Gifts & Donations
When visiting Cuba, bringing gifts and donations is a common desire for many visitors. In some Cuban houses there is a great shortage of the most basic goods for daily needs. The people are suffering from the permanent economic crisis increased by the US sanctions. Consequently, it is a very good idea to fill up some free storage space in your suitcases with useful items. If you want to bring small gifts to hosts or support the country and people with donations, probably you ask yourself which items are suitable. In many cases, you can support the country and its population without any financial expense. In this article, we provide some good ideas for supporting the locals and how to do it.
Cuba is a country with a relatively low level of development. However, attending to the economic development, most people lead a dignified life. The Cuban state ensures security and guarantees the most basic needs. The population enjoys free health and education.
Almost all Cubans live in their own home, which in many cases was built with the government support. Most of the population is free from the oppressive misery that is common in many countries with a comparable level of development. The relative success of the Cuban system is expressed in indicators of human development such as high literacy rates and life expectancy. The child mortality rate is comparable with industrialized countries.
Short and Succinct: The perfect gifts to bring for locals
The best gifts are long-lasting items, for which the people are really in need of - therefore nearly everything. Feel free to bring used stuff in decent condition/quality. Get inspired by the list below.
Never wrong items:
- bags (cotton bag, backpacks, suitcase, handbags)
- towels & beddings
- toys & baby stuff
- shoes & sandals
- bandages kit / first aid kit
- kitchen supplies (knifes, also cinnamon, pepper)
- all summer cloths
- writing materials
- repair kits (bicycle tires)
- tools (beware of electrics)
- swimwear & headgear
- sanitary products
For hosts (guesthouses & casa particulares)
- good chocolate & coffee (most Cubans love them)
- sun blocker
- hair products, nail polish, make up etc. for females
- shoes & clothes
Embargo & shortage economy
Nevertheless, the living conditions of many people - not only in rural areas - are often very simple. Since the collapse of the Eastern Bloc, the country has been in a permanent economic crisis, which is being intensified by persistent US economic sanctions.
Due to that situation, state support is nowhere near enough to ensure a desirable standard of living. The economic circumstances of many people are characterized by very low salaries and high prices for food and consumer goods.
In this context, even basic household goods are difficult to afford for many people. The acquisition of everyday items is often a major investment. With an official state monthly salary averaging around 60 to 100 USD, to buy new sandals has to be considered carefully.
The internet and travel guides often recommend bringing soap or pens with you. Soap is available in Cuba for a few cents, and pencils and pens usually aren't in short supply. You can give a soap as a gift, but it is best to buy it for a few pesos locally in a state bodega.
To transport goods like soap for very long distances in the air makes little sense, not only from the perspective of climate protection.
Gifts for maids and hosts
Groceries and housewares are ideal gifts for maids and owners of private accommodations. Good chocolate or spices are recommended. They are expensive and often not easy to get. Some branded products can be bought in Cuba, but are expensive and therefore a suitable souvenir for the wealthier owners of the accommodations.
Simple household sponges, kitchen knives or other durable and functional household goods are good gifts for hostesses. Such products are better than small souvenirs because they are light, inexpensive and are also very safe to use in every house.
Support the poor: What people really need
The answer to the question of suitable gifts is often much more pragmatic: almost all daily goods that are useful and have a long life expectancy are recommended. Nearly every foreign visitor has a lot of helpful items lying around unused in the household.
Really needy people - of which there are very many in the socialist country - have a lack of the most trivial goods. Here we give you some ideas: sunglasses, all light summer clothing, household goods such as dishes (knife, can opener ...), bed linen, towels, backpacks, bags, suitcases, towels, air mattresses, etc.
Good shoes are also very important. In addition, all items for repairing are helpful, from sewing kits to smaller tools. Furthermore, children are happy about toys, mostly they play with flat footballs.
In summary, it is hardly possible to bring something functional that would not be used. In that case, most likely the unused item directly will be converted, because deficiency makes inventive. So if you still have space in your suitcase, this is an excellent occasion to take a look into the basement, the attic or the storage room. Instead of buying gifts, this not only saves money, but also benefits the environment.
In order to avoid problems with Cuban customs, you should check the customs regulations. Basically, one can say that only electronic devices are problematic.
How to reach the needy
While gifts mostly delight the owners of private accommodation and hotel staff, travelers usually only come into contact with people who are really in need sporadically. If you want to reach needy people in a targeted way, you can look out in public spaces. Often there are older people without families who urgently need support.
Alternatively, you can distribute the souvenirs in public spaces. Without any doubt, useful goods will not be left lying around for long, and it is also very certain that someone will use the souvenirs for a long time. If you travel the country by rental car, outside the tourist strongholds you will surely meet people in need.
Also, larger donations can be given directly to nursing homes, hospitals, schools or other institutions.