Thursday, February 26, 2009


Reinaldo Mendoza makes me laugh. A lot. He's the quintessential class clown with goofy facial expressions and funny sayings. He's also thoughtful, caring, and generous. He always has something to give me: an Ag jacket, a work poster, a bag that he received from attending a conference. His kindness is genuine and infectious.

Perhaps that's why I was so surprised to learn on my trip to Sorata last weekend that the twenty-six year old UAC-CP Agronomy graduate always wanted to be a military man. But bad behavior and heavy drinking, he explained, got him kicked out of the military. His family, particularly his father, was so disappointed by this that they disowned him. "I was the black sheep of the family," he said.

UAC-CP Reinaldo Mendoza Segovia, the son of an illiterate mother and a father who studied until the 5th grade, is the first of his family to graduate from college. He hopes to get a scholarship to earn a master's degree.

Reinaldo was raised in the community of Rio Negro in the South Yungas and, after being kicked out of the military, was taken in by an aunt who told him about the UAC-CP. A friend of Sr. Damon's, Reinaldo's aunt convinced Sister to allow him to take the entrance exam--even though he was late to register. He passed the test and in 2003, by process of elimination, chose to study in the College's Agronomy Department.

At the UAC-CP Reinaldo fell into some of the same problems he had in the military. His first year, he said, he was called to the main office many times to talk to Sr. Damon. "She was like my mom," he explained. She knew Reinaldo's situation with his family, she knew money was scarce. "She would ask me, 'Why do you drink? Why are you acting out? Is it because you don't have money?"

He didn't change his behavior overnight, he admitted. It was a series of conversations with Sr. Damon, a year-long "punishment" of physical labor in Coroico Viejo (that he was later paid for), and the support of two special classmates that Reinaldo attributes to finally helping steer his life in a different direction.

Reinaldo's sister helps him get ready before his graduation ceremony at the Catholic University in La Paz last November. He now has a relationship with his three siblings and his father. His mother died when he was a child.

Sr. Damon, perhaps worried that his poor behavior was attributed to the lack of financial and emotional support received from his family, offered Reinaldo a scholarship. But he refused. "I'm a very proud person. My pride is one of the most important things," he said. "I didn't want to just be given a scholarship, I wanted to earn it."

While he studied harder to improve his grades, he also worked every weekend harvesting coca for 25 Bolivianos ($3 US) a day. It was enough, he said, to barely survive--to eat each week. But his hard work paid off--his second year at the UAC-CP he was awarded a scholarship sponsored by Carmen Pampa Fund based on academic merit and need. A scholarship, he said, that allowed him to focus on his studies and, ultimately, obtain his undergraduate degree.

Though the central office for Ayuda en Acción is located in Sorata, Reinaldo spends most of his time working in communities located about 2-3 hrs. away. He said he arrives on foot or motorcycle, rain or shine.

In July 2008 Reinaldo defended his thesis (check out Hugh's July 17th blog posting) and the following week was offered a job with CARITAS in Sorata. He was contracted to work the first six months on a humanitarian assistance program and an agricultural replantation project. Specifically, he worked to help families in communities that had suffered hardships from natural disasters. "We are present with families when disaster (flooding, hail damage, etc) happens and we are there when it's over to help them replant their crops," he explained.

During his first six months, Reinaldo worked in 35 communities. "It was really hard work," he said. "But it was beautiful to be able to help out families most in need; who are many times left without homes, without anything."

Well-respected as a professional in the community, Reinaldo is still the same goofy guy as always. Between me, Reinaldo, and our audience, the laughs had with the monkey mask were well worth the 1 Boliviano.

In November, Reinaldo was named the coordinator of a production project with Ayuda en Acción (an NGO-based in Spain that is managed by CARITAS). He works with the production of fruit trees in the area and the recent construction a nursery for a reforestation project. He also works in several small, Aymaran communities that are training women to raise chickens and guinea pigs for both household consumption and sale.

"I feel so much love and care for these people," he said. "...and that is why I work for them." When I commented that it appears that he likes his work, Reinaldo let out a "Aaah!" and then in a rare moment of seeing his serious side, he turned to look at me, smiled, and said, "Me ENCANTA mi trabajo!" ...I LOVE my job!

During my near 45 minute interview with Reinaldo, he recalled that perhaps the best message he received from Sr. Damon was one that caused him to reflect on the type of person he wanted to become. "Sr. Damon always told me, 'Look at yourself in the mirror. And ask yourself, 'Do you like what you see?'"

Today, Reinaldo Mendoza doesn't see the troubled young man he used to be. In fact, today he not only likes what he sees in the mirror, he's proud of it. He should be.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009


I took advantage of the long weekend for Carnaval celebrations (Bolivia's version, mas o menos, of Mardi Gras) to travel with UAC-CP thesis student Veronica Calles and UAC-CP graduate Reinaldo Mendoza, to the town of Sorata--located about three hours from La Paz.

