All around Clinton County, Quakers are rallying to help reconstruct a school building on the east end of the island of Cuba, in a coastal town called Puerto Padre with strong historic connections to this part of Ohio.
Friends are planning fundraiser meals, hosting yard sales, collecting spare change, and more.
Quaker missionaries first landed in Cuba to preach the gospel on Nov. 14, 1900. Soon after, Quakers from Wilmington Yearly Meeting established a school in Puerto Padre; they sent missionaries, met expenses, and in 1905 were able to buy land to build a school building. A cablegram was sent from Wilmington to Puerto Padre that read:
“Prepare to build — lot purchased”
By 1909, the school was finished and filled with students. Because it had been founded and funded by Friends from the Wilmington area, it became known as the Wilmington School — or, in Spanish, el Colegio Wilmington.
Following the Cuban Revolution in 1959, Quakers in Cuba were isolated from their connections with Quakers around the world, including here in Wilmington. All private schools in Cuba were nationalized, including the Wilmington School; Friends in Puerto Padre were able to maintain their church building, but the school building on the other side of their shared wall fell into disrepair.
Cuban Quakers finally regained control of the Wilmington School in 2014, and since then Quakers around the world have been interested in helping them rebuild.
Cuban salaries are low, but Quakers there are contributing lots of labor and big dreams for how the restored building can be used. Jorge Luis Peña Reyes, clerk of Puerto Padre Monthly Meeting, writes that, “Since the process of reconstruction has begun, the completed rooms have already become a meeting point for several Christian denominations seeking a better social outcome for the nation.”
Friends United Meeting, a global mission organization of which many local Quakers are part, has chosen the Wilmington School as its Summer Mission Project, under the title Rebuilding a Friendly Place. Friends around the nation are talking about this school in Puerto Padre in their Vacation Bible Schools, in their Sunday School classes, and at their Yearly Meetings.
Quakers around here, though, wanted to do more. Led by Libbie Curry of Chester Friends Meeting, who has travelled among Cuban Quakers often, local Quakers in Wilmington Yearly Meeting have embarked on a fundraising campaign that will last through the end of July 2019.
Libbie originally intended to raise $5,000, but the interest of local Friends in supporting her project exceeded her expectations. The goal of the campaign is now to raise $12,000, which will cover the restoration of the bathroom complex in the building.
Of this amount about $5,000 has already been raised, partly from private donations, and just over $3,500 from a yard sale held Memorial Day Weekend at Chester Friends Meeting. Friends do not intend to stop at $12,000, though, and will stretch to raise as much as possible for their Cuban Friends.
Libbie says, “It has been so inspiring just to visit other Quaker meetings to talk about this project, to see people get excited about rebuilding our connection with Cuban Friends, and to have a positive goal that we can all reach for together.”
She reminds Quakers, as she’s travelling between churches, of how long the Quakers in Cuba spent isolated from their f/Friends in places like Ohio, and how much they treasure their opportunity now to meet in person, to share pictures and stories, to worship together and to eat at the same tables.
Once the building is completely rebuilt, Cuban Quakers plan to use it for Sunday School classes, trainings for peacemakers, and as a community gathering space.
Yerandi Jorge Ricardo Reyes, pastor at the Friends meeting in Puerto Padre, writes, “We see that God gives us an opportunity to be a bridge of unity within our society, which is eager for spaces where the people can listen to others and can also be heard by others, where new generations continue our legacy of service to our neighbors.”
Several Quakers from the Wilmington area have traveled to visit Cuban Quakers, and more plan to do so in the future. If you’d like to help with the fundraising effort to rebuild the Wilmington School and learn more about Quakers in Cuba, you can attend any of the following events:
Pulled Pork Sandwiches with an Optional Cuban Twist: Saturday, Aug. 25 from 9 a.m. to 12 noon, at the Wilmington Friends Meeting (66 N. Mulberry St. in Wilmington). Don Chafin’s Smokey Pig will be providing pulled pork sandwiches during the Farmer’s Market for $7, which can be upgraded for free to “Cuban Style” with ham, Swiss cheese, and pickle slices. Unsweet iced tea and sweeteners will be available for a dollar, and water will be free. A $20 donation will get you a free extra sandwich and bottomless iced tea.
Labor Day yard sale: Thursday, Aug. 30 through Saturday, Sept. 1 from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m.; Monday, Sept. 3 from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m., at Chester Friends Meeting (3451 Gurneyville Road). Items will be sold for donation rather than priced. People wishing to donate things to sell can drop them off the preceding Monday through Wednesday in the shelterhouse outside the church.
Quaker Bakers at the Corn Festival: Friday, Sept. 7 through Sunday, Sept. 9. The Quaker Baker Tent is a fixture at the Corn Festival with good reason, and the Quakers will be back this year with all sorts of delicious sugary (and sugar-free!) treats. Proceeds will be split between rebuilding the Wilmington School and local Quaker youth programming.
Traditional Cuban Dinner at Fairview Friends Meeting: Sunday, Sept. 16, from 4 to 7:30 pm, at Fairview Friends Meeting (6796 Antioch Road, New Vienna). Friends are preparing a traditional Cuban meal for donations. Libbie Curry will present about the Wilmington School renovation and Friends in Cuba.
Sing for Missions: Saturday, Oct. 13 from 4 to 8 p.m., at Quaker Knoll Campground (65 Sprague Road near Wilmington). Dinner and live music. Details TBA.