Saturday, April 25, 2009


Sometimes, the most precious and insightful conversations I have with students are the ones that happen when I least expect them.

Like yesterday morning when I sat waiting (unsuccessfully) for a ride into Coroico to meet a foundation representative.  After 20 minutes and no sign of mobi--and an indication that it was about ready to rain--I was beginning to get a little impatient. And then second-year Veterinary Science major, Leo Zambrana came along.

Leo Francisco Zambrana 

Leo, one of seven children (two of his brothers are UAC-CP students), comes from the town of Ixiamas--it's about a 24-hour bus ride from Carmen Pampa.  His parents farm land, citrus mostly, and have some cattle (Leo showed me the giant scar that runs the length of his upper right arm from a time he was attacked by a bull). 

When I asked him what motivated him to come study at the College, so far away from home, he explained that the UAC-CP was really the only option he had for a higher education...and he knew that a college degree was the key to a better life.  Students from his hometown high school, he said, generally don't go anywhere. "A lot of young people don't have much hope, I think," Leo said.  

He admitted he was inspired to study at College because of his older brother Gonzalo, a UAC-CP Education major who is currently spending a year in St. Paul, Minnesota, as a teaching intern at Adams Immersion School.  It helps to have family here in Carmen Pampa, he explained, because trips home are rare and communication with his parents is difficult.  I asked if cell phone reception can be received and he said it was coming "in three days."  For now, people use a communal phone in town.  Electricity, he said, is a relatively recent arrival, too.

We both acknowledged that while we are fortunate to have many luxuries here in Carmen Pampa (like Internet, for one!) there are still many rural areas of Bolivia, from which our students come, that are essentially cut off from the rest of the world.  "But it is changing...poco a poco," he said.  And the fact that he can recognize that is what, I believe, sets Leo apart from his high school classmates. He has the ability to hope and believe in a better life.  

As the chances of me getting a ride to Coroico dwindled and tiny raindrops began to fall, Leo and I continued our talk, sitting side by side on a stone retaining wall, discussing family, culture, education, poverty, employment, and rural development.  And at some point I felt my impatience subside, realizing that perhaps this was one of those moments--the ones I least expect; the ones that make me happiest when they happen.

In the end, I got an invite to visit the Zambrana house sometime during vacation in July, I found a ride to Coroico, and I went about my day feeling all the more confident in the work we do here in Carmen Pampa.


Kirstan Castro said...

Very inspiring Sarah....these conversations are what I miss most......thank you for sharing.

Hugh's mom said...

These small stories make the world larger for all of us, Thank you, Sarah

Carol Clair said...

I, too, luv your stories. Keep them coming.........