Inside a Cuban Orphanage

If you know me, you know I get terribly bored (and sometimes in trouble) if I’m not learning anything new. If you know my writing, you know that one of the things I love about Cuba is that I’m learning new things all the time. It’s stimulating, humbling – an eternal education, vaya. A recent experience was particularly educational when Cuba Libro, together with our family of Harlistas Cubanos, paid a visit to the Guanabacoa orphanage.


Here’s what I learned:

1) In Cuba, orphanages are not called orfanatos like in other parts of the Spanish-speaking world. Here, they’re called casas de niños sin amparo filial (literally children without family protection; more proof that Cubans are masters of euphemism. This is something I knew from my days volunteering here during the ‘Special Period in A Time of Peace,’ – how Cubans refer to total economic catastrophe);

2) In Cuba, these children aren’t called orphans. They’re called niños de la patria (how’s that for euphemism?);

3) There are some very dedicated, loving and compassionate people working in this sector (all are women at this particular orphanage, something I suspect is par for the course across the country);


4) I knew before this visit that there are few orphanages in Cuba (thanks to a variety of factors, including free, safe abortions), but I learned this weekend that the most common reasons children end up here are: neglect, their parents are in jail or addicted to drugs or they’re abandoned outright;

5) Orphanages in Cuba are divided by age – there are orphanages for infants who are still breast feeding, others for children from 1-1/2 to 11 years old; and others for kids 12 to 18;

6) Some children arrive at orphanages having never seen a doctor – despite Cuba’s free, universal health system. A 5-year old boy at the Guanabacoa orphanage, for example, arrived with an undiagnosed degenerative childhood disease. His muscles will atrophy until he dies, before reaching adulthood. He’s now receiving appropriate medical attention, but his is a bleak diagnosis. In addition to full medical care, the government provides these children with food, clothing, beds and linens, soap and toothpaste (a bar and tube, respectively, for each child every month), school uniforms, and a monthly stipend;


7) Every opportunity to place orphans with foster or adoptive families is investigated and made. Although the process is incredibly long and arduous, requiring all kinds of background checks, character testimonies, home visits, and documentation, several of the 20 children at the orphanage we visited were with their foster families for the weekend. Additionally, one 4 year-old girl was with her adoptive family which was finalizing her adoption;

8) The chance to visit the Guanabacoa orphanage and learn how all of this works in Cuba was possible thanks to a donation initiative by Havana Harley-Davidson riders and Cuba Libro. Most Here is Havana readers already know about Cuba Libro’s robust, targeted donation programs but this was our first donation to an orphanage. We’re incredibly thankful to have friends and family among these generous bikers who provided the opportunity to learn what orphanages most need in Cuba:
– infant and boys’ and girls’ clothes;
– sneakers and shoes;
– washcloths and shower scrubbies (caretakers are prohibited from having skin-to-skin contact with the children); and
– white knee socks – part of the official school uniform.
Thanks to this initial donation (organized by our Donation Coordinator, Yenlismara), Cuba Libro will be continuing to support the wonderful staff and children at this orphanage. If you would like to participate in this or other donation programs administered by Cuba Libro, please drop us a line;


9) The last thing I learned was the provenance of this house – a mansion really, with multiple gardens, a pool and Jacuzzi, three-car garage and so many bedrooms I lost count. Several years ago, an official police video made the rounds (you can get the new fuzz reels every week from any little storefront business selling the paquete) about a massive bust in Guanabacoa. The video showed all manner of ill-gotten goods – including eight cars, gold and jewels, appliances, electronics, the works. They even found bricks of cocaine stashed around – it was really some Cops Miami type shit. The culprit? A half-assed Cuban rapper wanted in the United States for a giant Medicare scam which fleeced boatloads of money from the federal program. I had never heard of Gilbert Man before I saw the video, nor after – until we were preparing the kids’ donations. Turns out that after he was caught, charged, sentenced to 17 years and imprisoned, the Cuban government converted his house into this orphanage. Upon visiting and beholding the f-ugly furniture, gold and brown brocade drapes, god awful porcelain vases and gilded mirrors, I learned that Gilber Man may have been (temporarily) rich, but had perennially bad taste.

I also learned that wonderful things can be sown from nefarious seeds and soil.



Filed under Americans in cuba, Cuban customs, Cuban economy, Cuban idiosyncracies, Cuban Revolution, Expat life, Living Abroad, off-the-beaten track, Travel to Cuba, Uncategorized

42 responses to “Inside a Cuban Orphanage

  1. You mentioned in the article that caretakers are prohibited from having skin-to-skin contact with the children, do you mean the people that actually give baths, feeding a personal grooming to the younger children?

