The Guardian 31 August, 2005

First graduates from the
Latin American School of Medicine

Mireya Castaneda

It was a solemn and, without any doubt, unique ceremony. Everyone present at the first graduation from the Latin American School of Medicine (ELAM) was touched by emotion. It was an unrepeatable moment with 1610 young doctors receiving their diplomas, rings and prizes for six years of energetic effort. They are not just a few more graduates. The fact that it was about the first graduation from ELAM, that work of "infinite love for humanity" was compounded by the students themselves.

The initiators of a program — without the need for "a humiliating receipt of payment" — without which they could never have realised their dreams of studying for that noble career. They came from the poorest sectors, from indigenous communities, from working-class parents.

Dr Juan Carrizo, the dean of ELAM, noted during the ceremony in Havana’s Karl Marx Theatre, that 71.9 percent are from the working class. More interesting, they represent 33 ethnicities; for example, Mayans and Mesquitos, Punas.

"Arnolfo Quintero is a robust transport worker from the city of San Cristóbal in Tachira, the Andean region of Venezuela, but when he tried to comment for Granma International what he felt about his new fully-fledged doctor daughter, the lump in his throat and his tear-filled eyes overcame him.

"We are very proud and emotional. We are very grateful for what President Chávez, President Castro and the Cuban people have done."

Daline, who like all the Venezuelans (51) concluded her studies in hospitals in Camagüey province, feels that she is lucky to have been able to begin her studies at ELAM and now complete them. "I put a lot of my heart into it; moreover, Cuba makes you put your heart into everything."

Her compatriot Héctor Domínguez is from the city of La Victoria, in Aragua state. "The news of the scholarships got as far as there, and then the selection, in addition to study averages, was directed at those of us who live far from the capital and had the least economic possibilities for studying medicine."

Both young people said that all the members of the Venezuelan group had committed themselves to work in their countries in areas "where no doctor has a presence and especially, within the Barrio Adentro program. We want to take the best of ourselves."

Venezuela is not an exception. Among a sea of white coats, chance led us to sit down by Rubén Rojas, a young man from the Dominican Republic born into a very poor family. "My parents couldn’t come because they didn’t have the resources (some of those who came to Havana for the graduation did so thanks to loans from and collections in their communities). They are anxiously awaiting me."

Rojas and the other 95 Dominicans studied in Pinar del Río province, and have "many expectations, but the basic one is to help the poor, the most needy" and he already knows that his country’s government has a project for them, the first specialists in General Medicine.

They are for the poor masses, for the most needy, precisely the sectors from where they came. Like Compere Pierre, whose humble family lives in the southern region of Haiti. Along with another 128 young Haitians, he studied in the (Francophone) Caribbean School in Santiago de Cuba (it was announced that this program has also been incorporated into the ELAM).

"On returning to Haiti I want to work to improve my country’s health situation, which has many problems. We are ready and waiting: here in Cuba we have felt the enthusiasm and will of the professors to make us excellent professionals in order to save lives."

It was a graduation within a Summit of these simple and brilliant young people. For them, the presence of the man who dreamed of and put into practice that inestimable project — the Cuban president, Fidel Castro, and, at his side, many of those who supported the idea, in first place, the Venezuelan president, Hugo Chávez.

Also present was the president of Panama; the prime ministers of Antigua and Barbuda, Dominica, St Kitts and Nevis, St. Vincent and the Grenadines; the vice president of Ecuador; the deputy prime minister of St Lucia; the foreign ministers of the Bahamas, Guyana, Barbados, Belize, the Dominican Republic and Grenada; and ministers from Surinam, Trinidad and Tobago and Jamaica; and, in an outstanding way, the Reverend Lucius Walker (the graduates included a young African American).

From a solemn and formal event, the Cuban president transformed things into an agreeable encounter when all the dignitaries present handed diplomas to the 16 best students (from Ecuador, El Salvador, Argentina, Haiti, Bolivia, Brazil, Guatemala, Paraguay, Costa Rica, Chile, Honduras and Peru).

The best students included Argentine María Julia Córdova. "My father is one of the thousands of disappeared during the dictatorship." No questions, no answers, her mother and her, holding hands tightly.

The new doctors dedicated their graduation to President Fidel Castro, "who has given thousands of young people the possibility of knowing that a better world is necessarily possible", to the five Cuban heroes kidnapped in US jails, and "to the people who took us in with their integrity, dignity and love for the homeland".

There remained an oath: "We shall sow the fertile seed of solidarity."

Music is a reflection of the soul of the peoples. Every generation has its symbol and ours is that of composer and poet Silvio Rodríguez.

Thus we have to accept his simple "formula for salvation": "The problem is the soul/ the problem continues to be sowing love."


Back to index page