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.

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.


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.