3 June 2019

Namibia: Nam Students in Cuba Stranded

Namibians studying in Havana, Cuba, have accused the ministry of health of dumping them in the Caribbean island nation without any means to sustain themselves.

About 250 students are enrolled at different tertiary institutions in Cuba, with the bulk of them - about 200 students - studying medicine, while the remainder are studying dentistry.

They are on a scholarship programme made possible by a bilateral agreement between Namibia and Cuba signed in 2006.

Under the agreement, the Namibian government pays for the tuition and accommodation of the students, while also providing monthly out-of-pocket allowances.

The government, through the ministry of health, also provides medical aid cover for the students.

The students, who expressed their concerns in interviews with The Namibian, said the scholarship agreement stipulates that allowances are paid every three months at the beginning of August, November, February and May. They last received their stipends in February, they lamented.

students added that their medical aid cover also expired on 25 April, and has not yet been renewed.

Tuwilika Nafuka, a beneficiary of a medical scholarship, said the students found themselves at the mercy of the Namibian embassy in Cuba after the ministry failed to attend to their plight.

Speaking to The Namibian on the phone last Wednesday, Nafuka explained that they have approached the ministry to have the issue addressed, but with no success.

The students said over the past three weeks, the expiry of the medical aid cover had forced students to seek financial support from the Namibian embassy in Cuba as the ministry's representatives who are responsible for their welfare continued to ignore their appeals for help.

Nafuka said last Wednesday, a student was rushed to the hospital with an appendicitis issue, but could not receive medical treatment because his medical aid cover had expired.

After initial reluctance to be dragged into the matter, the Namibian embassy in Cuba eventually forked out US$2 345 (N$34 142) to cover the student's medical bill.

They also said the ministry had received the invoice for the new medical aid cycle (April 2019 - March 2020), and that payment arrangements were currently being made.

Hudson Sisinyize, the director of human resources at the health ministry, reportedly told the students that there are currently no funds to pay their allowances.

He was responding to correspondence from the Namibian International Students' Organisation (Namiso), which had raised the issue with him.

"The budget for the current financial year has not yet been released, hence there are no funds to pay allowances at the moment," Sisinyize stated.

Batchotep Katumbo, the Namiso-Cuba president, said the delay in paying students' allowances has made life difficult for them as they are made to fend for themselves to buy basic necessities.

When contacted by The Namibian, the ministry of health downplayed the situation, saying there was no 'crisis'.

The ministry's public relations officer, Manga Libita, said they have not seen any communication, nor received complaints from the students regarding their stipends.

"There is no crisis. Students' allowances are paid on a quarterly basis. For this year, students in Cuba received the lump sum up to April 2019," the response read.

"The ministry is now in the process of preparing the payment for the next three months."

Libita said in case of any medical emergencies during this time, the Namibian embassy in Cuba is tasked to handle it accordingly.

The students, however, maintained that the ministry has not communicated with them on the matter, leaving them in the dark.

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