Saturday, December 17, 2011

claudia carrizales

How do you measure the impact that education has on someone's life? And how do you determine the impact of that person's life and work on the lives of other people?

Though I'm unable to quantify it, the transformative power of education is evident in the hundreds of stories I hear from UAC-CP graduates who are living out the mission of the College. Last week, for example, I met with UAC-CP Nursing graduate Claudia Carrizales and listened to her talk about her work with SEDES (Bolivia's health service program). Education, I quickly found myself thinking, is what allowed Claudia to make something of her life--and improve the livelihood of literally thousands of people in Bolivia.

With her degree in Nursing, Claudia Carrizales is helping thousands of people in Bolivia to be disease-free.

Just four years after defending her thesis and graduating from the College, Claudia now manages a vaccination program financed by the Bolivian Ministry of Health (known by the spanish acronym PAI), which is responsible for the free distribution of vaccines. Specifically, Claudia is charged with managing the vaccination program for the entire population living in El Alto--approximately one million people (many who have migrated to the city from the countryside) in an area perched on the high plain just above La Paz, Bolivia's capital city.

"My job," Claudia explained to me one day a couple weeks ago when I was finally able to track her down, "is to help prevent diseases that, in some cases, can cause very severe health care problems or even death." Her team of health professionals that she supervises, which is based at 74 health posts throughout El Alto, both administer vaccines and educate people about the importance of vaccines.

"One of our goals for this year," Claudia offered as an example, "is to vaccinate 86,000 children between the ages of 1 and 6-years-old." She said that is actually about 80-85% of the child population. It's difficult, she said, to track down all the children of people who are very mobile (many travel often for work). There are also some parents who are scared of vaccines and prefer to treat illness and disease once it strikes by seeking treatment from traditional medical doctors. Claudia said her job is to teach people about prevention, to help people make the best decisions regarding their health care and that of their children. (The Bolivian government has also started offering cash bonus incentives for parents who vaccinate their children--a program that Claudia has mixed feelings about.)

"I'm proud that I am able to put into practice the things that I learned from the College--in my work and my personal life," Claudia told me. She pointed specifically to her practical experience during her second year of studies at the UAC-CP when she was part of the public health team--serving the community of Trinidad Pampa, located just over the ridge (1 hour walk) from Carmen Pampa.

Her work and responsibilities require a high level of dedication and commitment, Claudia admitted. And this is without mention of her additional roles as mother and student--Claudia is the mother of two children and she is completing her master's degree in health care administration. She credits her husband, UAC-CP Agronomy graduate Victor Hugo, for his support.

Originally from the town of Apolo--a rural, cowboy-type community located more than 15 hours from La Paz by bus--Claudia and her two older siblings (also UAC-CP graduates) were orphaned at a young age and moved to Carmen Pampa to attend the boarding high school. After graduation from high school, a penniless Claudia was offered a scholarship to study at the College--an opportunity that she gratefully accepted.

"If I hadn't had the opportunity to study in Carmen Pampa?" she pondered the question before she answered. "I have no idea how my life would have turned out. But I do know that the College has been a blessing in my life and thanks to the UAC-CP I am where I am--a registered nurse, helping to serve my people. I will always be grateful to the people who dedicated themselves to helping me."

Monday, December 12, 2011

grateful to volunteers

Every year the small community of Carmen Pampa welcomes people from all over the world (and of all ages, abilities, politics, and religious creeds) to join the work of implementing the mission of the UAC-CP: to provide higher education to young women and men from Bolivia's most marginalized populations so that they, in turn, can become agents of change for positive development in one of the poorest areas of Latin America.

Kathryn Fuller, a 2011 graduate of St. Catherine University in St. Paul, Minn., taught English to second-year Ecotourism students.

In exchange for room and board in the Volunteer House, UAC-CP volunteers (or Professional Visitors, as we prefer them to be called), work as full-time faculty members in the Language Department. Their duties include (but are not limited to): teaching English class, managing the language lab, facilitating English Club, participating in English Table, offering training workshops for English teachers at local high schools, and organizing an English Fair.

In addition to all of their official work duties, Professional Visitors also become a part of daily life at the College. They participate in staff meetings, retreats, and cultural events. They are also invited to volunteer with other projects--the children's library, the food cooperatives, the coffee plant, grant writing, etc. And, perhaps most importantly, most Professional Visitors live together in the Guest House--where they serve as ambassadors, of sorts, to welcome and provide hospitality to guests at the College.

As the semester comes to an end and our II-2011 Professional Visitors prepare for their departure, we are particularly thankful for Kathryn Fuller, David Berry, and Danielle Lang (who also volunteered at the UAC-CP in 2006). Like all Professional Visitors who have come before them, these three people worked tirelessly; they invested themselves wholeheartedly in the lives and education of UAC-CP students.  Because of limited funds and a very tight budget, the Language Department would truly not be possible without the support of dedicated volunteers like David, Kate, and Danielle. In fact, their ability to work with limited resources speaks highly of their patience and their ability to adapt to challenging circumstances. We are grateful for their service. (Hye-Jung Park made a video to honor their work, which you can view here.)

And, in return, I expect David, Kate, and Danielle are grateful for the friendships they formed with their students, their fellow Bolivian staff and faculty members, and the community members of Carmen Pampa. I suspect that, whether or not they maintain these friendships for many years, they will be people and experiences that stay close to their hearts for a lifetime.

If you or someone you know is interested in making a minimum 6 month commitment to teach English at the UAC-CP, please visit Carmen Pampa Fund's website for more information.  We are always looking for hard-working people with a sense of adventure, good humor, and patience to be a part of our life-changing work.

Many thanks to the Foldcraft Foundation, the St. Joan of Arc Justice Fund, and numerous private donors for helping to fund the development of an orientation program for English teachers at College and resources for teachers and students.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

alejandro mamani

A couple weeks ago, Carmen Pampa Fund sent out its 2011 Annual Appeal letter to sustaining donors in the mail. The letter featured UAC-CP Agronomy student Alejandro Mamani, a 22-year-old visionary and leaders who is currently in his last semester of studies at the College. He hopes to finish his thesis and graduate from the College by the end of 2012.

His life story is pretty typical for a student at the UAC-CP. Like most of his classmates, his is the story of a young person who, despite great odds and many challenges, is studying at the college level--a great achievement for any person, but a particularly huge milestone for a young person from Bolivia.

"What does it mean for a young person from Bolivia with scare resources to have a college degree?" Alejandro said, repeating the question I posed to him. "It's a huge significance. It's the door of success for one's family--for the family and for that young person." Alejandro continued, "Me, for example, I am the hope for my family. In my family, they tell me that and I believe that.  I am studying at college so that we never have to experience the things that we have lived through again. I think that is what it means for a young person--the doors open and provide a new, distinct future."

Alejandro pictured with UAC-CP Vice Director Hugh Smeltekop was chosen to participate in the U.S. State Department's Winter Institute for Young Indigenous Leaders Program in the U.S. in 2012.

Alejanrdro was born in 1989 in a small town in Bolivia's barren altiplano. His mother, just 17-years-old, was an orphan who grew up living with a family who fed and sheltered her in exchange for her work as a sheep herder (but prohibited her from studying in school). Alejandro has never known his father--who left the family before Alejandro was born.

Alejandro's life seemed destined to be a lot like his mother's, but when he was 6-years-old, his mother moved them to El Alto, a poor, but rapidly growing city poor perched above La Paz on the high plain. "My mom felt that moving to the city was the best chance I had for a better life--better than the very sad life she had."

In El Alto, his mother met a construction worker who would become Alejandro's step-father. Together, they all lived in a small, simple room with a dirty floor and one straw mattress. While his step-father worked, his mother stayed at home with her children (Alejandro has two younger half-siblings).  "My mom didn't really get out much--she wasn't really familiar with the city and it was intimidating. She was willing to work and did some cleaning jobs, but was mostly expected to be at home and had to wait for my step-father to give her money." There were many times, he admitted, when food was scarce and his mother's tears were frequent.

But his mother made sure that Alejandro had opportunities that she never had--like access to education.  Once they moved to the city Alejandro started his educational career. Though not without its challenges. "I was teased a lot because I was tall...and because I was from the countryside, kids knew I was different." He also wasn't able to participate in the snack time during recess because his mother could only afford to give him 10 cents, which didn't buy much of anything.

The challenges never deterred Alejandro--perhaps because his mother wouldn't allow that to happen. "She would say, 'I don't care if there is nothing to eat. You will study,'" Alejandro recalled. "She would always tell me crying: 'Do you want to live like me? Do you want to have this life?"'  Alejandro's answer is what kept him in school: 'no.'

Little by little, the family's economic situation improved. Eventually, his mother and stepfather separated and his mom started to work. Since 2005 she has kept the same job working as a cleaning person at the UPEA (the university in El Alto). As she made more money (approximately $200/month), she was able to provide more for her family.

Alejandro also started working to help support his mother and his younger siblings. Since the age of 14 he has worked for privately owned buses calling out neighborhood names to passengers and collecting bus fares. "I worked every weekend," he said, "I would get up at 5am and I would get home around 7pm. In total, I earned about 60-80 Bs. for whole weekend [approximately $10 US]."  It's a job he kept throughout his time at the College--working in El Alto during summer and winter breaks.

In 2007 when he graduated from high school, he wasn't sure what to do with his life. He had his hopes set on entering the military--but he couldn't afford the fees. His mother encouraged him to go to college--though she hadn't considered he would go as far away as the Yungas, which is a solid 4-5 hour trip from the El Alto.

"I wanted to pursue my goal of being a professional. Before, in high school, someone had told me about the UAC model and it sounded like the right option for me," he said.  Four years later, he remembers when he first came to Carmen Pampa to register for classes at the College. "The secretary at the time told me that there were scholarships--and that is something that really spoke to me. I decided in that moment that this was the place for me; a place where I could make it."

Though his mom was worried about costs, Alejandro said between his mother's support and his weekend work in coca fields, he has been able to cover the subsidized costs. And then two years ago he was awarded a scholarship, which has allowed him to really focus on his studies and have the money necessary to pay for additional things like: school supplies and bus fare. The scholarship, he said, has allowed him to stay in school and stay on track.

His goal? Alejandro says he will achieve the dream of changing the future for his family...and his own life. "Thanks to the College for opening the doors to me--everything it's offered to me--I am going to change!" He said that in a few years from now when he is "making decent money" he looks forward to the giving back to the UAC-CP. "I'd like to look for a young person like me who I could help sponsor--you know, someone like me. My goal is that within three years from now, I'll be helping other people like me to study."

He also hopes to help other people living in the rural area by providing them with technical assistance necessary to improve their own lives. "I'm here [at the College] so that I can learn how to teach people how we can improve lives--through better agricultural systems and practices." Though he spent most of his short life in the city, he wants to live in Bolivia's rural area.

"The situation that life has presented me has only given me more desire to keep going; more desire to survive and be successful in the future. I'm most grateful to my mother for making me keep my promise to be the future for our family. And I'm grateful to the College for giving me the opportunity to be something in my life."

Friday, November 18, 2011

gracias...for giving to the max

On Wednesday, November 16th, Carmen Pampa Fund participated in the third-annual Give to the Max Day--a special, 24-hour period to raise funds online to help support the College.

This year, thanks to 115 people who made donations and a special bonus gift of $5,000--CPF raised nearly $20,000 in just one day.  We are thrilled that 42% of the people who participated are former UAC-CP visitors or volunteers. 

Throughout the day many people provided words of encouragement and their own testimonials explaining why they Give to the Max. The following are just a few examples (more can be found on our Facebook page):

"To paraphrase Ghandi: 'UAC-CP students embody the change I want to see in this world." -Karen Ohmans, 2006 UAC-CP volunteer

"Our dollars go a long way at the UAC-CP, where opportunities are created and miracles witnessed every single day! I can't imagine a better investment. I am honored to be a small part of this ongoing success story." -Sue Wheeler, former Executive Director of CPF

"During my visits to the UAC-CP I have been so impressed with the dedication shown by its students, faculty, and staff. This is one of the best examples of doing things the right way, and I am proud to be a small part of the effort."  Norman O'Braaten, former UAC-CP visitor

"Over 7 years, I've witnessed the personal and professional development of hundreds of UAC-CP students. This university changes lives, including my own." -Mary Murphy, regular UAC-CP volunteer

"This is probably the most important charitable donation I make. I look forward to it every year. You do great work." Adrian Pullen, donor.

Think you missed your chance to Give to the Max? Think again! Donations are accepted year-round (just no matching bonus!).  Please visit:  to learn how you can help.

Monday, October 24, 2011

scholarships. scholarships. scholarships.

Twice a year, CPF publishes the Scholarship Partners Newsletter. It's a simple (read: short!), but effective way to keep our scholarship donors connected to the students who benefit from people's amazing generosity*.

At the risk of sounding like a broken record, I believe scholarships are the single most effective way to help students stay in school, study, graduate, and become effective members of not just their home communities, but the global world.  The stories of our graduates and former students explicitly tell us this. 

It's also important to tell the stories of current students who receive scholarships--the fortunate and chosen few (I'll be blunt: the more $$ we have, the more scholarships we can give!) who have dreams that, because of education, are within their reach.  Incredible stories of young people who, despite amazing odds, are making change happen.

So, without further ado: I share the Fall 2011 Scholarship Partners Newsletter, which is now available online for everyone to read.

*You can be generous at any level! $10, $15, $25... Be a part of the change, make a gift to CPF's Scholarship Partners Fund.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

lucia cuno

I'm not convinced that there are many things that can change your destiny when you're born into poverty.  Except, of course, for education.  And I think Lucia Cuno, a 2010 graduate of the UAC-CP Education Program, is an example of that.

