Friday, August 29, 2008

learning by doing

I spent the past three days interviewing students and faculty in the UAC-CP's veterinary program. I found it interesting that every single person talked about the importance of having hands-on opportunities for learning. Of course, they explained, it's necessary to study theories and concepts in the classroom, but to truly understand what they are learning, they must put it into practice.

There are a variety of ways for students to gain practical experience at the College. All students in the vet program must take turns caring for the animals, mixing and preparing animal feed, slaughtering hogs and chickens, working in the meat factory, managing the marketing and sale of meat products, etc.

Dr. Martin Morales, director of the veterinary science program, pointed out that the modulos (learning labs) allow upperclass students to cultivate leadership skills as they coordinate learning projects for younger classmates. He also noted that several students have started research projects based on their module experiences. "There is no better way to learn than by doing," said Dr. Martin.

A vet student slices ham in the College's meat factory. The UAC-CP packages and sells pork and chicken products under their own brand: SUMA.

Anatomy students watch closely as their professor, Dr. Fernandez, demonstrates how to dissect a dog.

Thesis student Dany Chambi manages the laboratories on Campus Manning. She explained that while the College doesn't have lots of equipment, the items they do have help students perform on-site research projects. Without labs, UAC-CP students would have to travel to La Paz and pay for the use of laboratory equipment.


Eighth semester vet students, Walter and Sydney, humored me by taking a break from cleaning the hog farm to pose for a Bolivian version of American Gothic

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

FUNDACOM: it's all the buzz

Yesterday Bill and I went to Coroico, the nearby pueblo, to learn more about FUNDACOM—a local NGO founded by a group of UAC-CP graduates with help from the Horning Family and the Carmen Pampa Fund.

FUNDACOM’s main objective is to create a sustainable and socially conscious industry for the people of the Yungas region. Currently, FUNDACOM manages a beekeeping project. As part of their work, FUNDACOM trains local farmers in beehive management and provides them with access to a market to sell their products.

Pastor smokes bees out from the bee colony.

FUNDACOM director and UAC-CP agronomy graduate Rene Villca explained that their work is rooted in the mission of the College. “We are committed to helping the people of the countryside live better lives.” Rene told us that, for example, FUNDACOM pays fair and just prices to the farmers. “Of course, as a business, we need to make money,” Rene admitted. “But we also need to make sure that we treat our honey producers fairly. We have helped increase wages for all local beekepers.”

FUNDACOM also works closely with the College by providing internship opportunities for UAC-CP students. Like the College, FUNDACOM works to empower farmers through education.

The goal, Rene said, is for FUNDACOM to be entirely self-sufficient in two more years. And it seems the organization is well on its way. Mostly because of a contract secured through the federal government, FUNDACOM is working to produce more honey to meet the increasing demand.

Freddy demonstrates the difficulty of harvesting honey the "old fashioned" way

UAC-CP vete graduate Pastor Acho took us to FUNDACOM’s honey processing plant in nearby San Jancinto where he explained the relatively simple process of preparing honey for sale. From there, Bill and I accompanied Pastor and another UAC-CP graduate, Freddy Quispe, to a beekeeping site. As thousands of bees buzzed around, Freddy and Pastor installed new, custom made panels to replace the older ones made of sticks. Pastor explained that the new panels will not only make it easier for farmers to harvest the honey, but it will increase the overall yield.
Pastor holds one of the panels that FUNDACOM is helping to install

“So, this is my job, Sarita,” Pastor told me as we followed Bill, Freddy, and our canine companion back to the honey processing plant. “This is what I do every day—I go out into the countryside and do this same type of work with the campesinos.” When I asked him if he likes his work, Pastor turned to me and smiled broadly. “I love my job!”

During the 20 minute ride back to Coroico, I listened as Pastor fielded questions about bee management from our taxi driver--a man who has recently started dabbling in apiculture. At this moment, I realized I didn’t have to ask; it’s pretty obvious that Pastor loves his work.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

la despedida

Yesterday I spent the afternoon in La Paz with UAC-CP students Alejandro Yujra and Gonzalo Silili. They were chosen to participate in a cultural exchange program with Adams School in St. Paul, Minnesota. Adams is a bilingual grade school that invites young people from Spanish speaking countries to work as teaching assistants in the classroom. The students gain practical teaching experience and Adams students are able to learn, first-hand, about the cultures and customs of people from other countries. Based on their grades and an interview, Alex and Gonzalo were chosen to participate in this program for the '08-09 academic year.

Family & friends gathered at Alex's brother's house in El Alto

It was exciting to be with them in their final moments of preparation before their trip to the U.S. As they packed their few belongings and family members stopped by to bid them farewell, Gonzalo and Alex asked me questions about U.S. currency, politics, and the weather. While I gave them a few last minute pointers about life in los Estados (and probably scared them with tales of frigid Minnesota winters!), they will soon be able to experience for themselves both the fun and frustration of living in another country.