Reinaldo and Veronica actually admitted to knowing me--the gringa in the plaza wearing a 1 Bolivano monkey mask that a local vendor essentially guilted me into buying!

Though the monkey mask may suggest otherwise, I really didn't go to participate in Carnaval festivities--the three-day-long fiesta, the water balloon fights, and the car cha'lla were not the focal points of my itinerary.  I primarily went because I wanted to meet with UAC-CP graduates and thesis students and to learn more about their work in this picturesque little town.

Mt. Illampu's grandeur towers above the pueblo.  

We ate breakfast at the town's mercado. The pueblo's Spanish influence was evident by the presence of casas antiguas (old houses) throughout Sorata. UAC-CP graduate Mario Cama told me that paperwork indicates the town dates back more than 400 years.

Within less than 24 hours I found two UAC-CP nursing graduates who work in the Sorata hospital, one Agronomy graduate who is the director of the environmental program in the mayor's office, and a former UAC-CP Education student who is the director of a local boarding school.

And although I didn't see him, the name of UAC-CP Veterinary Science student, Juan Quispe (who is, at this very moment, defending his thesis on the lower campus) was floating around town--it seems he might have a job with the local government as they plan for the building of a chicken farm project.

As always, it was good to reconnect with once-familiar Carmen Pampa faces...and, better yet, it was good to learn that they're fulfilling the mission of the College--working in their area of study and providing important services to people living in the rural area of Bolivia.

Friday, February 20, 2009


Today, we "cha'lla-ed" the UAC-CP.   Cha'lla*, an Aymaran word that can best be translated as "blessing," is the traditional act or event of giving thanks to Pachamama (Mother Earth) for the many gifts for which She provides us.  It's also a blessing upon all of our things so that goodness may come to us in the coming year. 

Cha'llas actually happen throughout the year--most often to bless new homes/buildings or cars. (In fact, a couple years ago when I was living in Minneapolis and my car was broken into/stolen twice in one week, UAC-CP Adams Intern Juan Carlos Quispe reminded me that I needed to cha'lla!)  But it is special tradition here in Bolivia to cha'lla during this time of year--during Carnaval/before Ash Wednesday. 

Gladys shows me a handful of confetti mixed with cinnamon-flavored sugar candies before tossing it along the baseboard of the office.  It is a sweet treat for Pachamama, Gladys explained. "You need to feed Her, to thank Her, so that She will continue to produce a fruitful harvest."

So today, at 10am, everyone on both campuses was responsible for "cha'lla-ing" (our gringo way of English-izing an Aymaran word since there really isn't an English--or Spanish--equivalent). Dario, one of my three office-mates, blew up balloons while I hung colorful streamers from nearly any piece of furniture that would allow it.  Gladys, another co-worker and UAC-CP thesis student, tossed confetti in the four corners of our office space and then we each took a turn pouring rubbing alcohol on the floor--all offerings to Pachamama. 

My computer after the cha'lla.

Later, we all walked around together to visit different offices to help them cha'lla.  People brought flower petals, balloons, confetti, holy water, and rubbing alcohol to add to whatever the office had already used to decorate.  Afterward, faculty and staff from both campuses met at the coffee factory to cha'lla and then share in UAC-CP coffee and meat sandwiches.

UAC-CP administrators decorate some of the coffee factory equipment for today's cha'lla.

This afternoon as I uploaded photos to my blog and wondered how I would begin to explain cha'lla, little Fatima (who I blogged about in October) stopped by my office.  "What's cha'lla?" I asked, always curious to know her interpretation of cultural things.  She paused before responding. "It's a way to keep the house happy," she said.  Perhaps the best explanation I heard all day!  Because, really,as they say:  if Pachamama ain't happy, ain't nobody happy.

*Cha'lla is pronounced: "Ch-ai-ya" with an emphasis on the "Ch"

Sunday, February 15, 2009

how to make a hot dog--UAC style

Though we tend to not eat very much meat in our house, I am definitely a carnivore.  I like meat.  

But here in Bolivia, experiences and warnings have caused me to declare one rule by which I attempt to abide: only eat meat that hasn't been ground or potentially mixed with "something" else; only eat meat that can easily identify the animal from which it originated.  So while I do love a good hamburger, here I much prefer Andy's lentil burgers over "real" beef ones.

That said, I do have one exception to the rule: UAC-CP produced products.  The College's meat factory processes both pork and chicken products. Staffed by UAC-CP students working their scholarship or community service hours, the meat factory makes sausages, sliced ham, smoked ribs, cold cuts, hot dogs, etc.  

