Thursday, December 13, 2012

a dream not deferred

When Pedro Argani arrived at the UAC-CP in 2004 he chose to major in Education because he wanted to support the development of Bolivia. Today, the 2011 graduate is actively executing that dream.
UAC-CP Education graduate Pedro Argani.

For the past three years, Pedro has worked as a youth educator and advocate for a non-profit organization that serves children who live on the streets of the city of El Alto. The mission of the organization is to help young people live lives of dignity. "We believe in change; we believe in the whole person," Pedro explains.

An important part of his work is taking the time to get to know young people first--asking their names, their likes, their interests, and their dreams. "I can tell you their stories; I know who each of them are." Once Pedro develops relationships with the children, his job is to focus on finding them resources, like safe shelter and schools; hoping those he works with also will gain the benefits of education.

Pedro estimates that he and his team of four eductors support approximately 500 girls and boys per year (average ages 8-16). "The children are living on the streets most often because of violence at home--physical, emotional, and sexual. In some cases, the children are abandoned by their parents or they are victims of human trafficking."

While he loves his job and is very proud of his role to support children, Pedro admits that the work can be physically demanding and emotionally exhausting. He recalls a recent instance when a 16-year-old boy died of an overdose. "We had a very close relationship," Pedro recalls solemnly.

A native of Coroico, the mountain town located just 45 minutes from the College, Pedro says the UAC-CP was his only opportunity to study at the college level. Because of his family's very limited economic situation (his mother is a street vendor and his father is a carpenter by trade), the cost of tuition, room, board, transportation, and books in the capital city of La Paz was out of the question.

Thankfully, he was awarded a half-scholarship to pay for tuition. With good grades and behavior, he maintained his scholarship for all five years of study; financial support that Pedro says was a "huge help."

Pedro believes the UAC-CP prepared him both professionally and personally. "More than anything, the UAC-CP is where I developed as a person. The mission of the College...that is what instilled me with the values of working together and supporting the greater good. In my life and in my work," he said, "I'm committed to helping other people."

This article is part of Carmen Pampa Fund's Annual Appeal.  If you have already made a donation to Carmen Pampa Fund this year: THANK YOU! If you haven't, please take the time to give the gift of education to other young Bolivians like Pedro.  Give today.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

sister chris

I first heard of the legendary Sr. Chris Cullen nearly 10 years ago when I arrived to Carmen Pampa. Local high school graduates, UAC-CP students, Carmen Pampa community members, former visitors and volunteers, and members of the Franciscan community often told stories of a tough Irish nun who was a mainstay in Carmen Pampa. She contributed in many ways to education in Bolivia's rural area several years before the College existed. She loved sports, driving her tractor, and putting students to work.  She was tenacious and sharp, they said.

Sr. Chris pictured with UAC-CP Veterinary Science thesis student Raymundo Semo.
Though I officially met Sr. Chris (or Hermana Christina, as locals call her) for the first time a couple years ago when she briefly visited Carmen Pampa, I didn't really get to know her until she returned to the College last November 2011 and ended up staying for a year...nine months longer than she originally planned.

In the past 12 months, Sr. Chris dug in deep and took on some big projects at the College.  In fact, the same morning she arrived to Carmen Pampa (after an overnight flight from Miami and 6 am arrival to La Paz), Chris had a quick cup of coffee and was off to do repairs on the church.  Her knowledge of plumbing and electricity and general maintenance--not to mention her ability to manage student workers--launched her into a position of welcome authority at the Campus Manning physical plant. (Sr. Chris even helped move along a couple construction projects in the nearby town of Coroico--organizing UAC-CP students to complete road work that was severely behind schedule).  She also quickly became a member of the UAC-CP team--helping with dorm checks, participating in staff meetings, etc.

Sr. Chris managed students doing community service work around campus.
Observing her and her interactions with other people throughout the past year, I can confirm that the things I had always heard about Chris were true: she is tough and she does love to drive (her infamous yellow tractor has since been retired, but she gladly manuevered the Toyota Landcruiser pick-up truck around the mountainous country roads of the Yungas). She is also a sports fanatic (this past Saturday she somehow got out of the group Thanksgiving photo because she had already snuck up to see the soccer game).

