Tim Anderson's new documentary on the East Timor-Cuba health cooperation program is an inspiration. The Doctors of Tomorrow, which was launched at a screening on June 12 hosted by NSW Greens MLC John Kaye, was filmed in both countries, and documents the human face of Cuba's profound international solidarity.
At the 2003 Non-Aligned Summit, then Cuban President Fidel Castro and Timorese leader Xanana Gusmao made an agreement: Cuba would provide the newly independent nation with volunteer doctors, as well as scholarships for Timorese to study medicine in Cuba. The aim was to not only meet the Timorese people's immediate health needs, but also create the means for East Timor to become self-sufficient in quality health care provision.
Today, Cuba has 300 volunteer doctors in East Timor and provides 1000 medical scholarships for Timorese to study in Cuba. In contrast, Australia, a much wealthier and closer neighbour, provides training for just six doctors and 15 nurses in Timor.
The film, with interviews with some of the 850 East Timorese medical students currently in Cuba, captures these young people's determination to use their medical training to help their people. Their passion is mirrored by the pride of their parents and their Cuban teachers, some of whom are also interviewed.
The students, at least half of them women, talk about their lives far from home, and about their new "big family" in Cuba. They explain their struggle to learn Spanish quickly so they can read the medical texts, and describe the personal support and commitment of their Cuban teachers. One of two scholarship students from the United States explains that she could never have afforded the roughly $500,000 it costs to obtain a medical degree in the US.
The Cuban doctors in East Timor, who are clearly valued by the locals, are characteristically modest about their enormous gift to the country. Anderson's film, however, does give Cuba its due credit, through the voices of the Timorese themselves. The film is an important contribution to strengthening awareness of and solidarity with Cuba's remarkable achievements.
A Tetum version of the film is almost ready for distribution in East Timor. Copies of the English subtitled version are available by emailing
hopes the film will be widely shown in the community (SBS refused to screen it). He encouraged everyone to endorse the "Match it" letter urging the Australian government to "begin a large scale public education program for the East Timorese, matching the Cuban offer of 1000 scholarships" The letter can be signed at http://friendsofTimor.and.com.au.