Monday, December 13, 2010

all-college reunion

Yesterday was the second of two UAC-CP alumni reunions hosted by the College this month--a new tradition that we plan to continue as a way to maintain contact with graduates and involve them in the work of the College. Because their success, I always remind them, is our success.

A group of UAC-CP alumni and their families gather for a photo yesterday afternoon.

As alumni (and their partners and children) took part in the traditional apthapi (an indigenous word that is the equivalent of "potluck"), UAC-CP Vice Director Hugh Smeltekop showed a video about the College. Following that, he showed a recently filmed short clip of UAC-CP founder Sr. Damon Nolan whose greeting included a request for graduates to remain committed to the mission of the College.

UAC-CP Director Fr. Freddy del Villar also spoke to the group. He told them that as the College approaches its 20th anniversary, it needs to recognize and utilize one of its most valuable resources: its graduates. "It's important that we have you all come back so you can tell your story to our current students. You have been where they are," he continued. He said UAC-CP graduates serve as an example of all the possibilities for young people currently studying in Carmen Pampa.

Fr. Freddy talked about several ways UAC-CP alumni can stay involved. He said graduates can give talks or workshops at the College, they can share news of work or scholarship opportunities that they know about, they can offer internships at their current places of employment, and they can make a financial contribution to the College.

At the reunion, alumni learned about the new scholarship fund, named in honor of Sr. Damon Nolan, that provides a way for former UAC-CP students to give back to the College.  While the special fund won't help to subsidize the cost of education, housing, and food, it will directly help students who are unable to pay for minimal costs of tuition and food.

Gladys Rivera, a former UAC-CP Agronomy student who now manages the three food cooperatives at the College, told the group that this type of financial assistance is really essential. She gave her personal testimony to the needs that she encounters on a daily basis as part of her work in Carmen Pampa. "We still have students who don't eat because they don't have the money," she told everyone gathered. By giving back to the UAC-CP, Gladys explained, alumni can help young people surpass the same hurdles and achieve the same dreams that graduates have realized.

Agronomy graduate Sonia Moy and Veterinary Science graduate Darwin Luna work together for CARITAS Coroico, which coordinates social service extension projects.

After the formal presentation, graduates stood up one by one and provided a brief update about their current work and life.  They talked about their work in micro finance banks, hospitals, and NGOs. A couple talked about how they've started their own businesses. Many mentioned the mission of the College and how it relates to the work they do now.

Going around the room, graduates peppered their life updates with memories of the College (David Torrez, one of the first to study at the UAC-CP, remembered that there was initially no electricity!). They also gave thanks to Sr. Damon; for her vision to respond to the needs of Bolivia's rural area and her ability to always believe in young people.  And they talked about their willingness to make a personal and financial investment in the College. "It seems only right," a graduate told me later, "that I help contribute to a place that changed my life in a really profound way."

Thursday, November 25, 2010

thankful for raúl's lesson

Today, on Thanksgiving, those of us in the U.S. are reminded of everything for which we have to be thankful. Many times, we even speak of this day in terms of our "bounty" and "abundance." As a Minnesota/South Dakota-native living and working in rural Bolivia for nearly five years, I often find myself inspired by the young people here at the College who are able to recognize and give grace and gratitude for what they have...particularly in terms of opportunities that come without abundance.

I think of UAC-CP student Raúl Carita – a young man genuinely grateful for the opportunity he's been given to study at the College, despite the challenges and difficulties that accompany it.

Raúl Carita.

A first-year student in the UAC-CP's Nursing Department, I first met Raúl a couple of months ago when our Food Cooperative manager handed me a list of names of students who she heard weren't eating regularly and asked me to check in with them individually.  Raúl's name was at the top of the list.

A day later, sitting on the bench outside the Volunteer House, I encouraged Raúl to tell me why he wasn't participating in the Food Cooperative Program. And so he explained: he is the youngest son of poor citrus farmers who live here in the Bolivia's mountainous Yungas. "My parents are old and they work really hard for little money," Raúl told me. "I can't bare to ask them for extra financial help."

Which was why Raúl was barely eating. He was skipping meals – drinking only juice, eating only crackers – because he couldn't afford the monthly $22 subsidized cost for lunch and dinner in the College's Food Cooperative Program. (Thanks to Cross International, the College offers a free breakfast program for all students and donations to Carmen Pampa Fund help provide a subsidy for lunches and dinners). Any money Raúl was able to save he used to pay for school supplies and his nursing uniform.

"So, why do it?" I asked him in all sincerity. "I mean, how is it that you want to study so badly that you're willing to put your studies before your stomach?" Raúl's answer was simple. He came to study in Carmen Pampa because he knows first-hand the abject poverty that exists in Bolivia. And he knows he has the ability to do something about it.

"I have seen the way people are forced to live in remote, rural communities. They have no access to public health or education and it makes me very sad. But I believe, with a college degree, I can help improve the health and livelihood of my people. I feel called to do this."

Raúl's tender disposition and dedication to helping people charmed me immediately. As did his ability to solve his food problem.  "I talked with the president of the Food Coperative," he told me later. "And we agreed that I will work in the kitchen every day and help the cook." In exchange for his work, Raúl said, he is able to eat for free. A great solution for Raúl! (But unfortunately not something that will work for all students who need financial help to pay for Food Cooperative dues.)

"You know," Raúl said into the microphone my iPod voice recorder, "I really feel called to be a nurse, to help the sick and suffering in my country. Yes, it is a difficult time for me as I work to achieve this goal. But I at the same time I am so grateful for the opportunity to be here [in Carmen Pampa]; to have this chance to improve myself and serve other people."

Today, as I consider my blessings, I think of Raúl. And I find myself truly appreciating that, in the midst of so much need (adequate food, accessible health care, quality education, etc.) and in the absence of abundance and privilege, here in Bolivia there are young people like Raúl who not only recognize grace, but turn it into opportunity and change.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

comfort vs. adventure: travel bolivia-style

Travel in Bolivia can be described in many different ways--none of which, in my opinion, would ever make use of the word "comfortable."

I was reminded of this yesterday when, in a hurry to return to Carmen Pampa from La Paz, I opted for a seat in a 15 Boliviano ($2.15 USD) 15-passenger minibus that was leaving ahorita.*  I hesitantly chose the minibus over the faster and more comfortable 25 Boliviano ($3.50 USD) minivan option that I usually take on my weekly treks to Bolivia's capital city because there weren't any minivans available.

Giant buses like the one pictured here are generally reserved for longer, overnight rides. This was a flat tire on a 17 hour trip to Apolo.

So, unable to run the risk of not getting home, I found myself smashed smack dab in the middle of a minibus. With not enough leg room for me to sit forward, I turned my body to the right--resting part of my back on the man sitting to my left and claiming floor space of the young man to my right. With no room to put it on the floor, I held my bulky messenger bag on my lap carefully trying not to bother the braids of the woman sitting in front of me. It was immediately obvious to me why I generally splurge the extra dollar for the minivan option.

