Cuba taught me to be a better person

(Granma International) – Speaking in low, measured tones, young Ecuadorian doctor Fernando Cruz Quishpe, said he considers himself a son of Cuba, although he was born in the city of Cayambe, north of Quito.

How did you learn about the scholarship to study medicine?

I discovered Cuba as a student, though the music of Silvio Rodríguez and Nueva Trova. This started to feed my desire to know more about the island, its history, type of society and people. I got involved with solidarity groups in my country and took part in various activities, through which I found out about the opportunity to study medicine in Havana. I studied medicine for two years in Ecuador, but once I found out about the possibility of coming to Cuba, I worked as hard as I could and arrived in 2004.

What can you tell me about your parents?

My parents are primary school teachers. They had six children and I was the second. My four younger brothers are still studying, which means the cost of education is very high for my family.

How was your experience living in Cuba, the first couple of years?

I lived at the Latin American School of Medicine for two years, with other young students from more than 30 countries, everyone with their own characteristics, customs and different cultures. My roommates were from Central and South America, we all learned to live together, and now looking back, I think we were a family. In this type of environment, you end up realizing how much you grow as a person. We also got to know Cubans, initially the teachers, general school personnel and maintenance staff, who were all very welcoming. I am truly grateful for this experience because it taught us to love one another despite differences.

Once you completed your first two years at ELAM, where did you continue your studies?

In the course program, you start to work directly with patients, from the third year until you graduate. I studied at the Carlos J. Finlay Medical Sciences School in Camagüey. Thinking about the place, I remember participating in activities organized by student and youth organizations. We did a lot of voluntary agricultural work commemorating historic dates or celebrating a certain event. We were able to offer substantial help in the municipalities affected by Hurricane Paloma in 2008, mainly in the area of Santa Cruz del Sur. We helped to evacuate people, clear debris and sanitize the city. Participating in these activities makes you really feel part of the Cuban social project.

When did you graduate?

In 2010. I worked in my country for a year, in Mission Manuela Espejo, working in rural neighbourhoods and remote areas. We saw a lot of people with different types of untreated illnesses. On the mission I worked with Cuban specialists. That’s when I found out about the possibility of returning to Cuba to study Comprehensive Family Medicine. While I was in Cuba, Haiti was hit by an earthquake and I asked to join the Cuban medical brigade that lent its services to the devastated country.

How did the experience in Haiti affect you?

Haiti helped to mold my character and spirit. I met very poor people, with no means of making a living. I’m talking about people who had no house, water or shoes. I was there from 2012 to 2013, almost 15 months, in the city of Mimbale in the center of the country. Our mission was to visit Haitian communities and explain how to prevent cholera pandemics, as well as, lending medical assistance in the hospitals. Living in this country makes you more sensitive to disasters.

My greatest experience was the number of births I assisted. While studying in Cuba, we assisted births under the guidance of a resident and a specialist, who passed on their experience to us. I was alone in Haiti. What stood out for me about Haitians was their strength in the face of adversity. They have suffered the pain of illness and injury caused by the earthquake, of poverty caused by colonialism, but they keep working, smiling, laughing and cultivating their culture. After finishing the mission in Haiti, I applied to study a specialty in Medical Genetics, which is why I am here in Cuba, again, in 2014.

What will you do once you complete your specialty in Medical Genetics?

I am thinking about working in the field of community genetics. Research carried out by the Mission Manuela Espejo in Ecuador is continuing and has already shown the need for social programs as a solution to problems, specifically within the branches of medicine. It is our responsibility to effectively organize the health system in Ecuador to produce more and better services. Recently, we have seen improvement in treatment at hospitals and public clinics, but we have to initiate a system of prevention similar to Cuba’s, which will extend the population’s life expectancy. We currently work at the Eloy Alfaro Multinational Association of Ecuadorian Students and Graduates in Cuba, which was established in 2003. Our activities are based around three core pillars: training, solidarity and community work. The first is focused on promoting courses and bibliography exchanges to consistently keep up to date with scientific knowledge. Through our solidarity work we offer help to Cuba and any country that needs it. We learned to be supportive and are committed to continuing to be so.

Under the third pillar we teach people what we have learned during our studies, including illness prevention; screening in rural zones; talks to promote health, as well as engineering, physical culture and pedagogy among other multidisciplinary actions, and, in this way, we pass on our knowledge.

What has living in Cuba meant to you?

I have a lot of admiration for Cuba. I admire its culture, courage in the face imperialist hostility and a destructive capitalist world, its struggle to become a paradigm for other countries. Honestly, Cuba has shown us that a better world is possible.