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This winter vacation, University Chaplain Frederick Streets lent his services to the suffering worldwide. After helping to write a book on mental health in Rome, Streets joined in a service trip to Cuba.

From Jan. 1 to Jan. 9, Streets made a visit to Cuba with 26 members of Yale College, the Yale Graduate School and the Yale Divinity School; the First Presbyterian Church of Hamden; and the Make A Difference Foundation. There, they helped to build a vegetable garden in the city of Guasmias to feed needy Cuban children.

One of the group members, Gabriela Bernadett ’08, said she was glad to visit a country with a very different culture.

“The trip was amazing,” Bernadett said. “It gave you a different view of what a communist country is really like. It didn’t seem as Americanized as so many other places.”

Led by Sarah Garcia, the co-founder of Make A Difference Foundation, the group also visited a variety of other cities and events in Cuba. They attended the National Championship baseball game, spoke with a member of the Cuban Parliament and visited the cities of Havana, Mantanzas, Verdado and Peric.

Luis Vasquez ’07, another of the group members, said he was glad the visit was not limited to Havana.

“Because any tourists usually stay in Havana, it was good actually getting out to another principal city of Cuba,” Vasquez said. “It was more reflective of the rest of the country.”

Vasquez, who has visited the Dominican Republic several times, said one of the biggest differences between Central America and the United States is the lack of commercialism. Elizabeth Jordan ’06 said its absence was refreshing.

“It’s very different — an entire lack of commercialism,” Jordan said. “It was replaced by propaganda, but there was no obsession with marketing and branding.”

Jordan said she liked the experience and would like to return someday.

“I feel like I learned as much about myself and the group as I did about Cubans,” Jordan said. “It was enjoyable and I would love to see relations get better between our two governments.”

Before heading to Cuba, Streets met in Rome with 32 ministers of health from around the world who shared their experiences working with people suffering from the affects of war and natural disasters. Sponsored by the Caritas Initiative of the Vatican, the Harvard Program in Refugee Trauma and the mayor of Rome, the group has been meeting for the past several years, with the meetings designed to culminate in a book to be published in a year and a half.

“It’s a very worthwhile project with a particular dimension of mental health,” Streets said.

This past meeting, from Dec. 1 to Dec. 10, was their last, and each member submitted a draft of his or her chapter to be put in the book.

Tentatively titled “Trauma and the Role of Mental Health in Post-Conflict Recovery,” the book will focus on the group’s findings on the best mental health treatments for trauma patients.

Streets said his chapter focused on spirituality in mental health care, taken from his experiences in Colombia with the Connecticut Conference of the United Church of Christ.

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