There seems to be an unwritten rule in Bolivia that for every seat in a car, bus, or van, there is the capacity to hold 1 1/2 x's that amount. On trips to Caranavi (three hours away) four or five people are often squeezed into the backseat of a station wagon that should only have seatbelts for three. Once, seated far in the back of a 15 passenger minibus with my parents on a trip from Tiahuanaco to La Paz, my mom shouted aloud (in English) when the head count surpassed 22 people: "What? How many more people are going to get on?" (The answer, we learned, was two).

A minibus from Carmen Pampa carries a spare tire, soda bottles, and a local kid on top.

And when people don't fit inside the vehicle, they go on top. Bolivians like to joke that the fare actually costs more because those "seats" come with air conditioning and a panoramic view. But, as a product of a country that enforces relatively strict seatbelt laws, it never seems quite right to me when I see children, live animals, and propane gas tanks sailing harmoniously atop clunky Toyota minibuses!

That's not to say I'm immune from riding in non-traditional fashion. I have done my fair share of riding standing up in the back of pick-up trucks and the larger, semi-truck-esq camiones.  In fact, apart from the slow speed, possibility of getting rained on, and the safety concern (there is always the threat of going over the cliff!), I hold firm that one of the best ways to travel from the hot lowlands back to Carmen Pampa is hitching rides with truckers carrying giant loads of rice or coffee. The bags containing either of these products naturally contour to the shape of your body as you nestle in for an evening of Southern Cross gazing and shooting star watching.

Yesterday, as I loathed my physical discomfort, I was hit with an odd nostalgia as I recalled all the times I had traveled in uncomfortable conditions.  And that's when I realized that some of my most vivid memories of Bolivia have centered on uncomfortable travel. Whether it was begging the driver to let me off a non-stop 15+ hour bus ride so I could go to the bathroom. Or the time I hitched a ride with a bus of young military guys who dropped me off in the middle of nowhere at 1am as the fork in the road leading to our separate final destinations forced us to part ways. Or the overnight bus I ended up on with all elderly Quechua-only speakers who I accompanied across the cold, dark Altiplano listening to the song "Sunshine Reggae" played repeatedly. (I of course had to purchased the song off of iTunes once I got home.)

This truck, eventually carrying about 16 people,  didn't make it to our final destination...we arrived on foot.

It has been in some of the most physically uncomfortable modes of transportation that I have experienced some of my best and most memorable adventures. They are the hot and dusty adventures of listening to countless hours of cumbia music. They are the reflective adventures of looking out the window and feeling overwhelmed as I watch Bolivia's poverty whiz by. They are the quiet adventures of traveling across the barren Altiplano. They are the conversations with local folks about politics and economics and social conditions. They are the unforeseen, three dollar adventures of sing-alongs and flat tires and near-miss head-on collisions on winding, gravel roads that weave throughout Bolivia.

Almost all of them are the types of adventures my back and legs and patience would prefer not to repeat. Yet I am so grateful to have experienced every moment.

Yesterday, as I sat for 40 minutes inside the tight confines of the minibus that had yet to leave the terminal, I felt my patience waning. And then, as the bag of coca started to be passed around and the murmur of the native Aymara language began to bubble up, I reminded myself that I'm not here because Bolivia is "comfortable." I'm here because I love traveling on a journey full of adventure!


*The Spanish word ahorita, by definition, means: "right now, right away."   However, I have found it to mean: "any time between right now and five hours from now."

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

cutting edge: advanced studies

"It's the latest thing!" UAC-CP Veterinary Science graduate Reyna Carrizales told me last Saturday when she surprised me with a visit to my office. "It's great that the UAC-CP is offering this program," she said, referring to the College's new post-graduate diploma program that focuses on developing businesses to specifically serve Bolivia's rural area.

Reyna Carrizales is a 2009 UAC-CP graduate and is currently registered in a post-graduate diploma program at the College.

The South Yungas native said the specialty program (which requires her to travel to Carmen Pampa every other weekend for two, long days of classes) is very applicable to her current job where she works as a health inspector for a unique slaughter house that serves llama breeders in Bolivia's Altiplano. In her free time, Reyna has been helping an association of poor farmers from the Altiplano organize themselves to sell llama jerky. "Everyone I work with is very excited for me that I'm registered in this diploma program," she said. "Because they know it will only make me a better employee."

Reyna graduated from the College last year after defending her thesis--a research project that focused on the cleanliness of the slaughterhouse in the nearby town of Coroico. She researched different types of disinfectants and application processes to determine the most effective way to kill microorganisms. "The objective of my thesis was to improve the health of people in Coroico," she said.

As a result of her work, Reyna was able to respond to the needs of the people of the people from the rural area to help address a community problem. "That is what a thesis has to do," Reyna explained, "respond to a problem in a simple way and in a way that the average person or farmer from the rural area can understand the solution and affordably implement changes."

Today, Reyna is applying both her thesis project and her post-graduate diploma studies to her professional career.  "We graduate from the UAC-CP confident in our abilities to be able to create change."

Monday, November 1, 2010

entomology eddy

Almost two years ago, I wrote about UAC-CP Agronomy graduate Eddy Alarcon. Eddy, who hails from the rural Bolivian community of Santiago (Mapiri), is the son of poor miners who barely earned enough money to put food on the table while he was growing up.

UAC-CP graduate Eddy Alarcon stars in a short video that features the work of the College's entomology lab.


With nothing but a mid-sized wooden box full of his few belongings, encouragement from his mother, and hope in his heart, Eddy made the 16 hour journey by boat, bus, and foot to study at the College in 2000. And eight years later, after lots of bumps and bruises along the way that were eased with scholarship assistance and moral support (and tough love) from classmates and UAC-CP faculty and staff, Eddy graduated--with one of the highest scores ever awarded for a thesis project to date.


Recently I received a link to a short video that features Eddy and his work in the College's entomology lab (to watch the video, click here). The video was made by former UAC-CP volunteer William Wrobleski who spent a semester in Carmen Pampa in 2008 interviewing faculty, staff, students and community members about the impact of the College on their lives.


William's interest in Eddy's thesis project is what I presume inspired him to make this video, which not only features Eddy but serves as an important reminder of ways the College's service extension projects empower young men and women like Eddy to respond to the needs of poor farmers. The College's special projects, like the entomology lab, provide UAC-CP students with a way to learn by providing education and services to local farmers.


For those who have visited the College, this three-minute video will help bring you back here to Carmen Pampa for a moment. And for those who haven't had the opportunity to experience Carmen Pampa, I expect William's video will introduce you to the sights, sounds, and people--like Eddy--who are part of the UAC-CP's mission and vision. The mission to provide higher education to the poor; to prepare young men and women who are called to serve the poor; to guide young adults in their search for truth through education, research, and community outreach; and to integrate the work of the College throughout Bolivia's rural area.


