On Wednesday, March 30th, a group of 21 volunteers, including artists, journalists, and communication experts, packed their bags and headed to Havana, Cuba with a mission to inspire and encourage young artistic minds. The trip, with stops at the Los Leopolditos orphanage and Academia de Ballas Artes San Alejandro, proved to be extremely rewarding for all participats, and has built insurmountable excitement for future Style Saves mission trips.

As the team arrived at the first destination at the Los Leopolditos orphanage right outside of Havana, 87 children from the ages of 6 to 12 years old eagerly shouted “Llegaron, llegaron!” (They’ve arrived!) as the Style Saves team pulled into the long driveway. The team unpacked their bags brimming with boxes of colored pencils, crayons, markers, play dough, coloring books and other art supplies for the children before being serenaded with a beautiful song by four fourth grade girls. As the day unfolded, the Style Saves team and the children enjoyed fun-filled activities, games, and arts and crafts. The children’s profound joy and appreciation made it almost impossible to say goodbye.

The next day, Style Saves visited the Academia de Ballas Artes San Alejandro to host fashion, social media, storytelling, photography, and performance art workshops for university students. Aileen Quintana, a Miami-based Cuban-American performance artist and Styles Saves team member, created a moving performance piece depicting how her parents left Havana to come to the United States. “It was an honor to give back to a country where my blood runs thick,” said Quintana. “Being able to inspire the children of San Alejandro and speak about the concepts and theoretical approaches on performance art was an incredible experience.”

 

Writer and producer Joan Caspi taught a True Stories Workshop. With the help of her daughter, Lindsay, Caspi highlighted the importance of compelling storytelling and provided students with essential tips from her personal experiences. “Sharing a true story with a roomful of strangers is a profound and deeply connective experience,” said Caspi. “From this one-day workshop, we collected the true stories of nearly 30 students. They can be heard on Wynwood Radio in both Spanish and English on “Voices from Cuba.” Amanda Harris, Director of Communications at EAST Hotel, led the social media workshop and showed students how social media can be a powerful tool to market artists and brands. “Being that technology is quite limited in Cuba, I had the students use their imaginations to create personal brand images and pretend Instagram profiles that they felt would be the best representation of their art if they were to have such a platform to do so,” said Harris. “In the end, I realized that the exercise we were doing was really no different than the world I was teaching them about. Social media is imaginary, and thanks to the imagination, the students were able to journey into a world of hope and empowerment.”

Cuban-American artist Alexander Mijares painted a beautiful and elaborate mural for the school, a project that was very close to his heart. “To visit and create where great Cuban masters, like my great uncle, painter Jose Mijares, studied was such a great honor,” said Mijares. “Working with the students to create the artwork gave me the chance to connect with them and build a special bond. It was all around was an unforgettable experience.”

Beautiful moments were shared throughout the trip, and the Style Saves team is incredibly grateful for the opportunity to share their knowledge and expertise with enthusiastic young minds. “Having the opportunity to bring 21 friends with art and fashion backgrounds to share their experiences with the students of Cuba was so special,” said Style Saves founder and president Rachael Russell.

Style Saves would like to thank Las Historiadoras for the very generous donation of printers and school supplies made to both Los Leopolditos orphanage and Academia de Ballas Artes San Alejandro. The team would also like to thank the Los Leopolditos orphanage, Academia de Bellas Artes San Alejandro director Sandra Fuentes, and professor and artist Rafael Villares for welcoming them with open arms and making them feel at home. Style Saves would also like to extend a very special thanks to all of the volunteers who made the trip a truly unforgettable experience. If you’d like to make a donation or become involved with a Style Saves mission trip, email info@stylesaves.org.