    • Hi there. I do not understand your question. While bathing the children, they are prohibited for hygiene and ethical reasons for having skin to skin contact. Sorry if that wasn’t clear…Cheers

      • Hello. Thank you for your response. I was just confused because, I fail to understand how you can bathe a child without some skin to skin contact, I realize that they would use wash cloths and towels but at one point, some skin would come into contact with each other.
        Great article though. Thank you.

  2. Elizabeth Holt

    Thank you for this informative post…it is eye opening. Good to know about opportunities to donate

  3. Jill Bradley

    Hi Connor .
    Will you accept donations at your shop . We will be in Havana for a couple of days later in the week and were planning to visit your shop for iced coffee. And having read your blog would like to bring over a few things ?

    • Hi Jill. Cuba Libro accepts material donations (we just made one to the nursery school children of Paso Quemado, Pinar del Rio) and Friends of Cuba Libro (our 501c3 non profit in the USA, financial donations for 3 lines of programming: cat & dog rescue; independent media; and support for families with members with parkinsons). thanks for asking! Although I see you are coming to Havana this week and as is our custom for the past 5 years – we close for the month of august. reopening September 9. Have a wonderful trip!! Cheers, Conner

  4. Lourdes Garcia

    In Havana prior to 1959 at the corner of San Lazaro Y Belascoain was La Beneficiencia ran by the Catholic Sisters of CHarity. Also, prior to that horrible date, Father Teste, a Catholic priest, was building La Ciudad de los Ninos with donations from individuals and businesses, of course, neithr of those places exist now. Where La Beneficiencia was is Almejeiras Hospital an architectural and medical disaster and Ciudad De Los Ninos was never completed. I’m only speaking from memory as I left Cuba in 1961 as a 16 year old.. .

    • More support for abandoned/unwanted children is always welcomed. Having said that, Im willing to bet my dog (down Toby!) that there were WAY more orphans back when the Catholics were in charge. Personally, I prefer fewer orphans/unwanted children and orphanages to catholic doctrine and dogma. There are still active convents here by the way – all over the place!

      I understood that Almejeiras was a bank prior to the revolution. Anyone have verifiable data? Also, you may not know that Im accredited press here and have been covering the health system for over 15 years. You say that this hospital is a medical disaster (having not been back since it was designated a hospital if Im reading your comment correctly) – on what do you base this opinion?

  5. This literally brought tears to my eyes, a rare occurrence. That there is still humanity to this degree in this generally f-d up world, especially institutional/governmental, is beautiful. From a country where our children are too often discardable and uncared for, it’s heartwarming to see a country with generally so much less yearning to do right by the underprivileged and dependent. Thanks for reporting this.

    • Wow Jon. I think it’s probably every writer’s secret desire to bring tears to a readers eyes (either of joy or other strong emotion). Thank you for reading and sharing this.

      I feel privileged to report on these kinds of efforts/projects and have these types of experiences in a country where there are A LOT of problems but at least the most vulnerable are not treated like degenerates, criminals or somehow morally/physically/intellectually weak and/or lacking. I would much rather support a society like this than one aggressively pursuing anti-family policies like Zero Tolerance or whatever its called which separates children from their parents. Hey Melania: YEAH, I DO CARE!!!!

      Sorry, rant over 😉

  6. Yvonne

    Beautifully written witty and informative articlr.

    • Gracias Yvonne. More of my writing (like this and lots of other content) available in my two new books: TWATC and 100 places in Cuba Every Woman Should Go. Both available on Amazon and at Cuba Libro.

  7. Lakesha Marshall

    Hi. I am interested in visiting and bringing supplies to an orphanage in Gahanna. I work for an airline so travel will not be a problem. If there’s any information you can give please inform me. My email address is

  8. VM

    Hello, how can get in contact with them. I will be in old Havana for only a few days but collected some clothes and toys to bring to the children. I am a professional photographer and would love to take photos for the kids to have of themselves. Who can I contact?

    • Hi VM. Sorry, we cannot facilitate contact with the orphanage – this has to be provided through official channels. It took us months to set up this visit. We’re looking to make another donation soon however. Have a great trip.

  9. Kathryn

    Hello I’m going to Cuba end of March to see my fiance I work in the dental field and wanted to donate around 100 tooth brushes and toothpaste flouride rinses please email me when I’m there I would like to bring the stuff there

    • Hola Kathryn. Visitors can’t drop into this orphanage and we can’t arrange individual donations such as yours; rather, we group donations together. we are currently donating regularly to tornado victims, just donated prenatal vitamins to the dozen pregnant women in Consultorios #9 & 10, Playa and have a big donation going to the 181 children at the specialized school for disabilities at the end of March. Cheers

  10. Caribbeanprincess

    Thank you so much for this blog. I was going to try and visit a childrens home while there to give needed things out to the children. I would have carried a heavy load for nothing. I will bring what school supplies I have and give to the children I see. I am a former teacher with grown children now.

