03/19/13 - Utica Observer Dispatch - Visiting Cuba: New Hartford teen was on a mission of peace
While her classmates spent their winter break relaxing with their families,
Sarah Muder was in Cuba.
But not for vacation.
Muder, 16, of New Hartford, was among other youths from Maine to West
Virginia to travel to the island nation with the Mission of Peace.
"(Our goal) was to learn how Cubans live their lives, learn more about
their country and to confirm or disaffirm, from our point of view,
stereotypes, then, come back and teach the people more about the Cubans,"
This was Muder's second international trip. Her first was to Cambodia two
The group of 18 teenagers spent two-and-a-half weeks in Cuba worshipping,
and laboring at a local farmhouse.
"We went to church every night," Muder said. "They were extremely long and
loud and passionate worship services. We also did some labor. We picked
coffee beans and helped out on the farm. ... I guess the interesting part was
remembering that the Cubans do what we do for less than 20 bucks a month."
The group also toured some of the historic parts of the country.
Muder said she thinks they accomplished their goal. She said Cuba was
different than she expected.
"I definitely thought there would be a bigger government influence," Muder
said. "I thought you would have to be really, really careful about what you
said. ... You can't criticize the government loudly and openly, but I thought
there would be more suppression of religion, which is not true at all."
When people ask Muder how her trip went, she said she tries to give them a
concise answer. Those in the program were told to spend a month reflecting
on their experience to avoid seeming like they "knew everything about
"Usually, I say that traveling, in general, is an experience all youth
should have, because you're able-bodied, you're strong and you learn things
that you could never learn in your comfort zone," Muder said. "I encourage
people to get out there."
Besides learning more about communism and Cuba's history, Muder learned
"(I learned) how to adapt when in a different situation," she said. "How to
shower with cold water. How to talk to people who don't speak the same
language as you. We just learned how to live more aware and more
Muder said she would love to go back to Cuba, but probably with a
missionary again - not as a vacation.
"I think it would be very difficult to go back and just lay on the beaches
and drink pina coladas knowing there are people who are probably in the
same state that I saw them last time I was there," Muder said. "I think
that would be very difficult to just ignore that part of Cuba that I know."
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