Saturday, December 17, 2011

claudia carrizales

How do you measure the impact that education has on someone's life? And how do you determine the impact of that person's life and work on the lives of other people?

Though I'm unable to quantify it, the transformative power of education is evident in the hundreds of stories I hear from UAC-CP graduates who are living out the mission of the College. Last week, for example, I met with UAC-CP Nursing graduate Claudia Carrizales and listened to her talk about her work with SEDES (Bolivia's health service program). Education, I quickly found myself thinking, is what allowed Claudia to make something of her life--and improve the livelihood of literally thousands of people in Bolivia.

With her degree in Nursing, Claudia Carrizales is helping thousands of people in Bolivia to be disease-free.

Just four years after defending her thesis and graduating from the College, Claudia now manages a vaccination program financed by the Bolivian Ministry of Health (known by the spanish acronym PAI), which is responsible for the free distribution of vaccines. Specifically, Claudia is charged with managing the vaccination program for the entire population living in El Alto--approximately one million people (many who have migrated to the city from the countryside) in an area perched on the high plain just above La Paz, Bolivia's capital city.

"My job," Claudia explained to me one day a couple weeks ago when I was finally able to track her down, "is to help prevent diseases that, in some cases, can cause very severe health care problems or even death." Her team of health professionals that she supervises, which is based at 74 health posts throughout El Alto, both administer vaccines and educate people about the importance of vaccines.

"One of our goals for this year," Claudia offered as an example, "is to vaccinate 86,000 children between the ages of 1 and 6-years-old." She said that is actually about 80-85% of the child population. It's difficult, she said, to track down all the children of people who are very mobile (many travel often for work). There are also some parents who are scared of vaccines and prefer to treat illness and disease once it strikes by seeking treatment from traditional medical doctors. Claudia said her job is to teach people about prevention, to help people make the best decisions regarding their health care and that of their children. (The Bolivian government has also started offering cash bonus incentives for parents who vaccinate their children--a program that Claudia has mixed feelings about.)

"I'm proud that I am able to put into practice the things that I learned from the College--in my work and my personal life," Claudia told me. She pointed specifically to her practical experience during her second year of studies at the UAC-CP when she was part of the public health team--serving the community of Trinidad Pampa, located just over the ridge (1 hour walk) from Carmen Pampa.

Her work and responsibilities require a high level of dedication and commitment, Claudia admitted. And this is without mention of her additional roles as mother and student--Claudia is the mother of two children and she is completing her master's degree in health care administration. She credits her husband, UAC-CP Agronomy graduate Victor Hugo, for his support.

Originally from the town of Apolo--a rural, cowboy-type community located more than 15 hours from La Paz by bus--Claudia and her two older siblings (also UAC-CP graduates) were orphaned at a young age and moved to Carmen Pampa to attend the boarding high school. After graduation from high school, a penniless Claudia was offered a scholarship to study at the College--an opportunity that she gratefully accepted.

"If I hadn't had the opportunity to study in Carmen Pampa?" she pondered the question before she answered. "I have no idea how my life would have turned out. But I do know that the College has been a blessing in my life and thanks to the UAC-CP I am where I am--a registered nurse, helping to serve my people. I will always be grateful to the people who dedicated themselves to helping me."

Monday, December 12, 2011

grateful to volunteers

Every year the small community of Carmen Pampa welcomes people from all over the world (and of all ages, abilities, politics, and religious creeds) to join the work of implementing the mission of the UAC-CP: to provide higher education to young women and men from Bolivia's most marginalized populations so that they, in turn, can become agents of change for positive development in one of the poorest areas of Latin America.

Kathryn Fuller, a 2011 graduate of St. Catherine University in St. Paul, Minn., taught English to second-year Ecotourism students.

In exchange for room and board in the Volunteer House, UAC-CP volunteers (or Professional Visitors, as we prefer them to be called), work as full-time faculty members in the Language Department. Their duties include (but are not limited to): teaching English class, managing the language lab, facilitating English Club, participating in English Table, offering training workshops for English teachers at local high schools, and organizing an English Fair.

In addition to all of their official work duties, Professional Visitors also become a part of daily life at the College. They participate in staff meetings, retreats, and cultural events. They are also invited to volunteer with other projects--the children's library, the food cooperatives, the coffee plant, grant writing, etc. And, perhaps most importantly, most Professional Visitors live together in the Guest House--where they serve as ambassadors, of sorts, to welcome and provide hospitality to guests at the College.

As the semester comes to an end and our II-2011 Professional Visitors prepare for their departure, we are particularly thankful for Kathryn Fuller, David Berry, and Danielle Lang (who also volunteered at the UAC-CP in 2006). Like all Professional Visitors who have come before them, these three people worked tirelessly; they invested themselves wholeheartedly in the lives and education of UAC-CP students.  Because of limited funds and a very tight budget, the Language Department would truly not be possible without the support of dedicated volunteers like David, Kate, and Danielle. In fact, their ability to work with limited resources speaks highly of their patience and their ability to adapt to challenging circumstances. We are grateful for their service. (Hye-Jung Park made a video to honor their work, which you can view here.)

And, in return, I expect David, Kate, and Danielle are grateful for the friendships they formed with their students, their fellow Bolivian staff and faculty members, and the community members of Carmen Pampa. I suspect that, whether or not they maintain these friendships for many years, they will be people and experiences that stay close to their hearts for a lifetime.

If you or someone you know is interested in making a minimum 6 month commitment to teach English at the UAC-CP, please visit Carmen Pampa Fund's website for more information.  We are always looking for hard-working people with a sense of adventure, good humor, and patience to be a part of our life-changing work.

