Play for Cuba

Campaign News | Thursday, 1 August 2019

Hundreds gather for the final send-off at the NEU conference in Liverpool 

Hundreds gather for the final send-off at the NEU conference in Liverpool 

Over 4,000 musical instruments have been shipped to Cuba in an amazing show of solidarity and friendship, writes CSC director Rob Miller

Over 4,000 musical instruments, 3,000 pairs of ballet shoes from the Royal Ballet, and a valuable baby grand piano are among the donations that have arrived in Cuba on two shipping containers sent by the Play for Cuba appeal.

The donations included over 200 guitars, around 180 violins, violas and cellos, hundreds of trumpets, trombones and other brass and wind instruments, and even a set of bagpipes! In the end, and due to the dedicated efforts of supporters across the country, we needed to send TWO full shipping containers to the island!

From every corner of England, Scotland and Wales, Play for Cuba supporters in 40 regional collection centres gathered the instruments over a 12-month period. There were street collections, fundraising concerts, links made with local schools and colleges, and a level of campaigning and activity which empowered and energised many people across the country who wanted to help Cuba.

The final few weeks involved an often frantic effort to gather all the donations, sort them and pack them properly for their safe onward journey. There was then a huge logistical challenge to collect and transport the instruments to a few regional centres, from where they could be moved to the freight depot in Essex, for loading and final transportation to Cuba. The workers at the depot did a brilliant job carefully filling the containers with the huge variety of packages of every shape and size.

In the North East, supporters linked up with the Sage Theatre and the Caedmon Choir to collect donations.

In Worcestershire, Orkla House Care donated five pallets of brushes and arts materials for use in arts colleges across the island.

A teacher at St Bede’s Clayton Green Primary School in Lancashire saw an article in the National Education Union (NEU) magazine and within days had involved children and parents to collect over 20 guitars for the appeal.

There were borrowed vans and shared journeys, and supporters made many new contacts and friends along the way. One of the regional coordinators, Julie Lamin from Merseyside, described the operation as like “being part of a huge orchestra with the Play for Cuba team conducting the logistical operation”. At times it did feel a bit unwieldy, but with everyone working together so well we managed to bring it all together in the end.

Cuba Solidarity Campaign local groups were often at the heart of the regional collections, working alongside local NEU organisations to coordinate collection and storage. Groups also organised concerts and events to fundraise for the appeal.

Play for Cuba appeal send-off

In April, a huge lorry carrying a 40ft shipping container, filled to the brim with donated instruments and dressed with a Cuban flag, was parked outside Liverpool’s ACC where the NEU conference was being held.

Delegates danced on the piazza to live Cuban music from Omar Puente and Raíces Cubanas, as well as students from the Queen Elizabeth School in Kirkby Lonsdale. Omar invited the young musicians to play along with the Cuban band for a couple of moving songs during the show.

The launch heard speeches from Her Excellency Teresita Vicente, Cuban Ambassador, Kevin Courtney, Joint NEU General Secretary, Kiri Tunks, Joint NEU President, Gawain Little, Chair of the NEU International Committee, and Sue Piper, NEU Tameside and Play for Cuba Greater Manchester coordinator. The event was compered by Rob Miller, CSC Director and Play for Cuba coordinator.

The Cuban Ambassador said, “today we are witnessing an inspiring act of solidarity” and spoke of how the donations reflected the British people’s support for Cuba’s culture, identity, independence and sovereignty.

The appeal“has special significance because it was held at a time when the United States government intensified its unilateral blockade, with the objective of overcoming the Cuban Revolution and breaking the people’s determination,” the Ambassador said.

Kevin Courtney said: “Cuba is a poor country, but it has the best education system in Latin America, the best healthcare in Latin America.”

Sue Piper, Manchester regional coordinator, described how she was inspired by the huge support and solidarity, and how, after visiting schools in Cuba on a previous teachers’ delegation, she had seen firsthand the shortages of musical instruments and essential resources in Cuban schools due to the US blockade.

Gawain Little said: “We say the Cuban people should be able to determine their own future, free from intervention from the US, or anyone else… We’re beating the blockade with this act of solidarity with Cuba, sending over 4,000 instruments.”

A huge thank you to everyone

We would like to pass on our huge thanks to everyone involved in the Play for Cuba appeal. It really was a gargantuan effort that was only possible thanks to the energy, hard work and perseverance of thousands of people across the country. It has been a tricky journey for sure, but it has resulted in a great act of solidarity and friendship that will resonate across the island of Cuba in the creation of more beautiful music and dance for many years to come.

Violins ready for collection in Liverpool

Violins ready for collection in Liverpool

Unloading the truck at the freight depot in Essex

Unloading the truck at the freight depot in Essex

Marian Carty, one of the London hub coordinators with some of instruments they collected

Marian Carty, one of the London hub coordinators with some of instruments they collected

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