Cuba’s ELAM — making dreams come true

Updated 31 October 2013
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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 families.
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 disadvantaged people.”
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.


Need to vent some anger? Jordan opens ‘Axe Rage Rooms’

Updated 18 April 2019
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Need to vent some anger? Jordan opens ‘Axe Rage Rooms’

  • People can demolish old items as well as smash plates and glasses — but for the price of $17
  • So-called rage rooms have been opening up around the world

AMMAN: In an underground room in Amman, a small group of Jordanians swing giant hammers at an old television, computer and printer, wrecking the machines, and then hit a car windscreen, shattering the glass into tiny pieces.
In the “Axe Rage Rooms,” people can vent their anger and frustration by demolishing old items as well as smashing plates and glasses.
“This is simply a place to break things and vent,” co-founder and general manager Ala’din Atari said. “A place where people come when they’re looking for a new experience... walking into a room with various items which they can break.”
So-called rage rooms have opened around the world, drawing visitors who want let their hair down and unleash some anger.
At the “Axe Rage Rooms,” where the experience costs $17, participants wearing protective suits and helmets wrote the issues bothering them on a blackboard — “ex-girlfriends,” “boss” and “all boyfriends,” the words becoming the targets of their anger.
Atari said his venue, which has seen about 10 clients a day in the month since it opened, had a space for couples, where the pair enter two rooms separated by a reinforced glass window.
“I wanted to try something new and...it was great,” said Ayla Alqadi, 23, after chucking old kitchenware at the window — behind which stood a friend.
“I felt like I had extra energy, it was a way to channel all the negativity inside, everything you feel inside you can release here.”