Many thanks to the Foldcraft Foundation, the St. Joan of Arc Justice Fund, and numerous private donors for helping to fund the development of an orientation program for English teachers at College and resources for teachers and students.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

alejandro mamani

A couple weeks ago, Carmen Pampa Fund sent out its 2011 Annual Appeal letter to sustaining donors in the mail. The letter featured UAC-CP Agronomy student Alejandro Mamani, a 22-year-old visionary and leaders who is currently in his last semester of studies at the College. He hopes to finish his thesis and graduate from the College by the end of 2012.

His life story is pretty typical for a student at the UAC-CP. Like most of his classmates, his is the story of a young person who, despite great odds and many challenges, is studying at the college level--a great achievement for any person, but a particularly huge milestone for a young person from Bolivia.

"What does it mean for a young person from Bolivia with scare resources to have a college degree?" Alejandro said, repeating the question I posed to him. "It's a huge significance. It's the door of success for one's family--for the family and for that young person." Alejandro continued, "Me, for example, I am the hope for my family. In my family, they tell me that and I believe that.  I am studying at college so that we never have to experience the things that we have lived through again. I think that is what it means for a young person--the doors open and provide a new, distinct future."

Alejandro pictured with UAC-CP Vice Director Hugh Smeltekop was chosen to participate in the U.S. State Department's Winter Institute for Young Indigenous Leaders Program in the U.S. in 2012.

Alejanrdro was born in 1989 in a small town in Bolivia's barren altiplano. His mother, just 17-years-old, was an orphan who grew up living with a family who fed and sheltered her in exchange for her work as a sheep herder (but prohibited her from studying in school). Alejandro has never known his father--who left the family before Alejandro was born.

Alejandro's life seemed destined to be a lot like his mother's, but when he was 6-years-old, his mother moved them to El Alto, a poor, but rapidly growing city poor perched above La Paz on the high plain. "My mom felt that moving to the city was the best chance I had for a better life--better than the very sad life she had."

In El Alto, his mother met a construction worker who would become Alejandro's step-father. Together, they all lived in a small, simple room with a dirty floor and one straw mattress. While his step-father worked, his mother stayed at home with her children (Alejandro has two younger half-siblings).  "My mom didn't really get out much--she wasn't really familiar with the city and it was intimidating. She was willing to work and did some cleaning jobs, but was mostly expected to be at home and had to wait for my step-father to give her money." There were many times, he admitted, when food was scarce and his mother's tears were frequent.

But his mother made sure that Alejandro had opportunities that she never had--like access to education.  Once they moved to the city Alejandro started his educational career. Though not without its challenges. "I was teased a lot because I was tall...and because I was from the countryside, kids knew I was different." He also wasn't able to participate in the snack time during recess because his mother could only afford to give him 10 cents, which didn't buy much of anything.

The challenges never deterred Alejandro--perhaps because his mother wouldn't allow that to happen. "She would say, 'I don't care if there is nothing to eat. You will study,'" Alejandro recalled. "She would always tell me crying: 'Do you want to live like me? Do you want to have this life?"'  Alejandro's answer is what kept him in school: 'no.'

Little by little, the family's economic situation improved. Eventually, his mother and stepfather separated and his mom started to work. Since 2005 she has kept the same job working as a cleaning person at the UPEA (the university in El Alto). As she made more money (approximately $200/month), she was able to provide more for her family.

Alejandro also started working to help support his mother and his younger siblings. Since the age of 14 he has worked for privately owned buses calling out neighborhood names to passengers and collecting bus fares. "I worked every weekend," he said, "I would get up at 5am and I would get home around 7pm. In total, I earned about 60-80 Bs. for whole weekend [approximately $10 US]."  It's a job he kept throughout his time at the College--working in El Alto during summer and winter breaks.

In 2007 when he graduated from high school, he wasn't sure what to do with his life. He had his hopes set on entering the military--but he couldn't afford the fees. His mother encouraged him to go to college--though she hadn't considered he would go as far away as the Yungas, which is a solid 4-5 hour trip from the El Alto.

"I wanted to pursue my goal of being a professional. Before, in high school, someone had told me about the UAC model and it sounded like the right option for me," he said.  Four years later, he remembers when he first came to Carmen Pampa to register for classes at the College. "The secretary at the time told me that there were scholarships--and that is something that really spoke to me. I decided in that moment that this was the place for me; a place where I could make it."

Though his mom was worried about costs, Alejandro said between his mother's support and his weekend work in coca fields, he has been able to cover the subsidized costs. And then two years ago he was awarded a scholarship, which has allowed him to really focus on his studies and have the money necessary to pay for additional things like: school supplies and bus fare. The scholarship, he said, has allowed him to stay in school and stay on track.

His goal? Alejandro says he will achieve the dream of changing the future for his family...and his own life. "Thanks to the College for opening the doors to me--everything it's offered to me--I am going to change!" He said that in a few years from now when he is "making decent money" he looks forward to the giving back to the UAC-CP. "I'd like to look for a young person like me who I could help sponsor--you know, someone like me. My goal is that within three years from now, I'll be helping other people like me to study."

He also hopes to help other people living in the rural area by providing them with technical assistance necessary to improve their own lives. "I'm here [at the College] so that I can learn how to teach people how we can improve lives--through better agricultural systems and practices." Though he spent most of his short life in the city, he wants to live in Bolivia's rural area.

"The situation that life has presented me has only given me more desire to keep going; more desire to survive and be successful in the future. I'm most grateful to my mother for making me keep my promise to be the future for our family. And I'm grateful to the College for giving me the opportunity to be something in my life."