The “Cuban-Jubans” of South Sudan

Lucy Fleming (BBC) reports on the “Cuban-Jubans,” a group of former Sudanese exiles—doctors, pharmacists, accountants, engineers, and economists—that were educated in Cuba during Sudan’s 21-year civil war and are now regarded as the intellectual elite of the south. In Juba, the capital of South Sudan, one of the world’s poorest and least developed regions, they often gather at De Havana club, where there is “Cuban pork roast on the menu, salsa classes. . . and animated Spanish competing with the Latin beat.” This is where they gather to speak Spanish, share a drink, and discuss what needs to be done to rebuild South Sudan. Here are excerpts with a link to the full article below:

Dr. Okony Simon Mori, who is now 38, says that there are more than 100 Cuban graduates in Juba from different fields, all part of the 600-plus students sent to Cuba for education. He returned from Cuba to work at Juba’s Teaching Hospital in 2007, two years after a peace deal ended the conflict in which some 1.5 million people died. He was just 13 when he was chosen by the southern rebel group, the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM), to go to Cuba. “Our late hero [SPLM leader] Dr. John Garang told us: ‘Now the elder people will take the AK-47 and you guys will take the pencil and the pencil will be your Kalashnikov,’” he recalls.

Dr Okony left his family in 1985 at one of the refugee camps in Ethiopia where thousands of Sudanese had fled the fighting between the army of the Muslim-dominated north and Arab militia on the one side and the SPLM on the other. He travelled to Cuba aboard a Russian ship and did not see his mother and father again for 18 years—and it was not until he graduated and moved to Canada a decade later that he had any direct contact with them.

“We stayed in a boarding school in a small island called Isla de la Juventud [Island of Youth]. There were 25,000 students from different countries—most of them from Africa and Latin America,” Dr. Okony says. “I think Cuba is unique and is a very special place; they believe in what you are—not where you belong or which religion you practise or the colour of your skin. The only thing they care about is your well-being and your aptitude. Really, they treated us as their own children.” [. . .]

According to Juba Teaching Hospital’s medical director, the hospital only has 18 doctors but needs 60. He says it is hard to recruit staff when non-governmental organisations pay so much better.

“I know they’re short of doctors, I know there’s a lack of medicine but we try to do our best because, as JF Kennedy said—do what you can for your country not what your country can do for you,” says Dr. Okony. In the last couple of years, the hospital has improved immeasurably—just as Juba has transformed from “a jungle to a city”, he says with clear pride.

And like his fellow Cuban-Jubans, he says he hopes to one day to visit Cuba again. “I would like it, when I have time, to thank them not for me but what they did for the people of southern Sudan.”

For full article, see http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/africa/8589402.stm

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