ELAM, A Guiding Light for Humanity's Progress
By Benito Joaquín Milrmés Photos: Vladimir Molina & Courtesy of ELAM
Cuba's Latin American School of Medicine ("ELAM") located just a short drive west of Havana is a free medical school which educates and trains young people from many different political, religious, and social backgrounds. The students come from 30 countries and more than 100 ethnic groups from around the world. Alter six years of studies, they will return to their communities to provide medical care to the needy.
There are approximately 1,500 students entering the School each year, filling the spots allocated to each of the countries by the Cuban government. The School provides all the services needed by the students including sports and recreational facilities.
A complete and comprehensive education is provided to the students with new classrooms, laboratories, internet service, llbrarles, comfortable dorms, and a theatre. Students can dine in the cafeterias or in small restaurants located on the campus. There are other important services such as a hospital, stores, a bank, barber shops, and a post office.
Some of the students even have the chance to sell some of their native products and foodstuffs, contributing to the cultural exchange between the different countries.
A few of the students spoke to us, telling us about their lives before entering the School and emphasizing how great an opportunity they have to become doctors in Cuba with this scholarship program.
Looking for a Means to Help People
Lena Carla Palacios Gutekvhst likes calling this place the School of the Americas of Social and Community Medicine. She nostalgically remembers the CN Tower viewed from Lake Ontario. On some warm Caribbean nights, she likes to go alone to the beach at the school to think, relax, and to remember her home.
"I learned about ELAM's existence seven years ago. A doctor from Sacramento, California advised me to study here. l used to work in Toronto as a counsellor and teacher for young people in prison, pregnant under-aged girls, and people with poor healthcare. I did not know how to help those people as much as l wanted to. I came here so as to improve my work with those groups. I think medicine is not only a clinical science".
She continued, "l would like to tell people back home that we should have a more open attitude towards learning from other people. We should work to discover the force we have to help make the world better. And regarding Cuba, people in Canada have a better chance to travel here than people from the USA since we can come here freely".
A Teacher from Brooklyn
Clemente Robles Rodríguez is a Puerto Rican living in Harlem, New York. Before joining ELAM he taught environmental sciences and chemistry at the Rafael Cordero School in Brooklyn.
"Education in this school is not elitist. One can talk with the teachers with no distinction of race or sex at any time of the day and at any place without having to go through secretaries".
"When I came here I realized that Cubans have no problems sharing their knowledge. I have the certainty that when I get to New York l will be prepared to pass any exam needed and will work in community medicine to help minorities".
They Swore Not to let the Mapuche People Down
Ricardo Anton Catrilaf and Pedro Bustamante Torres are Mapuche natives from Southern Chile. Pedro found out about this school through community organizations while Ricardo was told by the father of a friend. Following a long standing tradition, they both celebrated the Mapuche New Year by playing their native instruments at the school and by the seashore: the trutruca, piﬁlca and the cultrún.
"The Mapuche people are waiting for us to return as doctors. They need us and we have sworn on our ancestors not to let them down. This university has taught us to see the reality of the world in a different way. In a better, more beautiful, and optimistic way".
Students, the School's Main Assets
Assistant Professor and ELAM's Vice Dean, Doctor Miralis Castilla Martinez, has a Masters in Medical Education and told us, "To have gathered close to 10,000 students from around thirty countries, with 75% of them coming from families of farmers and labourers and the rest from diverse backgrounds, is the main asset of our school. Our goal is to have them return as medical doctors".