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Global Leadership Initiative: UCC teachers inspired by Cuban gratitude

The Global Leadership Initiative (GLI) is a professional development program for Upper Canada College faculty created through a $1-million gift to the Think Ahead campaign from an anonymous Old Boy.

The GLI’s purpose is to provide teachers with in-depth international learning opportunities that emphasize immersion in the cultures of emerging nations to widen their world views and help them rethink the way they work and approach issues in the classroom. The first two years of the GLI involved trips to Brazil and India and, this past summer, UCC Cuba Quest 2016 headed to Cuba.

gl12Gregory McDonald, Lisa Fleming, Carl Beaudoin, Sarah Barclay, Kathryn O’Brien, Pam Love, Peter Labancz, Lisa Chesworth, Karyn McCormack, Naheed Bardai, Allison McCrae, Gareth Evans, Heather Crawford and David McBride took part in the most recent GLI experience. The trip was run by Natasha Parekh, Rachel Parikh and Jayma Pau from Leaders’ Quest, an organization created to bring together individuals from all walks of life to experience global complexity, explore their own leadership and discover how they can create positive change.

The UCC representatives stayed in the heart of Havana and would rendezvous each morning before travelling to meet with a variety of Cubans. They’d listen to talks, take walking tours or visit galleries, all with an eye to discovering key issues about life in Cuba.

The experience had a major impact on the UCC participants, and McDonald captured their feelings in this account he’s sharing with the entire UCC community:

In our busy Toronto culture of work, hurry and work some more, what most of the Global Leadership Initiative participants who embarked on a trip to Cuba from July 2 to 7 remarked upon, the thing which permeated the entire experience, was an overall sense of joy, passion and gratitude.

But how was that sense of gratitude transformative? In a very short period of days, mostly spent in Havana, we met Cubans from all walks of life, including artists, anti-racist activists, dancers, economists, university professors, teachers, farmers, food entrepreneurs, bakers and digital entrepreneurs.

While that list of people is very diverse, the things that they shared were how they all lived with such intense hope, passion and gratitude. Each person we encountered displayed such gratitude in passionately addressing issues and/or careers despite facing poverty, governmental obstacles and a crumbling physical and social infrastructure. While on one hand many people worked in a sort of defiance of government policies, on the other hand many people were very proud of the legacy of Cuba’s social progressivism and wanted to maintain the legacy of Cuba’s revolutionary past.

Many people were also acutely aware of growing social and economic problems and they were each working hard to offer innovative solutions to make their own lives and the larger “collective” communities in Cuban society better.

It was the determination of people — everyday people like you and me, people who were striving to make things better for themselves and for their communities — that made this trip incredibly inspiring.

What also surprised many UCC trip members wasn’t the intellectual side of understanding Cuba’s economic and social issues, but the emotional impact. It wasn’t just developing empathy for people facing hardship, but that that the participants had the chance to share in a kind of intense joy and affection for each other. We simply had the chance to spend time with UCC colleagues. Perhaps we participants will all look at each other a bit differently now.

If there’s a future for the Global Leadership Initiative, and I most ardently hope there is, we extend our deepest thanks for this remarkable opportunity. To the cadre of people who haven’t yet had the chance to take this kind of trip, go without hesitation if you do.

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