In 1982, Lucia was the first of four children born into the Cuno family--a family which she describes as very poor with few economic resources ("We live hand to mouth," she said). Her mother sells small items like juice and popcorn and candies outside the local school where Lucia and her three younger siblings have all studied. Her father is a farmer and, at times, is employed as a construction worker in their hometown of Guanay--located approximately nine hours from Bolivia's capital city of La Paz (by way of a narrow, dusty road that twists and turns through the mountains of the Yungas).

Lucia's life may not have turned out too different from that of her parents had she not had such a desire to be educated.  That said, education wasn't easily accessible; she has fought hard each step of the way against social norms and economic hardships to obtain her degrees.

Her father, she explained, was never supportive of her decision to go to school past the 8th grade. "He would say, 'Why bother going to school? You are a woman. You will just end up marrying someone and working at home." But Lucia wasn't willing to accept that as her destiny; and neither was her mother.

"I remember," Lucia said, "that my mom would say she would do anything possible to make sure that I would get an education. She said it didn't matter if we eat stale bread every day--we would somehow find the money to pay for the costs associated with school." Together, in fact, they worked extra hard to make rellenos (a fried pastry or potatoes stuff with a stew-like mixture) and sold them to Lucia's classmates during recess at school.

Their work paid off and Lucia did what many in her family thought was the impossible: she graduated from high school. At that point, many people thought that is where her educational road would end, but she kept on going. Despite fears that the already subsidized tuition would be unaffordable, Lucia registered for classes at the UAC-CP in 2003. With good grades, hard work, and responsible behavior, Lucia was awarded a scholarship at the College--financial assistance for food and tuition and housing that she credits for giving her the chance to study at the college level.

In 2010, Lucia defended her thesis (she did a study about dyslexia in two elementary schools in her hometown) and graduated from the College's Education Department. Since then she has been working full-time as a secretary at the UAC-CP and working her way through a master's degree program in Research Methods. She has also been teaching classes at the UAC-CP and one other university in La Paz. All the while, she has been thinking of how to achieve her ultimate career goal of getting her master's in special education--a field that is relatively unheard of in Bolivia's rural area.

Now, Lucia is one step closer to realizing her dream. Two months ago she was nominated to do a teaching internship at Adams Spanish Immersion School in St. Paul, Minnesota. (Since 2005, Adams School has invited one or two UAC-CP students/graduates to work as teaching assistants and live with a host family.)  This morning she boarded a plane for the first time in her 29-year-old life bound for the Twin Cities--where she will embark on a new educational opportunity of teaching in an elementary school and learning English. Hopefully she will also get some practical experience in special education.

In her application to participate in the intern program, Lucia wrote that in order to get where she is today, she has had to overcome a lot of challenges and obstacles (two words, I think, that can't even begin to indicate the significance of her achievements). "All of which," she wrote in her opening paragraph, "taught me that it's possible to get anything in life."

Lucia is a young woman who I admire a great deal. Mostly, I admire her determination in the face of great adversity; I admire her for believing in herself, her unwavering tenacity to never give up, and her ability to see the possibilities of improving life through education. She is also the reason why I believe the UAC-CP is such an incredible place, as it provides young women (and men!) like Lucia with the educational resources necessary to change their destiny.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Agronomy Department Celebrates

Today the College's Agronomy Department celebrates 18 years of preparing young people to be agronomists--an amazing and inspiring achievement when you consider the College's humble beginnings and challenges that continue to face the small, but growing institution.

Eighteen years ago, there were just 54 students registered at the College, which was only able to give degrees at the technical level. Today, there are more than 750 students registered for classes and thesis work--the vast majority of them (241) study in the Agronomy Department and graduate with the equivalent of an undergraduate degree.

In the past three years, the College has started tracking graduates more closely--paying particular attention to their work and their post-graduate studies.  What we have discovered as we follow our graduates is that they are doing really different and amazing things!  Examples?  Here are just a few:

UAC-CP Agronomy graduate René Villca is the director of FUNDACOM.

Angel Rolando Endara received his PhD from the Universidad Autónoma del Estado de México in 2010. He writes: "My time at the UAC-CP was the most beautiful experience of my life. Carmen Pampa taught me to mature as a person and as a professional. I recovered important values at the UAC-CP--for example, the commitment of working for our people and the desire to work in the countryside and for the people of the countryside."

René Villca Huanaco, current master's degree candidate, is the director of FUNDACOM. FUNDACOM is an association of UAC-CP graduates who manage various projects within three municipalities.  Their work primarily consists of providing training for farmers in apiculture, building and selling apiculture materials, and processing honey which is then sold to the Bolivian government’s food subsidy program. He says, "If it wasn't for the UAC-CP, I wouldn't have been able to study at the college level. The UAC-CP provided me with the professional and practical training necessary to succeed."

Pamela Rocha Valdivia is currently working on her master's degree at the Universidad Privada Boliviana. Since graduating in 2008 she has worked as a consultant for such organizations as USAID, CARITAS, and the United Nations.  She says:  "I think the most important thing about the UAC-CP, even apart from living the mission and vision of the College, is putting into practice the life lessons that we take away from our education."

Danitza Ramos Pardo works for a micro-finance lending institution. Danizta writes: "Had I not studied at the College I wouldn't have had the opportunity to know other people, from other places in Bolivia, and I wouldn't have been able to have the opportunity to find work. I'm also grateful for having had the practical experience of working and studying in the rural area."

Aldo Estevez del Villar owns a consulting company and has been studying for a master's degree in conflict resolution and taking English classes.  He writes: "The UAC-CP is a home for many youth from the rural area who choose a major to study with the idea of using their education to help benefit the development of the communities from which they come from."
Today, as UAC-CP Agronomy students celebrate the anniversary of their academic department, may they be inspired by those who came before them and are now working and studying (throughout the world!)--inspired by the same mission and vision for improving the quality of life for people. 

Thursday, September 1, 2011

¡bravo! uac-cp professor desiderio flores

He may be the smallest UAC-CP faculty member, but he is also known for having one of the biggest smiles.  He's the short, happy fellow who calls out "¡Bravo!" while clapping his hands and giving an enthusiastic thumbs up.  It's that big character in the little body that we will miss having around the College now that Ing. Desiderio Flores is no longer working on staff at the UAC-CP. Though he will continue to teach once-a-week at the College, yesterday was his last day as a full-time administrator.

Standing in the UAC-CP garden, Desiderio recently gave a tour to a group of visitors from Food First's Food Sovereignty Tours.

It was his work with the International Potato Center (IPC) doing a root and tuber diversity project that first brought Desiderio, an Oruro native, to the Yungas in 1995.  With IPC, Desiderio researched and inventoried native roots and tubers, made contributions to the IPC genebank and seed collection, and helped reintroduce the crops to community members. This work, he recalled, gave him the opportunity to work directly with subsistence farmers. He says his proudest professional accomplishments have been his work with local communities, helping people understand the economic, nutritional and cultural value of native crops.

