Saturday, December 13, 2008

la familia abelino

A little more than a week ago, UAC-CP student Edwin Zapata and I set out from Apolo's town plaza to find the house of former UAC-CP Education student Donato Abelino and his younger brother, Alejandro, a current UAC-CP Agronomy student.

There were two things I knew for certain about the family before I arrived: 1. they live far away from Apolo and 2. they are very poor. So, it didn't surprise me when, after an hour and a half ride down a muddy, washed out road in a taxi, we finally arrived at their home to find very primitive conditions--no electricity, no running water, dirt floors, thatch roof, no gas tank for cooking (they cook with wood on an adobe "stove"), etc. 

Donato Abelino with his family: father, niece, mother, and sister at the family's home outside the community of Copacobana.

Because they consume most of what they produce--the family generates very little income. They listed only five things that they generally buy: soap, salt, rice, candles, and matches. The Abelino family represents the poorest of the poor who come to study at the UAC-CP.

And, unfortunately, for the poorest of the poor, graduating from college is all the more difficult because of limited financial resources.  In the case of Donato, although he finished his required coursework at the UAC-CP more than a year ago, he has yet to write and defend his thesis in order to officially graduate.  When I talked to Donato, he seemed doubtful that he would be able to complete his thesis, which is costly and time consuming.

I reminded him that in the past year UAC-CP students have recently been graduating in record numbers thanks to the Cuartel de Tesis (Thesis Bootcamp) which helps students finance their thesis work.  Though Donato is aware of this assistance and admits the money would help him complete his thesis project, he seemed unconvinced that he could afford to leave his mom and dad; as the oldest of four siblings, his parents need his help at home.

A well-worn, patched up awayu hangs from the clothesline. An awayu is a traditional piece of heavy, colored fabric used for a variety of purposes (like carrying babies or food) in Bolivia.

It's heartbreaking that the only thing that should stand in the way of Donato and his thesis is money...especially considering how hard he worked just to arrive at the UAC-CP.   In high school, for example, he walked five hours every Sunday afternoon to the town of Apolo, carrying all the café and yucca and arroz he planned to consume for the week (he lived at the high school during the week and walked back home on Friday afternoons).   When he first came to the UAC-CP, he had saved barely enough money for the two-day trip; his father sold a cow so that he had enough money to pay for the inscription fee.  In awe, I asked him, "And did you ever think of giving up?"   He responded with a confident, "No."

As my Quechua interpreter, Donato later introduced me to his parents.  He explained to them that I was from the UAC-CP and that I was there to learn more about their lives and the hopes and dreams they hold for their children's futures.  Donato's father, who is not well, sat on a bench next to his wife as she explained that she is a poor, illiterate farmer who has worked hard her whole life, making sacrifices so that her children can study.

As his community's chatechist, Donato is responsible for organizing the building of a new church.  Above is the community's former church.

She is grateful, Donato's mother said, that her son Alejandro has a full scholarship from the Diane Watson Scholarship Fund.  While the family is able to send money (about $30 US, they estimated) every few months, they are unable to afford the already subsidized cost of tuition at the College.  Alejandro's scholarship allows him to study.  "There are no other opportunities," she said.

And oportunidad, it seems, is what all parents want for their children--the opportunity to have a better life.  Apart from this desire, the Abelinos also want their children to be good people, examples for others in their community.

Although Donato hasn't finished his degree, his mom noted that, as a college educated young man, Donato is an active member and well-respected leader in their community.  Most recently, he has participated in a series of talks aiming to resolve land ownership debates among indigenous groups in the area.  He's also organizing a group of young people from his community to start a cooperative farming project.

While I hold out hope that Donato will be able to eventually finish his thesis project, Donato's family hopes that Alejandro will some day be able to graduate from the UAC-CP.  "Like our son Donato," their mother said, "we want Alejandro to come back here after college and help us. We hope that, with his degree in agronomy, he will be able to help us improve our lives."

And that, quite simply, is the mission of the UAC-CP.

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