderly, sick and needy people in their homes.
“God is great,” Rev. Rodriguez muses. “A few years ago, faced with a situation such as that experienced since 2020, we would have assumed a reactive position. But, the training received helped us know what to do in the midst of the crisis and how to do it to get ahead.”
Rodriguez is referring to training designed to help during natural disasters such as hurricanes, but that they have been able to apply to the pandemic. COVID-19 has affected the health, economies and nutrition of vulnerable populations in Cuba, generating an urgency for effective responses from the communities, with the support of their own resources. Rodriguez responded quickly, explaining to his people how to grow vegetables, raise animals for meat and preserve food, from their own gardens and facilities of the church. These interventions made it possible to ensure families had enough to eat and could support their sisters and brothers of the San Juan Episcopal Church.
He also created a Facebook page called La Huerta de Noel (Noel’s vegetable plot), and began to share educational materials for other growers related to organic agriculture, gardening techniques and planting by seasons, among others. As he developed his farming skills and practices, Rodriguez told friends via WhatsApp about food preservation methods carrying his message and optimism to other Cuban communities. Rodriguez became the “poster boy” of the Food for All Program, an initiative that the Integrated Development Program of the Episcopal Church in Cuba launched in mid-2020 to improve food security in 40 communities, which directly benefits 1,650 people, 65% of them women.
Rodriguez is also an ambassador for the Impact Innovator of the Integrated Development Program, supported by PWRDF and Episcopal Relief and Development in the United States.
“Very soon I will have the opportunity to facilitate the first course in food security totally remotely, through the Moodle digital platform,” says Rodriguez. “The event will focus on producers in our communities interested in sharing agricultural knowledge and experiences. This was unthinkable before the pandemic, today it is a reality at hand. Thank God for so many blessings.”
– Olga Lidia Reyes is the PDM-ECC Programs Coordinator. Translated by José Zàraté, PWRDF Latin America and Indigenous Program Coordinator