I've visited the factory and watched them process meat from start to finish.  While I'm generally not a hot dog fan, I'm confident enough in the meat factory's sanitary conditions and process that I have, on rare occasion, eaten salchipapas (sliced hot dogs with french fries)...though, not nearly as often as "the boys" (volunteers Andy Engel and Sam Clair).

The following is how to make a hot dog--UAC-CP style--in pictures...

The College sells its products (meats, coffee, and vegetables) under the brand name SUMA which, I've been told, means "delicious" or "the best" in Aymara.

Friday, February 13, 2009

cambiar el mundo

Yesterday the UAC-CP celebrated the beginning of the 2009 school year with an inaugural mass and convocation.  At 10am, all students, faculty, and staff gathered in the courtyard of Campus Manning for the official flag raising ceremony.  Lined up according to their major area of study, students sang the national anthem as Hugh Smeltekop, Msgr. Juan Vargas, and Fr. Freddy del Villar raised the flags.

Hugh Smeltekop, UAC-CP Vice Director, Msgr. Juan Vargas, UAC-CP President and Bishop of the Coroico Diocese, and Fr. Freddy del Villar, UAC-CP Director raise the flags (the Wipahla flag of the indigenous people, the Bolivian flag, and the Catholic University flag).

After an official welcome by a representative of the UAC-CP's study body council, the large crowd proceeded to the church where they were shown a Bolivian-produced mini-documentary about the UAC-CP and received a special,  recently recorded greeting from UAC-CP founder, Sr. Damon Nolan, who reminded students that she is always with them in spirit and asked them to remain true to themselves.  

The College's musical group makes use of traditional instruments, like the charengo, pan flute, etc., and incorporates these native sounds into liturgical music. 

The mass was celebrated by several priests from the Coroico diocese; Bishop Juan Vargas gave the homily.  "Why are we here?" he asked rhetorically.  "Of course we are here to look for a profession, but first we need to learn respect and love," he said.  "We are here to form a community, a family.  We are here to improve lives.  We are here to move forward."  

Msgr. Vargas reminded students that the College is an institution that was founded to respond to the needs of campesinos.  "How are we going to improve our lives?  By improving the places we come from," he said.  "People think that change within our country needs to happen with fuerza, but we are going to change the future of this country through education."

Part of that education, Vargas said, comes with teaching core values, like love and respect.  "We are here to help those people who are marginalized, in the corner; we are here to take care of our brothers and sisters who are suffering, exploited."

Hugh Smeltekop summed up the Bishop's sentiments during his personal greeting. "We are here to change the what?" he asked the student body.  "El mundo!" they responded.  We are here to change the world.

It was standing room only at St. Francis of Assisi Church on Campus Manning.

Following personal greetings from directors of academic areas and a lecture from Fr. Freddy about rules and regulations, people gathered outside for a reception of sandwiches and refrescos.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

visitor handbook

Unidad Académica Campesina - Carmen Pampa, Bolivia

Visitor Handbook

We are thrilled that you are coming to Unidad Académica Campesina-Carmen Pampa (UAC-CP)! Part of what makes the UAC-CP experience so unique for students and faculty are visits from people like you. This handbook was assembled to help you prepare for your trip and to allow you to feel more comfortable and “in the know” once you get to campus. You will find that UAC-CP is a very busy place, and while we do our best to answer all your questions once you get here, having a basic understanding of life in Bolivia and on campus beforehand goes a long way.

Please read this entire handbook carefully and feel free to let us know if you have additional questions, suggestions or additions. It was created by seasoned travelers and your observations about what you’ve learned traveling will help future visitors to UAC-CP.

1. Pre-visit protocol
2. Contact information and change of flight protocol
3. Travel preparation guidelines:
Approximate ticket cost and suggested agent
Passport and documentation
Medical insurance
Travel insurance
4. Money, fees, currency, etc.
5. Miscellaneous Bolivia: time, climate, distance and safety
6. Packing list
7. Cultural primer


The information requested on this page MUST be relayed to UAC-CP well in advance of your visit.

Planning arrival and departure with UAC-CP
Lee Lechtenberg is the volunteer and visitor coordinator at UAC-CP.

When planning your trip, be sure to contact Lee at least three months in advance of your intended departure date to provide the following information in brief:

1. Purpose of your visit (goals and objectives must be stated clearly)
2. Approximate arrival and departure dates (tentative length of stay)
3. Contact information (email address, postal address, and home, work and cell phone numbers)

Lee’s e-mail address:

Lee will need to confirm that UAC-CP will be able to provide you with housing and transportation during your proposed stay, as space in the Volunteer House is limited. When considering a travel schedule, note that it is most convenient for UAC-CP staff if you arrive on Sunday or Monday.

