Monday, July 27, 2009

second semester

Tomorrow, as I travel back to my beloved Minnesota for a visit with family and friends and a barrage of Carmen Pampa Fund activities, UAC-CP students will be settling in for second semester classes.

UAC-CP Vice Director Hugh Smeltekop greets students last Friday morning who returned from winter break to register for second semester classes.

Students returned to Carmen Pampa last Friday and Saturday to register for the new semester--a tedious process in which students must wait in line to present required documents (national identification card, high school diploma, health certificate, etc.)

Usually, students are able to return for the start of the semester with some money in their pockets--money that they've been able to earn during the three-week break. With these earnings, they will pay their first of five tuition payments for the semester. But, for some, it's often a scramble to come up with the resources to register. Though many have worked during the break (earning approximately $5-6 a day), it's hard to cover all expenses (travel costs, school supplies, computer lab and student activity fees, food cooperative membership, etc.)--despite the College's already subsidized tuition costs.

UAC-CP thesis students Ariel and Paula and UAC-CP graduate Vilma Yujra help with the College's registration process.

Last Friday I found a student sitting alone on the steps facing the Campus Leahy courtyard looking a little glum. When I checked in with him, he confessed that he wasn't sure he would register for classes this semester, even though he had made the 24-hour journey from his family´s home with the intention of doing so. "I have enough money to pay for registration," he said. "But once I pay that, I know I won't have the money to pay for the remainder of the semester...or for the food cooperative."

I happen to know this student very well. From a visit to his home, I know his family has virtually no income--his parents, both illiterate and uneducated--are subsistence farmers in a remote, rural area. It´s a miracle he graduated from high school, let alone arrived at the UAC-CP.

Of course, he's the perfect candidate for a scholarship, but with too many students in need and too few scholarships to provide this semester, he didn't make the final cut when it came to grades. And yet, when it comes to character--I know him to be responsible, honest, hardworking, and kind. He's the type of student we can't give up. To tell him he can't study because he is poor isn't an acceptable answer.

"Register," I told him. And when he asked about how he'll afford the yet-to-come costs, I shook my head and told him honestly,"I don't know. But we'll find a way...and whatever it is you'll have to work hard to earn it.'s really important that you stay and study this semester." Still looking a bit doubtful, I assured him everything will be fine. Even though I, myself, am unsure of how the ends will come together, I have faith in the common Bolivian mantra: "todo es posible." Everything is possible.

Tomorrow morning, just about the time my U.S.-bound plane bids farewell to the runway of the La Paz airport, UAC-CP students will be settling in for their first class of the second semester. I hope they'll all be concentrating more on their coursework than worried about how to pay for food or tuition. And, more importantly, I hope nobody slipped through the cracks because they were afraid they couldn't afford to return for the second semester.

No comments: