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.

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