But what I had never gleaned from the stories before is that Chris is unassuming and more quiet than loud--she never yells; she respectfully disagrees; she listens closely--even when you think she isn't.  Never quick to make a decision, it's obvious that she mulls things over in her head. She may seem serious and stern--and can hide smiles well--but she has a fabulous sense of humor and a gregarious laugh.  And based on the stories she told of the days when she lived through Bolivian dictatorship in the early 1980s, I also think she is brave. Her commitment to social justice and her ability to work with people is inspiring to me.

Last Friday night students and staff hosted a surprise farewell party for Sr. Chris on the College's lower campus.  Words of appreciation and admiration were shared from all sides. The College's Veterinary Department presented Chris with a vest that was signed with messages from all of her students. The most common messages? "May God bless you, Sister." and "I will miss you." I think the goodbye party was just as important for Sr. Chris as is was for the students; it allowed students to show their gratitude and admiration for a woman they dearly respect... precisely because she loves and respects them.

This morning Sr. Chris boarded American Airlines 922 bound for the U.S. unsure if she will return to Carmen Pampa sooner or later. The only certainty we have for the moment is that she will be truly missed. "Sr Chris left," a UAC-CP volunteer texted me, "I feel like the campus is empty without her voice and truck engine sound. So sad."

Monday, November 12, 2012

the great give together

What has been dubbed the Great Minnesota Give Together is the fourth annual Give to the Max Day. But it's not just for Minnesotans; it's an opportunity for people from all over the world to make donations in a 24-hour period to support Minnesota-based Carmen Pampa Fund.  

This year our goal is to raise $20,000 – the amount required to provide 10 full scholarships to students at the College in Carmen Pampa who demonstrate outstanding academic acheivement and extreme financial need. One full scholarship, which covers the cost of tuition, housing, and membership in the Food Cooperative Program, is $2,000 per year (or, approximately $6.50 per student per day). When you consider the cost of higher education in the U.S., the UAC-CP is providing an amazing investment in the life of a young person....and their family, community, and country.

And yet, the price is far beyond the reach of many UAC-CP students who come from subsistence farming families who struggle to meet basic needs and have no access to student loans.  For many aspiring young people, even the College's heavily subsidized tuition and food costs prohibit them from studying in Carmen Pampa...or at any other university. "If it wasn't for my scholarship," graduates frequently tell me, "I would not have been able to stay in school and graduate."

Unfortunately, the demand is great and scholarships are too few. That is why this year we decided to dedicate our Give to the Max Day to our Scholarship Partners Program Fund. All funds raised on Thursday, November 15, will be used to fund student scholarships at the College. 

Please take the time to make a donation to our Scholarship Partners Program. Gifts of any size help students--who eventually become graduates--succeed! (We have LOTS of examples--I've written about a handful of them on my blog:  Concepción Huanca, Germán Miranda, Gabriel Paco, etc...)

For more information about our Scholarship Partners Program, please read our most recent newsletter available online.

Friday, November 9, 2012

welcome back paco

It's always fun when graduates return to Carmen Pampa for a visit. But it's an extra special treat when UAC-CP graduates return on a professional basis to share experiences with current students.

Gabriel Paco is a 2007 Agronomy graduate.

Gabriel Paco, a 2007 Agronomy graduate, is back at the College this week as part of a special workshop about biodigesters. Gabriel said he's expecting more than 100 people (students, faculty, and local community members) to participate in the 3-day course, which is sponsored by CARITAS, Catholic Relief Services (CRS), and the German Agency for Development (GTZ).

The workshop is part of an on-going project, which Gabriel has been contracted by CRS to design. He will also oversee the building of the biodigesters and train people how to construct, manage, and use them.  

Gabriel explained that the biodigesters are something that can be constructed for a total cost of approximately 2,000 Bolivianos each ($300 US), which is a sizeable up-front investment for many Bolivians, but over time is a money saver.  Gabriel set up an outdoor learning lab at the College, where he constructed a model biodigester for the workshop and future use. Nestled in the ground, the giant plastic pouch measures approximately 13 feet long and, according to Gabriel, has the capacity to process approximately 20 kilos (44 pounds) per day of organic waste, which in turn will produce 2-4 hours worth of gas. The sample biodigester is currently being fed kitchen scraps from the College's food cooperative and three additional food kiosks where students, faculty, and staff on Campus Leahy eat. (An additional biodigester on the College's lower campus is being constructed that will process waste from the UAC-CP's hog farm.)