Mil gracias, William, for helping others meet the people of Carmen Pampa through your lens!

Friday, October 29, 2010

wanted: volunteers in bolivia

The success of the College is dependent upon the special skills and talents that each person shares within the community.  And I am always amazed by the dedicated team of faculty and staff who, committed to the mission and vision of the UAC-CP, make the seemingly impossible...possible! 

"The College is about much more than educating young people in Bolivia; it's about social justice and creating change." --Jessica Bellock, former UAC-CP volunteer English teacher

While the majority of faculty and staff at the College are Bolivian (many make personal sacrifices to live here permanently--far from their family--and others commute no less than 8-hours per week to teach here), there is also a significant number of professional volunteers and missioners from across the globe who make their home here in the little community of Carmen Pampa. They are the people who come here to teach...and learn.  

We are always looking for hard-working, dedicated, and mature volunteers who can help us carry out the mission of the College. For that reason, the College and Carmen Pampa Fund have identified special job opportunities (some paid and some unpaid) for professionals from other countries to have the opportunity to support the College's work and experience the transformative power of development and change through education. 

Visit Carmen Pampa Fund's website to learn about specific ways you can support our work and have a life-changing experience!

Thursday, October 14, 2010

how facebook is helping someone like francy

Why is a Carmen Pampa Fund donor pledging $1,000 for our Scholarship Partners Program if we can surpass 450 friends on our Facebook site by the end of October? 

It provides a worthwhile incentive to help Carmen Pampa Fund educate new people about the successful work of the College to provide a response to the poverty and educational inequalities facing people in one of Latin America's poorest areas--rural Bolivia. And, in the process of expanding our social network, we are raising money for our Scholarship Partners Program--a fund critical to the success of young men and women like Francy Quisbert.

Fourth-year Agronomy student Francy Quisbert. Her favorite classes are Microbiology, Entomology, and Biochemistry.

For 21-year-old Francy, the UAC-CP was the only chance she had to study at the college level.  And even then, without a scholarship the odds were stacked against the young woman who hails from a community in the mountainous Nor Yungas.

Despite the College's already subsidized costs (students pay $42 US a month for tuition, housing, and food), Francy's family--like most poor, rural bolivian subsistence farmers--was unable to support her financially. "I suffered a lot that first semester," Francy recalls. Without money, she was often forced to make the difficult decision of paying for tuition rather than eating. "There were many times when I only had a few cents to buy a container of yogurt to get me through the day."

With the help of UAC-CP classmates and staff members, Francy remained strong her first semester; she worked hard to earn a scholarship that would allow her to continue her studies. In the end, her hard work and perseverance paid off--she was awarded a scholarship beginning in her second semester.

The scholarship, funded by donations to Carmen Pampa Fund's Scholarship Partners Program and awarded by a scholarship committee at the College, provides for students like Francy who demonstrate academic merit, strong leadership skills, and extreme financial need. In return, scholarship students must complete 120 work-study hours per semester.

Now in her final semester of studies in the College's Agronomy Department, Francy is thinking about her thesis project (she plans to do an inventory of local insects) and post-graduation work. She is confident in her commitment to apply her professional knowledge and practical experience to help the people of Bolivia's rural area. "[My dad] has always known that, with my degree, there is a future."

Thanks to everyone who has helped to share the story of the College--its ability to respond to the needs and struggles of the poor through the power of higher education.  Because, in the process of raising awareness for our cause, you have also helped to raise money for the Scholarship Partners Program so that someone like Francy can have a college degree...and a better future.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

anniversary celebration

Today marked day three of the four-day-long Intercarreras celebration here at the College. Intercarreras is the annual celebration that takes place the first weekend in October in honor of the Feast of St. Francis on October 4th--the anniversary of the founding of the College. This year the UAC-CP is celebrating 17 years of providing high education and services to Bolivia's rural area.


An Ecotoursim student freshens up the basketball court on Wednesday by painting U.C.B. (Universidad Católica Boliviana) in the center.

Intercarreras is an olympics-esque event that pits the five different carreras (majors) and Pre-University students against one another in a variety of competitive events. Students play soccer, futsal, volleyball, basketball, and chess by day. And by night they take the to the stage to compete in poetry, karaoke, dancing, and theatrical competitions. Meanwhile, behind the scenes, College administrators take turns cooking--preparing enough food to feed 800 people each day. (Last night, I came into the kitchen of the Volunteer House to find Hugh and volunteer Chris DeLorenzo butchering 40 chickens for tomorrow's barbecue!)

In between games, students sit down to eat a bowl of soup. The lunches were prepared by UAC-CP faculty and staff members.

I can't keep up with all of the constant day-long activity. But students and staff don't seem to mind the long days that begin at about 6am and last until 1am.  "It's the one time of year when we all come together and just celebrate ourselves," an Education student told me. "All the pressures and difficulties we have in our lives...we forget them for a few days and just have fun."

Despite heavy rain today, Veterinary Science students faced off against Education students on the lower campus' mud-covered soccer field.

Intercarreras is also an informal homecoming event. Graduates return with their families to visit the UAC-CP and one another. This morning I chatted with UAC-CP Agronomy graduates Juan Suñiga and Leyla Yujra--the married couple came with their two little boys from Caranavi. "For us," Juan explained, "coming to Carmen Pampa...it's like coming home." Juan claims that he was the second person to register for classes at the College when it first opened its doors 17 years ago. "I am happy to be a part of an institution that is contributing in such a significant way to the development of Bolivia's rural area."

The activities will culminate tomorrow with a day-long parade and showcase of traditional dancing. In the late afternoon, the winning academic department for the multi-day event will be announced. And on Monday the little village of Carmen Pampa will be quiet--as everyone rests and recuperates and prepares for life to return to "normal" on Tuesday.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

graduate update: agustin apaza

Agustin Apaza is a 2009 UAC-CP Nursing graduate whose life story and ear to ear smile I find personally inspiring. He is a young Bolivian man who has overcome literally life-threatening odds to achieve what some may have once considered the impossible.


I wrote about Agustin last December--the obstacles he's faced, the experiences that have shaped his life, and his dream to help other people. "I think each of us has a mission," he told me last year. "And this is my mission--to reduce the pain and suffering of other people." His dream, Agustin confessed, would be to work with Doctor's Without Borders, get international experience, and then eventually someday return to the College to teach and share his experiences with other young Bolivians like him. (Click here to read Agustin's story published last December)

So I was particularly touched last week when I learned from Agustin via a Facebook e-mail that he is realizing his dream--and the mission of the College--to serve the poor. He wrote:

Greetings from Honduras!

Hello, dear Sarah. How are you? Where are are you??

Since I left the College I have been working with Doctors Without Borders. I worked with them throughout Bolivia and then I went with them to Guatemala on an emergency medical mission. Right now I am doing another emergency mission trip with Doctors Without Borders in Honduras where we are working with the dengue epidemic.

