Sunday, August 5, 2007
Due to unavailability of educational facilities, Saharawi children go to school in foreign countries, namely Libya and Cuba but the majority attends Algerian schools. When I was nine years old, I had to leave my family to attend a boarding school in northern Algeria, thousands of kilometers away from the camps. I would come back only for the summer break to see my family. I was luckier than my father, however. Bachir left to study in Cuba at the age of eight in 1976, just few months after arriving to the refugee camps and returned as a twenty four year-old doctor. Cuba offers more than 600 scholarships every second year to Saharawi students, both males and females. The travel and accommodations are covered by the UNHCR, whereas the Cuban government provides academic assistant for free. Students get degrees in different fields, however, health professions are particularly famous. This is explained by the fact that Cuba is has one of the best medical professionals in the world.
As a young boy, Bachir and his family had to cross the desert to the refugee camps. The Moroccan planes were dropping booms, so they had to hide behind rocks and trees. In his journey, Bachir saw the victims and people injured who died because there was no medical care, there were no nurses or doctors. He then decided to study medicine and become a doctor because he saw the call for doctors in the refugee camps.
While living in Cuba, Bachir –like the other Saharawi students – had to adapt to many things, learn a new language, the weather and most importantly the culture. However, that is not as hard for an eight year-old to adapt as for a twenty four year-old to readapt to his culture of origin. When he came back, Bachir had to learn Hassaniya, which is the native dialect of the Saharawi people. Moreover, the Arab-Muslim costumes and beliefs are very different from that of the Cuban, and so he had to adjust to the costumes fairly quickly. In addition, he had to get use to the heat and the desert life style. Most of the families decided to stop sending their daughters to attend Cuban schools three years ago and that is due to cultural reasons. However, there are Saharawi women who graduated from Cuban schools and most of them are doctors and nurses.
The present medical situation is still in a great need of improvement. The structure of hospital in the camps is that there is a hospital in every willaya (town) and there are four main willayas, a clinic in each daira (district) and there is one big national hospital. Due to lack of supply and equipments, some patients need to be transported to the nearby Algerian hospital, about 50 kilometers away. After working for almost two decades, my father tells me about the desperate need for more doctors in the camps. Most of the health concerns are eye, stomach and nutrition related diseases. Every summer, at least twelve people die and especially the elderly because of the heat and dehydration. Most of the children in the camps are born in the winter and that is because of the heat and hospitals are not equipped with air conditioners.
I myself have seen the desperate medical situation. My dream is to do something for the people whom I have lived with my whole life even though I had never seen my homeland, its green landscape or its beautiful beaches. The Saharawis are considered to be one of the best educated African nations. We want to be prepared for independence by educating all the skilled people, who once would run the independent Western Sahara.