Thursday, October 20, 2011

lucia cuno

I'm not convinced that there are many things that can change your destiny when you're born into poverty.  Except, of course, for education.  And I think Lucia Cuno, a 2010 graduate of the UAC-CP Education Program, is an example of that.

In 1982, Lucia was the first of four children born into the Cuno family--a family which she describes as very poor with few economic resources ("We live hand to mouth," she said). Her mother sells small items like juice and popcorn and candies outside the local school where Lucia and her three younger siblings have all studied. Her father is a farmer and, at times, is employed as a construction worker in their hometown of Guanay--located approximately nine hours from Bolivia's capital city of La Paz (by way of a narrow, dusty road that twists and turns through the mountains of the Yungas).

Lucia's life may not have turned out too different from that of her parents had she not had such a desire to be educated.  That said, education wasn't easily accessible; she has fought hard each step of the way against social norms and economic hardships to obtain her degrees.

Her father, she explained, was never supportive of her decision to go to school past the 8th grade. "He would say, 'Why bother going to school? You are a woman. You will just end up marrying someone and working at home." But Lucia wasn't willing to accept that as her destiny; and neither was her mother.

"I remember," Lucia said, "that my mom would say she would do anything possible to make sure that I would get an education. She said it didn't matter if we eat stale bread every day--we would somehow find the money to pay for the costs associated with school." Together, in fact, they worked extra hard to make rellenos (a fried pastry or potatoes stuff with a stew-like mixture) and sold them to Lucia's classmates during recess at school.

Their work paid off and Lucia did what many in her family thought was the impossible: she graduated from high school. At that point, many people thought that is where her educational road would end, but she kept on going. Despite fears that the already subsidized tuition would be unaffordable, Lucia registered for classes at the UAC-CP in 2003. With good grades, hard work, and responsible behavior, Lucia was awarded a scholarship at the College--financial assistance for food and tuition and housing that she credits for giving her the chance to study at the college level.

In 2010, Lucia defended her thesis (she did a study about dyslexia in two elementary schools in her hometown) and graduated from the College's Education Department. Since then she has been working full-time as a secretary at the UAC-CP and working her way through a master's degree program in Research Methods. She has also been teaching classes at the UAC-CP and one other university in La Paz. All the while, she has been thinking of how to achieve her ultimate career goal of getting her master's in special education--a field that is relatively unheard of in Bolivia's rural area.

Now, Lucia is one step closer to realizing her dream. Two months ago she was nominated to do a teaching internship at Adams Spanish Immersion School in St. Paul, Minnesota. (Since 2005, Adams School has invited one or two UAC-CP students/graduates to work as teaching assistants and live with a host family.)  This morning she boarded a plane for the first time in her 29-year-old life bound for the Twin Cities--where she will embark on a new educational opportunity of teaching in an elementary school and learning English. Hopefully she will also get some practical experience in special education.

In her application to participate in the intern program, Lucia wrote that in order to get where she is today, she has had to overcome a lot of challenges and obstacles (two words, I think, that can't even begin to indicate the significance of her achievements). "All of which," she wrote in her opening paragraph, "taught me that it's possible to get anything in life."

Lucia is a young woman who I admire a great deal. Mostly, I admire her determination in the face of great adversity; I admire her for believing in herself, her unwavering tenacity to never give up, and her ability to see the possibilities of improving life through education. She is also the reason why I believe the UAC-CP is such an incredible place, as it provides young women (and men!) like Lucia with the educational resources necessary to change their destiny.

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