It's been really amazing to travel and get to know so many places and distinct cultures. Of course I am also running some risks in the sense that these Central American countries can be very dangerous--we encounter a lot of insecurity, crime, and wars between rival gangs on a daily basis. I miss Bolivia very much and will be returning there soon.

I hope you are doing very well. I also send hugs and kisses to Sr. Damon. I always keep you both in my heart. Thanks to everyone at the College, I am a professional and I am able to help the people most in need.

Much love,
Agustin Apaza


Monday, August 30, 2010

the scholarship fund

While I often write about and share the stories of our students here in Carmen Pampa, I think the most powerful stories come directly from them.

The letter I received yesterday outlines common difficulties faced in order for young men and women to study at the UAC-CP.

So, with my own translation and a few edits to protect identities and provide context, I'm sharing a letter that I received from a UAC-CP student who came to talk with me yesterday about his inability to pay for College this semester. As I do for all students who seek help (mostly because there are so many that I need help remembering), I asked him to write me a letter.
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Carmen Pampa, 29 de Agosto 2010
Dear Sarah,

First, I greet you very respectfully. You are a person to whom I wish much success in the work that you do day after day.

I'm writing you this letter to ask a huge favor. I am hoping you might be able to find me a person who could help me pay for my tuition and food costs so that I can continue my studies at this College. Sarah, I ask you for this favor and help because my family can't help me--they have very few economic resources.

I have four other brothers and I am the last child in the family. My siblings are adults and have their own families and children and it is for that reason that they are unable to help me financially. My mom is older and is physically unable to work very hard. My mother also has her husband and he works, but is injury in a mining accident prevents him from earning very much. My father died when I was in high school and even when he was alive he didn't support me because my parents divorced when I was just 8-years-old.

Ever since I was just a little kid I've always wanted to study. For that reason I supported myself in high school when I had to pay for my school materials. I worked hard to make it. None of my older four siblings were able to study--none of them finished grade school. I am the only one in the family that has struggled and fought in order to continue studying at the college level. I do it because I want to be the pride of my family, of my community.

In order to do this, I work during vacation to be able to pay for my tuition and food cooperative dues. But now things are more complicated for me as my economic situation has worsened. I'm in my fourth semester of studies in Agronomy and I am unable to afford to pay for my studies and food because in the most recent vacation [month of July] I didn't have very much success in my work. I paid the registration fee, but up until now I still haven't paid the first month's tuition.

I want to continue studying at the UAC-CP. Since I was a child I have had to look for strategies that would allow me to continue studying in grade school and high school. And that's how I have arrived to where I am today--studying here at the College.

My father wasn't able to see me graduate from high school because he died. And now I can't think of asking my beloved, older mother for financial help--I just hope that she will be able to see me graduate from college. (I invite you to meet my mother--we can travel together together to visit her in Mapiri. You are welcome to our humble home.)

With nothing more to add, I only ask that God always bless you and I wish you safe travels on your upcoming trip.

Sincerely,
E.
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Reading between the lines of his letter, the second-year Agronomy student is asking for support of about $50 a month (the subsidized cost that students pay for tuition, room, and board--not the actual cost to educate them). While $50 isn't that much (maybe one night of dinner, movie, and drinks?) in the scheme of things, it's impossible for the average person to single-handedly provide that amount to all of our 700-some students.

That is why I encourage people to make donations to CPF's Scholarship Fund. Our Scholarship Partners Program allows the College to award scholarships to students based on academic achievement, behavior, and financial need. Of course, the amount of scholarships available is entirely dependent on the size of CPF's Scholarship Fund. The more money we raise, the more scholarships we can make available for students.

So, to those of you who give to the Scholarship Fund--MUCHISIMAS GRACIAS! Know that you provide amazing miracles with your gift. For those of you looking for a way to make a difference, please consider making a gift, in any amount, to CPF's Scholarship Fund!

Monday, August 9, 2010

veronica goes to brookings

Today is a big day for UAC-CP Agronomy graduate Veronica Calles. Tonight, she boards a plane bound for the United States where she will make her way to Brookings, S.D., to enroll as a full-time graduate student in Plant Sciences and Entomology at South Dakota State University (SDSU).

In the past two years, I have written a couple times about Veronica -- a beautiful, intelligent and responsible young indigenous woman who is from the small farming community of Santa Ana (a 30-minute walk from Coroico).

Veronica and her father, Francisco, a couple hours after Veronica's thesis defense at the College in April.

I blogged about Veronica and her incredible life story in March 2009 (click here to read) and I later wrote about a visit to Veronica's home and my experience staying with her family in June 2009 (click here to read). And today I'm thrilled to write about her again to share the most recent and exciting update on Veronica's life.

A year ago, Veronica was given a scholarship from the U.S. State Department to study English at the Centro Boliviano Americano (CBA) -- the premiere English institute in La Paz. While taking English classes daily and living with her sister in La Paz, Veronica was able to finish writing her thesis. In April, she successfully defended her thesis and graduated from the UAC-CP. And a couple months later was informed of her invitation to study at SDSU -- all of which will be funded through a research assistantship.

Veronica is an amazing example of the transformative power of education. She has demonstrated to herself and to others that, given the opportunity, young men and women from Bolivia's rural area can transform their lives through education. And we expect that Veronica's experience and knowledge gained through her master's degree program will help her transform the lives of her people living in Bolivia's rural sector.

We are all very proud of Veronica and wish her the best of luck as she embarks on this life-changing adventure!

Special thanks to Dr. Diane Rickerl and Dr. Paul Johnson, regular and long-time collaborators with the UAC-CP, and other faculty and staff at SDSU for making this opportunity available to Veronica.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

august 2: día del campesino

Yesterday, August 2nd was a special day widely celebrated throughout Bolivia's countryside.

Women from the community of Choro Alto carry the Bolivian flag as part of an official parade. (To watch a 35 sec. video of the marchers, click here)

"El día del campesino," as its commonly called, is the day campesinos/farmers honor the agrarian reform of 1953 which, sparked by revolutions demanding equality for the oppressed indigenous people, resulted in the dismantling of the traditional haciendas (plantations), end of formalized indentured servitude, redistribution of land among sharecropping peasants, and a restructuring of the education system in Bolivia's rural area.

The day, celebrated only in the countryside, is a big one here in the community of Carmen Pampa. People come from approximately six other communities in the valley to participate in the day-long celebration which started at 9:30 am with a Catholic mass, followed by a parade up and down the road, an official flag raising and civic act ceremony, another parade around the high school patio, a traditional apthapi (Aymaran potluck), and presentation of traditional dances.

Grade school students, high school students, and UAC-CP's college students stand before the flag-decorated stage prepared to listen to local leaders speak.

At the flag raising ceremony and civic act, the patio of the local Carmen Pampa high school was filled with students dressed in official uniforms or traditional costumes lined up according to grade level. On one side of the patio were the little children of the elementary schools of the area, followed by the middle school and high school students of Carmen Pampa and the neighboring community of San Pedro. And at least 1/4 of the patio was occupied by the UAC-CP's college student and faculty population. About five students from kindergarten to college level took turns going on stage and doing national poetry--most of which was recited in Aymara, the local indigenous language.

