Tuesday, May 19, 2009


We lost a young member of our UAC-queña family this past weekend. Brigida Alvarez, a 23-year-old native of nearby Coroico, was in her third-year of studies as a nursing student here at the College. I'm still unclear of the exact cause of death (recently, I was told it was a brain hemorrhage), but in any case Brigida was transported to a hospital in La Paz late last week and that is where she passed away.

Brigida dancing at a UAC-CP event in 2007. Her funeral this afternoon drew a large crowd of mourners to the church in Coroico where friends, family, and the UAC-CP community said goodbye.

For the size of our College (a little more than 700 students at current count), we seem to lose a lot of young, vibrant people—people whose lives are cut short for usually inexplicable or unnecessary reasons.

Often the causes of death (for both our students and their family members) reflect the fact that we live in the poor, rural area of a developing country where health care is either lacking or completely unavailable and diseases (like Tuberculosis), essentially eradicated from developed parts of the world, still frequently prey on the poor. For example, in the Nor Yungas, the mountainous region that is home to the UAC-CP, one of the leading causes of death among children under five is diarrhea—attributed to unsafe drinking water and inadequate sanitation.

Part of our mission at the College is to change those frighteningly deadly statistics through education, research, and community extension. But when the very same young people who champion our work fall victim to the things they set out to conquer, it’s an especially sharp stab to the heart.

During the three years that I’ve lived in Carmen Pampa, I have experienced and witnessed the sadness and pain of prematurely saying goodbye to several of our students. And while I'd like to think that Brigida will be the last UAC-CP student we will have to bury for a long time to come, I am doubtful that will be the case. Until adequate health care is available for everyone in the rural area, we will continue to lose some of our most precious students who believe that higher education is the primary force behind positive change and development.

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