"One of the most important things this worked allowed me to do was to help the campesina women improve their self-esteem," Desiderio explained. "Women learned that they have the ability to make a respectable living and at the same time value the culture they come from." People, he explained, were embarrassed to serve or eat food that was once associated with being poor farmers. But his work changed those stereotypes and helped bring back traditional and nutritional foods native to the area (such as racacha). [Desiderio is so well known for his love of racacha that students affectionately call him Ing. Racacha. And when I last talked to him in his office this week, he sent me on my way with five different recipe cards for racacha-based dishes.]

In July 1999,  Desidero was invited by Sr. Damon Nolan and Ing. Oscar Peña to teach Botany at the College. He also started teaching the Roots and Tubers class at the UAC-CP--a class that he proudly introduced. In addition to teaching, Desidero took on administrative responsibilities. Most recently he worked as coordinator of the College's organic gardens and, this past year, the coffee plant.

"Here, I learned what it means to work," he said.  "And to work not with the intention of making a lot of money, but of providing a benefit, a service, to the poor."  That, he says, is one of the many things the the UAC-CP taught him. "To work here at the College, to share in the lives of young people who come to the College with the desire to learn and the hope to change the course of their future...that is why I ended up staying in the Yungas for so long."

Desiderio talks with visitors from a university in Peru about the UAC-CP's organic vegetable production.

He believes, he said, in the mission of the UAC-CP to help develop young professionals committed to the development of Bolivia--particularly with regard to agricultural development. "Bolivia is rich with agricultural diversity," Desiderio explained, "our job as agronomists is to help discover those riches and make sure that we use it for the benefit of the future of our country." He is particularly interested in Bolivians developing a genebank that assists with the identification and collection of plants native to the country. Even just here in the Yungas, Desiderio said, there is an immense variety of resources and a lot of work to be done in terms of genetic identification and protection.

"You have no idea how much I will miss this place--my colleagues, the friends I've met from all over the world, and more than anything, the young people. This college is different than any other institution of higher education, and it's been a pleasure to have been such an integral part of the work here.  But we all need new challenges in life, and that is where I am at right now."

Desiderio participated in the annual Intercarreras festival at the College. He's pictured in the costume for the Morenada dance.

Desidero, who will continue to teach at the UAC-CP once-a-week through the end of the current semester, ultimately decided to leave the College so he could spend more time with his family. Like many UAC-CP administrators and faculty, Desiderio has made a personal sacrifice to live and work in Carmen Pampa. With two daughters still living at home, he has traveled approximately 18-hours round-trip to his home in Oruro nearly every other weekend.  His decision to be at home more full-time also coincides with the recent birth of his first grandchild.

Though he is ready to move on, goodbyes at the College have been difficult. "I'm thankful for having known all of the people I met during my time at the UAC-CP.  I hope the College continues to thrive with the support of people working for the common good of our country and the future of young people."

Ing. Racacha's wisdom and friendship--and insanely infectious infatuation of Andean roots and tubers--will be dearly missed. But we're grateful for the service he has provided and the guidance he will continue to offer as a UAC-CP professor.  In his own words: "Bravo!"

Monday, August 15, 2011

bringing us joy

"Today brings us much joy!" UAC-CP president Msgr. Juan Vargas told students, faculty, and family and friends gathered last Friday for the 2011 Nursing Department graduation.  Bishop Vargas explained that it's a notable moment when the College community can celebrate the acheivements of UAC-CP graduates. "Today," he said, "we are proud that you will now go out and serve the people of Bolivia in the spirit of the mission of the College."

UAC-CP Nursing graduate Sonia Soto Silicuani is pictured with her parents following the graduation ceremony in Carmen Pampa last Friday.

Last Friday was one of the moments when we are reminded of why we are here, when we can see and celebrate the fruits of our labor.  Sitting in the front row of the church, my camera in hand, I watched as young men and women from the Nursing Department received their pins (and, for the women, their caps). For me, it was a particularly proud moment, as most of the graduates I recognized as first year students from my time at the College as a volunteer eight years ago. 

With tears in his eyes, graduate Paulino Siquita Ramos hugs a well-wisher following graduation ceremonies for the UAC-CP Nursing Department.

Like any other graduation ceremony, several different representatives of the College and the Nursing Department spoke about the significance of what it means to be a graduate of the UAC-CP. "We expect that you will go out and serve your people," Bishop Vargas reminded graduates. "Never forget that being a nurse isn't just about administering medicine. It's also about service--treating people with dignity and respect.  In fact," he added, "that will be perhaps one of the most important parts of your work."

Nursing graduate Paulino Siquita Ramos (pictured above) spoke on behalf of the graduating class. "First, I thank God; I thank God for having given the idea to start a college for young people who have no other options to go to college. And," he continued, "I thank Sr. Damon for her initiative to make this idea a reality."  He went on to thank all the people who made that moment, of graduating from college, possible for him and his classmates.  He remembered UAC-CP faculty and staff, classmates, volunteers, and donors.  And, in particular, he asked the crowd for a round of applause to thank the families of UAC-CP students. The church erupted with joy.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

2 de agosto: remembering the role of education past and present

Every year on the second day of August, children, adults, and the elderly from about six neighboring communities all gather in the village of Carmen Pampa to celebrate the "día del campesino." It is a day recognized exclusively in Bolivia's rural area that pays tribute to the agrarian reform that occurred nearly 60 years ago as a result of revolutions by indigenous people demanding equal rights and access to things, such as education.

Today, community leader Gregorio Chamiso spoke to a courtyard full of people at the local K-12 high school.  Wearing a royal blue shirt and a sash the colors of the Bolivian flag, Don Gregorio talked about the significance of this day within the context of indigenous heritage.  He also talked about the important role of education in the history of the local communities and reminded people that it is education that promises young people a better future.

Don Gregorio Chamiso, graduate of San Francisco Xavier High School in Carmen Pampa and father of three children, is an advocate of education.

"Today," Don Gregorio said, "isn't just about August 2nd. More than anything, today is about our continued struggle to ensure education for our children, so that they can have a better future.  Because education is what sparks development and prosperity."

After his talk, I thanked him for his inspiring words. He asked that I make sure his sentiments of gratitude and respect reached UAC-CP founder Sr. Damon Nolan, who Greogorio mentioned in his speech and recognized for her role in bringing quality education to rural Bolivia.

Carmen Pampa community members march for the 2 de agosto celebration.

Some of the youngest members of Carmen Pampa share an ice cream cone as they wait their turn to march.

School children and community members from neighboring communities stand at attention as they sing the Bolivian national anthem.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

pictures and talking points

With approximately 750 students; five different academic areas (plus post-graduate degrees); and programs in social service extension, research, production, and leadership formation, there is always a lot happening at the College in Carmen Pampa.