Middle school students prepared to perform a native dance for the crowd.

Carmen Pampa kindergartners line up for the official procession. Traditionally, the student with the highest grade carries the flag in official parades.

Standing "at ease" the 1,500 person+ crowd listened as an older Carmen Pampa high school graduate and invited guest reminded everyone why we were there. "Today," he said, "we remember the people who fought so hard to give us the right to be free." As he gave a relatively brief history of the progress made since the revolution of 1952, he made special mention of the important role of education in the future success of Bolivia's poor, indigenous population. He spoke about the founding of the Carmen Pampa San Francisco Xavier High School and, later, the UAC-CP. He pleaded with parents to make sure education is a number one priority in the family. "The revolution isn't over," he said, "we are still fighting for our rights. And one way to fight is with the power of education."

Essentially, I believe, 2 de agosto is a day that provides hope for people living in the countryside that change is possible. In their lifetimes the older community members have fought for and experienced change in the form of social and economic liberation (albeit at a painfully slow pace), and it's been a lesson to them that change is not only possible, it's yet to come. An important lesson to pass on to the new generation as they become the new agents of change in the rural area.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

everything is possible

There is a common saying here in Bolivia: "Todo es posible." Everything is possible. It's something the locals say (though, not necessarily with 100% confidence) when they seem to be up against all odds. It's like an aloud expression of faith to themselves and others that all will work out. In the end, if you believe in the possibility, everything will be okay.

Todo es posible.

With four years of Bolivian life experience under my belt, I've been able to trace a personal evolution of my reaction to this way of thinking; this idea that it's better to believe in the possibilities of success rather than consider the odds of loss. In the beginning, amused by the positive reaction to seemingly insurmountable problems, I would smile and then repeat the words, "Todo es posible." Admittedly, I was thinking, "Well, okay... yeah, but realistically probably not gonna happen."

Students, faculty, staff, and UAC-CP Director Fr. Freddy (center) take on the "impossible" task of moving a tractor...by hand.

But experience has taught my doubting-self that, in a place where things seem more improbable than possible, folks are on to something. With dedication and determination and, perhaps most importantly: the faith that everything really is possible, small wonders are often worked. The things people might consider improbable or impossible become reality.

A simple example. A couple weeks ago I caught myself doubting the ability of a group of students, faculty, staff, and UAC-CP Director Fr. Freddy to move an old, no-longer working CASE tractor from the women's dormitory to its new resting spot about 30 feet away. "Seriously?" I asked a colleague as we examined the multi-ton yellow beast, "how are they going to move this thing...by hand?" He shrugged. "Todo es posible."

And so I watched, my digital camera in hand, videotaping first the inability to even budge the tractor, and then the discussion of what to do next, and then the gradual progression of more and more people joining in with new ideas and solutions and pushing/pulling power and cheers. And then, just like that, everything became possible (as indicated in the following super short videos):

Video 1. --The Push.

Video 2. --The Arrival.

I'm often reminded here in rural Bolivia, a place where the odds seem stacked higher against people than in other parts of the world, that if you truly believe that todo es posible, you do have the power to move mountains, as the say. Or, at the very least, move tractors.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

guest blogger: stacy rooney

Stacy Rooney, my dear friend and avid Carmen Pampa Fund volunteer and donor, has been visiting for the past 10 days and flies back to Minnesota today. Borrowing an idea from Hugh, Stacy agreed to do a guest blog spot to share a little about her experience.

...
Visiting Carmen Pampa has been an amazing experience. My only previous visit was six years ago and it is wonderful to see with my own eyes how the College and the community continue to thrive. While I keep current on all the happenings at the UAC-CP through Sarah and her blog, it is obviously a special treat to get to witness it all with my own eyes.

With a UAC-CP graduate and her children preparing for the 3-hour ride to the UAC-CP reunion.

Most of the students are gone right now on their winter break, but there are still some who continue to work during vacation. I've had the pleasure of meeting many alumni (at the reunion Sarah mentioned in her previous blog entry). It was wonderful to meet the students who have gone on to bring their creativity and talents to various communities throughout Bolivia.

I have no Spanish skills, but through their tone and facial expressions, I could instantly pick up when they were speaking about how much they value their opportunity for education at the UAC-CP. All of the graduates wanted to know the recent happenings on campus and what their classmates are accomplishing in other parts of Bolivia.

Those who were here while Sr. Damon served as director of the College always inquire about her. They have all wanted to tell me their own stories of how her vision of creating the UAC-CP has impacted their lives.

Visiting students and graduates in the rural town of Taipiplaya--transportation was in the back of a truck.

In addition to the students at the alumni of the UAC-CP, I hold the faculty in high regard. With minimal resources by U.S. standards (e.g. refilling ink cartridges for printers rather than buying new ones and sporadic access to Internet), they dedicate their lives to the work of this College and challenging the students to hold the highest standards for themselves.

The overwhelming sense of being on campus is being a part of a community. For the successes and challenges, the effort and the reward, the mistakes and the learning from mistakes, this community is journeying together. I feel honored to have been a part of the community during my short visit and I am inspired to continue my role as a volunteer, donor, and friend of Carmen Pampa Fund when I return to Minnesota.

I am immensely proud to be affiliated with the work of the UAC-CP. For any of you who haven't visited, make plans to visit. If you haven't donated in the last few months, I encourage you to do send what you are able to donate today! You will get an amazing return on your investment!

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

all school reunion

Last Saturday, about twenty UAC-CP graduates and former students gathered for an informal reunion in Caranavi--a hot and dusty town located three hours from the College where many students call home and many graduates have settled in their post-collegiate lives. It was the first of what I hope will be many more gatherings of a recently formed (and in-the-process-of-developing) alumni association.

UAC-CP graduates, former students, their kids, and me gather in Caranavi.

Sitting around the patio of a local hotel as their children splashed and dashed in and out of the pool, old UAC-CP friends (and new!) did what all people do at college reunions--they reconnected. They updated each other on their lives and reminisced about the past. Two things were particularly on peoples' minds: UAC-CP founder Sr. Damon Nolan and the College.

"How is Sr. Damon?" everyone wanted to know. It created a way for me to pull my visiting, non-Spanish-speaking friend Stacy Rooney into the conversation, as she had recently seen Sr. Damon at Carmen Pampa Fund's Fiesta de Ayni in May. "Sr. Damon sends her love," was the message we share...along with her e-mail address.

Former UAC-CP Education students catch up on life.

And people asked about the College. Graduates wanted to know about the new advanced-degree program, former students wanted to know more about the business plan alternative to the thesis requirement for graduation, and everyone wanted to know about student life, in general.

