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Pretoria - House, hip hop, and gospel music CDs are among the luggage of a group of South African medical students as they head to Cuba for the next six years.
South African movies and Bibles have also been packed into the bags of these teenagers, some of whom are already packed and ready to leave at the end of November.
“I have practically packed everything I own, and when laundry is done my clothes go right back into my suitcases,” Khumo Moatshe, from Hammanskraal, said this.
The 18-year-old and 105 others had gathered at the Kalafong Hospital for a farewell function hosted by the Gauteng Department of Health. While away they will learn to become skilled doctors, and on their return they will serve their communities where there are shortages of medical staff.
“I have always wanted to be a medical professional, so this is a dream come true,” 19-year-old Thabiso Matabane, from Nellmapius, said.
He said he had been rejected by all medical institutions he had applied to during his matric year last year, and enrolled for mechanical engineering instead.
“I immediately pulled out when this opportunity came, because that was my second option of profession. I have always wanted to be doctor - the chance to study overseas is the cherry on top,” he said.
The department is sending 116 students to Cuba this year, and last week 10 of the group left and they are part of a fully subsidised category.
SA-Cuban medical training project manager Yvonne Skosana said of the remaining students, some were subsidised by the government, while some parents had been asked to contribute.
She said the package offered each student included flights, a stipend, meals, accommodation, tuition, equipment and all study material.
She explained that when looking for students to join the programme, the department looked for, among other things, a disadvantaged financial background.
They also considered academic achievements: “They needed to have passed English, maths, physical and life sciences very well, and they had to be aged between 18 and 25 years.”
The students were taken through an orientation week in July, when they were addressed by former and present Cuban students on the programme, and others.
“They were told of the policies, expected behaviour, academic expectations and the different modalities of education there,” Skosana said.
“In fact, we are psyched up and ready for the Cuban experience,” said Solomon Motonya.
The students say they are ready for the culture shock that will hit them there as they have had detailed discussions with students who have already studied in Cuba.
“They spoke about the socio-economic situation, religion, the weather, the political situation and natural hazards that are taking place there even now,” he said.
They said they were prepared to eat food totally different from anything they had ever known and, they added, they had been warned that it would not be easy, they just needed to stay focused.
The group met in July, and since then they have established a sense of camaraderie, and hope to keep each other focused and motivated.
They will leave for Cuba towards the end of November, and once there, they will spend their first year learning Spanish.
They will begin their actual medical training in their second year, after which they will come home for a two-month holiday.
They will return for another two years of intense training come home for another two month holiday, return to Cuba, after which their next trip home would be to spend a year finalising their training in local health education institutions, to allow them to revert back to the local method of providing health care services..