Gabriel demonstrates how the biodigester produces gas. The gas can be stored for later use.

As part of the project, Gabriel has also been contracted to revive the College's recycling center, which he originally helped to develop in 2002. (He laughed when I reminded him that people called him Mister Garbage--a nickname he was proud to have, he admitted.)  His vision is for the College to have a recycling program that serves as a regional center for education on the topic of waste management and recycling.

Gabriel originally left his position at the UAC-CP as coordinator of the recycling center six years ago. "I always said, since the very beginning, I have to learn more things in order to be able to teach students here. I would have loved to have graduated from the UAC-CP and immediately come back to teach here, but with what kind of experience?"

A sign for the biodigester workshop that was posted on campus.

Since he left, Gabriel has had a lot of different professional experiences. He's worked with the Italian Development Agency and later he did consulting work for the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) on a project for Lake Titicaca (both Gabriel and his brother Juan Carlos, who is also a UAC-CP graduate, are originally from a small community near the world-famous lake). For the past five years, Gabriel has worked primarily with the German Development Agency (GTZ).  Most recently, Gabriel has been teaching classes at the public university in El Alto and colleges on the Altiplano. He also does consulting work for smaller NGOs. "Next year," Gabriel said laughing, but with all seriousness, "I want to return to teach here!"

For now, the married father of three who lives with his family in La Paz, works as a consultant; he is primarily focused on projects related to water and the environment, like composting and biogesters.  Currently, he is working in the Department of Potosi, south of La Paz, with the GTZ as a technical advisor on projects related to maintenance of water use and the installation of water pumps. "I go around on a motorcycle to all areas to be able to reach communities that need our help." It is, Gabriel said, a great way to learn about and get to know his country and the people who live in Bolivia. He's happy, he said, to have the experience.

As always, we're happy to have Gabriel back at the UAC-CP to share his experience. "I come here with so much love and care for this place," Gabriel said of his alma mater. "As a graduate, I'm proud to be here; I'm here to help the UAC-CP move forward."

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

uac-cp graduates: promoting rural development

Rachel Satterlee, a graduate student in Sustainable International Development at Brandeis University in Boston who is completing a 6-month field study at the College in Carmen Pampa, published an articled in the October 2012 edition of Global South Development Magazine featuring the College's work to promote rural development through higher education. Rachel's work at the College is focused on developing and implementing an alumni survey and interviewing UAC-CP graduates about their post-graduate work and lives--her article provides an example of the types of stories she hopes to collect.

Published on page 20 under the heading "Development Inspirations 2012", Rachel's article focuses on the work of UAC-CP Agronomy graduate Rene Villca (the College's first graduate) who is executive director of a honey processing association called FUNDACOM. As Rachel notes in her article, FUNDACOM was founded in 2005 by a group of UAC-CP graduates who continue to serve on the budding association's board of directors. And five of the six full-time FUNDACOM employees are UAC-CP alumni.

Rachel writes that FUNDACOM: "is able to provide 98 percent of its supply of honey to the Subsidio Prenatal y Lactancia program of Bolivia, which is the equivalent of WIC (Women, Infants and Children) food assistance in the United States. FONADAL [a European Union financial assistance program] pays FUNDACOM a market rate for the honey that they provide for free to poor families in Bolivia. The remaining two percent of their honey is sold to the general market.

"FUNDACOM provides technical support to beekeepers that work with them, helping farmers solve problems, and giving advice about how to increase production. In this way, Villca hopes the association can contribute 'con un grano de arena'' [with a grain of sand], helping to fulfill the mission of the College, to empower the neediest of people.'"

To read Rachel's two-page story in full and learn more about FUNDACOM's work, visit Global South Development Magazine online and scroll to page 20. It's well worth the read!

Monday, October 8, 2012


Yesterday was the final day of the week-long Intercarreras celebration at the College. Intercarreras, an olympic-like celebration that pits students in the five different academic departments and the Pre-University Program against one another in a series of different competitions, is celebrated every year around October 4th, which is the Feast of St. Francis and the day the College was founded. This year, the College celebrated 19 years. 

Education students preparing to dance on Sunday afternoon.

