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!

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