• The main objective and/or project proposal of your stay at UAC-CP;
• Names or departments of UAC-CP faculty, staff or students that you intend to meet with;
• If you plan to give a presentation, list your technical needs (TV, VCR, DVD, data projector for PowerPoint presentations and overhead projector) so we can reserve them for you;
• If you plan to give a presentation, provide a brief outline of topics you will cover. The outline will help us prepare students, faculty or staff for your lecture;
• Additional special equipment needs. We will do our best to provide them. However, due to limited resources at UAC-CP, they may not be available;
• Transportation needs. For example, will you be doing fieldwork that requires transport other sites?
• Also, are you willing/able to walk between UAC-CP campuses? The road from the lower campus to the upper campus is a 30-minute hike, which you may have to walk daily.


Please leave a copy of the following information with a friend or relative at home whom we can contact in the event of an emergency. E-mail Lee your emergency contact’s information including home/work/cell phone, email address and home address.

As visitor coordinator at UAC-CP, Lee Lechtenberg will be your primary contact. If you must call UAC-CP, calls can be received Tuesday through Saturday, between 8:00 and 12:00 in the morning and again between and 2:00 and 6:00 in the afternoon. Bolivia is four hours behind Greenwich Mean Time, which means that if it is noon in Chicago, it is 2:00 pm at UAC-CP (or 1:00 pm if you are in daylight savings—Bolivia does not use daylight savings time).

UAC-CP Address:

Unidad Academica Campesina – Carmen Pampa
Coroico, Nor Yungas
South America

Please contact Lee first by email for the telephone number. (His email addresses appear above.) Please note that the receptionist does not speak English. When receiving calls while at UAC-CP, your caller should say your name clearly and the receptionist will attempt to find you or an English speaker that can facilitate the conversation. Generally, it is difficult to receive phone calls.

Internet is available and readily accessible in the Volunteer House. Most volunteers and visitors find it most convenient to communicate with friends and family via Skype. Skype calls are free when “calling” from computer to computer and are very reasonable (about $0.02 US a minute) when calling from computer to a phone.

Airline Reservations:

Most visitors travel from the United States to Bolivia on American Airlines through Miami.
Flight information: 1-800-433-7300
Baggage information: 1-800-535-5225
La Paz office: 591-2-235-1360 (dial 011 first if calling from the US)

Carmen Pampa Fund
If you are having difficulty getting through to UAC-CP, call or email the Carmen Pampa Fund, the North American fundraising arm of the College, located in St. Paul, Minnesota. Business hours are 9:00 am to 5:00 pm Monday through Friday CST.

Phone: 651-641-1588

Occasionally, visitors may miss a flight or other circumstances arise to delay their arrival. If you have a change of arrival time or date, email Lee immediately. He will be checking his email regularly in the days leading up to your arrival. In the event that you are unable to inform Lee about a missed flight or change of schedule, e-mail him at the earliest possible opportunity, even if you do not yet know your future flight information. If you have not communicated your change-of-flight information, and you do not arrive at the La Paz airport at the scheduled time, Lee or another volunteer will check email immediately and will work with you to coordinate next steps. Under these circumstances, try to check your email regularly—at least every hour or so.

If your baggage is lost, contact American Airlines at the baggage information number above.

In the event of certain political situations (blockades, strikes, etc), it may be necessary to cancel or postpone your trip. The decision to cancel is often a difficult one to make and will be made after considering several informed assessments of a situation, but will sometimes be made at the very last minute, relative to your travel plans. It is for this reason that it is essential we have your contact information prior to your departure. At times, it is necessary to cancel trips when there is only speculation of potential political problems. While this is disappointing, please respect our decision. We are not willing to compromise the safety of our visitors, nor our UAC-CP staff.

If your trip is cancelled, please contact American Airlines to determine the re-booking of your flight or reimbursement of funds if you are unable to postpone your visit. Again, the political situation can change quickly and it may be possible, depending on your schedule, to arrive one or two days after your original arrival date.


Most visitors take American Airlines’ daily flight from Miami to La Paz. American Airlines is the only major airline with regular, direct service to La Paz. One flight leaves Miami at approximately 11:00 p.m. and arrives in La Paz around 6:00a.m.; another leaves early afternoon from Miami and arrives in the evening in La Paz. Generally ticket costs are approximately $1,400 and can be booked through an online travel site or travel agent.

Visitors are encouraged to consult a physician or travel clinic at least two months in advance of arrival regarding immunizations. Recommended immunizations for Bolivia are Hepatitis A, Heptetitis B and typhoid. Documentation of yellow fever is required for the visa, though a waiver can be signed at the Bolivian boarder/airport for those who do not have the vaccination. Also, be sure that your tetanus shot is up-to-date.

Anti-malarial medication and concern about contracting dengue fever is not necessary because carrier mosquitoes are not present in areas of higher altitude such as La Paz and UAC-CP. Anti-malarials and general precaution is, however, suggested for visitors who plan for travel in lower elevation areas. Again, please consult your physician.