The days are filled with mostly sporting events:  soccer, futsol, volleyball, races, chess, etc. Every evening there are cultural nights in which students participate in poetry readings, lip synching, theater, partner dancing, etc.  Points are awarded for each event and, in the end, the academic department with the most points wins.

Angelica Quisbert, Director of the UAC-CP's Nursing Department, serves rice during the campus-wide barbeque on Saturday. The College served more than 400 people.

The event also serves as a type of informal homecoming gathering; graduates return to "home" to Carmen Pampa to visit...and even participate in some of the events. I ran into several graduates on Saturday at the all-school barbeque and again on Sunday at the parade of dances.

The festivites ended yesterday with groups (including a group of administrators and volunteers) dancing traditional Bolivian dances. For hours, spectators watched as seven different groups took to the soccer field in their uniform costumes and choreographed motion.

The final winner? The Agronomy Department took home the grand prize: a giant trophy that will now be on display in the main office.

To view more pictures, visit:

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

newest graduate: maria elena alejo

It is a big day for Maria Elena Alejo. Today the 27-year-old UAC-CP Education major becomes a college graduate!

In order to arrive at this momentous landmark in her life, Maria Elena was required to develop, research, write and defended a thesis project--a process that often requires at least 12 months of hard work, dedication, and patience for all the revisions along the way. Her thesis project focused on the role of parents in their children's academic success at the primary school level. Based in her home community of Miraflores, Maria Elena considered three major factors: financial support, moral support, and educational support (helping with homework, etc.) of parents.

You can hear Maria Elena talk about her project in her own words on this short youtube clip.

"I chose this thesis topic," she explained, "because in the rural area they always say that parents don't provide a lot of support for their children. One, is because parents work. The other is because parents often have very little education themselves. The majority of parents, for example, studied up to just middle school. So, they aren't able to provide a lot of homework help for their children."

Financially, she said, most parents can provide the basic supplies for their children: pencils, notebooks, etc. But parents, Maria Elena found, are not as likely to provide a lot of moral support and encouragement nor much help with homework.

As a result, most academic achievement really depends on each child. "It's the children with a lot of self-determination who are able to succeed on their own and 'go forward.'"  Her thesis findings indicated that most young students don't receive the moral and academic support they need to be successful.

Though Maria Elena believes that it's not because parents don't value education. In most cases parents just don't know how to be helpful. In fact, the most frequent response Maria Elena received from parents is the exact same message I hear from parents of UAC-CP students: "I want my children to go places, to be someone. I don't want them to be like me, to have the same life as me.'" (That said, of the 22 parents that she interviewed in Miraflores, two "older" parents did indicate that they did not believe education was that important, particularly for girls.) It's clear to Maria Elena that the perception of education is changing and, in her opinion, improving with each generation. Younger parents, she said, want more resources to help their children do better in school.

Curious, I asked Maria Elena about her own experience as a primary school student raised in a single-parent household. She smiled and laughed. "I was fortunate," she said, "I had a lot of support from my mom. She didn't necessarily help me with my homework [Maria Elena's mother studied to the 7th grade], but she was able to provide a lot of moral support. My mom always told me things like, 'You can do it.' 'You know this.' For me, her support is what motivated me."

Based on her thesis, her personal experience growing up in Bolivia, and her year-long internship as a teacher at Adams Spanish Immersion School in St. Paul, Minnesota, Maria Elena believes she has some solutions to help parents take a more active and supportive role in education.  First, she wants to offer workshops for parents that would discuss the role they need to play in their children's academic success.  Second, she believes a facilitator is necessary to help improve relationship and communication between parents and teachers.  Teachers need to be more open and encouraging of meeting with parents and sharing information about the students, and parents need to be more actively engaged and interested in their children's school work.  Finally, Maria Elena says parents need to know--and be reminded--that they must set the example and the expectations at home. Parents must read with children or, for those unable to read, ask their children to read with them.  (Reading is not part of Bolivian culture. Just last night on the news, I heard a statistic that 80% of Bolivians don't read even one book per year).

Maria Elena plans to write up a proposal to the mayor's office in the Municipality of Coroico that would organize these workshops for local communities and schools and she would like to facilitate them.

I asked her if she thinks perceptions of education and the role of parents in their children's education will change in Bolivia.  She took a deep breath and sighed as she considered that challenge. "I hope it will change," she said sincerely. "I want it to change."

