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.


Forget ‘manmade’: Berkeley bans gender-specific words

Updated 19 July 2019
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Forget ‘manmade’: Berkeley bans gender-specific words

  • Nothing will be manmade in the liberal city but ‘human-made’
  • Berkeley’s effort to be more inclusive is drawing both praise and scorn

BERKELEY, California: There will be no manholes in Berkeley, California. City workers will drop into “maintenance holes” instead.
Nothing will be manmade in the liberal city but “human-made.” And students at the University of California, Berkeley, will join “collegiate Greek system residences” rather than fraternities and sororities.
Berkeley leaders voted unanimously this week to replace about 40 gender-specific words in the city code with gender-neutral terms — an effort to be more inclusive that’s drawing both praise and scorn.
That means “manpower” will become “human effort” or “workforce,” while masculine and feminine pronouns like “she,” “her,” “he” and “him” will be replaced by “they” and “them,” according to the measure approved Tuesday by the City Council.
The San Francisco Bay Area city is known for its long history of progressive politics and “first of” ordinances. Berkeley was among the first cities to adopt curbside recycling in the 1970s and more recently, became the first in the US to tax sugary drinks and ban natural gas in new homes.
Berkeley also was the birthplace of the nation’s free-speech movement in the 1960s and where protests from both left- and right-wing extremist groups devolved into violence during a flashpoint in the country’s political divisions soon after President Donald Trump’s election.
Rigel Robinson, who graduated from UC Berkeley last year and at 23 is the youngest member of the City Council, said it was time to change a municipal code that makes it sound like “men are the only ones that exist in entire industries or that men are the only ones on city government.”
“As society and our cultures become more aware about issues of gender identity and gender expression, it’s important that our laws reflect that,” said Robinson, who co-authored the measure. “Women and non-binary people are just as deserving of accurate representation.”
When the changes take effect in the fall, all city forms will be updated and lists with the old words and their replacements will be posted at public libraries and the council chambers. The changes will cost taxpayers $600, Robinson said.
Removing gendered terms has been slowly happening for decades in the United States as colleges, companies and organizations implement gender-neutral alternatives.
California Gov. Gavin Newsom’s wife, Jennifer Siebel Newsom, changed a Sacramento political tradition by adopting the unofficial title “first partner” instead of “first lady,” saying it’s more inclusive. The change reflected Siebel Newsom’s experience as an actress and filmmaker focused on gender politics and inequality.
But formalizing the shift in the sweeping way that Berkeley is doing is “remarkable and sends a message,” Rutgers University linguistics professor Kristen Syrett said.
“Anytime you’re talking about something where gender is not the issue but you use a gendered term, that immediately sends a message of exclusion, even if it’s a dialogue that has nothing to do with gender,” said Syrett, who recently spearheaded an update to the guidelines on inclusive language for the Linguistic Society of America.
For Hel Baker, a Berkeley home caregiver, the shift is a small step in the right direction.
“Anything that dismantles inherent bias is a good thing, socially, in the grand scheme of things,” the 27-year-old said.
“I don’t, by any means, think this is the great championing for gender equality, but you gotta start somewhere,” Hel added.
Lauren Singh, 18, who grew up in Berkeley, approved of the move, saying, “Everyone deserves to be represented and feel included in the community.”
Not everyone agreed with the new ordinance. Laramie Crocker, a Berkeley carpenter, said the changes just made him laugh.
“If you try to change the laws every time someone has a new opinion about something, it doesn’t make sense. It’s just a bad habit to get into,” Crocker said.
Crocker, 54, said he would like city officials to focus on more pressing issues, like homelessness.
“Let’s keep it simple, get back to work,” he said. “Let’s figure out how to get homeless people housed and fed. He, she, they, it — they’re wasting my time.”