Monday, August 30, 2010

the scholarship fund

While I often write about and share the stories of our students here in Carmen Pampa, I think the most powerful stories come directly from them.

The letter I received yesterday outlines common difficulties faced in order for young men and women to study at the UAC-CP.

So, with my own translation and a few edits to protect identities and provide context, I'm sharing a letter that I received from a UAC-CP student who came to talk with me yesterday about his inability to pay for College this semester. As I do for all students who seek help (mostly because there are so many that I need help remembering), I asked him to write me a letter.
Carmen Pampa, 29 de Agosto 2010
Dear Sarah,

First, I greet you very respectfully. You are a person to whom I wish much success in the work that you do day after day.

I'm writing you this letter to ask a huge favor. I am hoping you might be able to find me a person who could help me pay for my tuition and food costs so that I can continue my studies at this College. Sarah, I ask you for this favor and help because my family can't help me--they have very few economic resources.

I have four other brothers and I am the last child in the family. My siblings are adults and have their own families and children and it is for that reason that they are unable to help me financially. My mom is older and is physically unable to work very hard. My mother also has her husband and he works, but is injury in a mining accident prevents him from earning very much. My father died when I was in high school and even when he was alive he didn't support me because my parents divorced when I was just 8-years-old.

Ever since I was just a little kid I've always wanted to study. For that reason I supported myself in high school when I had to pay for my school materials. I worked hard to make it. None of my older four siblings were able to study--none of them finished grade school. I am the only one in the family that has struggled and fought in order to continue studying at the college level. I do it because I want to be the pride of my family, of my community.

In order to do this, I work during vacation to be able to pay for my tuition and food cooperative dues. But now things are more complicated for me as my economic situation has worsened. I'm in my fourth semester of studies in Agronomy and I am unable to afford to pay for my studies and food because in the most recent vacation [month of July] I didn't have very much success in my work. I paid the registration fee, but up until now I still haven't paid the first month's tuition.

I want to continue studying at the UAC-CP. Since I was a child I have had to look for strategies that would allow me to continue studying in grade school and high school. And that's how I have arrived to where I am today--studying here at the College.

My father wasn't able to see me graduate from high school because he died. And now I can't think of asking my beloved, older mother for financial help--I just hope that she will be able to see me graduate from college. (I invite you to meet my mother--we can travel together together to visit her in Mapiri. You are welcome to our humble home.)

With nothing more to add, I only ask that God always bless you and I wish you safe travels on your upcoming trip.

Reading between the lines of his letter, the second-year Agronomy student is asking for support of about $50 a month (the subsidized cost that students pay for tuition, room, and board--not the actual cost to educate them). While $50 isn't that much (maybe one night of dinner, movie, and drinks?) in the scheme of things, it's impossible for the average person to single-handedly provide that amount to all of our 700-some students.

That is why I encourage people to make donations to CPF's Scholarship Fund. Our Scholarship Partners Program allows the College to award scholarships to students based on academic achievement, behavior, and financial need. Of course, the amount of scholarships available is entirely dependent on the size of CPF's Scholarship Fund. The more money we raise, the more scholarships we can make available for students.

So, to those of you who give to the Scholarship Fund--MUCHISIMAS GRACIAS! Know that you provide amazing miracles with your gift. For those of you looking for a way to make a difference, please consider making a gift, in any amount, to CPF's Scholarship Fund!

Monday, August 9, 2010

veronica goes to brookings

Today is a big day for UAC-CP Agronomy graduate Veronica Calles. Tonight, she boards a plane bound for the United States where she will make her way to Brookings, S.D., to enroll as a full-time graduate student in Plant Sciences and Entomology at South Dakota State University (SDSU).

In the past two years, I have written a couple times about Veronica -- a beautiful, intelligent and responsible young indigenous woman who is from the small farming community of Santa Ana (a 30-minute walk from Coroico).

Veronica and her father, Francisco, a couple hours after Veronica's thesis defense at the College in April.

