Saturday, April 4, 2009

graciela

I just finished working on a special newsletter to provide donors of Carmen Pampa Fund's Scholarship Partners Program with an update about the 28 students they are, as a group, sponsoring this semester at the College.

After interviewing students for this project, I'm ever-the-more convinced that it's the scholarships that allow our students to stay, study, and succeed.  Graciela Huanca Zegarra is one of many examples.

Graciela Huanca's dream is to be a professional, support her family, and serve the poor.

A couple weeks ago I had coffee with the third-year Agronomy student. She's 19-years-old and comes from El Alto--the urban slum high above Bolivia's capital city that draws mostly poor campesiños in search of work and a better life.

A confident, yet soft-spoken young woman, Graciela responded to my first open-ended question by saying, simply: "My family has been destroyed."  Her father, she explained, has been accused of a crime that she (and, at one point, a judge) believes he did not commit.  But because of a Bolivian "justice" system that is often based more on money and power and connections, her father remains, indefinitely, in Bolivia's infamous San Pedro prison.

For the past two years, Graciela's family has struggled to keep things together (emotionally and financially) without her father.  Unable to support her family with her meager earnings as a housekeeper, Graciela's mom had to ask her four younger children (ages 10, 13, 15, and 17) to quit school last year and go to work.  Graciela also worked every weekend in the neighborhing community of Trinidad Pampa where she harvested coca for about $3/day.  The whole family, Graciela said, has made extreme sacrifices so that she wouldn't have to quit school.

But even working overtime during the semester and staying to work at the College during vacation, Graciela was drowning in worries.  It was a scholarship from Carmen Pampa Fund that came to the rescue.

Graciela's scholarship pays for her to be in one of the College's three food cooperatives where students must take turns buying food, cooking, and cleaning.

Based on her economic need, grades, and good character, Graciela was one of 28 students awarded a scholarship from CPF's Scholarship Partners Program this year.

I asked Graciela what she would've done had she not received a scholarship.  "I would've had to leave the UAC-CP," she said.  "I mean, I have friends who loaned me books--they fought for me, too, so that I could stay here.  But I didn't have money for food or studies...much less for extras like transportation, class materials, notebooks, etc."

Though her scholarship, which requires her to work 120 hours per semester on campus, will cover her tuition and room and board, Graciela said she will continue to work off-campus for extra money, too.  "The truth is, the extra money helps me a lot--it's the money I use for all my other costs.  But the scholarship pays for my tuition and my food--I'm very thankful for this assistance."

Though she obviously still worries about her family and money, her scholarship eases a great financial burden that allows her to focus her energy on being a full-time student.  "I always wanted to study Agriculture," she told me.  "And I'm also called to help poor people.  There are a lot of people in this country, even in the city, who don't have the economic resources to buy things. For that reason, more than anything, I want to be able to help people in a large way."

"My life has been hard," she admitted, "and sometimes I wonder why I have been handed such difficulties.  But in the end, I've learned from it...and I'm a good person.  I'm proud of myself....because despite all of my problems, I've made it.  I'm here. I'm happy."

1 comment:

Stacy said...

Wow. This really puts my life into perspective. I love to see the photo of her amazing smile in the midst of reading of all the challenges she is facing.