The heart and passion of David Fromstien ‘72
David Fromstien ‘72 accidentally found is calling at the age of 57 in a small community in Cuba on his first vacation outside of Canada. Traveling to Cuba was meant to be a short respite to begin his recovery from stress and health issues; it turned into the most rewarding experience of his life. David’s dedication to provide food, clothing, musical instruments, fishing boats, work animals and other life changing items to the local people in Marea del Portillo, Cuba has become his sole passion and mission.
I had a great chance to catch up with alumnus David Fromstien ‘72 at Xmas at the Miller this December, right before his 27th trip to Marea del Portillo in Cuba.
What is the main purpose of your 28th trip to Marea del Portillo?
My wife Kath and I decided on a last-minute trip to celebrate the new decade with our Marea del Portillo family! We are planning a lunch with Joel (Maria’s oldest son) in his new home, followed by a fiesta with Joel’s in-laws and we are looking forward to holding 10 month old baby Katherine. The last time we were in Cuba was the fall so we have pre-ordered 4 sacks of rice (440 lbs), 2 sacks of beans (220 lbs) and 24 bottles of oil.
How did you begin this journey of helping families in Cuba?
In the post Rosseau Lake School part of my life, I had a beautiful ten-bedroom home in horse country, a wife, four children and a thriving business. Then in 2003 I experienced a single chain of events that was devastating and I lost everything: marriage, business, wealth and health. It took me ten long years to recover. At one point, my health was so bad that I had no feeling from the waist down and was unable to move my arms above my head. Just when I started to get back on track there was a flood in my new home and I once again lost all of my possessions including all my musical instruments. I needed a break from my life so I booked my first trip outside of Canada at the age of 57. My sole reason for choosing Maria del Portillo was the inexpensive price. I got so much more!
Tell me about your first trip to Cuba.
After the flood in my second home, I went shopping and purchased a new wardrobe for my vacation. Once I arrived at the resort and saw how challenging life was for the local people in the area, I realized they needed my clothes more than I did so I came home with an empty suitcase.
Leaving your belongings behind to support local people underprivileged vacation areas is a great idea. How did this one trip turn into 28 trips in 7 years?
I loved my time in Maria del Portillo so I returned a few months later. I was visiting some vendor tables looking for a black bracelet and necklace made from beads. As it turned out, none of the vendors had what I was looking for on their tables but one industrious lady named Maria asked if she could make what I wanted at home and bring it to me the next day. That afternoon, I happened to pass by her table after a nature walk and found she had made me a beautiful necklace and bracelet. I did not have pesos in my pocket so we agreed that I would take the jewelry and return and pay the next day. When I arrived to pay her I asked if there was anything I could bring her from Canada on my next visit. She asked for shoes for her husband. There was something about Maria’s resourcefulness and trust that made me make good on my promise. I returned 4 months later with a brand new pair of shoes for her husband.
It sounds like Maria is a special person. How did your relationship with Maria continue after you brought her shoes?
On this trip, I had the pleasure of meeting Maria’s three sons and husband. Maria’s husband Jesus was a fisherman but was always a helper on someone else's boat. The oldest son Joel asked my wife Kath and I if we would help them purchase a fishing boat. Kath and I talked about the idea and decided that, in blind faith, we would meet them halfway with their purchase. On our next trip to Marea del Portillo we were thrilled to see the boat in the slip. That evening the first fiesta began in celebration of the boat and a brighter future for Maria’s family.
Wow from a pair of shoes to a boat! I am sure the shoes were very useful for Jesus, but tell me about the positive impact the fishing boat had on Maria’s family.
The shoes were appreciated, but the boat proved to be an amazing investment for Maria’s family. Today, a few short years after Kath and I made this risky decision, there are three generations of families fishing with one gift. The freezer is fully stocked and there is new furniture in the living room.
It sounds like you made an amazing difference to Maria’s family. How did this turn into a full mission of helping multiple families in the area?
Because Kath and I started visiting Cuba on a regular basis, we bought a horse and buggy for personal transport. Shortly after, we realized we could put the horse and buggy to good use.
The first distribution was only rice. 110lbs for under $20.00 Canadian dollars. We purchased 2 bags and split them 10 ways to make sure our closest friends could get through hard times. The next trip I asked Joel to target more families and to make sure he paid special attention to single moms, the elderly and infirm.
From there we started purchasing food at the warehouse and taking it to the village and mountain to distribute to families who could not properly support themselves. I used to want to treat local families to a night at the restaurant in town and then I realized, how can you give someone a meal like that when their fridge and pantry at home were bare?
In 2018 we distributed 880 lbs of rice and 440 lbs of beans. On our last trip this fall we supported 43 families who received rice, beans, toothbrushes, toothpaste, bar soap, hair ties, nail polish, razors, laundry soap, pens, paper, etc.
It sounds like you and Kath have given so much to this community. What is the most important thing that came out of this mission?
We are so lucky to have the opportunity to make a difference in the lives of some of the families in Marea del Portillo but the reality is the Marea gave me more. Maria, Jesus and their families plus the community that we are now a part of has played a huge part in both my spiritual recovery and my health. I will be forever grateful for the difference this community continues to make in my life.
Interview by Kim Bissonette Morton ‘88