Friday, January 29, 2010

new beginnings

Today is the first day of registration for the first semester of the 2010 academic year--which begins on Tuesday! Both familiar friends and new faces are back on campus. Students are standing in lines waiting to fill out registration forms, complete health checks, answer questionnaires, get photos taken for student ID cards, etc.

Don Mario and his daughter Gladys camped out last night so they could register for classes today.

This morning as I greeted students with the recurring question of, "How was your summer vacation?" I ran into Don Mario and his daughter Gladys. I first met them a few weeks ago when they came to visit the campus and found it relatively deserted--most everyone on summer vacation. So, I met with them in my office that day and answered questions they had about the College--classes, schedules, costs, food, dormitories, etc. Gladys--the first to go to graduate from the high school and, now, go to College--her father was obviously concerned about where he was sending his daughter.

Based on my first impressions, I think Gladys seems like a pretty typical first-year UAC-CP student. She's the oldest of several children. Her parents are citrus and coffee farmers. They live in a remote mountain village. (When I asked her where she's from, Gladys said Caranavi. But when I pressed for more information, she said their home is five hours from Caranavi. Which translates to an 8 hour journey to Carmen Pampa.)

For me, it's especially exciting to know our students' parents--to see them involved in their child's life and, more specifically, their education. I'm inspired that people with so little formal education themselves (it was evident to me at one point during our conversation that Don Mario is illiterate), go to such great lengths to make sure that their children become professionals. But I suppose that is the result of knowing what a life without education brings.

Two weeks ago, I asked Don Mario what he wants for his daughter, why he's brought her here to the UAC-CP, his response was the same response I hear from all UAC-CP parents: "I want her life to be better than mine. I want her to go farther." And I think that's the hope we all have for every single young person lined up outside the main office right now.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

feliz cumpleaños, hermana

There is not a day that goes by--not one--when I don't hear mention of UAC-CP founder Sr. Damon Nolan. Whether it's someone asking me about her health or someone recalling a story about her calling them into her office or someone offering up a petition for her at mass, she is remembered every single day here in Carmen Pampa. And today, being her birthday, is certainly no exception.

One of the most amazing parts of my job is that I get to travel around Bolivia and be a witness to all the lives that Damon has touched--the lives she has helped transform. As I've written about on several occasions, when I travel to visit UAC-CP students and graduates, I go to places that aren't in the guide books or noted on maps. Often, I go to places that aren't even on roads. But wherever I go, however remote and faraway it feels, I find traces of Sr. Damon.

Sr. Damon's namesake, Katharine Aliaga. The daughter of former UAC-CP Veterinary students, Katharine graduated from kindergarten this past December.

In the town of Charazani, located 17 hours by bus from Carmen Pampa, I had an old Quechuan woman, ask me through a Spanish interpreter, about Sr. Damon--a woman she'd never met. On a late night bus to the Alto Beni I sat next to a woman who studied at the local high school when Damon served as director. And last July, just as I was feeling alone and out of my element when passing through a mountain village, I sat down to a lunch table with two apparent Bolivian strangers who, when I mentioned Carmen Pampa, became my instant friends. "Cómo está la Hermana?" they both wanted to know. How is the Sister?

In the interviews, conversations, and daily interactions I have with UAC-CP students, graduates, faculty, community members, etc., I have collected precious messages of greetings and gratitude for Sr. Damon--some of which I've shared with her, but honestly there have been far too many to share them all. The following are a random sampling from throughout the past few months (including a couple from today):

My co-worker/Agronomy thesis student Gladys Rivera and her 6-month-old daughter Nathaly share a birthday greeting for Damon. "My daughter's future is brighter because of the work Sr. Damon has done--especially for women," Gladys told me a couple months ago.

