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.