One thing is for sure, things are changing in Maria Elena's life...thanks to education. She has already obtained her "diplomado en educación superior" (a type of certificate program for teaching) and now, with her college degree in hand, plans to get her master's degree.

Maria Elena still gives a big nod to the role her mother has played in her academic achievement. "My mother has made all the difference. All the goals I've ever set for myself, I have always achieved them. As my mom says, everything is just depends on me." 

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

graduate feature: concepción huanca

It was her experience growing up in an isolated farming community with no access to medical professionals that made 27-year-old Concepción Huanca decide to study Nursing. "It was, and still is, difficult for people in rural Bolivia to get medical attention," Concepción explained.

Today, the 2009 UAC-CP Nursing graduate and former CPF scholarship recipient is helping to make sure people in the rural area have access to medical treatment and preventative education. Concepción works for CARITAS Coroico, a branch of the international Catholic development organization that assists poor and marginalized populations. Though her work is based in the town of Coroico (45 minutes from her home village), Concepción and her co-worker Estela Mollo (UAC-CP Nursing 2009) are responsible for managing a project that serves 16 rural communities.

The project has two objectives: 1. To reduce the stigma that exists around people, primarily children, with disabilities; 2. To promote healthy living habits both at home and at school.

Concepción and her colleagues provide regular workshops for families, teachers, and community members about common disabilities and how to best help people with special needs. "Before we started this project," Concepción explained, "there was a lot of shame for a family to have a member with a physical or mental disability. We found there were even cases of families hiding their children with disabilities at home because they were embarrassed." Her role is to help people with disabilities be recognized and accepted at home, at school, and in the community, as required by law.

Concepción is also responsible for training a group of 25 people, identified leaders in the rural villages, who help their neighbors to develop healthy living skills, specifically with regard to safe drinking water and hygiene. Concepción explained that simply through education, participants can prevent the spread of disease. Their goal is to reduce the number of cases of diarrhea, the leading cause of death among children under 5-years-old in the Municipality of Coroico.

Concepción is proud that she is able to fulfill the mission of the UAC-CP. Apart from her responsibilities as a project coordinator, she also uses her background in public health nursing to provide health care services. "Just today," she said, "we were at an elementary school giving a workshop and a woman came to find me because her husband was in pain and needed attention. I met with him and found that he was suffering from chronic arthritis." As a trusted professional, Concepción was able to get the man the help he needed and arrange for transportation to the Coroico Hospital.

Like other UAC-CP graduates who received Carmen Pampa Fund scholarships, Concepción said that it's very possible she might not have been able to finish her studies without financial assistance. "My scholarship is what carried me through to graduation. I will always be grateful to the people who made my scholarship possible because that is what allowed me to be a professional; that is what allows me to serve the people of Bolivia who are most in need."

featured donor: mary murphy

Many thanks to Mary Murphy, a math professor at Smith College who is a regular volunteer at the College and a faithful donor to our Scholarship Partners Program, for sharing her unique perspective and for giving so much of her time, insight, and financial resources to help students in Carmen Pampa.

How did you become involved with the College in Bolivia?

Mary Murphy with students in the College's Education Dept.
I first learned about the UAC-CP through an article about the University that appeared in the National Catholic Reporter in 2003. I was intrigued and inspired: I teach mathematics and also speak Spanish, but I had never done both at the same time. It wasn't until 2005 that I was able to visit Carmen Pampa to find out whether or not I could handle living there (yes) and whether I could be of use to the UAC-CP (yes).

I arranged to take a leave from my job during the fall semester of 2006 so that I could volunteer in Carmen Pampa. I won't say that my experience was an easy one; teaching in Spanish with terribly inadequate resources was a challenge, and I often found myself counting the days to the end of the semester, but ultimately it was satisfying and rewarding, especially because of the beautiful people I had come to know. By December, I was already figuring out how to soon I could come back. I returned the following May as soon as my semester at Smith [College] ended, and have done so every year since 2007. In 2008, in fact, I managed to stay in Carmen Pampa for a another whole semester.

Why do you choose to donate to CPF's Scholarship Program?

