Nobody knows how to help poor people better than those who have been there. Slomo grew up in Petare, a slum in Caracas, Venezuela, one of the most dangerous in Latin America. He managed to come out of poverty step by step and founded the NGO Health for Africa. Today, he dedicates his life to helping the poor with their medical needs.
I met Slomo in Madrid. We shared a flat before quarantine, then, while I moved to an art studio to be able to work during lockdown, he kept going out to be useful to hospitals overwhelmed by the sudden huge number of Covid cases. “I was meant to leave for Congo, North Kivu, which is still not free from the civil war, and now there is a new outbreak of Ebola disease. With the flights canceled, I was just caught in a different pandemic in Spain”, says Shlomo with his distinctive laugh.
Slomo's path out of poverty is remarkable. “When I was a child, my parents were afraid of letting me go out in Petare, so, when I was 14, we all moved to Cali, in Colombia, where we had some relatives. There I studied as a nurse and got a job so I could later pay for my studies as a lawyer. At 18 and 19 years old, I had two children with my girlfriend, another nurse. I would walk from the university to the hospital and back home all the time to save on public transport. If there was some bread not used in the hospital, I would bring it back to my children. My relationship didn't work out, and when my girlfriend found another man, I went to Spain.
“I got to stay in Madrid because a girl I had a relationship with for a year married me to help me legalize my documents. Then I had to find shelter, and I got help from 6 men from Senegal. They were all still undocumented! That’s where I got the idea that I could help their people in Africa as a way to thank them. While I worked in a hospital to earn a living, I went back to complete my studies as a lawyer, and when I met María, another nurse, we decided to found an NGO.
“We get old machinery and medicines from Spanish hospitals that are still working or not expired and ship them in containers to Africa. Some machines weigh 300kg, and I have to find a way to dismantle them and then put them back together in Africa. Sometimes it's not that simple! I fly with other medical volunteers to the destinations where our containers are sent and teach the local doctors and staff how to use them. The Spanish doctors and nurses are all volunteers at a stage of their lives when they don't have strong commitments; they aren’t paid. I myself have to pay for the transports when I cannot find a shipping agent willing to help. Our real reward is to go to Africa and feel that we are doing something good for people in need. That satisfaction is priceless.”