LET CUBA LIVE: Guatemala student at Latin American School of Medicine

News from Cuba | Wednesday, 7 March 2012

By Nuria Barbosa León - Journalist with Granma and Radio Havana

Interview with Guatemalan student at Latin American School of Medicine

A young woman with brown skin suggesting Latin American indigenous heritage spoke deliberately and quite softly with a Central American accent. She agreed to participate in a dialogue for readers of Granma

My name is Dalena Cataví Lozano. I study medicine in the third year at the Salvador Allende Hospital in the Cuban Capital.

Shall we speak about your origins?

I come from Guatemala, from the town of Pastores, with around 1000 inhabitants, located in Sacatepequez Department. My area is a tourist zone, much visited because of old architecture there. They call it the territory of eternal spring because its seasons permit harvest of all kinds of flowers, fruits, and vegetables. I live in the central region, my people remaining relatively near the department capital. There are lots of mountains and also a river called Guacalate, known for its mystique, because they say its waters are holy. It now suffers from environmental contamination.

What about the population there?

My town was founded by Spanish colonizers but many indigenous people identified as Quiché live there. They maintain their culture and tradition. They wear typical, handmade clothing with elaborate embroidery and colors. The colors relate to the nature and history of each locality.

What kind of work do most of the people in your region do?

They are mostly farmers, and like most rural areas, poverty and bad living conditions prevail there.

What does your family do?

My grandparents were farmers. My grandfather grew fruit and vegetables and my grandmother sold them in the market. They worried about an education for their children to the extent of what was possible. We say they had between 13 and 15 children. My father became a teacher. He was able to pursue his career only through much sacrifice as he alternated studies with badly paid work. He now teaches in a primary school. My mother is a housewife. My father helped her finish pre-university studies, but at that academic level she doesn't obtain employment easily. I have a younger brother.

How did you know about the scholarship for Cuba?

A cousin living at a distance from me informed me about the possibility of going to Cuba to study. I decided to work toward the scholarship and that took four years of my life. It was all quite difficult because I didn't have resources to organize the paperwork. Also my school doesn't give out a bachelor's diploma. And no one would accept my certificate without a countersignature. I didn't have the money to pay a university in my country for it to be involved with my achieving the purpose of studying in Cuba. In those four years I had to immerse myself in work because I could not start at a University. On that account I really value being able to be here, and I am striving quite hard to finish the course.

Why did you decide to study medicine?

Where I live there is only one facility that a nurse attends who works only two hours a day, between ten and twelve in the morning. I worked in a primary school and I knew many children who were sick and did not receive medical attention. My children had a lot of needs. There was one student ten years old that affected me a lot. She was dealing with her mother who was sick and caring for her four brothers. Of course, she was absent a lot and didn't succeed in going beyond the second grade in spite of being a good learner. I remember her sad face when she told me about her mother having died. Five children were alone and abandoned. That has to change in my country.

Why did you come to Cuba?

It was the first and the only door that opened up to my aspirations to study. In my town they know about the quality of [Cuban] doctors. In Cuba there is no hiding the solidarity and honesty of their work. The patient is a sick person, not merchandise. I witnessed also the aftereffects of a hurricane and got to know the Cuban doctors who didn't skimp on efforts to help the people. They didn't set hours nor did they rest, as they attended so hard to what people needed. I learned about the way Cuban doctors were working. In solidarity, they helped everyone.

What did you know about Cuba before coming?

The name and country I knew from classes. Cuba was mentioned in the news, and I never heard anything good. . I have the criterion that each country has its virtues and failings just like people do. Nevertheless in spite all the negative news there was always a phrase about recognizing the educational level in Cuba and preparation of its doctors.

How many years have you been in Cuba?

Over three years.

What is Cuba worth now, in your opinion?

It's not as bad as they made me think. I've gotten to know many people. These days we are going among the population to detect cases of dengue. We knock at the door and they take us in with affection, asking about our country. They chat and want to know about my culture. I adapt easily to everything. I didn't suffer for not having tortillas every day. I don't need anything, because the Cubans gave us a uniform, book, a place to stay, food, and supplies, all free. My professors and instructors were friendly and affectionate. It was very pretty, the experience of taking the airplane and coming to Cuba.

In Cuba do you maintain your culture and beliefs?

They've never kept us from going to church. In fact we participate in all the church activities. I am Catholic and ever since our arrival we are close to the church.

How have relations been with other Latin American students?

Something very gratifying and interesting. To know people from other countries, to live together with them every day like family is a unique and emotional experience, one in which you appreciate the way someone walks, how she talks, what she says. It all makes an impression.

In Cuba what activities do you participate in?

I really like the cultural events at the Latin American School of Medicine (ELAM). (*) I participate in the culinary part as we show off typical dishes. Other guys dance or sing. That activity marks the identity of each country.

What will your future be when you graduate?

I am coming to want to be an obstetrical doctor, but I realize that in the profession there are many other specialties attractive to me. I have the mentality of whatever the specialty I am studying I have to bring it back to my town. I would like to work in an outpatient facility and perhaps found a hospital. Also, I want to travel and involve myself with other cultures, to know the "boo-boos" of each country and help out. I know there are places under the rocks (as they say in my country). I would enjoy going there and offering my efforts.

What would you say to the Cuban people?

I want to thank them for their solidarity

(*) The Latin American School of Medicine is a university located in Havana. It was founded on March 1, 1999 through the initiative of Cuban President Fidel Castro and constitutes part of the integrated health program developed after October, 1998 owing to natural disasters caused by Hurricanes Mitch and George. Doctors graduate from that university in basic general medicine with an orientation toward primary health care. Tuition and student residence are absolutely free through a Cuban system of scholarships. At the university they offer services assuring the general development of students, like incorporation of cultural events according to country, sports, elective courses, educational literature etc. Every year some 1500 scholarship students matriculate, according to spaces made available to various countries. Presently there are more than 10,000 foreign students associated with this project, from 55 countries, and they represent 104 indigenous communities in Latin America.

Furthermore, in Cuba there are 11,000 scholarship students studying in Cuba through the ALBA Project, which is the integration agreement of the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our Americaformed by Venezuela, Bolivia, and Ecuador among other countries.

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