The following recommendations are for US citizens only.

A passport is necessary to enter Bolivia. If you do not currently carry a passport, apply for one several months in advance of your trip. If your passport expires soon, be sure to apply for a new passport (they must be valid for at least six months beyond the date of entry in Bolivia). Make two copies of all important documents (passport, driver’s license, birth certificate, health insurance card, personal contact information, etc.). Leave one copy at home and carry the other copy with you in case your documents are lost or stolen.

United States citizens must have a visa to enter Bolivia. Short-term visitors (90 days or less) should obtain a tourist visa. (The objeto determinado visa is generally recommended for longer-term visitors or volunteers. Please consult with Lee before applying for this visa). Visas can be obtained through the mail from the Bolivian Embassy in Washington, D.C. or upon arrival at the airport in La Paz.

For more information, consult the Bolivian embassy’s website: The cost of the tourist visa is $135 US through the Bolivian embassy. This cost may be slightly higher if obtained upon arrival at the airport.

Know the extent of international coverage you have through your medial insurance provider before arriving in Bolivia. Bring copies of important medical records, prescriptions and your insurance card. You may need to talk with your insurance agent to learn exactly what your coverage includes. The following are suggested questions to ask your agent:

• Does the plan include hospitalization for accidents and illnesses while abroad?
• What is the maximum amount of coverage provided?
• What is the coverage for medical evacuation?
• In the event of death, what is the coverage for repatriation of remains?
• Do you need to pay cash up front at a clinic or for a hospital stay? What if you have no money?
• Does the plan cover visits to the doctor or medication prescribed while abroad?
• If you must use your insurance, what do you show as proof of world-wide coverage?
• If you obtain medical assistance while you're abroad, when/how should you inform the agency?
• What documentation of expenses is required? Does the bill need to be in English and the amount of the charges in U.S. dollars?

Travel insurance can come in handy in case of an emergency. As life in Bolivia is often unpredictable, you may want to consult your local travel agent about options for purchasing a plan for your travel. There are many insurance options for travelers which are generally inexpensive, such as the following:

• Baggage Insurance. Including cameras, clothing and incidentals, your baggage is worth at least $300 to $500. Simple baggage insurance plans are available at banks and travel agencies. Check your homeowners insurance policy as it may already provide this coverage.
• General Travel Insurance. You may want to consider a standard travel policy which not only covers stolen or damaged baggage but will reimburse you for expenses incurred due to travel mishaps such as airline strikes, etc. Again, banks and travel agencies have such policies available.


Money is easily exchanged from US dollars into bolivianos or Bs (pronounced ’bees’). The exchange rate is approximately 7 Bs per US dollar. Dollars can be exchanged for bolivianos in La Paz or Coroico (the closest town to the UAC-CP). Dollars can be changed most easily in denominations of $20, $50 or $100, but the bills must be in perfect condition (slight tears or marks on the bills will not be accepted).

It is recommended to exchange $200 for a ten day stay in Carmen Pampa. However, past visitors have spent well under and well over this amount, so budget according to your spending habits. Note that there are few opportunities to spend cash at UAC-CP. Also note that currently there are no ATMs in Coroico. Most visitors withdraw money—dollars or bolivianos or both—from the ATM at the airport when they arrive. At this time they should withdraw all the money needed for their stay at UAC-CP as there may not be a chance to return to La Paz. With the exception of hotels, credit cards are rarely accepted in Coroico.

Should visitors spend time in La Paz after their stay at UAC-CP, note that ATMs are common in the city. Visitors are advised to consult their credit card companies in advance of travel about service rates for international withdrawals. You may want to call your credit card company to tell them you are traveling abroad so they do not begin to investigate purchases you make in Bolivia.

Past volunteers have found that check cards offer lower service rates than credit cards. Credit cards and check cards can be used only at select hotels, restaurants, etc., in La Paz. Travelers’ checks are not recommended as many visitors have found them difficult to cash.

Again, before leaving, make two copies of all credit cards front and back. Keep one copy at home, and take the other with you. It will come in handy if your credit cards are lost or stolen.


Bolivia is four hours behind Greenwich Mean Time, which means that if it is noon in Chicago, it is 2:00 pm at the UAC-CP (or 1:00 pm during daylight savings).

Temperature varies considerably with altitude. During summer (December to March)—the rainy season in Bolivia—daily rains can last for hours at a time.

• UAC-CP: The temperature at UAC-CP stays relatively constant at a comfortable 70 to 80° Fahrenheit year round and is a few degrees cooler at night. Humidity is moderate. Note, however, that the weather can change at the drop of a hat, from rainy and cooler to sunny and hot. Be prepared for weather changes with a raincoat or rain poncho, a hat for the sun, sunglasses, and comfortable shoes that are not too hot but good for the mud.

