After its having graduated 7,256 students from some 30 countries as general practice doctors in providing primary health care services, a ceremony was recently held in Havana at the Latin American School of Medicine (ELAM) to mark the 10th year since its founding.
The idea for the creation of ELAM came in 1999 from Fidel, whose aim was the creation of better human beings.
With the news of its anniversary, there came to my mind a certain image of ELAM. I’ve been there only once (for a series of seminars) since Cubans such as me cannot generally enter the school grounds unless they work there.
ELAM is a large school where students from many countries converge; therefore it’s a place where the various cultures of Latin America come into contact and begin to understand one another, an undoubtedly challenging situation.
After having spoken with many students who went to this school, most recalled it with a mixture of sadness and joy.
The sadness stemmed from the sensation of confinement they’d experienced there because of never living in a boarding school situation before, as is the custom here in Cuba. Likewise, their bouts with hunger pangs had resulted from their having to adapt to a diet different from that of their own country.
Then too, there were those whose expectations of living in a socialist country were dashed; students who had been in socialist political movements in their own countries felt frustrated when they found they couldn’t carry out those same types of activities here. These were just a few of the circumstances faced, besides, of course, having received an education they couldn’t have afforded in their own countries.
When people think of ELAM additional points come to mind that would give a better idea of what this initiative has meant for Cuba and the rest of the countries of Latin America.
In the first place, this school was created without previously asking the Cuban people if they considered it an appropriate time for undertaking this effort; the island had just gone through a deep economic crisis, which in fact continues even today. After ten years, some people still think the Latin Americans do little more than come to eat food that should go to Cubans.
In addition, too much emphasis was placed on the fact that Cuba would educate Latin American students, without highlighting the fact that interaction with these students would also benefit Cubans, from the point of view of our understanding of Latin America.
Some Cubans still don’t trust these students to attend to them as doctors in our hospitals.
But the most important focus should be on the roles these doctors will play in their respective countries…the need for humanity, solidarity and the desire to become good doctors capable of helping their people. Once they graduate, it’s not enough for them to be inserted into the dynamics of capitalism.
When many of the graduates return to their countries they focus on getting their own families on their feet, since that becomes a possibility once the former students themselves become professionals. In addition, the people who receive attention from these thousands of doctors come only for medical care, but they don’t understand that nothing at all has changed in their country, or that they too have to struggle or continue struggling.
For the Latin American School of Medicine to be a school truly beneficial to “Our America,” it cannot limit itself to only educating humanist doctors – it has to go further. It has to train social actors who are well aware that to maintain good health, what is most important is to build a new social system that doesn’t function at the expense of people.
Cuba has the obligation to give a politically socialist education to these youths; otherwise the impact of ELAM on Latin America will be solely palliative.