I found myself in several conversations with people talking about the mission of the College. "Apart from knowing the mission and understanding the mission, it's important for us to live the mission," UAC-CP Agronomy graduate Leyla Yujra told me. "That's what I learned. And, I think, more than anything, that's what sets the College apart from other institutions."

It was also an optimal time for me to hand out graduate surveys that we are circulating to gather more information about UAC-CP post-graduate work. The surveys, which collect basic information like phone numbers and e-mail addresses, also inquire about graduates' work. "We need to evaluate how UAC-CP graduates are responding to the mission," I explained.

UAC-CP Agronomy graduate Juan Suñiga with his two sons (not pictured: his wife is UAC-CP Agronomy graduate Leyla Yujra).

"My life would have turned out very differently [had I not studied at the UAC-CP]," wrote one graduate in the comments section of the survey. "At the College I learned so many precious and valued things--life lessons that were imbedded in the mission and vision of the UAC-CP. It's with pride and joy that I give thanks for everything that I received at the College." She also said it's thanks to her education that she is independent and able to look for and find work to support the rural area.

I hope the reunion is the first of many to come as they will serve as informal ways of keeping our graduates connected--across the generations--and it will keep those of us who work at the UAC-CP close to the lives of the people we have shared a part in watching grow. Their work, I remind them, reflects the success of our work here in Carmen Pampa.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

the feria 16 de julio

Without fail, every time I visit the "16 de julio" I find myself in awe. The feria is an immense and open-air market held every Thursday and Sunday in the city of El Alto--a large and fast-growing settlement of primarily indigenous people who have come from the countryside in search of a better life.

A woman dressed in traditional clothing, looks upon a pile of what I would call "junk." One man's junk is another man's treasure comes to mind often at the infamous El Alto market.

Assuming you can find it in the misaligned and tightly packed streets, you can buy just about everything you could ever need or want at the 16 de julio. There are cars, construction equipment, clothing, books, furniture, electronics, live animals, restaurants, kitchen supplies, sporting goods, barber shops, etc. And more than things to buy, there are also things to see: soccer games, live music, and, once, I think I even saw a dead person.

Treasures are definitely out there, but it sometimes takes patience to find it. On Sunday, I immediately found the bedspread I wanted, but it took more than an hour of asking where I could find an energy stabilizer before I decided that I didn't want to spend that much money. Things are somewhat organized according to sections. So, when I needed to purchase an "H" emblem for a Honda I started in the car section. And when I needed a plunger, I went to the plumbing area. But even then, you can often find single vendors hawking off whatever they can of their randomly assembled inventory. On Sunday one woman was selling oranges, old newspapers, and sad looking baby dolls.

The market is above the city of La Paz. In this photo, you can see Mt. Illimani across the distance.

Quality of items vary, as well--items are new and used...and stolen and illegal. Hanging out alongside vendors with more permanent stands, young men hold cell phones that I know used to belong to people who are now missing them. Some vehicles, brought in illegally to the country from Chile, come with false paperwork. And famous brand clothing are commonly marked with fake tags. Not keen on the idea of buying another pair of cheap, junky headphones, I sucked up my usual "don't buy stolen goods" rule and bought a pair of "original" iPod headphones to the replace the ones I lost (were stolen?) the previous week.

It's a rat maze, for sure. And, at more than 14,000 feet in altitude--the lack of oxygen and intense rays of the sun don't make for ideal browsing conditions after a couple of hours. But it's worth the visit to see the creativity that goes into making a buck...or, in this case, a Boliviano.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

pomp & circumstance

Technically it's just a piece of paper. But here in Bolivia a college diploma is a pretty big deal.

It is, of course, a big deal to have a college degree in the U.S., too, but here it means something even more--particularly for young people who have grown up in the rural area. One can kind of understand the miracle of the achievement when you consider that Bolivia is a country where, according to a 2005 World Bank Report,* it was reported that in the year 2000 barely 15% of the population ages 15 and older had attained their high school degree.

Dona Panchita, a beloved cook on Campus Leahy and motherly figure to many of our students (and volunteers!), is pictured with her two daughters: Agronomy graduates Rosemary and Maria Ester Gutierrez and their two daughters.

There is also the use of the word "professional," which is used to indicate a person who has found their professional calling and received their college diploma. Whenever I ask parents of UAC-CP students what they want for their children, they tell me that they want them to be "professionals." And on the survey we are using with UAC-CP graduates, when asked how the UAC-CP made a difference in their lives, the most common response is: "It allowed me to be a professional."

"To be a professional," explained my co-worker and former UAC-CP student Gladys Rivera, "it means a lot to the people who struggled for the right to be educated. Until the agrarian reform of 1952, many of the poor and indigenous people of this country were banned from going to school. But today, that's different." Today, Gladys said, young people are better able to live lives of dignity and justice because of access to education.

Former classmates turned husband and wife, UAC-CP Veterinary Science graduates Dany Chambilla and Fico Carrizales show off their diplomas following graduation ceremonies. They are pictured with their children Daniel and Kristia.

On Wednesday as night I sat in a packed auditorium at the Catholic University of La Paz for commencement ceremonies** staring out on a sea of navy blue and gold colored caps and gowns, I couldn't help but imagine what the 10 UAC-CP students sitting out there in the mix were feeling and thinking as they waited for their names to be called so they could walk across the stage, accept their college degree, turn the tassel on their cap, and walk back to their seat...a professional.




*World Bank Report: Expanding Opportunities and Building Competencies for Young People: A New Agenda for Secondary Education

**UAC-CP students technically graduate once tey successfully defend their thesis. However, because the thesis defenses happen on an individual, rolling basis there is generally no commencement ceremony here at the College. Our graduates do have the option to participate in the official pomp and circumstance at Catholic University where, donning cap and gown, their names are called to walk across the state and accept their diploma.

Friday, May 14, 2010

the aguayo

"Like monochrome cords of yarn--when combined and woven into cloth they become something far more useful and beautiful than the yarn itself." --Dr. Hugh Smeltekop, UAC-CP Vice Director


The theme of Carmen Pampa Fund's 2009 Annual Report focused on the aguayo--the colorful and durable multipurpose fabric that dots the Bolivian landscape and is used for both practical and decorative purposes in daily life. But, as the introductory letter explains:

The aguayo is more than just a practical multipurpose piece of cloth. The vibrant colors and intridcate designs that are woven with care from hand-spun wool, have traditionally provided a way for indigenous people to tell stories, record histories, convey emotions, and express dreams. Aguayos have historically served as a form of expression for people who otherwise had no voice.


The aguayo is woven together with different colors and dimensions of yarn to create a bigger masterpiece. It reminds us that the Unidad Académica Campesina-Carmen Pampa (UAC-CP) is more than just a College. The UAC-CP’s unique curriculum, which weaves academics, production, research, service, and leadership formation, helps students find their color, their stitch, and their design. It prepares young men and women to integrate their individual designs so that they can serve as a vibrant, unique and practical response to the needs of Bolivia’s rural poor.