• La Paz: Temperatures are also relatively constant throughout the year in La Paz, although considerably cooler at night or in the shade. Average daytime temperatures range from the 50 to 75° Fahrenheit. Nighttime temperatures dip to 32°. The air is very dry.

Altitude sickness can affect those who normally live at low altitudes and ascend approximately 8,000 feet. Visitors often experience altitude sickness in La Paz, nearly 12,000 feet above sea level. Symptoms include headache, nausia, breathlessness, racing pulse, lethargy, insomnia, loss of appetite and dehydration. Altitude sickness is significantly less prevalent at UAC-CP, at about 6,000 feet, although visitors often feel lethargic in their first few days on campus. To stave off the effects of altitude sickness, drink plenty of water (two liters a day), rest often, eat lightly and refrain from strenuous exercise. Non-aspirin pain relievers work well to fight headaches. Some visitors may want to ask their physician to prescribe something for altitude sickness.

La Paz to UAC-CP: Approximately 3 ½ hours.

NOTE: The “Most Beautiful Road in the World” (MBRW)—perhaps better known as the “Most Dangerous Road in the World”—is no longer in use for normal travel. The UAC and public vehicles now use the new, paved road that runs parallel to the MBRW, and is much less dramatic. The new road (called the Cotapata-Santa Barbara road) also has spectacular views and the travel time is still about three hours.

Coroico to Carmen Pampa: The distance is approximately thirty-five minutes by car or a three-hour walk. Public transport is available during the school year and costs 3.5 Bs. Taxis are also available between Coroico and Carmen Pampa, but are relatively more expensive (45-55 Bs, mas o menos).

Relatively speaking, Bolivia is one of the safest countries in South America, but you should take basic precautions, especially in urban areas. Should you have something lost or stolen, report it immediately to the police. While they may not track down the criminal, you will receive a police statement for your insurance company.

• La Paz: Pickpockets are common in La Paz and often work in teams with elaborate schemes that attempt to distract you. You may be spilled on, or a person may “accidentally” drop something in front of you. If this happens, keep walking. Do not accept assistance from anyone who offers to “help” wipe off whatever has been spilled on you. There are also a growing number of scams that involve thieves impersonating law enforcement officials who demand your identification. Again, keep walking or if you are in a cab, ask to get out immediately. To avoid robbery, wear a money belt and keep no important documents or money in your pockets or back pack.

• UAC-CP is quite safe. The Volunteer House is generally left unlocked. It is locked at night, during times when volunteers are not in the house and when UAC-CP is on break. To err on the side of caution, please keep your important documents tucked away in your room. If you need items secured, please let Lee know, and he will make the appropriate arrangements for you.


Many UAC-CP volunteers have found the following packing guidelines useful. As these packing guidelines were generated by volunteers who normally stay at UAC-CP for months to years, you certainly don’t need all of the items on the list.


• Mix and match several items of clothing—pick a scheme like black, brown or navy.
• Each piece of clothing should match at least two other items.
• Do not pack anything you would be upset to lose—such as valuables and jewelry.
• Bring only comfortable shoes that have been broken in.
• Do not bring anything that wrinkles easily or needs to be dry cleaned.
• Roll your clothing in your suitcase to maximize space and cut down on wrinkling.
• Use large-zip lock bags or mesh bags to keep items visible and separate.
• Bring at least a few articles of clothing that will dry quickly.

One or two pieces of larger luggage is sufficient. Canvas bags and backpacks or hard suitcases with rollers are all recommended. Luggage should be labeled. It should not be locked during flights as routine luggage searches are common and require airport personnel to break locks to open luggage. A smaller backpack or bag is also recommended for short trips or carrying around campus.

Please check American Airlines’ website for current baggage and weight limit restrictions.

Dress is very casual at UAC-CP. As teachers and administrators, volunteers and visitors are expected to wear appropriately modest clothing both inside and outside the classroom or office. Sleeveless shirts and shorts are acceptable, but not recommended for daily wear as bug bites are common and itchy! Low cut tank tops and/or midriff shirts and short shorts/skirts are not recommended. Clothing can be purchased in La Paz.

• Pants. Many find the biting insects bothersome and opt to wear pants around campus.
• Shorts. For traveling, playing sports, etc.
• Long-sleeved shirts
• Short-sleeved shirts
• Fleece jacket
• Rain poncho
• Warm jacket. Nights can be cool in Carmen Pampa. It can be quite cold in La Paz.
• Warm hat and gloves. Again, La Paz can get quite cold
• Sturdy sandals with back straps such as Chacos or Tevas
• Boots and/or shoes for general use or hiking that are good in mud
• Slippers or flip flops for around the house or in the shower
• Pajamas
• Underwear and socks
• Modest swimsuit. There is a little pool an hour’s walk from UAC-CP. A suit will be handy if you intend to do some traveling.