  11. Joshua

    We are currently in Havana and we brought a suitcase full of donations for an orphanage. The items we brought are suited for children 2-10 years of age. We are having a hard time connecting with an orphanage to drop them off. Can you help?

    • Hola
      We know precisely how difficult it is to donate to orphanages!! Not sure what donations you have (we have a targeted list prioritizing those items most needed; for instance, clothes are not needed) but if they are appropriate and you don’t successfully donate them elsewhere, we can receive them at Cuba Libro for later distribution. Good luck!

  12. mel

    Where do we send items if we are interested in helping?

    • Hola Milena. We have year round donation programs at Cuba Libro. Please drop me a private email if you’d like to participate. Thanks in advance!

  13. katheryne

    The subtext in this article when the author says that it’s hard to contact orphanages, donations cannot be made directly, the adoption process is very long and arduous, etc. is that the Cubans are well aware that poor children, especially in poor countries, are very vulnerable to exploitation and particularly to being targeted by paedophiles. As a foster child from Canada who was maltreated, I certainly appreciate this and it just makes me love Cuba more. Also, exploitation is a major issue for Cuban women who cannot make ends meet. The more we demonstrate solidarity with Cuba, the more we can undermine men, especially wealthy foreigners, who try to take advantage of vulnerable women and children.

    • Thanks Katherine for your thoughtful (and very personal) comment. Cuba Libro is getting tons of requests from visitors who want to go into orphanages and visit schools with their donations. But part of effective, responsible giving is respecting the time, energy and dedication of the caretakers and teachers, plus the children themselves so they feel safe, in a comfortable and supportive environment for learning and growth. Parading in foreigners for a speed donation visit is not part of our approach and not everyone understands why. I really appreciate you writing in and am sorry you experienced childhood trauma.

  14. Valentina Pinto

    Hello, my private email is and wold like participate in some donations in march. Thank you

  15. christina

    hello how can i donate i live in jamaica and what if one day i would love to adopt a child is that possible

    • Hola Christina. Thanks for your willingness to donate. The only way to make material donations is if you are physically here in Cuba and then to orphanages it is a very rare opportunity indeed, that takes lots of coordination. Since everything but humanitarian flights here are cancelled until further notice, I hazard a guess that this would not be possible until late 2020 or even 2021.

      Foreigners are not permitted to adopt Cuban children.

      I hope this note finds you well. Thanks for reading

  16. Maria Teresa Aleo

    Hi, do you know if Asilo Chaple in Guanabacoa still exists? Asilo is the word used for orphanage during the late 1950’s. If you could find out the info, I will provide you with a very touching story (via private e-mail).

    • Hola Maria Teresa. I don’t know. Im guessing this was/is a religious-run orphanage? Im sorry I can’t do the research: Im a journalist, trying to save a business closed by COVID and trying to keep my family fed and healthy during these rocky times. Im still interested in your story though! You’ve got my interest, I just don’t have the time.Take care and thanks for reading

  17. Leandro

    After watching the 4th season of The Wire, I was curious about how orphanages/group homes were like in Cuba, and I was afraid of having to go through 200 layers of American propaganda before finding anything positive. This was a good read, thanks.

    You can judge a society by how it treats their children – each of them, regardless of birth. Seems like Cuba tries its best, and this makes me proud as a hopeful communist from another LatAm country. We’ll get ourselves there one day.

    • Hi Leandro. Thanks for reading and the positive feedback. I try to keep this post as first-hand and real as possible for folks who want an accurate, on-the-ground idea of what Cuba is like today.

      I like your optimism. Lets hope we get there one day!!

  18. I am an American married to a Cuban. Can we adopt?

    • Hi there. Unfortunately no. The process is limited to married, heterosexual couples in Cuba who must pass through an evaluation process that typically lasts up to two years.

  19. Leann

    Hi I would like to visit the orphanage for infants can you give me a list of infant orphanages that I can visit and what’s the age someone can adopt a child from Cuba.

  20. Shellene

    They have a program where we can take people from Cuba to the United States. I would like to go through the process to take a little boy here. If he have a brother/ sister I will take them too. I have two daughters and I would hate to see them broken up. I wish someone in Cuba can contact me.

    • Hello Shellene. Someone is spreading some bad information. It is not possible for any foreigner to adopt a Cuban child living in Cuba. Furthermore, thanks to universal health care, free contraceptive and abortion free and on demand, there are very few unwanted children born in Cuba.

      • Cassandra Smith

        Why would you use the word euphemism in a passive aggressive attack on how someone chooses to describe their society.? This way of thinking and European superiority makes me question every thing you write as having passed through a racist filter.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s