I want to support a student like so many of those I've taught at the College, young men and women of promise who sincerely want to become educated in order to work effectively to help their own people. For the most part, these students wouldn't have advanced beyond secondary school were it not for the UAC. Their parents have few economic resources, and they come to the University with little more than a few changes of clothing and a pencil or two. Some have to spend their weekends elsewhere picking coca leaves, instead of studying, to earn money for food. I want to make it possible for a student to focus on his or her learning.

Why do you think other people should be interested in the College's work?

It's good to realize that the things most of us in the U.S. take for granted, universal public education, sufficient food, adequate health care, high-speed internet, and free public libraries are little more than a dream for billions of people in other parts of the world. The UAC-CP is one grass-roots effort to redress this imbalance, one graduate at a time.

Monday, June 18, 2012

honoring a vision: sr. damon nolan

On Friday, June 15th, the community of Carmen Pampa--along with 12 of the neighboring communities in the Villa Nilo Sub-Central who were part of the original founding and building of the College--gathered with students, faculty and graduates of the UAC-CP and special visitors from Carmen Pampa Fund to celebrate Sr. Damon Nolan and her vision to bring educational opportunities to the area. She was celebrated with the unveiling of a bust sculpted in her likeness.

The official ceremony was hosted by UAC-CP graduate David Uria, who works for the mayor's office in Coroico. Special invited speakers included: Gregorio Chamiso, representing the local communities; Ann Leahy and Tara Nolan of Carmen Pampa Fund; Miguel Monrroy and Rosemary Mayda Vidal, former students of Sr. Damon who sang a song and recited poetry; representatives from the UAC-CP alumni association; and a representative to the mayor's office in Coroico. The marching band from the local high school, where Sr. Damon first served as director, provided music for the Bolivian national anthem and the anthem for the high school.

Throughout the event, people talked about the importance and power of Sr. Damon's vision--first, to include girls in education (when she took over as director of the local high school in the early 80s, she insisted that girls be allowed to study at the high school level) and later to offer young people from the rural area with the opportunity to study at the college level. "For us," a community member told me, "she was a beacon of light who showed us the way to make education possible for our children...and future generations."

Adults and children from Carmen Pampa, members of the Leahy family, Tara Nolan, and Pablo Eduardo are pictured with the bust of UAC-CP founder Sr. Damon Nolan.

Fr. Freddy del Villar, who is President of the College in Carmen Pampa, said he hopes Sr. Damon is proud that her work didn't end when she left unexpectedly in 2006. Rather, he said, it has grown. Today, the College doesn't just exist to educate the people in the area of Carmen Pampa, it attracts men and women from all parts of the country who are looking for quality education at an affordable cost. 

Additional photos of the ceremony, along with comments from former students and graduates of the high school and the College, can be viewed here online.

The bust was made possible by Bolivian artist and sculptor Pablo Eduardo and Tara Nolan, Sr. Damon's niece and Acting Executive Director of Carmen Pampa Fund. Many thanks to them for making this day possible and for keeping the vision of Sr. Damon alive!

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

graduate returns to teach

The timing couldn't have been any more perfect. In 1994, when Coroico native Claudia Cerruto was ready to go to college and interested in studying Veterinary Science, she learned that the UAC-CP was open and offering classes. "It was really good for me," she said, "because I could stay close to my family."

UAC-CP Veterinary graduate Dr. Claudio Cerruto is now a professor at the College.

So, off she went to live and study in Carmen Pampa--just 45 minutes by public transport from her hometown. "I studied there for almost six years!" she said. "Carmen Pampa was a great experience; I have learned so much not only about medicine, but also about life, sharing, friendships, working, etc. Those six years in Carmen Pampa were awesome." She explained that she and her classmates in the Veterinary Science major were very close. They were good friends, Claudia said, who were happy to be together.

Claudia was the first graduate of the Veterinary Science Department. After finishing her studies at the College in 1999 she left to work on her thesis in the town of Viacha on Bolivia's high plain. "It was a hard experience," Claudia remembered, "I didn't like the cold weather and people did not like to talk with a woman, especially a young woman." But she worked to get the data necessary to finish her thesis and graduate from the UAC-CP.

Following graduation, Claudia found work as a technician with the government of La Paz. "Again, it wasn't easy," Claudia explained, "people in Bolivia don't like to work with young women, so I worked so hard to be respected as a veterinarian." Her work paid off. In 2001 she was promoted to coordinate and supervise 23 agricultural projects.

