The Vermont Caribbean Institute (VCI) was founded in 2004, then known as the Vermont Institute on Cuba, by Marisha Kazeniac and Thelma Esnard, two visionary women, one Vermonter and one Cuban, who felt passionate about the power of people to people exchanges to bring two countries together, despite political differences.
In the early years, the organization focused on coordinating mission-driven professional and educational programs linking Vermont and Cuba in arts and cultural exchange, historic preservation and community building, education and environmental studies, and medicine and public health. Examples of those early efforts include sponsoring the shipment of humanitarian aid to Cuba; an annual Vermont-Cuba Forum in Burlington; a New England tour of Cuban art; and internship programs in Vermont for emerging Cuban artists and arts professionals. While work in Cuba continued, programming then expanded to the Dominican Republic with environmental remediation projects in Puerto Plata and baseball/cultural exchanges between Vermont and the DR, among other initiatives.
More recently VCI has evolved its programming around three primary focus areas: environmental sustainability, sustainable food systems, and arts and cultural promotion. Examples of this thematic work include collaborating with universities to offer students the opportunity to travel to Cuba on programs focused on local food systems and marine ecology; professional exchange programs focused on sustainable agriculture; research initiatives on agroecology including the creation of educational videos and editing of professional journals; and the cultivation and coordination of networks linking Cuban and US artists, farmers, NGOs, scientists, and policy-makers.
With the recent normalization of relations between the US and Cuba and all the opportunities and challenges this changing political landscape represents, VCI is again concentrating its work and resources mainly in Cuba. As VCI develops its strategic plan for the future, we look forward to potentially re-engaging in other parts of the Caribbean.