The project is organizing the 2nd edition of the Akokan Art and Local Innovation Festival, which will take place on August 30th and 31st in Los Pocitos, in Havana’s Marianao municipality.
HAVANA TIMES – A group of customers enters Deborah Vazquez’s living room, which turns into Oddara Cafe from time a time, in order to enjoy dishes related to offerings to the Gods of the Afro-Cuban Pantheon. This private venture supports the socio-cultural community project, Akokan.
“Our mission is to work towards community development, promoting creative work and activities that develop the community. We have created Oddara Cafe as a means to try and become sustainable,” Vazquez, one of the organizers of Akokan, told IPS Cuba’s editorial team.
Founded in 2016 in the Los Pocitos neighborhood, in Havana’s Marianao municipality, the project began via isolated efforts to try and repair a sidewalk or to run a children’s workshop. The constituency representative suggested that they organize themselves as a community project so as to make their efforts legal.
“In the Yoruba language, Akokan means heart, and Oddara means to be OK. Our motto is: ‘When you act from the Akokan, everything is Oddara’, which is to say that when you act from the heart, everything is OK,” Vazquez explained.
She added that the words were used in Yoruba because Afro-Cuban religion is firmly-rooted in Los Pocitos and they use these terms quite frequently. “We adopted these terms because we work here,” she said.
Going back to the neighborhood’s roots
According to the entrepreneur, the project began as an extension of a university project: Professor Michael Sanchez, from the Colegio Universitario de San Geronimo, in Old Havana, brought his students there to appreciate the existing archeological remains in this space and its history.
“In the 19th century, it was a very rich community in architectural terms, as influential people of the time settled in this area, in country homes, along the springs that fed the Quibu river,” Vazquez pointed out.
“This place has great cultural wealth, but it is also inside an illegal settlement. We are studying ways to try and improve this space, taking these values and cultural wealth, so as to attract tourism, create jobs and develop the community,” she stressed.
Los Pocitos is home to some 6,000 people and the project is working on specific areas: the staircase, the Andrade e Indalla alleyway, which are very disadvantaged in educational terms and marginalized. Plus, there is nowhere for people to throw out their garbage.
How are they doing this?
The cafe offers a buffet service and offers a family-friendly environment so people can enjoy a gastronomical experience.
“All of the food is healthy, there aren’t any alcoholic drinks sold on the premises, only juices and dishes inspired by Afro-Cuban culture, which are offered to the Saints. Meat and vegetable dishes aren’t mixed because there are more and more vegetarians and vegans nowadays,” the business owner explained.
The cafe isn’t open every day and you need to make a reservation, especially university groups that come from all over the world to study the neighborhood, disadvantaged communities, religion, Cuban culture, which are mostly coordinated by the state-run Marti Study Center.
According to Vazquez, 30% of the cafe’s profits go towards keeping the Akokan project up and running, which in the beginning only used to receive donations.
The project organizes children’s workshops: photography, baking, arts and crafts, theater, storytelling with other young people, as well as others that have to do with combating violence, which is accompanied by the Comprehensive Transformation Workshop of Los Pocitos and Zamora-Coco Solo, which are municipal government organizations.
“We run 10 activities every week, especially in the summer when we are open five days a week,” she said.
Another way they keep the project running is their network of solidarity yards, which brings small farmers in the area together, who hand over some of their produce for free or for a very modest price, as a way to contribute to the project.
While Akokan gives them seeds, tools and training about permaculture, as well as the organic waste from the cafe so they can make compost.
As there are busier and less busy months, the team takes part in training courses that allow them to learn about tools they need to earn greater visibility on social media.
They are also working on creating a website for Akokan so as to reverse the current lack of promotion they suffer. Municipal authorities are trying to assign them a space to create a community or action center.
“Our goal is to form several action centers within the community and that these then become a kind of cultural corridor, for it to become something larger, not just in a certain area,” Vazquez added.