Thursday, February 25, 2010

porfirio kapa

I never cease to be inspired and amazed by people I've met here at the College. People like Porifirio Kapa who, despite all odds, embody the spirit and mission of the UAC-CP.

Porfirio is the son of an alcoholic father and the brother to six siblings who grew up in a remote village in the South Yungas. When he was in the third grade, he was forced to drop out of school after his mother died so that he could support his younger siblings while their father went away to work in the mines. Though his life seemed to be destined to be the same as his father's, he never allowed himself to give up on his dream to go back to school.

UAC-CP Agronomy graduate Porfirio Kapa. "People need to understand that the mission of the UAC-CP is to serve. It is to return to our communities to replicate all that you've learned so that we can help lift Bolivia up," he said.

"I witnessed my father's life and the life of my neighbors...working so hard just to be able to eat, but never achieving anything that would offer them a future. And that made me think of my own future--of what kind of life I wanted to provide for my children and what kind of example I knew I could be for my Bolivian brothers and sisters."

After finishing his obligatory year of military service as a teenager, Porfirio finally made a very serious commitment to go back to school. Though there was no road, he walked 12-hours, round-trip every weekend to attend alternative education classes in the nearest town of Irupana (he often spent Saturday night sleeping in the street because he couldn't afford a place to stay). After five years, with the equivalent of a high school diploma, he enrolled in classes at the UAC-CP. He finished his coursework in the College's Agronomy department in 2005--an accomplishment he credits in large part to scholarship assistance from USAID.

Since leaving the College, the 33-year-old has worked as the assistant manager of CORACA Irupana--an organization that provides technical assistance for an association of more than 800 organic farmers in the Municipality of Irupana, South Yungas. "The mission of CORACA is to help ensure profitable, all-organic farming for local producers."

Following a meeting with local farmers in Porfirio's home village (where he and I talked to locals about the UAC-CP and the importance of education), Porfirio gives a training session on organic pest control methods.

Porfirio manages several areas of agricultural production, trains producers, develops and manages projects, and makes contact with outside markets. In collaboration with government agencies and private organizations, Porfirio has written training manuals about conservation and organic practices. Bolivia's Vice Ministry of Social Control has paid him to give presentations to more than 4,000 producers. In addition, Porfirio works as a farmer himself--using his land to model successful agricultural practices.

"I wasn't put on this earth to be a rich man. As an agronomist, my vocation is to help producers and that's why I do what I do. That's my help others. And maybe I won't be able to make a giant change, but by speaking to people, interacting with people, showing people--I can help change ideas. And that's why I'm proud of my work with CORACA."

The house Porfirio grew up in is still occupied by his father and sits on land that the family still farms.

Located seven hours by bus from Bolivia's capital city of La Paz, there are very few trained professionals dedicated to living and working full-time in Irupana. Porfirio is the only college graduate from his home village. While he's been offered higher paying jobs in La Paz, Porfirio is committed to serving the rural poor. "Some people think if you're a college graduate that you shouldn't be in the countryside...but for me, it's different. The first thing I tell people is that I'm not interested in money. What I want is to improve the way of life for my people."

Porfirio, his wife Maribel (UAC-CP '09), and their youngest son Jonathon pictured outside CORACA's processing plant in Irupana.

Porfirio recognizes that his success has been dependent upon the help of others. He is most grateful to have his wife Maribel at his side (Maribel is a recent graduate of the UAC-CP's Veterinary Science program and provides veterinary consultations to farmers in Irupana.) Together, they have three children: Nathaniel, Daniella, and Jonathon. His kids, Porfirio said, give him energy. "I studied for them, for their future...and now my kids are proud of me--that I'm a college graduate." The value he and Maribel place on education is obvious--their two older children both carry the Bolivian banner in local parades (an honor which signifies that they are the best students in their grade).

"I always believed I was going to be something in my life. I didn't want to be the same, I wanted something better. And in that sense, with the help of education, I feel like I have achieved that dream."

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