"You are a "prototype of women" that supports the development of young people, especially women, in our country--never forget it!! You always kept me on the right path, you kept all of us on the right road...because we are the fruit of the seeds with the most precious human values that you left in us." -Ines Mollisaca, Agronomy

"Happy Birthday, Sr. Damon! I thank you so much for having founded this college. Thanks to you I am a professional. I hope you have a great day and hope that you'll come visit us in Carmen Pampa. Happiness, happiness, happiness is what I wish you today and always." -Lucia Cuno, Education thesis student

"A symbol of strength, hope, and achievement for the young people of the UAC-CP. Thank you for showing us the right road in our lives!" -Carlos Vergara, Agronomy '08

"I thank you a ton--for everything you've done for us. I thank you personally because you've given me an incredible opportunity to be able to study here. If it wasn't for this college...the truth is, I don't know where I'd be. You are an example to me--there are no words to tell you what you did for me." -Agustin Apaza, Nursing '09

Cristia and Daniel Carrizales--children of Fico and Dani (UAC-CP employees and former students of Damon's at the local high school and the College). Fico still wears one of Damon's old sweatshirts.

"Happy Birthday! We are thankful to be here at the UAC-CP, to be professionals, to have the beautiful family that we have, and for the great spirit you've planted in our hearts to know that we can always overcome. You're always in our hearts and prayers. God bless." -Fico Carrizales, Veterinary Science '09, and Dani Chambilla, Veterinary Science thesis student, and their children, Cristia and Daniel.

Thinking of you every single day, but especially today, Damon. Feliz Cumpleaños...desde Carmen Pampa.

Monday, January 11, 2010

new generation

It's been pretty quiet here in Carmen Pampa the past month with nearly everyone on summer vacation. But this week some fresh faces have arrived on campus--young men and women who have come to register for the 2010 academic year entrance exam.

New faces, yet-to-be-known names--each one with a unique story to tell, I'm sure.

This year the College is doing something new. All students who are registering for classes for the first time at the UAC-CP must attend a week-long orientation. It includes an overall introduction to the history and mission and vision of the College, tours of both campuses, explanations from academic department directors about the College's major areas of study, and general information about housing, classes, and the food cooperative program. They will also receive some instructional tutorials and test-taking advice before the week ends with a series of admissions exams. This morning, students watched a video that features the UAC-CP and highlights its academic focus, as well as its focus on production, research, community service extension, and leadership.

In his welcome message, Fr. Freddy talks to students about the unique mission of the College.

When I visited the orientation session at 11:30 today, UAC-CP Director Fr. Freddy was in the middle of welcoming students and talking to them about the mission of the UAC-CP. He told the packed lecture hall that the College is not a traditional institution of higher education; it doesn't exist to prepare people to work in offices, sitting behind computers. The College, he said, is a response to the need for development in the rural sector, which essentially means you have to roll up your sleeves and work along side the people. He made it clear that students are expected to work both in and outside of the classroom ("machete in hand," he said). "We expect that when you leave here, you will go back to your communities and help your people--that you will take away from here the lesson of solidarity, of service to improve the lives of others."

As I've noted before, it's always particularly exciting to have new students here. You can't help wonder who these young people are...and, more to the point, who they will become in the years that they live and study here. Some are brothers and sisters of former students and graduates, others are here for the first time, and a few are local kids--ones I've practically watch grow up over the span of time I've lived in Carmen Pampa.

Like 16-year-old Guadalupe. This morning when I drove the truck to the upper campus I was accompanied by Guadalupe--a recent graduate of the local Carmen Pampa high school. She wants to study Agronomy at the UAC-CP, she told me, and eventually hopes to specialize in Industrial Agriculture. "So, what are you feeling?" I asked her. She confessed that she was feeling afraid. When I prodded, she admitted that she's nervous about all the things any other college freshman would be nervous about: classes, homework, meeting new friends, living in the dorms, etc. I assured her that a year from now she won't be able to imagine ever feeling anxious. "By the end of next year," I promised her, "you won't even be able to imagine having been so afraid." For me, I think, it will be fun to watch her transform.