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.


From Havana to the UAE: Camila Cabello’s visit gives her a ‘special feeling’

Updated 17 February 2019
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From Havana to the UAE: Camila Cabello’s visit gives her a ‘special feeling’

  • Cuban-American singing sensation Camila Cabello's visit to the UAE left her leaving humbled
  • The singer's performance in Dubai was well received and led to social media postings about how loved she felt

DUBAI: Cuban-American singing sensation Camila Cabello, who performed at the RedFest DXB 2019 music festival in Dubai over the weekend, took time out before the show to visit the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi. 

The singer of the hit song “Havana,” which she performed at the Grammys last week, posted a photo on Instagram of herself at the mosque wearing a hijab, which is provided for all female visitors. 

“I wore a hijab to be respectful when visiting this mosque, and at the store this really sweet girl helped me put it on,” Cabello wrote on her Instagram. 

“We didn’t speak the same language, but she was smiling as she helped me, and it felt like she was a close friend.” 

Her Instagram caption began: “One of my favorite people, Anthony Bourdain, once said, ‘It seems that the more places I experience, the bigger I realize the world to be’ — it’s so true, I love the feeling of being humbled by traveling to another place and experiencing a completely different culture. It makes you realize how small your world is in comparison to how big the world actually is; how you’re only living one version in a million of the human experience. But at the same time travel makes you realize we’re not really all that different.”

Cabello, previously a member of pop group Fifth Harmony, added: “I can’t really describe it, but experiences like this give me such a special feeling of being really close to and really loving people.”

She continued her ode to the UAE on Sunday, posting a photo of herself in a long, flowing dress in the desert and urging people to travel “to a place that couldn’t be more different than what you know.” 

She wrote: “Never in my life did I think I would see a place like this. Getting to see places like this just makes me more desperate to see more.”

The 21-year-old singer performed at the Dubai Media City Amphitheater on Friday, along with rapper Macklemore. 

Her one-hour set opened with the 1980s-inspired ballad “Never Be the Same,” and included other hit numbers such as “Lost Control” and “Inside Out.” She closed the set with the chart-topping track “Havana.” 

Post-concert, Cabello tweeted: “I’ve got so much love to my fans from the Middle East. I didn’t realize there were so many of you out there.”