Monday, March 30, 2009

music video

A compilation of some of my favorite photos of the UAC-CP from the past six months accompanied by the music of Luis Rico, a popular Bolivian folk singer who has come to Carmen Pampa several times in the past years to share his music with our community.  

This song, in traditional Tinku style, is called "Coplas de la Sequia." Listen closely and you'll hear the reference made to the Yungas!

Friday, March 27, 2009


In the wee hours of the morning (so wee, in fact, that I was much too exhausted to roll over and check the time) all of Campus Manning and the community of Carmen Pampa was awakened to the sound of BOOMS! ...followed by a redundant and blaring ditty played by a brass band that, in my humble opinion, could use a bit more practice.*

The flag of the Carrera de Enfermería (Nursing Major) hangs in the courtyard of Campus Manning this morning.

I knew immediately what it was and, for that reason, I also knew it was going to go on for a good long while.  As I tossed and turned, trying to block out the noise in my semi-conscious state, I thought of our newly arrived volunteer, Jim Hanson, who, trying to recover from his 35+ hour journey from the Twin Cities, was probably wondering what he had gotten himself into by coming to the UAC-CP.

The commotion, as hopefully someone has by now explained to Jim, is actually not a common madrugada occurrence; it was students from the College's Nursing Department.  

Every year each department of study at the College celebrates its anniversary--the number of years it has offered classes at the UAC-CP.  While the aniversario of the Nursing Department is technically in April, so many students will be off campus doing their clinical work that the students decided to celebrate themselves now.

Mini red and white plastic flags fly high above the Campus Manning courtyard that faces the volunteer house.

As part of its anniversary celebration, the Nursing Department has planned a three-day conference about the ethics and morals of health care.  Invited speakers will be coming to talk on relative topics (Hugh, for example, will be talking about HIV/AIDS on Saturday morning). Radio announcements in the Yungas are encouraging members of local communities to attend. In addition to this three-day seminar, the Nursing Department will also celebrate its anniversary with a mass, a special meal, and an all-school dance on Saturday night.

The good news for those of us who like a full night's sleep is that the firecrackers and music and early morning celebration only happens the first day.  Now, it's just a matter of time before the Veterinary Department celebrates its anniversary!

*It was the local Carmen Pampa high school band.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

acto cívico

This morning the College held its first acto cívico--an event, it was recently decided, that will occur every Tuesday morning during a mid-morning break from classes.  

A representative from the Education Department (chosen because she has the highest grade) raised the Bolivian flag while her classmates sang the national anthem.

Acto cívicos, which could perhaps be best described as an official flag raising ceremony with a pep talk, are most commonly found at Bolivia high schools where students often begin the day by lining up to sing the national anthem, raise the Bolivian flag, and listen to a teacher or school director talk about morals and values.  It's kind of a "I'm proud to be a Bolivian" kind of moment.

Students listen to Andres Pardo, Director of the College's Education Department, speak at this morning's acto cívico on Campus Leahy.

UAC-CP administrators recently decided that it would be a good idea to begin holding weekly actos cívicos here at the College--primarily to give students, faculty, and staff the opportunity to reflect on the College's founding mission (which I've abbreviated for space):
  • To make higher education available to poor, young people from the rural area;
  • To prepare men and women with quality, professional training;
  • To be in constant search for truth and goodness by means of learning, research, and community extension;
  • To develop extension programs through specific projects that meet the needs of rural communities;
  • To integrate the work of the College community into the countryside and develop and strengthen process and socio-economic liberation through academic, research, and extension activities.
So, it's a little bit of time set aside every Tuesday morning for a "I'm proud to be at the UAC-CP" kind of moment.  It's a time for all of us who are committed to fulfilling the mission of the College, to be reminded of our common vision--to, basically, improve the lives of Bolivians through education.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

father's day

Father's Day. The day when we celebrate our dads or, here in Bolivia, nuestros papás

Along with Belgium, Honduras, Italy, Liechtenstein, Portual, and Spain, Bolivians celebrate Father's Day today, March 19th.  (A google search quickly revealed that March 19th is the feast of St. Joseph, the father of Jesus--so it's not just a random day).

Beatrice Mamani with her dad outside their home on the Altiplano.

UAC-CP graduate Mauricio Colquehuanca with his dad on a trip to Tihuanaco ruins.

Many students told me they don't necessarily have the custom of celebrating this day in the countryside.  "It's not really a day that we celebrate much," one student told me.  "At least, not like Mother's Day!"  My office mates agreed; the gente Boliviana, they saidis more maternalistic. So, Father's Day is often overlooked here.

Fathers of two different UAC-CP students, Jhenny Mamani and Edwin Zapata, see me off at the bus "depot" in Apolo.

Silvia Sevillanos and her dad at their home in Apolo.  Silvia is one of seven children--all girls--three of whom study at the UAC-CP.

Either way, it's important to have a day to think especially of the dads who work so hard to support their sons and daughters.  Not just the fathers of UAC-CP students and graduates, but of our UAC-CP students and graduates who are also fathers.  And, of course, our director, Fr. Freddy.

Father of UAC-CP Nursing graduate, Lucy Cabrera, admires his daughter's diploma.

