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!