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.