Cuba nursing students still in limbo

The parents of some 94 St Lucian student nurses say their children are beginning to feel frustrated and alienated as they await word on their travel arrangements. For the past few weeks, the Parents Association of Nursing Students in Cuba has held several meetings in an effort to find a solution to bring their children home.
The Cuban nursing programme which began under the former SLP Health Minister, Jon Odlum six years ago, provided nursing scholarships to almost 150 students. Parents of the stranded students say they have endured much from the inception of the programme and want the government to bring their children home.
Spokesperson of the Association, Nathaniel Reynolds says there have been mounting problems from the inception of the programme which brought about the need for a Parents association. Reynolds says the students graduated on July 16th, 2012 and have no clue as to how they will be returning to St Lucia.
“The issues at hand are, one, the children’s airfare to come back to St Lucia which the government promised when they were sending them to Cuba and they would bring them back; second issue is employment for the students; and the third issue is whether our students will be allowed to do the RENR exam for Regional Nursing,” said Reynolds.
While some parents are concerned about job placement, their overwhelming concern is for the immediate solution to getting their children home as soon as possible.
Minister of Health, Alvina Reynolds says her Ministry is currently dialoguing with graduates and the Parents Association of Nursing Students in Cuba to ensure the return of Saint Lucians who studied nursing in Cuba.
“Throughout their orientation, it was stated to them that the government will be sending them to Cuba and bringing them back. However, there’s no document to substantiate the government’s position in that regard. The only thing we have now is the verbal agreement between the government, parents and students who could attest that the government did promise the students a ticket to go to Cuba and a ticket to return,” Reynolds explained.
While the minister did not fully address the original 2006 government agreement with students, she did point out a 2009 agreement that made allowances for students to pay for their return home and incidentals.
“The Government of St Lucia authorized that beneficiaries of the scholarship participate in a student loan guarantee facility which guaranteed access to loans to meet expenses related to travel tickets as well as other incidentals,” said the minister while adding, “In this regard, the ministry is in discussion with the Cuban authorities on the best mechanism for assisting our graduates. The ministry will advise on the details of these arrangements as soon as they are finalized.”
According to the Chairperson of the Parents Association of Nursing Students in Cuba–Saint Lucia was the only country participating in the Cuban nursing program whose graduates had to take a regional exam following their studies. The Minister, in her statement, responded saying the exam is a requirement of all nurses working in the region.
Meanwhile, Leader of the Opposition, Stephenson King, has called on the Government of St Lucia to “stop procrastinating and gambling” with the well-being of the contingent of Saint Lucian Nursing Students who are ready to return to Saint Lucia, having graduated in July of this year after completing their nursing degree programme.
King calls on the Government of Prime Minister Kenny Anthony to fulfill its original commitment made to the students in 2006, when they were hurriedly recruited and rushed to Cuba with the understanding of pursuing originally a three year programme that has lasted six years leading towards a degree in General Nursing.
“The programme which was thwarted with ambiguity and no clear and binding arrangements was later discovered to be a three-year Nursing Assistant Course, for which the Government of Saint Lucia would be responsible for transportation to Cuba and back to Saint Lucia, on completion of the programme. In addition, following a state visit by then Prime Minister Stephenson King to Cuba in 2009, during which an encounter with those students was held, the matter was broached, following which the Government succeeded in securing an extension to the programme that provided for an additional two  years of training, leading to a Bachelor’s degree in General Nursing on completion.
“To facilitate the successful execution and completion of the programme the UWP Administration secured and extended the Student Loan Guarantee facility, through the local banks, to the deserving students. The loan funds were to meet students’ expenses and other related incidentals for the extended two-year period, but did not include their return ticket as this was covered in the original 2006 agreement with the Cuban Government,” said King.

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