Friday, September 19, 2008

bolivia: mas adentro

Last night I returned from five days of travel to the hot and dusty Bolivian lowlands (or lower than Carmen Pampa-lands, at least). Squeezed four or five people across in the backseat of a small station wagon, I arrived first to the town of Caranavi and later to Palos Blancos. There, I visited UAC-CP students who are doing their student teaching; I reunited with graduates and learned about their current work; and I "pulled the ears" of a couple students who, while they've finished their coursework, need to complete their thesis in order to receive their diploma.

Without a doubt, the best part of my trip was the conversation--all of the conversations, really, but mostly the conversations with former students--UAC-CP graduates. At their homes and places of work, we caught up on each others lives. I asked about their work, their families, their theses defenses. They asked about the UAC, former volunteers, and, of course, Sr. Damon-- "Como esta la Hermana?" everyone wanted to know.

More often than not, as UAC graduates and I talked about their current work and reflected on their time at the College...and remembered Sr. Damon...we always found ourselves discussing the mission of the UAC-CP. Frankly, it was incredible to sit around and talk with students about how we've all come to understand the mission.

Florentino Mollo, Oscar Quispe, Sarah, Carmen Pardo, and Tito Calle work together at ANED (a micro-finance group) in Caranavi

One conversation with a group of students was particularly interesting as they independently reflected on the College and it's role, they believe, in promoting peace and understanding in their country--specifically considering the recent, tumultous political situation in Bolivia. I taped our nearly two-hour conversation and think the following few passages are worth sharing.


"There's a fundamental thing about the UAC--it's an example, more than anything, during these days of conflict in our country over racial struggles and regional struggles. We [the UAC] are an example for our society here in Bolivia. At the UAC, people come from all over Bolivia...really, from all origins. There are people from the Orient, people from the Altiplano, people from all parts. And we are, more than anything, like a brotherhood at the UAC. We are able to sort out all sorts of prejudices--about where someone is from or what language they speak or whatever other differences that may exist. Because of this, learning together, we are better formed with a united vision of progress.

Really, that is the UAC--a place where we've made such great friendships. As they say, we're like a family at the UAC. We're one big family...the College. And it's a project that is an example for many univerisities here in our country. Because it's an integral's not just the academic piece it's the spiritual formation that helps students develop into better people." --Ing. Jorge Gallardo, UAC-CP '07

Fortunato Velasquez, Andres Florez, Sarah, Ruth Velasquez, and Jorge Gallardo at the researh and production center the group is developing in Brecha B outside of Palos Blancos

"The form of teaching [the mission] isn't really about talking to students. It's about doing. That's what Sr. Damon always said: "Do. Don't speak." ... And it's true. We can't be telling others how to live. In the end, one has to demonstrate how to live. Simply by doing, people are going to learn. I think that's one form of expressing the mission and vision of the UAC." --Ing. Andres Florez, UAC-CP '08

"The way in which students come to the UAC and plainly see the [College's] mission...that's a form of teaching. The UAC is a concentration of people from distinct social backgrounds, origins, etc. What happens is, it's a place where students, with minimum conditions, begin to study. That's the education--the life that a student has there, their interaction with each one of their classmates. I think that has a strong incidence in this process of construction [in Bolivia].

[The UAC teaches that] it's not just about's about values. Something that Jorge [Gallardo] talked about regarding what's currently happening in our country--I think it's more of a problem, not so much economic, it's a problem about values; it's a problem about morals.

Time will tell...with this generation that is going to graduate from the UAC. I think there will be a population of young people with a different way of thinking...a more integral way of thinking. And I expect that because of that, there won't be any more talk about a "camba* nation" or an "indigenous nation" or anything like this....that it will be a nation of that, in the end, we're called by the one thing that unites us." --Ing. Fortunato Valasquez, UAC-CP '03

Thanks to all for your kind emails and notes regarding the current political situation in Bolivia. Right now, all is calm and peaceful here in Carmen Pampa. Hopefully a peaceful resolution will be found in Bolivia sooner than later.

*Camba is the name for people who live in and around Santa Cruz. People from La Paz are called Pacenos.


Brooke Harlowe said...

Hope you jaló las orejas of Carmen Pardo while you were adentro... Send me an update on how she (and Cristobal Quispe) are doing when you can.

sarah mechtenberg said...


Yes. I did. Quite literally, in fact. While I didn´t get to see Cristobal, Bill and I interviewed Carmen for the docu. Carmen is well and says she´s working at ANED and saving money to return to do her thesis.

I´ll be back in Caranavi in November or December and will, among other things, check in with her again--and let her know you asked for her.