10/30/13 - Arab News - Cuba's ELAM - making dreams come true
On a beach outside Havana stands the crown jewel of Cuba's renowned
international program of medical education, training 13,000 students from
around the world free of charge.
"Studying medicine was my life's dream. But for a poor family like mine,
that was impossible," 18-year-old Merady Gomez of Honduras said at the
Latin American School of Medicine (ELAM).
"Here, I am making my dream come true, and I have high hopes of being able
to help my country. This school is a blessing."
Some 25 km (16 miles) west of the Cuban capital, the school welcomes
students from 124 different countries, most of them from low-income
Spread across 120 hectares (297 acres) dotted with palm trees, its 28
buildings, recently painted in blue and white, hold more than 130
classrooms, labs, dormitories, cafeterias and a hospital.
ELAM is one of three universities launched by Cuban revolutionary leader
and former president Fidel Castro to boost his international credentials,
with the other two dedicated to sports and film.
But unlike the film school, it has always been free, representing Castro's
view that health care is a fundamental right.
With an average of one doctor per 148 inhabitants, Cuba is among the
best-served countries in terms of health, according to the World Health
Organization. Ahmed Bokovi, a 22-year-old from Chad, thanked "God and
Cuba" for giving him this "great opportunity to study medicine for free."
Douglas Macheri, 20, of Zimbabwe said he was following in the footsteps of
his father, who studied medicine in Cuba before returning home to treat the
poor in his country.
Of the 13,282 students currently enrolled, only 1,349 live in Santa Fe,
where the first two years of the six-year program are taught.
The rest of the coursework is taught in more than a dozen institutions
spread across the communist island, all in Spanish.
The school trains students in nearly all medical specialties, and students
often choose their focus depending on the needs of their home country.
"One of our big successes is that we are like a big family, despite our
many ethnic, cultural, religious or political differences," said Victor
Diaz of the school's external relations team. In the 14 years since it
first opened its doors, explained co-director Heidi Soca, ELAM has
graduated 17,272 doctors from 70 countries, "with the basic objective of
having them return to their home countries and work with the most
But the school is not without its critics. Many of Cuba's opponents abroad
claim the island's communist regime is using school to indoctrinate a
global network of leftist medical professionals.
Soca rejects this.
"No politics at school," she insisted. "Here, we study medicine humanely
and in solidarity... Not like other countries where medicine is considered
a merchandise." She said critics were just frustrated to see ELAM students
compete with more "commercial doctors."
"Our students often go work in places where local doctors do not want to
go, and their scientific and technical level is recognized around the
world," she added. ELAM's internationalist mission carries it beyond
Cuba's shores. The school leads training programs in 67 countries and
serves 26,000 students.
But Cuba has fallen on hard economic times. And ELAM's ability to provide
quality education free of charge is being eroded.
Last year, the school received its first paying students, though they had
received grants from their home countries.
"The country's economic hardship is no secret to anyone, and we need to
find new sources of funding," Soca acknowledged.
Original Source / Fuente Original: http://www.arabnews.com/news/470016
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