Learn about some of the things happening at the College by watching this video, which features facts and photos detailing the work of Carmen Pampa Fund and the UAC-CP.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

too many funerals

Considering the relatively small size of our community and UAC-CP familia, I attend far too many funerals. I hear the sound of too many nails pounded into coffins.  I feel the deep sobs of too many friends and family members in mourning.  I see the lives of so many promising young men and women lost.

Today our UAC-CP family said goodbye to another student--a young woman who arrived to the Pre-University Program last February with hopes of following in her older sisters' footsteps of studying at the College.  Natalie Cutili, who died from complications of Tuberculosis last night at her family's home, was laid to rest today in the Coroico cemetery surrounded by her family, people from her community, and her friends and classmates from the UAC-CP.

As much as I'd like to say it was "a beautiful ceremony" or "the perfect tribute to a lovely young woman," I have to say that it was, for me, a disturbing event full of chaos and profound sadness. It was a typical funeral in the countryside--void of any sense of obvious peace or tranquility.

The gate to the Coroico cemetery--a place where I have said goodbye to several students and their family members.

This afternoon as I sat in the cemetery with a couple of colleagues from the College and waited for Natalie's body to arrive in the back of a pickup truck, we collectively recalled the names and situations of other UAC-CP students whose lives were taken prematurely (the most recent, Wilmer Perez, just two weeks ago).  Facing her tomb, we easily remembered Brigida Alvarez, a UAC-CP Nursing student who died in 2009. I couldn't help think about the blog entry I wrote for Brigida a little more than two years ago--as we sat in the very same sad situation:

Often the causes of death (for both our students and their family members) reflect that we live in the poor, rural area of a developing country where health care is either lacking or completely unavailable and diseases (like Tuberculosis) essentially eradicated from developed parts of the world still frequently prey on the poor... Part of our mission at the College is to change those frighteningly deadly statistics through education, research, and community extension. But when the very same young people who champion our work fall victim to the things they set out to conquer, it's an especially sharp stab to the heart.

"This happens too often," a UAC-CP co-worker said suddenly yesterday. And, as if to nobody in particular, he talked about the direct relationship most deaths have with poverty.  In the end, he said, it all comes down to money--not having enough money to stay in the hospital or to get to better service.  "Too many young people lost; too many funerals," he said. I couldn't agree more.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

uac-cp faculty: commitment and sacrifice

Last night, standing in the back of a classroom filled with UAC-CP professors and academic directors, I felt overwhelmed with both admiration and gratitude for the people who are responsible for carrying out a core part of the mission of the College--"to make higher education available to young people of rural areas and those who who, for whatever reason, are marginalized from the possibility to pursue such studies."

While I have often shared the inspiring stories of our students, last night I was reminded of the incredible stories of UAC-CP professors. They are professional men and women (mostly Bolivians) who go great distances (both literally and figuratively) to make higher education possible for young men and women studying at Carmen Pampa.

Dr. Hugh Smeltekop, Vice Director of the UAC-CP, and Dr. Martin Morales, Director of the Veterinary Science Department, talk to a group of professors during an orientation session for the upcoming semester.

Dr. Manuel Loza, who has taught classes like chemistry and microbiology at the College since day one, told the group of professors gathered last night that teaching in Carmen Pampa is a vocation--a calling to help serve Bolivia's rural area and contribute to its positive development.

Dr. Loza recalled life at the College nearly two decades ago and compared it to how things are today. He told stories of traveling in giant camiones (large trucks often used to transport animals or products in bulk) down the World's Most Dangerous Road. He said he and other professors would arrive at the College for their weekly classes covered in mud, dirty and tired from a long ride.  Dr. Loza also remembered that classrooms were ill-equipped--unlike today, there were no projectors or DVD players or televisions to use in the classroom.  All that, he said, has changed, but the mission and vision of the institution has not.

Dr. Manuel Loza has taught chemistry, biochemistry, microbiology, etc., at the UAC-CP for 18 years. 

"I love going to Carmen Pampa," Dr. Loza told the group more than once, explaining that it's because of the students' desire to learn that has kept him going back to Carmen Pampa once-a-week for nearly 20 years.  He also noted that last night was a milestone for him, as sitting in the room was Dr. Claudia Cerruto, one of Dr. Loza's first students at the UAC-CP who received her PhD in May from Oklahoma State University and is now back to teach in the College's Veterinary Science Department.

Dr. Loza is one of about 90 professors who contribute to the success of the College. Because of the College's location in the rural Nor Yungas, professors usually make the 7-8 hour round-trip commute from Bolivia's capital city of La Paz to teach in Carmen Pampa once a week. While the College pays teachers fair wages, professors obviously do not work at the UAC-CP for the money. They are people willing to be challenged in exchange

Last night, two words stuck out for me. They were two words that people kept repeating when they stood up to introduce themselves and talk about their work at the UAC-CP.  The words were "compromiso" and "sacrificio." Commitment and sacrifice. I believe they are two words that adequately describe the people who are responsible for making higher education available to Bolivia's most marginalized populations. They are the characteristics of our dedicated faculty and staff that keep them coming back to teach at the College.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

la fiesta de ayni

In the spirit of Ayni--the indigenous Aymaran practice of working together for the common good of everyone--Carmen Pampa Fund is hosting its 3rd-annual La Fiesta de Ayni.

La Fiesta de Ayni provides people who have long been involved in the success of the College the opportunity to reunite and learn about changes, achievements, and challenges in Carmen Pampa. The event also introduces the mission and vision of the College to people who are unfamiliar with Carmen Pampa Fund's work.  (Like, for instance, this five minute minute video from the first La Fiesta de Ayni.)

This year special invited guests direct from the College in Bolivia include UAC-CP Vice Director Dr. Hugh Smeltekop with several UAC-CP students and graduates.  Please join them in celebrating Carmen Pampa Fund's work to support the common good at the College in Carmen Pampa.

The event will be held June 23rd, at 6pm in the Rauenhorst Ballroom on the 3rd floor of the Coeur de Catherine building at St. Catherine University, St. Paul, Minnesota.

For more information or to RSVP, please call Carmen Pampa Fund's office: 651/641-1588 or email:

Monday, May 2, 2011

maría francisca agramont

Thanks to Sam Steinberger who traveled the narrow, dusty and sometimes treacherous roads of rural Bolivia to interview recipients of CPF's Scholarship Partners Program at their homes during vacation. The following is one of Sam's stories from his journey.

Of the roughly 600 families in Alcoche and surrounding communities, María Francisca Agramont is one of five young people studying at the UAC-CP. At 21-years-old, she's entering her third year of Agronomy at the College. Her studies are funded with a scholarship from Carmen Pampa Fund.

In the courtyard behind her adobe brick home María tells me of the challenges she's had to overcome in order to study, the poor health of her parents, and the way she envisions helping others with the education she's receiving.

María's decision to study Agronomy is based partially on the vocational orientation as part of her Pre-University course at the College, but mostly on the need she sees in her community. "I live in a rural area and the community always needs, at the very least, somebody who can help out. Some people that live in the communities don't understand very well how we can improve yields."  Beyond using her education for others, she adds, "Also, I like it!"

