Sunday, May 7, 2017

Imagine all the people, living life in peace

Our travel companions, Prima and Primo Troxell, though now retired, work for several charities around the world. Both are very involved and are advisors to the board of The Cambodia Academy at Mongkol Borei, (Support a child today!!) Primo is also a Rotarian and wanted to make contacts in Cuba to jump start a Rotary Club there, as his chapter in Jamestown, NY, is interested in providing wheelchairs for the disabled of Cuba. To that end, Primo contacted a lovely Doctor in Cuba, to get his ideas about how to begin and what were the needs, prior to our trip.

We met up with Dr. Graham and his Cuban wife in Fort Lauderdale for lunch. He had just left Cuba start a practice near Tampa. Graham is American and he went to Cuba for medical school. Why? Because medical school in Cuba is free for Cubans and other nationalities. According to Graham, it is a burgeoning industry for the government, as there are several countries around the world that Cuba has traditionally supplied doctors. These countries do not have to take the expense of setting up their own medical schools, just send the students to Cuba and pay a nominal fee.

Escuela Latinoamericana de Medicina (ELAM) is a major international medical school in Cuba and a prominent part of the Cuban Healthcare System.

Established in 1999 and operated by the Cuban government, ELAM has been described as possibly being the largest medical school in the world by enrollment with approximately 19,550 students from 110 countries reported as enrolled in 2013.  All those enrolled are international students from outside Cuba and mainly come from Latin America and the Caribbean as well as Africa and Asia. The school accepts students from the United States — 91 were reportedly enrolled as of January 2007.  Tuition, accommodation and board are free, and a small stipend is provided for students. It is fully accredited by the Medical Board of California, which has the strictest US standards.

Graham stated that a real need in Cuba was over the counter medications. In particularly in east Cuba, which is still recovering from Hurricane Matthew. He gave us contact information for Caritas Cubanas. Prior to leaving we all bought $50.00 worth of medications each, to bring to Caritas. Anything over $50.00 value, coming into Cuba, is taxed 100%.

Our meeting with _Martiza, was very interesting. First, because she spoke no English and we spoke little Spanish and because of what we would learn from her. Maritza was emphatic that the government would never let wheelchairs into the country; even though the Cubans were not able to produce them on their own. Secondly, no significant amounts of cash donated would be allowed until government approval was obtained. With much shrugging of the shoulders, she indicated that would take forever.  While visitors to Cuba can bring lots of small donations, large donations were not going to be possible anytime soon. Maritza’s advice: if you are visiting Cuba, buy supplies and take it to a Catholic Church or if traveling outside of Havana, give it to a local school or church.

Afterward, a $3CUC ride, in a beat up soviet Lada, delivered us to Parque John Lennon Park, formally Parque Menocal.
There sits a bronze, life sized statue of John Lennon sitting on a bench under the trees. On a marble tile at the foot of the bench there is an inscription reading: "Dirás que soy un soñador pero no soy el único" which is a Spanish translation of the English lyrics, "You may say I'm a dreamer, but I'm not the only one."
The fun here is that Lennon’s glasses are removable and as a result, were stolen often when the statue was first placed. Now there is an official keeper of the glasses, who will place them or remove them, as tourist’s come and go taking pictures.

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