Though she had full-time work, she continued studying at night--English and Portuguese. It was essentially her language skills that helped her get a scholarship to study in Japan, where she received an 11 monthly training in high molecular protozoan diseases. "I loved it!" she said about her experience in Japan.

Dr. Claudia Cerruto pictured with her Biochemistry class at the UAC-CP. Together, they are holding up a sign to thank Carmen Pampa Fund's 2012 Spirit of Ayni Award recipient Ed Flahavan.

Back in Bolivia, she applied for a Fulbright Scholarship, sponsored by the U.S. government, and after a grueling application process, became the first person from the country's rural area to be awarded the prestigious scholarship to study for her master's degree in the U.S.  Claudia was awarded her MS in Food Science from the Oklahoma State University. She continued studying and in 2011 Claudia received her PhD in Food Science (food microbiology).  Following graduation, she and her family (she also met her husband John and had a little girl while she was in the States) moved to Bolivia.

Currently, Claudia is back at Carmen Pampa where she teaches Thesis I and Biochemistry classes. "It's been a wonderful experience," Claudia said. "I love my students! I can see in their faces the same attitude that I had more than 15 years ago when I started just like them." Claudia strongly believes that education makes a difference and that is why, she explained, she's dedicated to teaching students at the College in Carmen Pampa.

While Claudia is happy to be able to give back to the College where she first got her start, she wants to eventually work more in her field of expertise and, to do that, she needs more training. She and her family plan to return to the U.S. within the next year so she can gain work experience in the food industry.

Monday, April 16, 2012

spirit of ayni

Once a year, Carmen Pampa Fund celebrates the spirit of ayni--the indigenous custom in Bolivia of working together to accomplish a goal for the common good. Our ¡La Fiesta de Ayni! celebrates the work of Carmen Pampa Fund, the College, and the hundreds of volunteers and donors and friends who help make higher education accessible for Bolivian women and men.

This year ¡La Fiesta de Ayni! will be Wednesday, May 23rd at 6pm at St. Catherine University, St. Paul, Minnesota. (The official program will begin at 7pm). We invite our friends, donors, and anyone who is interested in learning more about our work to support the College in Bolivia to attend.

We are thrilled to welcome special guests: Dr. Hugh Smeltekop, Vice Director of the UAC-CP, and Lucia Cuno and Edgar Miranda, UAC-CP Education graduates. In addition, CPF will present the annual Spirit of Ayni award.

As always, it promises to be an inspiring and heart-warming evening. Please join us! For more information about ticket costs or to RSVP, please send an e-mail to: or call CPF's office at: 651/641-1588. Space is limited.

Monday, March 26, 2012

germán miranda

"The mission of the UAC-CP, as I understand it, is that you come here to work and that you can later return to the places that are most in need and help those people. The other piece is the moral and ethical component that we learn here. That's the difference between this place and other places; it's the difference between those who graduate from the UAC-CP and those who graduate from other universities."  --Germán Miranda, UAC-CP Agronomy thesis student

Like many Bolivians, I find 22-year-old Germán Arcangel Miranda to be naturally curious; he is inquisitive in a charming and noninvasive way. He craves information in all forms. Which, probably explains how the UAC-CP Agronomy major came across my blog online (he confessed to me one day that he likes to read my blog with the help of google translator).

I'm guessing his genuine curiosity also correlates to the fact that Germán is an exceptional student. During his four years at the College in Carmen Pampa, he has consistently been recognized as one of the top two students in the Agronomy Department (a fact he modestly confirms when I inquire). Professors tell me Germán even attends classes or special workshops that aren't required of him because, in Germán's own words: "I want to take advantage of every opportunity to be here and learn."

Apart from being academically gifted, Germán exudes such pure goodness and gentleness that I can't help but find him incredibly endearing.  He is the type of person you hope only receives kindness in life because he deserves nothing less.

When Germán tells me his life story, shares his passion for learning, and confesses his life aspirations,  I am reminded of why the College in Carmen Pampa exists: to provide aspiring young people from marginalized populations with access to higher education and the opportunity to improve their lives and the lives of their families and communities. Germán is the mission of the College in action.

