Maria da Glória Oliveira da Silva, of the Pataxó Hã-Hã-Hãe people, has just graduated in medicine from Havana's ELAM (Latin-American Medical School). She is the first indigenous person born in Brazil to complete this course in Cuba, and guarantees that she wants to come back and live amongst her people, in the South of Bahia.
"My commitment was to return and work in the community", she said in a telephone interview from Havana.
Silva began the medical course in 2001 and intends to specialize, in Brazil, in gynecology and obstetrics or in pediatrics. When she arrives in Brazil, she will still have to face the challenge of having her diploma validated.
She says that one of the most important things that she learnt during her stay in Cuba was how to face up to difficulties
"In spite of all the difficulties, which affect not only us students, but all the Cuban people, we learnt to be aware of what we have and what we don't have, and to improvise whenever necessary. Even with the difficult situation in which they live in, the people here are always willing to help, they behave in a humanitarian way."
This scholarship for students linked to social movements is offered by the Cuban embassy in Brazil, and includes the students' course fees, food and accommodation costs.
The Indianist Missionary Council (Cimi)Â has supported the training of Indigenous people by facilitating the contact between the Indian movement, the communities and the Cuban embassy. This year, at least eight additional Indians will go and study in Cuba.
The Brazilian Ministry of Education (MEC) has been encouraging Indian students to acquire higher education. Data from the Ministry from a couple of years back show that there were 2,179 native schools in Brazil operating within Indian territories, but most offering only grades 1-4, for lack of teachers with higher education.
In 2004 the University of Brasília made the unprecendented gesture, in Brazil, of reserving 15 places for Indian students.
The government wants to have public universities reserve half of their enrollment for students coming out of public high schools. That works out to around 60,000 places.
"This is a way for us to promote racial equality in public universities," said Brazilian president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, explaining that some of the places will be automatically reserved for Blacks and Indians.
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