Young Americans grateful for the opportunity to study medicine in Cuba

CaptureYoung people for the U.S. studying medicine in Havana welcomed news of the visit by President Obama to Cuba, and hope that the rapprochement between the two countries is mutually beneficial.

ELAM students Shaneen Whyte, Patrick Daley and Jontay Darko. Photo: Orlando Perera (courtesy of ICAP)
Young people for the U.S. studying medicine in Havana welcomed news of the visit by President Obama to Cuba, and hope that the rapprochement between the two countries is mutually beneficial.

“I hope that during this visit March 21 and 22, there is an open and sincere dialogue, with agreements that are good for the two peoples,” Jontay Darko, a 5th year medical sciences student at the Salvador Allende Faculty in Havana, told Granma International. The faculty forms part of the Latin American School of Medicine (ELAM), which has graduated more than 24,000 health professionals from 84 countries, in its over 15 years of existence.

Jontay is from the city of Chicago, and describes Cubans as kind, friendly, warm and communicative in their interpersonal relationships.

She enjoys the feeling of being cared for on this Caribbean island and admires the everyday acts of courtesy she witnesses, such as people extending a hand to help others cross the street or get off a bus. She notes that she has not felt hatred or bitterness on the part of Cubans towards people from the U.S. and on telling them where she is from, she is warmly received.

It was through the Baptist church in her home city that she accessed the scholarship to study in Cuba, and affirms that, besides training in a profession, she has become a better person through the experience. She recognizes herself as more flexible in character, she is much more economical, and has discovered that the most valuable things in life are not material objects.

Jontay admires her teachers for their high academic standards, and their teaching ability, which caters to all students. She is surprised by their readiness to assist students in any way they can to make their stay in Cuba all the more pleasant.

On finishing her degree, she hopes to return to her country to provide health services in Afro-American communities. To do so, she will need to take several additional exams to validate her university degree in the U.S. and then specialize in family medicine.

Jontay’s friend, Shaneen Whyte, hopes to study the specialty of Allergy-Immunology. She comes from the city of Tampa, Florida, and began her studies in Cuba just six months ago. She has just completed a full course in Spanish, and says she is very excited to have mastered the language.

“I was always curious to learn about the Revolution,” the 24 year old noted, adding, “My maternal grandfather was born in Havana, and my parents in Jamaica. I have Caribbean blood flowing through my veins and my biggest dream was to move here. Now I speak Spanish, I can understand the way of life of Cubans.”

Over the coming months, Shannen will take classes in core high school subjects in order to ensure she has a similar level of knowledge to Cubans and students from other nationalities, which will serve as a base to cope with university, providing her with the necessary skills to undertake higher education studies.

At ELAM she shares a dorm with a score of students from other countries, which is a very positive experience, given her interest in learning about other cultures. In her free time she takes classes in Caribbean folk dance with arts instructors.

She recognizes the prestige of Cuban public medical services, structured to provide coverage to one hundred percent of the population, while also assisting people in need around the world through conventions and solidarity programs established by the Cuban government.

Patrick Daley, aged 27, has similar views. He is also undertaking his pre-medical studies and notes his joy on being able to respond to reporters’ questions in Spanish. He reveals that until a few months ago, he understood practically no Spanish at all.

The young man from Baltimore promises to devote much time to the study of medicine when he begins the first year of his degree in September. His goal is to help poor people in his own country, who are lacking the means to access private medical institutions.

In the short time that he has been living on the island, he has visited other provinces and was struck by the city of Santiago de Cuba, due to its geography and the warm welcome he received. His favorite pastimes include spending time with friends sitting on the Malecón seawall, and visiting the heritage sites of Old Havana.

He concludes by expressing his eternal gratitude to the Cuban people for the opportunity to undertake university studies here and to train as a future health professional.

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