Arundel teacher helps set up Cuba trip

Pastors for Peace caravan will travel overland to Mexico, by plane to island

June 01, 1999|By Jennifer Sullivan | Jennifer Sullivan,CONTRIBUTING WRITER

Last summer, Olivia Burlingame traveled to east central Mexico on a bus with a broken air conditioner. She spent a month sticking to its vinyl seats and sleeping on church floors, making stops along the way to pick up passengers and donations.

That might not sound like the ideal travel-brochure trip. Although she is not going along this time, Burlingame, 23, a Severna Park High School history teacher, is helping organize a similar expedition for other Maryland residents.

The final destination is not Mexico. It is Cuba. And the travelers will be taking part in the ninth caravan dispatched there by the New York-based Pastors for Peace.

The caravan is to include two buses leaving this weekend from Toronto and British Columbia, and will be joined by people with more than a dozen cars, trucks, vans and buses in routes taking in about 150 U.S. cities and towns before they converge June 11 in the border town of McAllen, Texas.

Against U.S. embargo

Participants will be picking up medical supplies and other donations, and demonstrating against the U.S. embargo on trade with Cuba.

Their travel by land ends at Tampico, Mexico, where the goods will be loaded onto a freighter. The passengers -- all paying to take part in the trip -- will fly to Cuba.

Baltimorean Robert Ganter, who participated in an earlier trip, will be among the travelers -- bringing a van he is donating to needy Cubans.

The old white diesel vehicle will be painted Friday by a Reservoir Hill community arts group, "Kids on the Hill," at its headquarters, 2412 Madison Ave.

"We're probably going to have kids do an outline of themselves against the van and color themselves in," said Rebecca Yenawine, director of Kids on the Hill. Last year, the West Baltimore art group for children painted a school bus that was donated to a Cuban school for physically disabled children.

Send-off fund-raiser dinner

The van will make its first stop Friday night at the Unitarian Universalist Church in Annapolis. A fund-raising send-off dinner of beans, rice and tamales and a dance begin at 7 p.m., with a suggested donation of $8 for adults, $5 for children, or $20 for a family.

Gail Walker, spokeswoman for Pastors for Peace in New York, said the shipment of medical supplies is a focus of the trip.

"Our goal, and I think we are going to make it, is to have enough raw materials that can be turned into $10 million of medicine," Walker said.

She said the group targeted medical supply companies in seeking to increase the $500,000 donated for medicine last year.

Recalling her trip last year, Burlingame said, "I went because I was learning about U.S. policy toward Cuba and had talked to people who had gone; I thought everyone was poor and no one had rights."

"I went with Pastors for Peace because I think the embargo is wrong," said Burlingame. "I like the fact they didn't ask the government for permission to go. We don't need to ask anyone for their permission."

Government obstacles

Walker said there have been government obstacles since the first caravan in 1992, with anti-embargo groups delayed, arrested and having their shipments confiscated at the border. But in they end, she said, every group has reached Cuba.

Burlingame said nothing happened to her group last year, when she caught up with a bus full of supplies after finishing her college finals in Manhattan, the third time she had traveled to Cuba. She remained for nine months, studying Spanish in Havana, she said.

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