Entering the UAC-CP was a decision based on the assistance available there and the suggestion of a cousin. Word of mouth was what first caught her awareness. "Everyone was always talking about how good the College was, and how economical it was, too." But her parents' health was in decline, so financially, attending the College was nearly impossible. "I couldn't study for financial reasons." she says.  Both her parents have spent time in the hospital this year, and as a result her family was unable to plan anything. Her mother continues recovering and her father is better, but still too weak to work. The resources at the UAC-CP offered hope. "I had a cousin studying there and he told me that I could study there; it was affordable. For that reason I arrived to Carmen Pampa and got the scholarship there."

Her story echoes the words of many scholarship recipients: "If I didn't have the scholarship, it'd be pretty tough." Carmen Pampa Fund's Scholarship Partners Program makes it possible for María to study. "It's always a huge help, because every month arrives and if you don't have a scholarship you have to be thinking about paying your tuition, your food. But the scholarship is a great help."

For María, obtaining an education is about giving back. She's exploring thesis topics related to the improvement of soils because she knows that is what her community needs. "For example, "she says, " one hectare we could harvest at least 50 quintales [of rice]. But now, with all the time that's passed, we can only harvest 30." She points out, "The farmers don't understand very well how to properly manage the land." Armed with knowledge of organic, María hopes to improve yields. "Almost nobody around here realizes that earthworms are a benefit for the soil, that they improve the soil."

After completing her studies at the UAC-CP, María plans to eventually return to her community. "My dream has always been to have a company so I can create jobs." She understands that the process will take time, but she doesn't lack motivation. "The field of agronomy should be a big help for other people."

"In order to help others, we should begin with what we're studying. That's why we study. Not just for ourselves, also considering others."

Monday, April 18, 2011

con Bolivia supports UAC-CP scholarship students

The following UAC-CP student profile was written by Suzanne Dulle, founder and president of con Bolivia. con Bolivia is a 501(c)3 based in the U.S. that raises funds to support education and health care projects in Bolivia like the UAC-CP.  

Many thanks to conBolivia for your continued support of student scholarships at the UAC-CP. Also, special thanks to Suzanne and her husband Juan Velasco for the time they have taken to regularly visit the College so that they might better understand and offer support to the overall mission and vision of the College.

From a boarding school for children without parents in one of the poorest areas of Bolivia, Potosi, to third year Nursing student at the UAC-CP, Maria's road has been a long and oftentimes difficult one.

Maria was born in the city of Cochabamba and is one of five children. At 8 years of age, she was sent to live at an orphanage in Potosi. There, she excelled in her studies and blossomed into a right and determined woman. However, at the age of 18, Maria was told that she could no longer remain at the boarding school and would have to leave and find her own way in the world.

Maria's response was that she had a deep desire to continue her education at the university level. Her hopes for a better future were conveyed to the small, US-based non-profit, con Bolivia, and they responded by awarding a scholarship for Maria to studying at the UAC-CP. It was a dream come true for Maria!

Even though far from home and missing her extended family very much, Maria is happy in Carmen Pampa.  She appreciates the milder temperatures and the beauty of the region, which is in stark contrast to the harsh climate of Potosi.

As she looks forward to the day she will finish her classes and enters into her "practicum," Maria is pragmatic as to where she would like to be located in Bolivia. "Where the opportunity is," she told me, with a glint of determination in her eye.

Today, there seems to be little that can stand between Maria and her long-term goals. When I asked her, "What next?" she hopefully responded, "To continue my studies and to specialize in anesthesiology." Given her straightforward and positive approach to life, I think that Maria will realize that dream.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

¡salud¡ international health day

Today, April 7th, is celebrated world-wide as a day to focus on the topic of health...and health care and the millions of people around the world who continue to suffer from diseases and illnesses long-eradicated in the developed parts of the world.

In Bolivia, health care statistics are grim. Bolivia's child mortality rate (66 per 1,000 live births) is the worst in South America. The maternal mortality rate in the country's rural area is 602 per 100,000. Diarrhea remains the leading cause of death for children under the age of five-years-old (mostly attributed to unsanitary water). Proper nutrition is a significant problem -- the diet of most rural families here in the Yungas, for example, consists primarily of rice, potato, and plantain with very little protein or vegetables. For that reason, experts estimate that 23 percent of people in Bolivia suffer from malnutrition.  (Here in the community of Carmen Pampa, I am a witness to undernourished children who are far shorter and smaller than their classmates.)

Nursing student Veronica Quispe spent time working on a Leishmaniasis project at the hospital in La Asunta, a rural mountain town in Bolivia's South Yungas.

Students and staff working on behalf of the UAC-CP's Nursing Department and Public Health program often confront: Tuberculosis, Leishmaniasis, Dengue, Cholera, Rabies, Malaria, Yellow Fever, and Chargas.  Though the location of the College in the Yungas mountains means we are free of many insect-carrying disease, we are not immune to them all. We hear stories on a daily basis of students or their family members who are sick.

The good news is that recent changes in Bolivia's health care system have helped to improve access to health care and the frequency with which people use health care service. However, the vast majority of people living in the poor, isolated rural areas--far from hospitals and clinics and well-trained health care providers--remain under-served.

A poster in the hospital in the lowland town of Palos Blancos where UAC-CP Nursing Students had internships reminds people about the risk of dengue.

Despite the the grim statistics and the overwhelming challenges of providing affordable and user-friendly health care to Bolivia's rural population, the College still has reasons to celebrate today.  The UAC-CP is helping to improve health care in Bolivia.  This year, 175 men and women are registered in the College's Nursing Department--all young people inspired by the mission of the College to educate indigenous youth to provide quality health to people in one of the poorest areas of Latin America.

What many people don't realize about the UAC-CP's unique curriculum, is that students here learn by doing through service. Starting in their second semester of studies, all students in the Nursing Department are required to spend half of their semester working on-site in hospitals and clinics.   The Nursing Department, in fact, has agreements with 12 municipalities in the rural area where students are placed during their two-month practicas. Often in exchange for housing and food, students work in hospitals and public health clinics--they gain real-life, professional experience and provide important health care services to people who might otherwise go without.
The College's Public Health team takes the show on the road: nurse Micaela Soliz and student Alcira Pacajes do a general health check of little boy in a neighboring community.

The College also finances, in large part, the Carmen Pampa Health Post.  The UAC-CP's health team: Dr. Wendy Maida and Micaela Soliz (UAC-CP '08) work full-time for the College and attend to 13 communities in the valley (plus the College, local K-12 boarding school, and nearby school in the community of San Pablo). In 2010, they reported attending to 1,574 health consultations and provided 560 vaccines. They also work to implement a Bolivian government program that ensures free access to health care for pregnant women and children up to 5-years-old. In addition, they provide public talks about such things as waste treatment, hygiene, and oral health.

