She first came to Cuba in 1996, where she volunteered at the La Castellana Mental Health Center, in the municipality of Arroyo Naranjo. The institution cares for over 300 patients with mental illness, among those requiring admittance (for individuals over 18 years of age) and outpatients (for children).
Director of the Center, Dr. Emelia Ycart Pereira, encouraged the young Chilean to study Speech Therapy, given her evident love and vocation for helping patients develop skills which would enable them to take care themselves and join the workforce.
After completing all the necessary requirements, including passing the entrance exams taken by Cubans looking to continue on to University, Valentina Gomez Lira enrolled in the Enrique Jose Varona Higher Pedagogical Institute.
The Chilean health professional still holds many cherished memories of her time as a student on the island. In particular, she highlighted the solidarity of her classmates, who helped her to understand difficult subjects and the commitment of her professors, who offered revision classes and consultations in their non-teaching hours to ensure students' success.
In a conversation via email with Granma International, Valentina stated, "Cuban schools offer comprehensive training, something which I can verify in my daily work. When treating patients, I try to establish good communication and generate empathy, trust and warmth, offering them all the support I can. Cuban universities and society give you tools to this affect, which you later use in your professional life."
She also mentioned two of her professors: The first, Dr. Adania Guanche, who Valentina described as patient, affectionate, and friendly, and who helped the Chilean with her final thesis.
As well as Diana Rosa Valdés, her Anatomy teacher, who named her daughter Valentina after the Chilean student.
For Valentina, the most poignant moment of her time in Cuba was receiving her degree at the Jose Marti Anti-imperialist Tribunal, located in front of what is now the United States Embassy in Havana, the site of many battles, the most emblematic being the return to Cuba of little Elian Gonzalez in 2000, an episode in the country's history which she experienced in full.
After Valentina returned to Chile, the country was hit by one of the worst earthquakes in its history in 2010, causing over 500 deaths and affecting millions in cities such as Constitucion, Concepcion, Cobquecura, and the port of Talcahuano. A Cuban medical brigade from the Henry Reeve International Contingent, founded by Comandante en Jefe Fidel Castro Ruz in 2005, specialized in Disaster Situations and Serious Epidemics, was sent to help victims of the tragedy; alongside whom Valentina worked for eight long months.
She noted that some 26 Cuban health collaborators, one field hospital, and 12 tons of equipment, supplies and medicines arrived to the city of Rancagua on March 1, where doctors wasted no time in setting up a treatment center offering free medical care to the population.
Valentina emphasized that many citizens suffered from post-traumatic stress syndrome, and needed reassurance, understanding, and psychological support, which the Cuban doctors offered 24 hours a day.
The Chilean professional also saw her compatriots sign a petition for the Cuban brigade to remain in the country, and how thousands of people came out to bid an emotional farewell to the contingent when they finally left.
Valentina ended by noting, "My commitment after graduating in Cuba has been to dedicate myself fully to my work. I am a health professional and an agent of change, tireless fighter for a more just and equal society. I work in the public sector with vulnerable people. I see myself as that kind of social being, the one our Comandante en Jefe envisioned, a professional of science and conscience. / By Nuria Barbosa Leon - Granma.