If you missed it, check out Carmen Pampa Fund's 2009 Annual Report online. The stories and pictures of graduates, students, faculty, volunteers, and institutional partners remind us that we're all part of this amazing tapestry!

Thursday, May 6, 2010

elizabeth hayes

Tonight, while our Minnesota-based supporters and donors gathered at St. Catherine University for Carmen Pampa Fund's annual event, I sat with students and faculty in the church here in Carmen Pampa and watched as Sr. Jean Morrissey, Sr. Helena Harney, and Sr. Helen Bubu renewed their religious vows in honor of the feast day of Elizabeth Hayes--founder of the Missionary Franciscan Sisters of the Immaculate Conception (MFIC).

For about 30 years, the MFICs have had a strong presence here in Carmen Pampa and neighboring Coroico. Even before Sr. Damon and her congregation helped start the College, the Sisters served as champions of education and justice for the poor. Today, Sr. Jean serves the College as director of the Theology Department. She's supported by Sr. Helena (of Ireland) and Sr. Helen (of Papua New Guinea) who also manage a boarding school near Coroico.

Sr. Jean Morrissey with two UAC-CP graduates and a UAC-CP Nursing student.

During a special dinner we shared with the Sisters before mass, Hugh asked Jean, Helena, and Helen what they admired most about Elizabeth Hayes, founder of their order. And I thought it was interesting that all three of them talked about her courage, her tenacity. They talked about her dedication to serve and walk alongside the poor--in whatever far away place that might be.

From the bits and pieces I know of Elizabeth Hayes' life, it seems to me that she was a bit of a rebel--in the sense that she was willing to take risks to do things and go places based on what she believed to be right by her faith. And when I consider that, its no surprise that the FMIC Sisters I know chose to follow Elizabeth's path.

Sr. Carmen Minga, a native of Peru, is a graduate of the UAC-CP's Nursing Program.

I am a witness to the ways in which the Sisters do "faith justice." They live their faith as companions and witnesses to the lives and spirit of the poor. Their work here in Bolivia is expressed clearly in Article 97 of their Constitution: "As Franciscans we shall be prepared to work personally and corporately to change unjust systems that maintain peoples and societies in a condition of oppression. By living and teaching the social principles of the Church we witness in our lives to both the oppressed and the oppressors. It is through the expression of love in our pursuit of justice that we will promote peace and reconciliation."

Tonight, after we sang the closing hymn, I was both proud and very touched to watched students line up to greet the Sisters with handshakes and hugs...and words of congratulations and thanks. I followed their lead and stood in line behind a UAC-CP Veterinary Science student. "Thanks, Sister," I overheard him tell Sr. Helena sincerely mid-hug. "Thanks for being here; thanks for helping us."

There are so many things our Sisters do for all of us, so it was nice to have a moment to celebrate them and their work. And to remember the brave Elizabeth Hayes who started it all.

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And for those who missed it, Nicolas Kristof of the NYTimes had a nice column in last Sunday's paper about the work of Catholic priests and nuns (click here to read it). The only thing it lacked was mention of our Sisters here!

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

my collection

I have a collection. It's a collection that grows at a pretty steady pace throughout the semester. And as it grows, it clutters the top right hand drawer of my desk. It's a collection of letters from students asking for work in exchange for a scholarship to help them pay for food.

My collection is not unique. A few weeks ago, UAC-CP Director Fr. Freddy pulled open his top desk drawer to show me his own collection of letters. And I know that my colleagues: UAC-CP staff, faculty, and volunteers also have similar stashes.

An example of a typical letter is this one I most recently received on April 11th:*

Ms. Sarah,

First, I'd like to greet you and wish you much success in all the work that you do for the benefit of others.

The reason for this letter is to request a scholarship so that I can participate in the food cooperative. The financial resources of my parents are not sufficient to help me pay all of my monthly tuition and, for that reason, I'm unable to afford the food cooperative.

My family consists of six brothers and sisters--four of whom are in high school. For my dad, it's really hard to support them all. He is a subsistence farmer and does what he can to support me, but his income doesn't allow for me to afford my studies and food.

It's for this reason that I very humbly ask you for a scholarship for food so that I can continue with my studies. Within me exists a great interest and desire to study and improve myself so that someday I will be able to help my family and others to improve their lives.

I am very thankful for all the blessings I receive, so I have a lot of faith that I will receive a favorable response. It would be a wonderful support to my parents who want to see me succeed, but are unable to help with the entire costs. I hope that your collaborative spirit will help me. May God guide and bless you in everything.

-Sonia

....
Many of us who work here at the College look for jobs that students can do, and sometimes we just help students with special situations outright--scholarships with no strings attached. In the case of some academic departments, I've known professors to pool their money together to support students they know need financial help. Some UAC-CP employees, who receive modest salaries themselves, sponsor students. I have a couple students that I help--and they, in exchange, help me with office tasks and chores.

Sometimes, the demand for help here can feel a bit overwhelming--especially when I open my top drawer to face a pile of letters detailing need. With recent cuts in scholarship assistance from long-time partners, I know that just as the needs of our students will grow, so will my collection.

Thankfully we have help from people who make it all somehow come together. Like people who donate to Carmen Pampa Fund's Scholarship Partners Program, or the UAC-CP graduates who have formed a joint account to donate to a scholarship fund, and my co-workers here at the College who make a great personal and financial sacrifice to help students.

Ideally, I'd like to rid myself of my collection. To know that my empty desk drawer means that we are successfully providing higher education to our students...on a full stomach.


*My translation from Spanish to English.

Monday, April 19, 2010

volunteers

In 2009 the College and Carmen Pampa Fund designed a new initiative: English and Ecotourism--Foundations for the Future. The objective of the initiative was to strengthen the College's English Program--with particular focus on the Ecotourism major.

Jessica Bellock works with a UAC-CP student in the Ecotourism Program.

Thanks to funding from Sieben Foundation, Carmen Pampa Fund was able to form a special task force of ESL experts and hire consultant Dr. Susan Bosher, Associate Professor of English and Director of ESL at St. Catherine University, St. Paul. Together, they have worked with faculty and staff at the UAC-CP to develop a comprehensive overhaul of the College's English Program. The inauguration of the new English curriculum was implemented this past February at the beginning of the 2010 academic year. And we're happy to report that after just two months, exciting progress is already being made!

Our work isn't finished though. In order to sustain the initiative and ensure its success, Carmen Pampa Fund is working with its academic partner St. Catherine University to recruit trained professionals who are interested in sharing their time and talents to help strengthen the College's English Program here in Carmen Pampa. Students at St. Catherine University also have the opportunity to do semester-long internships for credit.

Kyle Piispanan, David Flannery, and Ben Yoder-Henley--volunteers for the 2010 academic year. (Not pictured is Sarah Purcell)

But professional opportunities at the College are not just for St. Catherine University students. We welcome committed and hard-working volunteers with experience in teaching English as a Second Language. In the past we have welcomed students from University of Wisconsin-River Falls, Boston College, College of St. Benedict, South Dakota State University, University of Minnesota, etc. We also welcome retired professionals and professionals who are on sabbatical.