So today, as we remember people throughout the world who are not so fortunate to have access to quality health care, I "salud" the UAC-CP's Nursing Department for its active work to educate young professionals from Bolivia's rural area to be the solution for their country's grim health care statistics.

[1] World Bank. 2007. “Bolivia at a Glance.” 6/4/2009. Available at:
[2] Richter, Kathleen. “Reduction of Maternal Mortality Rates in Bolivia.” Prospect: Journal of International Affairs at UCSD. May 2009. Available at:

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

international women's day

Today, International Women's Day, I think it's important to recognize the College's role in the promotion and liberation of women through education. Here, in one of the poorest areas of Latin America, the UAC-CP is dedicated to the social and economic success of both men and women.

Ecotourism students take an English exam.

When UAC-CP founder Sr. Damon Nolan first arrived to Carmen Pampa in the early 1980s, she was appalled at the unequal and limited educational opportunities for girls and women. There were no women studying at the local high school.  So, her first step was to convince fathers to let their daughters study. Her first year she succeeded in getting four young women ("Bathrooms," Sr. Damon admits, "were a challenge!")

When the idea of the College came to fruition, Sr. Damon made sure it was understood that it would be an institution of higher learning for men and women to receive equal opportunities. Now, 28 years after girls were first admitted to the local high school and 17 years after the founding of the College, we are thrilled that more than half of the College's study body is composed of women. In fact, 52 percent of UAC-CP graduates are women--many of whom have gone on to continuing studies (two female UAC-CP graduates are currently doctoral candidates).

Veterinary Science students work in the lab.

To celebrate the extraordinary achievement of the College, Carmen Pampa Fund is providing the opportunity to honor inspiring women in our lives with a donation to the Fund. Each woman you honor with a tribute gift of $25 or more will receive a special handwritten card this month of March (Women´s Month) from a female UAC-CP student whose life has been transformed through education.

Women in the College´s Pre-University Program dressed in traditional costumes to dance the Tink'u.

Help us celebrate the 100th anniversary of International Women's Day and recognize the success of the College to promote women. Please consider honoring an inspiring woman in your life by making a gift to Carmen Pampa Fund. Your gift will help support scholarships for students and teacher and administrative salaries for women who work at the College.  Women honored with a gift of $25 or more will receive a special note from a female student at the UAC-CP.  Click here to make your gift!

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

scholarship update

I truly believe that the most effective way to help students at the UAC-CP achieve success is by donating to Carmen Pampa Fund's Scholarship Partners Program.  And the results of our graduate survey indicates this--the overwhelming majority of UAC-CP graduates had scholarships. Scholarships allow students to study, graduate, and incorporate the mission of the College into their professional and personal lives.

Agronomy student Genia Santander Agramont (far right) pictured with her family is a recipient of a scholarship from Carmen Pampa Fund's Scholarship Partners Program. 

Unfortunately, due to funding cuts from several partner programs, the College is only able to provide 1 out of 10 students with some type of financial assistance. Though I like to think that we make it possible for everyone to study here, I sadly know some young people have dropped out of school based on purely financial reasons. In fact, it happened today.

The current CPF Scholarship Partners Program newsletter for Winter 2011 features two short profiles of UAC-CP students Ruber and Amparo, who are both examples of how a scholarships transform lives.  You can read their stories here online.

Many thanks to the people who donate to the Scholarship Partners Program--may you know the miracles you make happen.

Monday, February 7, 2011

testify! ...for a new website

Carmen Pampa Fund has the opportunity to participate in The Nerdery Overnight Website Challenge on March 26th and 27th.  It's a 24-hour challenge for web pros to build websites for Minnesota-based non-profits who could use a facelift.

Carmen Pampa Fund wants to be part of this challenge...but we need your help, we need your testimonials (part of the selection for participating non-profits is based on testimonials).

Please take just dos minutos to visit: and leave a brief message about why Carmen Pampa Fund deserves a full day at the website spa.

Already several people have shared beautiful messages.  The following are two special messages from former volunteers Chris DeLorenzo (2010) and Anne McGinness (2004).  To read other peoples' testimonies, you'll have to visit the site!

"Carmen Pampa's story needs to be told. Education in the global South is an often-overlooked but absolutely essential area of international development. The marginalized classes of the developing world need professionals and leaders from among their ranks. As a volunteer teacher at the UAC-CP last semester, I have seen the profound impact this institution has had on its small corner of Bolivia. I have worked day-to-day with students determined to return to their villages as professionals and agents of change, and I have visited communities where graduates are promoting very real and practical development. Carmen Pampa is truly an exceptional place.

Yet it still has many critical needs. The College is perpetually running on limited funds, struggling to keep the lights on and the copy machines running. Finding qualified professors, particularly for the English program, can be very challenging due to the university's limited visibility in Bolivia and internationally. A new, dynamic and attention-grabbing website would go a long way in remedying these shortcomings. My students certainly deserve it."  --Chris DeLorenzo

"I was a volunteer at the UAC for a year in 2004. The experience changed my life. Sr. Damon [UAC-CP founder], the administration, teachers, and students work every day toward fulfilling the dream upon which the school was founded: to provide education to those who would not normally have access to education, so that the students might give back to their communities the skills they learned in pedagogy, veterinary science, agriculture, nursing, and tourism.

This is an institution that works every day to eliminate poverty. Inspired by the Greek word, metanoia, the community at Carmen Pampa works daily toward a conversion, a complete reorientation of the mind and heart into faith, hope and a better life."  --Anne McGinness

Thanks to everyone who has left a testimonial on the The Nerdery!

Friday, January 28, 2011

scholarship student: erica sarmiento

Another blog entry by UAC-CP volunteer Sam Steinberger. Sam spent the month of January visiting and interviewing students who are only able to study at the College because of scholarship assistance. Agronomy student Erica Sarmiento, who is featured in Sam´s story, is a recipient of a scholarship funded by donors of Carmen Pampa Fund´s Scholarship Partners Program.

"That is where we used to live," Erica Paula Sarmiento Flores said matter-of-factly, pointing to an adobe wall framing a wooden door that now opens to a weedy hillside. Last year, the house where she, her six siblings, and her mother lived, collapsed during the rainy season and nearly buried one of her sisters.

We continued walking up the cobblestone street to a quiet plaza in Erica´s hometown of Coroico in the green Andean cloud forest, just 30 minutes from Carmen Pampa.  In spite of the obstacles and hardships she has faced in continuing her education, Erica, a 20-year-old Agronomy student entering her fourth year at the UAC-CP, has kept a smile on her face and hope for a better future in her heart.

Erica and her trademark smile. Last year, she was elected by her peers to serve as president of one of the College´s three food cooperatives.

Erica´s decision to study Agronomy was based on her passion for working in the countryside, with an eye towards helping others.  "Since I was little, I have worked in small communities." She explained, "I like the interaction between a person and a farmer. I like to work with people in rural areas."

