One of the most common misconceptions about Cuba is that there is nothing to buy and that everybody needs the gifts of wealthy foreigners to survive.
That is just half true.
Bringing gifts to Cuba is nice and a great idea for family and friends and people who really need them. But that’s the problem, does the ordinary tourist have contact with the people that really need your help?
I will try to give you an idea of when it is appropriate to give and what is appropriate and useful to bring.
For your friends and family you should know better than me, so will focus on strangers and travelers that visit Cuba for the first time.
Giving and bagging on the streets
I recommend to not rely on the wealth of a person just by seeing him or her bagging on the street. Especially in more touristic areas that’s an easy and fast way to get money without big efforts.
A typical scenario is the following:
A Lady will ask you on the street if you can buy milk for her children. She will look very poor and sad. The problem is, the milk is, in most of the cases, not for children. Most of the times she will go back to the shop later and bring the milk back and get the money in return.
I know you read that the average salary in Cuba is about 20 USD per month, and that shocked you. Of course, that shocks everybody, who can live from 20 Dollars a month? The answer is nobody does, well just a very few people.
First of all that is just the salary people earn if they work for the government, if they work as self-employed or for a foreign company, they earn more. If they work for the government they have another income, sometimes legal, sometimes illegal or in a grey zone, but they have it and don’t have to live from 20 Dollars per month.
Bringing us back the poor people in touristic centers in Cuba’s cities.
People got used to getting stuff and money easily from foreigners, people, and children. So please think before you hand out stuff to random children on the streets, what do they learn from that?
If you want to do good and bring nice and useful gifts to children get some information before you come, projects or schools that are worth being supported and need pencils and other supplies. Or projects or people that need use cloths etc., please remember that usually the really poor and the people who really need help, are not the ones bagging in Habana Vieja or in the center of Trinidad.
If you are not sure about that you can also ask me and I will give you some contacts, or ask people on couch surfing etc.. We will pitch you in the right direction of families and projects that will be grateful for your support.
Useful gifts and gifts for hosts and friends
Everybody likes receiving gifts, also the owners of your “Casa Particular”. Just remember that they are usually not part of the poorer population because not everybody in Cuba is poor. Depend on how many rooms and for which price they rent, they could be wealthy as well. Nevertheless, they also have an everyday struggle like almost everybody living on the island.
Some things are hard to get, or they are really expensive. Some of the best examples are shampoo, shower gel, deodorant, body lotion or other beauty products. They will make almost everybody happy.
The other thing is sweets, oh yes, Cubans love sugar! So bringing a little something typical from your country or sweets classic like Haribo or Toblerone is also a nice way of making gifts that don’t offend people.
If you are worried about other products that are hard to get or could be useful to your host or other people, you could also ask directly.
With this posts I don’t want to say that bringing gifts is wrong, just be aware and think before making them. Ask for organizations and other projects that need gifts, all the time.