A Bribri doctor changed his smock for rubber boots

Soft hands which manipulates the stethoscope to examine a patient, became, in strong claws to turn large grinding stones corn.

He wanted to study something that would allow him to practice in the indigenous territory. He wanted to help his family and help his people.

So he looked at the space career and Production Management of the State University (UNED). But destiny had other plans for him.

One day, quite by chance, he found out that there were scholarships to study medicine in Cuba.

An opportunity not to be missed. He packed up and went to the Latin American University of Medical Sciences of Havana in Cuba.

Six years later, in 2005, that young neighbor of Shiroles Talamanca, came back to Costa Rica with a title.

Gonzalo Enrique Mena Selles or Bokitowak Nau (in Bribri), graduated from General Medicine. This made him the first native Costa Rican doctor.

His example inspired other students, and already are seven Talamanca Indigenous youth who have made their way into medicine.

Today, he is 32 years old, The Dr. Mena is responsible by the Social Security Fund (CCSS) of a special unit created to address the health problems of indigenous peoples and communities vulnerable to the Caribbean .

His path was full of sacrifices and obstacles.

For a native son of farmers, the eldest in a family with five children and no resources, it was not easy study medicine and abroad.

Spending time away from his people was most dififcil, remembers the young man when he is talking about the project, the culture and the work of their peers.

Without the magic of the Internet did not exist as it is today, the paper and pencil were responsible for keeping in contact with his family.

Letters went to Talamanca toward Havana and Havana Talamanca with news and words of affection and encouragement from his family and his people.

When he was studying telephone communication was very expensive, in their native neighbors Shiroles did fundraising activities and finance a five-minutequick call.
“That was a big sacrifice for the family. This is the result of the support, effort and sacrifice of many people, “he says. It is one of the few personal confessions thathe said.
After six years in Cuba. Mena returned home eager to exercise and start giving back to those who sacrificed so much for him.
But a new obstacle appeared. The Medical Association had decided to givepriority to professional graduates in Costa Rica and rejected his incorporation as a doctor. Without this requirement the exercise could not.
Tired of paperwork with no result, he decided to find a way of making money.
He worked on the coast by gardens and a supermarket, but with the hope thathis struggle would be rewarded someday.
Almost three years later, the College of Physicians recognized his title and gavewarranty for practice.
Upon returning to his homeland, Mena acknowledged that the title was notenough to help his people as he wished. He had to know more about his own culture, his roots. And gain a place among Indians.

He had to live strictly indigenous norms, ruled by clans, Mena could not be a doctor. In the clan, a doctor means authority and that was not his case. He did not want to see him as an intruder or someone trying to be imposed for medical knowledge.

Gradually, was gaining the trust and respect of older Indigenous. “I have approached and participated with them, and they accepted me and now I have gained a certain level of hierarchy,” he explains.

This happens in the clan where people practice indigenous medicine, something very different from what is their clan, whose mission is to care for the cedars.

Today, he confesses with great satisfaction, that already have allowed to him to participate in events such as, construction of buildings, funeral ceremonies and other activities considered a “privilege”.

They have also given him the opportunity to sit in the hammock, which for a king would be the equivalent of the throne.

Already embedded in the most prestigious clans and indigenous cultural practices, Mena feels to have more tools to bring his knowledge of medicine and indigenous health. Doctor and patient not only speak the same dialect, but is better understood.

However, he wants to work in education and prevention programs and projects focused at helping indigenous peoples to improve their quality of life without having to give up their culture.

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