It was the opportunity to heal and care for people that inspired Aleida Gamdaria Edward to study nursing.
In the 1960s, facing a shortage of such professionals as the country began to establish a system providing free public healthcare to all, she enrolled in the first nursing course offered by the Revolution, in the province of Santiago de Cuba.
This is how Aleida remembers it while speaking to Granma International at Havana’s Central Unit for Medical Cooperation: “I enrolled in a four-year course in 1965 and graduated as a level two professional in 1969. The first year was dedicated to ensuring that all students had a basic secondary level of education before starting the course.
“There were 120 women in the program and our teachers were practicing doctors and nurses trained in the capital, who had been sent to teach this type of course for the first time in Santiago de Cuba, alongside other healthcare professionals from the Saturnino Lora provincial hospital.
“After graduating we were placed in hospitals in the eastern region. This was before the country was divided into the five provinces which currently exist (in the east), meaning we covered a very large area. Given my academic performance I was placed in what is now Granma province, at the Carlos Manuel de Céspedes hospital.
“I excelled in surgery, a field which lacked professionals at that time. At just 17 years of age I was running the hospital’s surgical unit. As a healthcare professional I quickly acquired a sense of responsibility and discipline with regard to my work. Later I earned my full Nursing Degree.”
How did you come to be chosen to work in Haiti?
As well as working as a nurse, I began to teach at the Faculty of Medical Sciences in Santiago de Cuba. In 1998 the deputy director of the hospital called me and explained that the Ministry of Public Health was looking for a professional with practical and teaching experience; and I fit the bill.
I signed up shortly afterward. I handed over my responsibilities to my colleagues and prepared my family to deal with my absence. Forty-eight hours later I arrived in Havana and immediately departed (for Haiti). I was a member of the first Cuban medical brigade in the country.
My main job in the beautiful Caribbean nation was to train personnel who would work as nurses. My main, top priority was imparting humanist values so that they could understand and empathize with the patient and their family members. I often explained that we should view the patient as someone close to us, in need of help.
There, I worked in the capital’s University Hospital and attended young students from various Haitian provinces. I also managed and supported nurses on the Cuban medical brigade so that they could do their very best.
I remember various cases of dying children who had not received the necessary care because their families didn’t have enough money to pay for medication. I also met many women who came to the hospital in a very bad state after having given birth at home, with the help of individuals with no professional training and in unsanitary conditions. Some arrived on the brink of death and in need of intensive care after hours without receiving specialized treatment.
The population identified with our professionals straight away and demanded to be treated by Cubans. Language proved to be a barrier. In Haiti they speak Creole or French, so we quickly learned key words and phrases to be able to hold a basic conversation. We also created small groups in our free time to learn Creole with Haitians who had studied in Cuba or other people who could teach us.
We established a good rapport and understanding while carrying out our work.
I’m still in contact with some of my nursing colleagues, doctors, and hospital staff from Haiti via email. We will remain in touch because we want to continue raising the level of medical care in the country.
Why did you go to Venezuela?
I was only in Haiti for a year. I felt that I owed a debt to humanity and should contribute my knowledge to another country. The Cuban Ministry of Public Health announced that professionals, who had worked in difficult conditions in Haiti, could participate in other missions if they wanted to. In 2010 they called me again.
For the Venezuela mission, I was trained to provide endoscopy services, which is what I did during the first few months. I also learned to perform electrocardiograms, a procedure which I applied to Venezuelan patients. I worked in a Comprehensive Diagnostic Center (CDI) in the state of Sucre. Given my professional record I was put in charge of nursing for the Cuban medical brigade throughout Venezuela.
As director I organized a scientific event in 2010 between Cuban and local nurses working in the CDIs in order to exchange experiences and broaden our knowledge. We held the same activity the following year.
Colleagues came together during the event to share their accumulated knowledge and experiences. We had to work hard to get a high number of participants because we were all so busy with work, and didn’t have enough time to sit down and write.
As such, I had to explain how important it was to expanding everyone’s knowledge, and the quality of our work, to share our daily experiences.
The main thing I learned from my work as director of nursing was that good results are achieved when there is good communication between managers and the rest of the team, which motivates everyone to do the job as well as possible.
I’m convinced that solidarity is more than just an action between states, and must be incorporated into our interpersonal relationships wherever we are. This way we will be able to overcome obstacles along the way and meet challenges whenever they arise.
Aleida went on to describe her experiences working in Venezuelan from 2010 through 2012 noting that: “The South American nation was an easy place to carry out our work. During those years, President Hugo Chávez went on a great tour of the whole country and we Cubans, who are revolutionary and willing people, participated in this historic moment with the aim of being better in our internationalist mission.
The county was colonized through its oil industry and only the Bolivarian Revolution has found a way to use the financial resources from this sector for social development, and the creation of a more equal society.
The vast majority of Venezuelans are united by Hugo Chávez’s legacy and have been able to carry the country forward amidst all manner of imperial attacks by the United States.
I spoke with many Venezuelans, some in favor of and some against the Bolivarian process, but all acknowledged the achievements reached under Chávez. It’s impossible to hide the gains achieved by the poorest sectors in terms of basic education, health, decent housing, and sports services.
Will you return to Venezuela?
Yes, they made another request for a professional with teaching experience to organize a graduate training course for nurses. I’m now a teaching consultant and will be bringing all of Cuba’s experienceto the country, in order to create a nursing faculty. I will be responsible for advising the teacher training programs and quality of the learning process.