Happy Father's Day!

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

escuchar - to listen to, to hear

"Nature has given us two ears, two eyes, and but one tongue--to the end that we should hear and see more than we speak."

There is a bench that sits outside the door to the volunteer house. And, as far as benches go, it's a pretty straightforward place to sit.  These days it's painted a glossy blue and it's surrounded by potted plants and the occasional pair of muddy shoes that have been banned from tracking the rainy season inside the casa.  

Sitting on that bench, most often at night under the glow of a flickering florescent bulb, I feel like I've heard it all.  I've heard jokes. I've heard gossip and secrets. I've heard stories about alcoholism, hunger, and disease. I've heard about death and dying and births and babies. I've heard dreams and disappointments confessed.  I've heard laughter and weeping. On that bench, I've heard the hearts of our students.

Of course there has been a lot of alegría shared on the bench, but a lot of difficult times, too. There have been many nights I sat there outside our house trying to think of the perfect thing to say, the right words to somehow ease worried minds, change bad attitudes, or mend broken hearts.  I've tried to channel words of wisdom from those who counseled on the bench before me.  (I've seriously thought to myself, "WWSDS?"--What would Sr. Damon say?)

But what I've discovered is that it's not about what I have to say; it's not really about me giving advice or suggestions or even encouragement.  It's about me asking questions, encouraging reflection, and showing concern.  Simply, it's about me listening, hearing. 

Which, for me, listening wholeheartedly is much more easier said than done. But in a place where so many of our students long to be understood, long to be heard, I have realized that I have the ability to do so much by merely sitting down with someone on the bench and saying absolutely nothing. So, for that reason, I try my best to escuchar.

Friday, March 13, 2009

no room at the inn

The building of the new women's dorm (started in late January and slated to be completed in October) couldn't have come any sooner.  With more than 700 students registered for classes and research work this semester, the UAC-CP is busting at the seams.

Land is being excavated for the construction of the new women's dormitory on Campus Leahy.

One is hard pressed to find an empty bed on either Campus Leahy or Campus Manning.  For the first time that I've ever seen, there is an overflow of young women in the Pre-University program. The Pre-University dorm room has always fit 40 young women (picture 20 bunk beds squeezed together in a giant room), but this year the College had to quickly transform two administrative offices into dorm space for about 15 Pre-University female students.  It's a quick fix though--the room, filled will about eight bunk beds, has no bathroom.

Members of the "mini" food cooperative on Campus Leahy (there are two food cooperatives on that campus) eat lunch outside because there isn't enough room to eat in the dining hall

The lack of space isn't just in the dorms.  Yesterday I ate lunch in the "mini" food cooperative, which isn't so "mini" anymore.  Standing room only, I used my clout to secure a place to sit down in the kitchen and held my bowl in my lap.

This semester, there are 734 students registered at the UAC-CP--621 students taking classes and 113 students working on their theses projects.  A far cry from the 54 young men and women who studied at the College when it first opened 15 years ago!

Sunday, March 8, 2009

international day of the mujer

Today, UAC-CP students reminded me, is International Women's Day.  It's a day set aside to celebrate the economic, political, and social achievements of women...past, present, and future!

Recent UAC-CP nursing graduates Chela Gemio and Micaela Soliz.  

Equal rights and opportunities for women still lag behind that of male counterparts...and that's especially true here in Bolivia.  In today's Sunday edition of La Razon, in fact, there was an article about a recent survey in El Alto (the urban slum surrounding the capital city of La Paz) which reported that domestic violence overwhelming negates a woman's sexual and reproductive rights. 

A female veterinary science student in the laboratory.

So it's not surprising that opportunities for young women, particularly poor, indigenous women from the rural area, are few.  For that reason, the UAC-CP is particularly proud that here women make up 53 percent of the student body and 52 percent of UAC-CP graduates are women.  

These numbers give us a special reason to celebrate today--a celebration of all the women who, despite incredible challenges above and beyond those faced by women in the developed world, have received their undergraduate degrees.  And a celebration of all the young women who will have the opportunity to come and study here in the future.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

wednesday night misa

Every Wednesday night at 7pm, an average of 30 UAC-CP students, faculty, and staff gather to celebrate the liturgy in the  Campus Leahy chapel.

Mural on the back wall of the chapel depicts the Yungas mountains in night and day. The words of St. Francis' Canticle of the Sun are written in five different languages that represent all the languages spoken at the College.

It's a small and simple chapel with re-arrangeable benches and a beautiful mural on the back wall that volunteer Lee Lechtenberg and his son Paul, a former UAC-CP volunteer, painted several years ago.  Because of its size, we all sit close together, a definite feeling of togetherness.

Student musicians often stay after mass to play music. I stay after mass to play the tambourine and dance!

There is a group of about 5-6 student musicians who play traditional Bolivian instruments--guitar, drum, churrango, panflute, etc.--and sing.  When invited, I sometimes try to make myself a part of the group by shaking a tambourine or the patitas (a tambourine, of sorts, made of goat hooves tied together on a string). 

