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St. Mary has been cited as Jamaica's most impoverished parish. But, a series of scholarships awarded several students in the parish to Cuban universities, may help shake that dubious tag.

The 18 students (two are actually from west Portland) are based at various universities in the Communist country. Through the Annotto Bay-based Friendship Collaboration and the Cuban Embassy in Kingston, they are pursuing degrees in medicine, nursing, engineering, sports medicine and physiotherapy.

Recently, five of them spoke to The Gleaner at the office of Harry Douglas, state minister in the Ministry of Local Government. Mr. Douglas is also Member of Parliament for South East St. Mary.

Mr. Douglas did not disclose how much the scholarships cost, but said the results to date have been 'extremely good.'

He told The Gleaner that the students are from various parts of St. Mary, a parish that once thrived as a major producer of bananas. He said they were selected by a panel chaired by Dr. Ray Frazier. The Cuban Embassy in Kingston had the final word in terms of university placement.

Twenty-one-year-old Josiah Wilson recently completed his freshman year at Escuela Latinoamerica de Medicina. He is a success story in the making.

Along with two siblings, Josiah became a ward of the state at age five. His formative education was at the Swift Purcell Boys Home in Bellefield district.

Culture shock

He said the land of Fidel Castro is worlds apart from remote St. Mary.

"When I just went there it was a culture shock but I've adjusted," he said. Giving back to St. Mary, he added, is foremost. "We have a lot of problems there."

Shekira Wildman, from Albany district, is one year older than Josiah. She started the first of a four-year course at Rauldilio Flietas Martinez in Matanzas province, last November. Ultimately, she hopes to earn a medical degree.

She too finds living in Cuba a challenge.

"It's not the best but I'm working on a career and you've got to make sacrifices," she said.

Rochelle Moyston and Shana-Kay Wedderburn are also studying for nursing degrees at Rauldilio Flietas Martinez; Milton Andrews is reading for an engineering degree at Universidad de Cienfuegos.
Source: By Howard Campbell, Jamaica Gleaner News

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