One of the major problems facing the region today is the coffee bean borer, a bettle that damages coffee beans and lowers yields. Erica learned that the Yungas around Coroico used to produce very high quality coffee, but now the income from the damanged crops isn´t high enough to support farmers. She hopes to address the topic in the thesis she will complete in her final year of studies at the UAC-CP.

What really stood out about Erica, in addition to her love of the environment and her commitment to helping others, was how grateful she is for her education. Due to financial constraints in her family, she never planned on studying at a university. "My mother didn´t have the resources to help us study, so I went to work in the fields. Once afternoon, my mom came home and said, ´Erica, I´ve enrolled you in the college.´"  Erica was both excited and nervous.

Her mother, Martha Gladys Florex Gonzales, never graduated from high school. Pregnant with her first child at 16, Martha was eventually abaondoned by her husband and succeeded in raising seven children with income from a small coffee stand in the Coroico market and the help of her oldest son.

Erica continued her story, "That same afternoon, my mom said, ´Daughter, my wish is that you study. Become a professional and don´t turn out like me.´ I said, ´Thank you mom!´"

Erica and her mother Martha outside the family´s small sandwhich/coffee stand in Coroico.

Erica recounted her first steps toward the UAC-CP,working ten hour days then studying for her entrance exams until she went to bed. When she found out she had been accepted to the UAC-CP, "It was pure happiness! It was for my mother, too, because her wish was that we study and have a profession--and that we don´t suffer like she has. She has suffered a lot since she was 16."

Even though she was admitted to the UAC-CP, the dream of Erica, and her mother, would not have been possible without the support of Carmen Pampa Fund. "We had heard in town that they give scholarships to students that really want to study," Erica explained. "Thanks to the scholarship I can continue to study in the College. If I didn´t have the scholarship, I would have to abandon my studies, because I don´t have enough money to continue."

Erica reflected on what the scholarship is facilitating. "Thanks to the scholarship...I´m going to be something in life. Thanks to this scholarship I´m going to be able to help my family and other people that need my help--not just my family, but all people that need my help."

There are many young men and women like Erica who want to "be something in life." But without access to education, it is difficult for young people to lift themselves out of poverty. Please consider helping the College provide a future for inspiring and aspiring Bolivians. Make a donation to CPF today!

Friday, January 14, 2011

scholarship student: alicia menachaca

Though he's just a short-term volunteer, South Dakota native Sam Steinberger is working overtime to help collect stories about UAC-CP students who receive scholarships from Carmen Pampa Fund donors. For several days, he's been trekking around rural Bolivia visiting students and their families at their homes.  He's gotten some great stories and beautiful pictures. I'm happy to share one of Sam's stories here....

The small community of El Palmar is not much more than a pit-stop of a few open-porched restaurants and food stands built along the flat, dirt highway that runs from the town of Yucumo to the Amazonia tourist destination of Rurrenabaque. But for UAC-CP student Alicia Menchaca Mendez, it’s home. 

Alicia Menachaca receives a scholarship thanks to CPF's Scholarship Partners Program...and the people who make it possible with their financial contributions. 
We sat under the shade of a tin roof in front of her family’s red ceramic brick house as buses, trucks, and motorcycles buzzed past on the road forty feet away.  As another hot and punishing tropical day is born, Alicia told me about her first year of studies in the UAC-CP’s Pre-University Program—a year-long college preparatory program that prepares young men and women for college level classes (many high school graduates who come from Bolivia’s rural area are not adequately prepared for college-level courses).

Now that Alicia has completed her year of Pre-University, she has decided to enter the UAC-CP’s Nursing Program. She’s fascinated by the human body and ultimately hopes to work in a hospital.  “There are always people that are sick,” she pointed out, noting the demand and importance for the profession.

Alicia’s decision to attend the UAC-CP was based upon the economic resources available at the College.  “I decided to go to the UAC-CP because they really help us financially.”  She explained, “They help us, the campesinos, to succeed.  That’s why I wanted to go.  That’s what encouraged me.” 

Without the support of her scholarship from Carmen Pampa Fund, Alicia thinks she may have had to wait a year to start studying at the College; she would have had to work and save to pay her tuition. 

And even that may have been impossible.

“My parents didn’t want to send me [to Carmen Pampa],” Alicia said.  It wasn’t because they wanted to deny Alicia the chance to earn a college degree, she explained.  “With the financial situation we’re in, and because I have so many siblings, we couldn’t support my studies.” 

Education in Alicia’s family is a luxury. Both her parents speak Quechua and her mother, Valentina, has never stepped foot in a school and doesn't know how to write her own name.  Because they lacked sufficient land to support a family, Alicia’s parents left their hometown in the high altitude of rural Potosí.  Here in the lowlands, they grow mostly rice for subsistence and cultivate cacao, tomatoes, other vegetables and fruits, as well as making fresh cheese, to sell and provide a small income.

“The scholarship really helps,” said Alicia.  “It made everything possible.”  The community work required by her scholarship, including plucking chickens, maintaining the university vegetable gardens, and washing pigs in the pork plant, reminds her that she is working for her degree.  “At first I didn’t have any money because my parents…only sent money for school supplies.  I didn’t have enough to buy things like a bar of soap, things like that,” she said. But now, with her scholarship, things are different.  “My parents don’t worry about me,” she said with a smile. 

You can help students like Alicia. Make a donation to Carmen Pampa Fund!

Monday, January 10, 2011

karen pari video

I often tell people that rural Bolivia seems like one of the most unlikely places for a gringa like myself to find my personal heroes.  And yet, here I am, surrounded by people who have tackled overwhelming challenges; people who have succeeded in their ability to improve their lives through education. They are the people who inspire and humble me; they are the people who personally animate me to be part of the work of the College.

As a woman, I am particularly inspired by UAC-CP female graduates who, in a particularly machista society, have garnered their spot as directors and managers and business owners. And they do this while maintaining their roles as mothers, sisters, daughters, and aunts. 

UAC-CP graduate Karen Pari is one of four siblings to study at the College.  Thanks to William Wroblewski's video, hear from Karen in her own words.  Click here to watch the video.
They are women like UAC-CP Veterinary Science graduate Karen Pari. Karen is one of four siblings to attend the UAC-CP. Her sisters Wilma and Betty and her brother Rubén are all thesis students at the College. (I previously blogged about her brother Ruben's incredible work to start a school in a remote mountain community:  

Though not the oldest, Karen is the first of the family to graduate from College and, as a small business owner, she is able to help support her siblings. Unlike many other UAC-CP students, this unique team of siblings live at their humble home in the nearby community of San Pedro.  Because their parents aren't physically present and unable to financially support them, Karen, Wilma, Betty, and Rubén have worked together to support themselves and encourage each other in their college studies.

As Bill's video shows, Karen's dedication to live out the mission of the College--to live and work and serve in the rural area--is both admirable and inspiring.  

Special kudos to long-time, returning volunteer Mary Murphy. Mary, a professor at Smith College, has served as a very special friend to the Pari family.