14ymedio, Orlando Palma, 12 September 2015 — Tania (not her real name) is one of the 3,525 workers of the Ministry of Public Health from Camagüey who work in around 50 countries around the world. Her medical mission abroad just ended and now she is trying to readapt to her own country. However, two years away from her native province has changed this therapy and rehabilitation specialist forever.
“Despite all the difficulties I had to face there, I now have the impression that I have traveled back in time,” she explains. Her stay in Venezuela was not without setbacks. Living in a poor neighborhood in Caracas, Tania had to deal with violence, food shortages and the increasing animosity among many Venezuelans against Cubans who are on official missions.
“It never crossed my mind to escape, because I have my two children here and they would punish me so that I couldn’t see them for years”
There are 2,063 aid workers in Venezuela from this Cuban province. Most of them provide services in the so-called Barrio Adentro (Inside the Neighborhood) and Operation Miracle missions. Several of Tania’s colleagues were distributed among the states of Apure, Aragua, Carabobo, Guarico, Miranda and Zulia. She says she “was luckier” to stay in the capital, “where there are more options.”
Of the 323 health technicians from Camaguey that were recorded in the middle of this year in the South American country, not everyone made it to the end of the regulation time. “We had multiple desertions and one way to prevent people from continuing to escape to Colombia or the United States was to take away our passports,” this woman explains. And she adds, “It never crossed my mind to escape, because I have my two children here and they would punish me so that I couldn’t see them for years.”
Through the US program known as Cuban Medical Professional Parole (CMPP), as of 2006 a provision was implemented that allows Cuban physicians who participate in official medical missions to qualify for a visa to enter the United States. More than 720 health professionals from the island escaped from Venezuela between January and late August this year.
Tania had a fixed goal in mind, “to make money to enlarge my parents’ house and have a private place for my marriage and my children,” she says. However, the money accumulated in months of hardship in Caracas was not enough to complete the long-awaited housing. “All construction materials are very expensive and we could not finish the bathroom or the kitchen.” After two years of work she managed to save the equivalent of five thousand dollars, which she brought home with her.
Tania had a fixed goal in mind, “to make money to enlarge my parents’ house and have a private place for my marriage and my children
“I had to sweat for this little piece of land,” she says. “We were in a shared house and drank instant soup almost every day,” she says of her life in Caracas. “All I bought was something to bring to my children, a flat-screen television and a laptop for the older one.” To achieve this she had to “give up many necessities. We lived like dogs in a shelter, on top of each other, without any privacy,” she remembers.
On her return to Cuban, the young woman has taken up the business of reselling food products and drinks, which she buys at a discount thanks to a magnetic card she received for having been on a foreign mission. “Here,” she says, while showing the plastic rectangle, “I have accumulated the Cuban salary paid to me every month that I couldn’t collect over there, as well as a bonus in convertible currency.”
As a health professional who participated in Barrio Adentro, now she gets a discount on products she buys in stores in convertible currency. “It can reach 10 or 15 percent off, particularly for soft drinks and beer.” So the specialist in rehabilitation therapy and is now dedicated to reselling drinks to families who are organizing wedding parties or quinceañeras (girls’ fifteenth birthday parties). Everyone wins.
“We lived like dogs in a shelter, on top of each other, without any privacy”
“With that I’ll be able to get the dishes and the plumbing fixtures I need to buy,” she says. However, she believes that the remuneration that she received for her work abroad was “not much for the effort.” It was not only the workload, she says. “I had a friend who had a nervous breakdown because she was trapped in a riot in the street; she’s still under psychiatric treatment and, as she didn’t finish out her contract, she didn’t get the salary bonus.”
Despite the difficulties, Tania wants to return to a new mission. “I already have contacts in South Africa for an individual contract,” but this time, she explains, “I will take my family… and if I ever saw you, I don’t remember.”