Friday, March 5, 2010

alcira pacajes

When I recently browsed the World Bank's statistics page for Bolivia, I found that high school attendance rates for 17-year-old girls in the rural area hover around 20 percent. When I shared this sad figure with UAC-CP Nursing student Alcira Pacajes and contrasted it with the fact that 52 percent of UAC-CP graduates are women, she smiled. "You mean women are the majority?" she confirmed.

As part of her public health clinical experience, Alcira takes a patient's blood pressure at the hospital in Palos Blancos (a rural town in Bolivia's lowlands).

Though she unfortunately doesn't represent the average 24-year-old woman from Bolivia's rural area, Alcira is a typical UAC-CP student. Like her female classmates, Alcira is a young woman who--despite challenges that most people couldn't imagine--has come to Carmen Pampa with the hopes of realizing her dream to become a professional.

"I am from the colonia [small village] of Cristo Rey--in the mountains, outside of the town of Caranavi," she told me. She's the daughter of citrus farmers who earn just enough money to meet their most basic needs. "My parents send money when they have it," she said, "but usually they can't afford to help me, even though they want to." Financially, Alcira struggles.*

Alcira weighs a baby as part of her work with the College's public health program, which serves 13 communities in the Municipality of Coroico.

Her parents, Alcira explained, are indigenous Aymarans who only had the opportunity to study until the second grade. "Even though they aren't educated, they value education," she said. "They always wanted their children to be professionals. They always wanted my siblings and me to be better than have better lives and more opportunities." Which is why her father, upon hearing about the UAC-CP, encouraged Alcira to apply.

"At the beginning I didn't know what major I wanted to study," she said. As a student in the College's Pre-University Program she participated in different vocational training sessions that introduced her to each major area of study. She was attracted to the UAC-CP's Nursing Department. "I liked the idea of helping people in a very direct way. As nurses, we are an important part of people's lives; we help them with their physical part...and the human part."

In her fifth and final year of studies at the College, Alcira will spend three months of the current semester doing clinical work at several hospitals in La Paz. Though she still has nearly two years of school left before graduating (after this year, she still has a year of residency), she's already thinking about post-graduate studies. "I want to continue studying; I want to gain more knowledge and skills," she said. She would like to eventually work for an non-profit organization.

"Are you proud of yourself?" I asked. "Yes," Alcira admitted modestly, "but I will be even more proud when I have my diploma in hand...when I can show that to my parents and tell them, "Thanks to you, this is what I have earned for our family!"

*She was studying with the help of a scholarship from Carmen Pampa Fund's Scholarship Partners Program. But the very limited number of scholarships makes them highly competitive and when she failed a class last year, Alcira lost her financial assistance.

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