I blogged about Veronica and her incredible life story in March 2009 (click here to read) and I later wrote about a visit to Veronica's home and my experience staying with her family in June 2009 (click here to read). And today I'm thrilled to write about her again to share the most recent and exciting update on Veronica's life.

A year ago, Veronica was given a scholarship from the U.S. State Department to study English at the Centro Boliviano Americano (CBA) -- the premiere English institute in La Paz. While taking English classes daily and living with her sister in La Paz, Veronica was able to finish writing her thesis. In April, she successfully defended her thesis and graduated from the UAC-CP. And a couple months later was informed of her invitation to study at SDSU -- all of which will be funded through a research assistantship.

Veronica is an amazing example of the transformative power of education. She has demonstrated to herself and to others that, given the opportunity, young men and women from Bolivia's rural area can transform their lives through education. And we expect that Veronica's experience and knowledge gained through her master's degree program will help her transform the lives of her people living in Bolivia's rural sector.

We are all very proud of Veronica and wish her the best of luck as she embarks on this life-changing adventure!

Special thanks to Dr. Diane Rickerl and Dr. Paul Johnson, regular and long-time collaborators with the UAC-CP, and other faculty and staff at SDSU for making this opportunity available to Veronica.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

august 2: día del campesino

Yesterday, August 2nd was a special day widely celebrated throughout Bolivia's countryside.

Women from the community of Choro Alto carry the Bolivian flag as part of an official parade. (To watch a 35 sec. video of the marchers, click here)

"El día del campesino," as its commonly called, is the day campesinos/farmers honor the agrarian reform of 1953 which, sparked by revolutions demanding equality for the oppressed indigenous people, resulted in the dismantling of the traditional haciendas (plantations), end of formalized indentured servitude, redistribution of land among sharecropping peasants, and a restructuring of the education system in Bolivia's rural area.

The day, celebrated only in the countryside, is a big one here in the community of Carmen Pampa. People come from approximately six other communities in the valley to participate in the day-long celebration which started at 9:30 am with a Catholic mass, followed by a parade up and down the road, an official flag raising and civic act ceremony, another parade around the high school patio, a traditional apthapi (Aymaran potluck), and presentation of traditional dances.

Grade school students, high school students, and UAC-CP's college students stand before the flag-decorated stage prepared to listen to local leaders speak.

At the flag raising ceremony and civic act, the patio of the local Carmen Pampa high school was filled with students dressed in official uniforms or traditional costumes lined up according to grade level. On one side of the patio were the little children of the elementary schools of the area, followed by the middle school and high school students of Carmen Pampa and the neighboring community of San Pedro. And at least 1/4 of the patio was occupied by the UAC-CP's college student and faculty population. About five students from kindergarten to college level took turns going on stage and doing national poetry--most of which was recited in Aymara, the local indigenous language.

Middle school students prepared to perform a native dance for the crowd.

Carmen Pampa kindergartners line up for the official procession. Traditionally, the student with the highest grade carries the flag in official parades.

Standing "at ease" the 1,500 person+ crowd listened as an older Carmen Pampa high school graduate and invited guest reminded everyone why we were there. "Today," he said, "we remember the people who fought so hard to give us the right to be free." As he gave a relatively brief history of the progress made since the revolution of 1952, he made special mention of the important role of education in the future success of Bolivia's poor, indigenous population. He spoke about the founding of the Carmen Pampa San Francisco Xavier High School and, later, the UAC-CP. He pleaded with parents to make sure education is a number one priority in the family. "The revolution isn't over," he said, "we are still fighting for our rights. And one way to fight is with the power of education."

Essentially, I believe, 2 de agosto is a day that provides hope for people living in the countryside that change is possible. In their lifetimes the older community members have fought for and experienced change in the form of social and economic liberation (albeit at a painfully slow pace), and it's been a lesson to them that change is not only possible, it's yet to come. An important lesson to pass on to the new generation as they become the new agents of change in the rural area.