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!"


Brooke Harlowe said...

He's right about rachacha, y'know. I will miss Ing. Flores. He was always one of the first to greet me when I came to campus. He also gave me the opportunity to claim one of my favorite titles, madrina de los herramientos. Suerte, Desiderio.

Sarah Mechtenberg said...

I should also note that when Desiderio talks about traveling 18 hours roundtrip--that is not comfortable travel or even travel in a private car. He is talking about pieced-together public transportation which, for most of his time working in the Yungas, included travel on the World's Most Dangerous Road.

"Every trip was an adventure; I could write books about my adventures," he told me. "Flat tires, drunk drivers, waiting hours and hours and hours for transportation, digging out of landslides, pushing trucks,...."

Margarita Conte said...

I met Desiderio in August when I visited with the Food First delegation. Desiderio know so much about teaching, that was immediately apparent in the way he designed participatory hands on workshops for us at the coffee area and also about native crops. I will never forget him. He is special. And I wish him well in his new life back with his loved ones.
Peggy Conte