Uruguay: María Elena Curbelo Morales

Our brave children battle every day against very serious health problems. They give us strength and an appetite for life. It is now time to pay back some of what we receive from them.

— María Elena Curbelo Morales

María Elena Curbelo Morales was born in Montevideo, Uruguay, in 1945. She works as a pediatric doctor in the very poorest of communities treating cases of child malnutrition and doing educational activities with mothers of large families, many of whom are single mothers or have husbands who are absent because of their work. María Elena lives in one of those communities sharing their deprivations, although she herself suffers from a severe motor disability and a number of chronic illnesses.

María Elena Curbelo Morales was born in a humble home in Montevideo, Uruguay. She was born with ‘spinabifida’ (a very serious illness), and she experienced pain and disability from a young age. She underwent a number of surgical operations, but she still continued with her schooling and was able to complete her primary and secondary education–and also win a grant to help finance her medical studies. “Why did I choose medicine? Six years old, I was waiting for my legs to be operated on for the seventh time. I used to lie in the hospital. Each time the door opened, I wondered if they were coming to bring me food, give me an injection or take me to the operating room. It made me mad. At that moment, I made the decision to study medicine and to always explain to children what was going to happen next.” In the 1960s and 1970s, as a member of Tupamaros, the National Liberation Movement, she was involved in political struggles and trade union fights. In 1972, the repressive forces of the Uruguayan army captured her. María Elena remained in prison for years suffering torture. After the liberation, she went into exile, in Sweden and Nicaragua. With tenacity and strong willpower, she learned to walk again and eventually graduated as a pediatric doctor. She returned to Uruguay, and became a mother of two children. Nowadays, her militancy and profession are combined. She uses them to work for the common good in the marginal communities of Montevideo. She focuses on child malnutrition. She lives in Bella Unión, in the administrative district of Salto. She works with disabled children, adolescents and a horse–she works with equine therapy. María Elena shares a project with the parents of her patients: the creation of a rehabilitation center for the children. They can already tell us about the plot of land–where it will be built–and about the name they have chosen: our dream.

The Health Team of Las Láminas y Las Piedras