The music is one of the primary reasons I go to the mass. Quite simply, it's spirit-filled. The songs, especially, offer a perfect mid-week reflection for me.  And many of the songs, like Todo Cambia (Everything Changes), seem to speak directly to our situation here in rural Bolivia--the constant struggle and continued hope for peace and justice.

One of my favorite songs, "De Nuestros Llanos Tropicales," speaks directly to who we are, where our students come from, what we are trying to accomplish. Its words seem all the more powerful, more alive, when we join in the chapel and sing it together:

From our tropical lowlands,
from the altiplano and from the valleys,
we came today to present to you,
our hope and our lives.

That in our rural areas and cities,
that in our home and work,
we find peace, justice, and protection
for your children, good Father

That this land that you gave us,
with our strength and with your help,
will soon be for everyone,
a land renewed. 

Sunday, March 1, 2009


When a group of soil professors from South Dakota State University visited the UAC-CP two months ago, they emerged from an afternoon workshop raving about Agronomy thesis student Veronica Calles. Dr. Diane Rickerl told me that 23-year-old Veronica's ability to fend off a barrage of questions from four PhDs was nothing short of impressive.

On our trip to Sorata last weekend, Veronica, myself, and a couple other UAC-CP grads went on a hike to the river where we sat and ate freshly picked peaches.

As someone who knows next to nothing about soil--or science, for that matter, I can't speak much to Veronica's academic skills or the thesis she plans to defend this year ("Production of Biomas in Two Agro-forest Systems Implemented in an Ex-coca Field in the Community of Coroico Viejo"*). But I can speak to Veronica's character; I'm a witness to her maturity, her tenacity, her sensitivity, grace, and heart. She´s as beautiful on the inside as she is on the outside.

Veronica is from the small community of Santana near Coroico. The fifth of six children, she is, like most UAC-CP students, a first-generation high school graduate and the first person in her family to attend college.

She comes from a poor family that has made a living growing citrus fruits, coffee, and coca. It's a bold understatement to say that money was "tight" in the Calles household, but Veronica insists that when it came to the basic necessities, she and her siblings never went without. "We always had something to eat," she said. "And we might not have had nice, new clothes, but we always had something to cover our bodies." Needless to say, higher education, even with the UAC-CP's subsidized tuition, was out of the question.

Veronica on top of the world--or standing on top of a woodpile, at least.

"I didn't know where I could study or how I could possibly afford it," she told me as we sat in a park in Sorata last week. "In the campo," she explained, "normally this is the problem. Parents don't have the money to help their children. So, students finish high school, or sometimes they don't even finish high school, and they just stay at home and live." With limited opportunities, Veronica said, young people feel they have no future.

But Veronica was determined to make a future for herself. Always very involved in the local church's pastoral/youth programs, she developed strong relationships with priests and nuns who helped her obtain a scholarship to come to the UAC-CP. This financial assistance helped Veronica during her first year at the UAC-CP; her second year she was awarded a scholarship from USAID that allowed her to stay and study.

"I think it would've been really difficult [to study at the College] without the scholarship. I don't know that I would've been able to finish college if I didn't have the scholarship because I wouldn't have been able to afford it," she admitted. "I might have had to return home."

Instead, she has risen to the top of her class. In January 2008, in fact, Veronica was chosen to represent the entire College as a participant in the 5-week-long Winter Institute for Young Indigenous Leaders. The program, sponsored by the U.S. Department of State, brought her and several other young, budding leaders from South America to Arizona, Massachusettes, New York, and Washington, D.C., to talk about culture, democracy, and leadership--particularly as it relates to being an indigenous person. The experience connected her with the Fullbright program through which she's currently doing a three-month-long internship at the U.S. Embassy in La Paz.

When I look at Vero, as she's affectionately called by her UAC-queña familia, I see an exceptional young person who has defied incredible odds...especially considering that she is a woman. "There are very few opportunities for women to be educated as professionals in the rural area," she said. "But I think this is changing, especially because of places like the UAC-CP where I see women now saying, 'I have the same rights as a man.'"

After listening to her speak so eloquently about such topics as women´s rights and soil science and her desire to get a master´s degree in environmental science, I suggested that she is unique; not a typical woman from the campo. Veronica agreed. "I've thought the same thing about myself," she said, almost bewildered. "I've asked myself, 'Why am I different?'" She credits both her parents who, she says, made every sacrifice to ensure that all of their children were educated.

Sadly, her mother won't get to see her graduate from college. Veronica's mom died very suddenly in April 2005 at the age of 45.  It is a loss that, unsurprisingly, is still very painful for Vero. We both cried when she talked about her mother's death.  But, she is now sure her mother is with her more than ever. "Wherever I go, I feel her presence."

Her father, however, will be able to see his daughter defend her thesis. "My dad isn't a person who expresses his feelings, but I know he's happy with me because I am going to be the first in the family [to graduate from college]...and this brings pride and honor to everyone."

"And me?" she asked, with her trademark smile spread across her face. "I am really happy. At the UAC-CP, so many doors have opened for me. If I hadn't been able to study at the College, if I hadn't been able to finish my studies," she paused. "I don't know..."

*Did I translate that thesis title correctly, Hugh??