"Except for Haiti and Santo Domingo, I have visited, to some extent, all the other Latin American countries. Because of the circumstances in which I traveled, first as a student and later as a doctor, I came into close contact with poverty, hunger, and disease; with the inability to treat a child because of lack of money; with the stupefication provoked by continual hunger and punishment, to the point that a father can accept the loss of a son as an unimportant accident, as occurs often in the downtrodden classes of our American homeland. And I began to realize that there were things that were almost as important to me as becoming a famous scientist or making a significant contribution to medical science: I wanted to help those people.
"How does one actually carry out a work of social welfare? How does one unite individual endeavor with the needs of society?
"For this task of organization, as for all revolutionary tasks, fundamentally it is the individual who is needed. The revolution does not, as some claim, standardize the collective will and the collective initiative. On the contrary, it liberates one's individual talent. What the revolution does is orient that talent. And our task now is to orient the creative abilities of all medical professionals toward the tasks of social medicine.
"The life of a single human being is worth a million times more than all the property of the richest man on earth... Far more important than a good remuneration is the pride of serving one's neighbor. Much more definitive and much more lasting than all the gold that one can accumulate is the gratitude of a people.
"We must begin to erase our old concepts. We should not go to the people and say, `Here we are. We come to give you the charity of our presence, to teach you our science, to show you your errors, your lack of culture, your ignorance of elementary things.' We should go instead with an inquiring mind and a humble spirit to learn at that great source of wisdom that is the people.
"Later we will realize many times how mistaken we were in concepts that were so familiar they became part of us and were an automatic part of our thinking. Often we need to change our concepts, not only the general concepts, the social or philosophical ones, but also sometimes our medical concepts.
"We shall see that diseases need not always be treated as they are in big-city hospitals. We shall see that the doctor has to be a farmer also and plant new foods and sow, by example, the desire to consume new foods, to diversify the nutritional structure which is so limited, so poor.
"If we plan to redistribute the wealth of those who have too much in order to give it to those who have nothing; if we intend to make creative work a daily, dynamic source of all our happiness, then we have goals towards which to work."
Edited and abbreviated extract from a 1960 speech by Che Guevara, "On Revolutionary Medicine." The entire speech can be found in John Gerassi's book, Venceremos! The Speeches and Writings of Che Guevara Simon and Schuster, p. 14., pp. 112-119.
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