WHEN RUBERY pensioner Graham Fletcher ventured off the beaten track last year to deliver supplies to Cuban children, workers and to Cuban Olympic athletes, it became a soul-inspiring journey he would never forget.
A proud socialist and life-long member of the workers union, UNITE, the 67-year-old signed up for the trip early last year before flying off to Havana Airport for the adventure of a lifetime.
“Virgin almost charged me for excess baggage because of all the supplies I was taking, but I’ve got the gift of the gab and managed to convince them to waive the fee,” he said.
UNITE, a sponsor of the Cuban Solidarity Movement, helped by subsidising the trip so Graham could join a global entourage of ‘brigades’ that would meet at the Julio Antonio Mella Camp, just 40 miles south-west of Havana to work with the Cuban people on farms and learn about their culture.
He said: “Before I left England, I found out the schoolchildren in Cuba had not got any writing paper, pens or pencils, so on my arrival I was able to empty my case and present the Cubans with dozens of A4 notepads, 400 pens, 200 pencils and some small notepads.
“I also took industrial gloves for the workers, which they absolutely loved,” said Graham.
Each day, Graham and the ‘brigadistas’ as they were known, worked from 8am until midday in 40 degree heat, cutting cane, clearing wild bush, potting plants, picking fruit and various other agricultural work.
He said: “All work ceased by midday as it was too hot to continue. We then spent the afternoons back at the camp attending cultural seminars, learning about Cuban history and its geography.
Graham also had the opportunity to visit schools where he distributed supplies.
He said: “The children were all so welcoming to us.
“I had tears in my eyes when I met them.
“I wish our students could see the very basic conditions these young people endure with great fortitude and happiness.”
Graham also went to a lot of revolutionary sites like Santa Clara, Bay of Pigs and museums where we saw pictures of anti-aircraft guns that shot down 14 invading American airplanes.
“The gunners were 15 to 16-year olds and the Cuban people joined with the army and captured 122 of the 1,400 American invaders, then traded the prisoners for ship loads of baby food,” he added.
“All in all, it was a fantastic experience to meet the real Cuban people away from all the tourist places.”
Sports company Neo G, having heard of his fund-raising adventures when he did last year’s Great North Run, gave Graham equipment such as knee, elbow and gel pads so that he could deliver them to the Cuban Olympic athletes.
Graham, who has lived in Rubery for 45 years, has been involved with various fund-raising projects and running marathons for charities that include Cancer Research and Arthritis Research.
He continues to campaign and raise awareness for causes he believes in.