• Prescription medicine. Be sure to consult your physician at least two months ahead to request an extended prescription for the time you will stay at Carmen Pampa. Carry medicines in original, labeled prescription bottles.
• General medicines: Aspirin/Tylenol, allergy medicine, Pepto Bismol, decongestant, anti-diarreal prescription such as Cipro, antibiotics, etc.
• General topicals: Hand sanitizer, sun screen, insect repellant with DEET, lip balm, anti-itch cream
• Toothpaste, floss, toothbrush
• Razors
• Travel packs of toilet paper and tissue. Again, travel sizes of these items are very convenient.
• Contacts and contact solution.
• Make up. If you wear it at home, there may be occasions to wear it at the UAC-CP.
• Daily vitamins such as calcium and iron
• Deodorant / Antiperspirant
• Anti-nausea medication if needed for car sickness
In the case that you should forget any of these items from home, note that most of these things are available at pharmacies in La Paz.


• US$200 in small bills and medium bills. This is in addition to the US$200 you bring to exchange at the UAC-CP
• Pocket knife and nail clipper (remember to put in checked luggage)
• Flashlight or headlamp
• Book(s) The Volunteer House has an excellent selection of books left by past volunteers and visitors. Feel free to add to the collection.
• Journal
• Favorite recipes. Limited ingredients are available in Coroico, but you may be able to modify your recipes with local foodstuffs.
• Wide brimmed hat and sunglasses
• Converters/adapters for American electronics which use 110 volts. The UAC-CP uses a standard current of 220 volts (most electronics such as laptop computers, battery charges, iPod charges, etc., use both 110 and 220—check your piece of equipment before plugging it in!)
• Camera, CDs, memory card and other camera accessories
• Water bottle. Nalgene and similar brands are perfect as they don’t break and can easily be filled with hot or cold water.
• Business cards
• Extra batteries
• Money belt
• Office supplies: pens, notebooks and other materials such as paperclips, small calculator, etc.
• Address book (small) and envelopes
• Inflatable neck pillow, ear plugs and eye blinds for the overnight flight to La Paz.
• Maps and guidebooks.... but only if you are traveling around Bolivia before you come to the UAC. We have many Bolivia guidebooks for reference at the Volunteer House that you can borrow or keep.
• Spanish/English pocket dictionary
• Alarm clock: travel size battery-powered. Bedside alarm clocks are not provided at the Volunteer House.
• First aid & sewing kits
• Safety pins and rubber bands
• Stationery for thank you notes
• CDs and/or iPod. We have a CD player in the house.
• Pictures of family and friends, both for you and to share with UAC-CP students
• Hand sanitizer
• Laptop computer

Please consider bringing and leaving the following GENTLY USED items for the volunteer house: pillows, single/double bed sheets and blankets, towels, etc. Any and all items will be greatly appreciated and put to valuable use. Also, feel free to pack extra items that can be sold in the on-campus store. Generally UAC-CP can use gently-used clothes for adults and children such as t-shirts, pants, sweaters, shoes, skirts, etc. Other items, such as backpacks or duffle bags, hats, samples of soap, shampoo or toothpaste, etc., are also useful. Please ask Lee if you have questions or ideas of items to donate. Remember, this is only IF you have these extra items and the room in your luggage to spare.

UAC-CP volunteers always welcome visitors bearing gifts. Frequent requests include: peanut butter, parmesan or other cheese, chocolate, non-yellow mustard, etc...

Additionally, family and friends of current UAC-CP volunteers often find it helpful to send packages down with visitors, both to save money and assure safe arrival. If you’d like to carry a package, please share your mailing address with Lee at least three weeks before your departure. Lee will arrange for a package to be sent to you.


"Perhaps the greatest power of educational exchange is the power to convert nations into peoples and to translate ideologies into human aspirations."
—J.W. Fulbright

The Bolivian time-table is always subject to change, which means not everything happens when it is scheduled and sometimes, without warning, it doesn’t happen at all. The best way to deal with unpredictable schedules is to accept that you are on “Bolivian Time” and go with the flow. Embracing “Bolivian Time” can be a good opportunity to take a break from the fast pace of American life and enjoy the moment.

Greet people individually when you meet them and say goodbye individually when you leave. If the greeting is male-female or female-female, Bolivians will often press their right cheek to yours with a small kiss when they meet you or say hello. Greetings between men consist of a combination of handshakes and pats on the shoulder.

Accept Bolivians’ offers of food, drink or small gifts. However, don’t feel obligated to eat or drink something you think could cause illness.