For more information about how you can be a part of this exciting new initiative at the UAC-CP, please visit Carmen Pampa Fund's website to review job descriptions.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

apthapi

Apthapi is a word in the local indigenous Aymaran language. Essentially, apthapi means "pot luck;" it's a communal event when people bring a type of food to share.

In the local communities, campesinos often spread aguayos (their colorful, woven blankets) out on the ground and then place their food offerings on top of it. Little by little, people make their way around filling their plates (or shirt tails) with the variety of items available for consumption.

UAC-CP administers gather together for an apthapi on Campus Leahy.

Apthapis are special events--ways for community members to come together, share, and often celebrate. Several months ago a UAC-CP graduate proudly showed me pictures from the time a very poor community he had been working with organized an apthapi for him. He said most of the apthapi consisted of all sorts of varieties of potatoes. "Though they had so little, I know they brought everything they had to share and they did it partly to honor and thank me. It was beautiful," he said.

In a similar spirit, yesterday the College's nearly 40-member administrative staff hosted an apthapi in honor of visitors from Carmen Pampa Fund--Ann Leahy and Tara Nolan, who were participating in the bi-annual Joint Planning and Oversight Council.

Gathered around a series of long tables topped with all sorts of food prepared by UAC-CP co-workers (potatoes, baked chicken, corn, salad, beef strips, rice, and Hugh's racacha cake), the College Director Fr. Freddy reiterated that, on behalf of the College, he was happy to have our visitors here with us and hoped they felt a part of the College's work.

Cecilia Carrizales reflects on the ability of the College to fulfill its mission with the help of people who provide financial support--like those who give to Carmen Pampa Fund.

UAC-CP graduate and long-time employee Cecilia Carrizales talked a little about how and why we all found ourselves standing there. After reflecting a little bit on the mission of the UAC-CP--to provide education and human formation to young people from Bolivia's poor, rural area--she pointed out that without the work and presence of everyone standing around that table, this "obra de Dios"--"work of God," as students and locals often refer to the College--would not be possible.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

maribel

I wasn't here when El Alto* native Maribel Villca arrived at the UAC-CP in 1998. So I can't tell how much of her solid character she formed during her time at College. But I do know that she's not the typical image one might have of an indigenous woman living in a developing country--she is a strong, self-assured, and very determined woman.

She's a wife, a mother, a daughter, and a sister. She's also a business owner. Maribel is a recent graduate of the UAC-CP's Veterinary Science Program and the only certified veterinarian in the Municipality of Irupana, South Yungas.


Maribel stands in the doorway of her Veterinary Clinic holding her bound thesis project.

It's been a long journey--both literally and figuratively--for her to arrive at the place she is now. Though she had finished her studies at the College several years ago, her thesis still stood in the way of her college degree. And when she and her husband, Porfirio Kapa (UAC-CP '09) moved their family back to his hometown in Irupana so that he could manage a rural farm worker cooperative, she was forced to make frequent 24-hour round-trip visits to Carmen Pampa to meet with her thesis advisors. Many times last semester she would stop by my office to say hello--always exhausted, but determined to finish.

Maribel with her daughter Daniela before the final defense in December. "It's important to me that my daughter be here today," Maribel told me. "I want her to know that her mother is a professional."

"What pulled you through?" I asked her during one of her visits to my office last Fall. "What has kept you motivated?" She pointed to many key people who stood by her side--particularly her husband and her brother Eddy.**

She also named her scholarship. "My scholarship is what allowed me to study at the UAC-CP; without my scholarship I would not have been able to finish my studies and graduate. ...I'm so grateful for my scholarship and to the people who make the long-term commitment to provide us with scholarships, because I understand it is a personal sacrifice for people to support us for many years," she said. "In the end," she continued," I hope scholarship donors know that their investment, their commitment to standing with us as we trip and fall along the way, is worth the investment. I believe my life is proof of that."

Maribel, her husband Porfirio (UAC-CP '09) and their children: Daniela, Jonathon, and Nataniel stand in the plaza of Irupana--a town in the South Yungas.

Though it's her husband's hometown, Maribel has made a name for herself as a female professional--the only one in Irupana. "As women, we are tired of being stepped on by men," she told me. "We want to be just as good or better than them. That's what education gives us. And now," she continued, "we are seeing the results. Here, I am respected for my profession."

Her respect and appreciation has grown. A few weeks ago I had lunch with a former UAC-CP student who mentioned that he had heard of Maribel's success. "They were talking about her and her business on the radio," he told me. "It wasn't advertising, they were just saying how great it is to have someone in the pueblo who is a trained professional who is willing to go out to the communities and attend to animals." It was exciting, he said, for him to hear about the success of one of his classmates.

Though the successful defense of her thesis last December officially made her a college graduate, Maribel has one last thing she wants to do before moving on. In May, she will don a cap and gown and walk up on the stage of the Catholic University of La Paz to receive her diploma in front of a packed auditorium. Per her request, I assured here I'll be there to see it happen. "I wasn't so sure I wanted to do it," she confessed when I visited her recently in Irupana. "But Eddy [her brother] said I deserve this; I deserve to have this moment."


*El Alto is the large city on the altiplano that borders Bolivia's capital city of La Paz. It is an overwhelmingly poor area that is home to more than a million people--most of whom have come from the countryside to the city in search of a better life.

**Maribel's younger brother Eddy Villca is also a UAC-CP Veterinary Science graduate.


You can help support women like Maribel with a gift to Carmen Pampa Fund. Click here to transform a life through education!

Friday, March 19, 2010

nursing department anniversary

Today the College's Nursing Department celebrated its anniversary with a special mass followed by the capping, pinning, and candle lighting ceremony.

Nearly all of the 153 Nursing students registered in the program this semester were dressed in their crisp, white nursing uniforms. With friends, family, and community members seated toward the back, UAC-CP Nursing students sat attentively in the front of the church as they listened to UAC-CP leadership speak about the importance of their vocation and the need for their services in Bolivia's rural area. "You have been called to be instruments of peace and love," UAC-CP Director Fr. Freddy told them.

The following are pictures from today's ceremony...

UAC-CP Nursing student Flora Mamani.


William Apaza receives his candle and lantern in honor of nursing pioneer Florence Nightingale.


Twenty-three Nursing students were presented with their caps and candles. They're pictured here with UAC-CP Director Fr. Freddy del Villar, UAC-CP President Msgr. Juan Vargas, Director of the Nursing Department Lidia Cuevas, and recently retired UAC-CP staff member (and beloved father figure) Donato Monrroy who was presented with a plaque in honor of his long-time dedication to the Nursing Department.

UAC-CP Vice Director, Dr. Hugh Smeltekop, and UAC-CP Nursing students.