By Christopher Banks
April 30, 2010
Cubans provide free education, training for refugees
“I would like it, when I have time, to thank them not for me but what they did for the people of southern Sudan,” said Dr. Okony Simon Mori, in reference to the Cubans who trained him in medicine for free so he could return to Sudan to provide medical care to his people.
From 1983 to 2005, southern Sudan was shattered by a civil war between the North and South. In the midst of the devastating conflict, when schooling was nothing but a dream for the vast majority of the population, 619 Sudanese youth from the southern region, including 61 girls, all of whom had been living in refugee camps, were invited by the Cuban government to obtain a free education in Cuba. The hope was that someday these students would return to South Sudan and contribute to the struggle for reconstruction.
The Sudanese students received free meals, free health care and free education along with 25,000 other students from different African and Latin American countries.
When the Sudanese Civil War officially ended with the signing of a peace agreement in January 2005, the Cuban-trained doctors, pharmacists, accountants, engineers and economists started arriving back in Juba, the regional capital of southern Sudan, in order to complete their mission. Today, they are considered the “intellectual elite of the South.” (BBC)
Southern Sudan is one of the poorest and most underdeveloped regions in the world. In 2008, United Nations agencies reported: “Southern Sudan has the world’s worst maternal mortality rate with one out of 50 births resulting in the death of the mother and over 13 percent of children die before their fifth birthday.” Life expectancy is 42 years.
Given the almost total absence of any health care system, Sudan’s “Cubans” are literally starting from scratch. Of the 25 Sudanese graduates who received medical education in Cuba, 17 have returned, today making up about 30 percent of all active doctors in the entire region.
Cuba, a country with very limited resources and crippled by a vicious blockade imposed by the United States, educated and cared for those who are now healing and educating the next generation in Sudan. It is one more chapter in Cuba’s long history of solidarity with the people of Africa.