Be conscious of rural Bolivians’ hunger. Please do not eat in front of UAC-CP students or local community members, unless you are at a meal or in an environment where everyone has food. Often people have not eaten. If you must eat around or with students—on a nursing trip to the rural communities, for example—please bring sufficient food along to share, as others may not have food.

Even if you know only a little Spanish, speak it with Bolivians. They are generally very patient listeners and will try to help you speak.

Between fifty and sixty percent of Bolivians are of Indigenous heritage and speak either Aymaran or Quechua. The native people of Bolivia are often called campesinos because they live in the campo, or rural area. Until the 1950s a significant portion of the Aymaran people lived in slave-like conditions. Many students at UAC-CP speak Aymara or Quecha as their first language. Campesinos living in Carmen Pampa and the surrounding communities speak Aymara.

Visits to nearby rural communities can be arranged. These visits provide dramatic insight into the lives of Bolivians who are poor. If you go, note that the first and perhaps only language of most people in rural communities is Aymara. Please tell a volunteer if you are interested in a rural community visit. If an opportunity arises for a visit, they will coordinate it for you.

Bolivian meals typically consist of a bowl of soup, followed by a meat dish that includes at least two forms of carbohydrates, such as breads, potatoes or rice. Many fresh fruits and vegetables are available. Be sure to have a salteña, Bolivia’s most popular and unique pastry.

Bolivians wish each other “bon appetite” with the word provecho, the reply to which is gracias. Provecho is said both before and after a meal.

The UAC-CP is home to an artisan shop which houses a collection of works by local artists. Please ask the volunteers to open it for you. Also, visitors can find nearly every handicraft in La Paz in the shopping area around San Francisco church. If you want to spend time shopping in La Paz, please let Lee know, and he will arrange your schedule accordingly. Bartering is acceptable in La Paz.

Gift giving is not expected in Bolivia. However, if you’d like to give gifts, UAC-CP suggests you bring a few small gifts such as pens or postcards to share with select professors and students you meet at UAC-CP. Please do not bring many gifts and/or distribute them broadly, as this reinforces the stereotype that visitors are rich, and it can build an expectation of gift-giving for future visitors.


• Travel in a spirit of humility and with a genuine desire to meet and talk with local people.
• Do not expect to find things as you have them at home. You have left your home to find difference.
• Do not be too serious. An open mind and a sense of humor is the beginning of a wonderful experience at UAC-CP.
• Do not let others get on your nerves. You have come a long way to be a good ambassador for your country, to learn as much as you can and to enjoy the experience.
• Know where your passport is at all times.
• Do not worry. It can take the fun out of your Bolivian experience!
• Do not judge the people of Bolivia by the one person with whom you have had trouble. This is unfair to the Bolivian people as a whole.
• Remember that you are a guest in Bolivia.
• Cultivate the habit of listening and observing, rather than merely hearing and seeing.
• Realize that other people may have ideas, lifestyles and concepts of time which are very different from yours—not inferior, only different.
• Be aware of the feelings of local people to prevent what might be offensive behavior.
• Taking photographs must be done with respect. Always ask before taking a photograph of a community member or student.
• Make no promises to new local friends that you cannot fulfill. This is especially important around UAC-CP. If you want to do something special for people you meet, talk about its feasibility with the volunteers before suggesting it to your new Bolivian friend. This includes even such small things as promising to send pictures of local people that you have taken.
• Devote some time to daily reflection in order to gain a deeper understanding of your experiences.

Last updated: February 2009

Saturday, February 7, 2009

family reunion: registration

Summer vacation is quickly coming to an end.  Yesterday and today both new and returning students formed long lines outside of administrative offices where UAC-CP staff are frantically working to register the anticipated 700* young people who are coming to begin the 2009 school year.

UAC-CP thesis student and administrator Dany Chambilla registers a student for classes.

Students wait in line to register for classes. Some students told me they had been camped out since 4am to be the first in line.  

While classes officially begin on Tuesday, students are required to come a few days early.  The early birds get their first choice of dormitory space and the piece of mind in knowing that all their paperwork is in order and they are set to begin classes.  

Three wooden chests sit outside the Pre-University dorm. Unlike college moving day in the U.S. (as I remember it), most students here come with everything packed in a box or giant bag.

Though the lines have been long and the entire process a bit tedious, students pass the time chatting, catching up on all that has happened since they were last together.  "What did you do during vacation?" was the most common question I heard yesterday as I walked around and welcomed students (back) to Carmen Pampa!  

"It kind of feels like one giant family reunion," fifth semester Agronomy student Policarpio Mamani said when I asked him about having to wait in line.  "It's fun to see everyone again!"

The first day of classes for the 2009 academic year begin on Tuesday, February 10th.

*This number includes UAC-CP thesis students who must also register at the College.  It also includes the approximate 160 new students that the UAC-CP is expecting to receive.