Alex & Gonzalo prepare to check in at Aerosur

It is a great priviledge to be able to travel and visit other countries--a priviledge that many North Americans take for granted. Gonzalo and Alex both realize that this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and, despite a bit of nervousness, are excited to begin their adventure. Judging by Juan Carlos Quispe's experience, Gonzalo and Alex will thrive in their new environment!

Special thanks to the folks at Adams and Amity and to UAC Education Dept. Director Andres Pardo for making all this possible.

Monday, August 18, 2008

dormitory visit

I've been spending a lot of time with our volunteer filmographer extraorinaire, Bill. Together, we have been interviewing students, faculty, and staff about their experiences here at the College. Last week we spent most of our time working with the Agronomy Department. We interviewed professors, several thesis students who manage educational programs, and current students study Agronomy.

Today Bill and I found ourselves trying to find a way to make the most use of our time. Mondays at the UAC-CP are typically pretty quiet (classes are held Tuesday through Saturday) so we took advantage of a quiet day to spend time with students in their dorm rooms.

We met with three young women from the Pre-University class: Marecla, Roxanna, and Gladys. They showed us the room that houses the 41 women who are in their first year at the UAC-CP. They admitted that things are pretty crowded and that it's difficult at times for everyone to get along, but that their first year has gone well. They recalled that when they first arrived they were nervous, shy, and homesick. But now, they assured us, they're very content.

After our visit to the female dorm, Bill and I invited ourselves into the men's dorm. There are significantly less men in the Pre-University--21 this year. Their bunkbeds lined the outside of the room and a large table was in the middle. We interrupted several who were working on their algebra homework. They, too, explained that they were once strangers who are now the best of friends.

"Of course we argue and have cross words with each other," Jose Luis, one of the more outspoken guys in the group, told us. "But we are going to be friends forever--we are like brothers." Fernando, a first-year student from Caranavi, told us that for fun, they often sing, play guitar, and dance. In fact, peer pressure persuaded Fernando to set aside his math assignment, pick up his guitar, and play a couple songs. Several students crowded around, sang, and danced.¨

Turns out Bill and I found the perfect way to spend a Monday afternoon.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

un dia de orgullo

Today the UAC-CP held its inaugural graduation ceremony for all students who recently defended their thesis projects or completed their nursing internships. In total, the names of 54 students in Agronomy, Veterinary Science, and Nursing were called to receive their graduation certificates.

It was a momentous ocassion for the graduates and their families--many of whom traveled more than 10 hours to attend the event. All of the commencement speakers talked about the importance of the UAC and its work to educate young, indigenous people from the poor and rural areas of Bolivia. Bishop Juan Vargas reminded us that the UAC represents hope for the people of Bolivia --to not only educate and generate jobs, but to eradicate the poverty and injustice that has plagued the campesinos for years.

While it was unarguably a celebratory day for the stuents, it was also an emotional day for their parents and families who have made lots of sacrifices for their children to attend college. I had the chance to speak with several moms and dads and I noticed that they all kept using the same word: orgullo. Like any parent would be, they are extremely proud of their sons and daughters for what they have accomplished. Most likely all of today's graduates were the first in their family to receive a college degree. In fact, every mother and father I spoke with said they themselves had not even graduated from high school; undoubtedly, they never dreamed their son or daughter would graduate from college.

As we stood around after the official pomp and circumstance and took photos of the beaming graduates, I congratulated one of Bolivia's newest nurses. "Felicidades! You did it--now you're done!" I told her. "Aye, no, Sarita!" she responded. "Now I have to get my master's degree!"

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

the journey of a thousand miles...

The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.   
--Chinese Proverb
At this very moment I'm sitting in the Miami airport waiting to make the last leg of my journey to Bolivia.  If all goes well, my flight will leave at 11:10 pm and I should be in Carmen Pampa by mid afternoon! 

As I sit here, watching the infamous Miami airport mice emerge from the walls and circle around my seat (eek!), I consider that this adventure really didn't start with one "single step"--it has been a series of many small steps that landed me here; and I'm so grateful for the all the people who took those small steps with me.  

I have been overwhelmed by all the help and well-wishes friends, family, neighbors, and co-workers have extended to me so that I could make this move back to Bolivia.  Thanks to those who gave me thoughtful gifts, beautifully written cards, kind e-mails, and, of course, that awesome, homemade Bolivian-shaped/colored cake!  Thanks to those who loaned me their cars or helped me arrange transportation when metro transit failed me.  Thanks to those who took me to lunch or met me for coffee--I appreciated your conversation and insight.  Thanks to those who helped me clean up my apartment, pack up my few belongings, and reattach those awful drapes! Thanks to the god-o-the-internet who sent me positive Craigslist experiences and thanks to everyone at my farewell fiesta who humored me when I raffled off some of my random worldly possessions.  

It's quite exceptional, I think, to know so many generous, giving people--I am one lucky senorita.  GRACIAS to you all for helping me take this step!, if I can just get on the plane without stepping on a mouse...