Germán comes from the rural community of Atén, which is located about 17 hours by bus northeast of La Paz and about one hour by public transportation from the nearest town of Apolo--ie. the nearest high school, hospital, food market, transportation hub, etc. (When I originally asked Germán how far he lives from Apolo, he clarified by asking if I meant by foot, on a bicycle, or in a vehicle. Transportation isn't frequent, so it's common to make the 7-8 hour walk to town or a three hour bike ride.)

Germán estimates that there are about 50 families that live in his home village Atén and most of the inhabitants identify with the quickly disappearing Leco ethnic group.  They are farmers who mostly produce corn, bananas, and sugar cane. Their homes are made of mud and stick and roofs are thatch. Electricity and running water only arrived to Atén within the past couple of years; all of Germán's life prior to the UAC was spent daily collecting water from a waterfall and studying by candlelight at night. ("I never saw a computer until I arrived to Carmen Pampa in 2008," he told me.)

In addition to cash crops, Germán's family also harvests incense. Three times a year, he joins his family and neighbors (who participate in ayni) to make a multiple-day journey on foot, carrying provisions up to 50-60lbs each, until they arrive deep in the jungle where they set up a base camp, of sorts, to collect incense, which is later sold for traditional and religious purposes in Bolivia. Since the age of 11, Germán has participated in the multiple-week harvests. One time, he stayed up to one month in the jungle; he remembered water and food being scarce.

The second oldest of four children, Germán's parents never had the opportunity to study past the 8th grade. Perhaps that is why they place such a high value on their children's education. Germán studied in a one-room school house, which offered no opportunity to study past the 8th grade. Common situations like this force young people, like many of those studying at the UAC-CP, to make difficult decisions: go away to study at a boarding high school or quit school and start working. Germán and his family made the sacrifice to choose the former. He graduated from the high school in Apolo in 2006.

Somewhat surprisingly, Germán didn't go to the UAC-CP immediately after high school. Based on superb test scores, he was one of a chosen few to be accepted to a public Bolivian university in La Paz. But academic, food, and living costs were too much. He was forced to drop out after one month and returned to Atén to work for all of 2007.

The College in Carmen Pampa, Germán said, gave him the chance he could otherwise not afford. "A lot of the universities [in Bolivia]--the opportunities--are concentrated in the urban areas. ...the best high schools, the colleges... Those of us who live in communities really far away...we are left out. Our schools are really poor, we share teachers in one room, we have no access to materials, and the government breakfast program offered in the big cities doesn't find its way to us in the countryside."  

"But the UAC-CP," Germán said, "is a huge exception. Here, they give us so many possibilities."

When I ask him about his thesis project--a requirement for graduation from the UAC-CP--he smiles. It's obvious that Germán loves talking about his thesis. He explained that it's about the vanilla orchid that produces the vanilla bean, which is at risk of extinction in parts of Bolivia. His research is to determine ways to propagate the orchid in laboratories for replanting. To do this, he's looking at key factors to planting new seedlings: evaluating shade levels and two types of pesticides (organic and chemical) that both fight a common fungus that attacks the sensitive orchid. Germán also hopes to help educate people about the economic and social importance of cultivating the unique and quickly disappearing plant. The Bolivian chocolate company El CEIBO, internationally recognized for its products, is particularly interested in Germán's thesis results for business purposes and have helped with limited financing.

Once he defends his thesis project and graduates from the UAC-CP, Germán wants to continue studying. "I would like to get a master's degree in a specialized area; maybe forest systems or the environment."  He hopes to find a scholarship to make this dream come true. (Germán is grateful for his scholarship that financed his education at the UAC-CP.)

Inspired by the mission of the College, Germán also feels called to return to his home community, where he is particularly interested in working to recuperate plant species that are at risk of extinction. "If I have the opportunity, I would like to return to Atén--where they really need my help." His family and other farming families in his community produce in what he calls "inexpert" ways. "[At the UAC-CP] I've learned new ways and ideas about improving techniques," Germán said. "Even when I've gone home over vacation, I have taught people from my community about different ways of farming--organic production, composting, etc."

Gárman hopes his parents will be able to make the multi-day trip to attend the thesis defense. "My parents always wanted me to be someone in life. They are very happy with the education I have received here in Carmen Pampa." Considering the incredible young man that he is, Germán's parents have a lot to be proud of when it comes to their son's accomplishments and vision for the future.

In fact, I think anyone who contributes to the College's success has reason to be proud; you have provided the gift of opportunity for young people like Germán--talented men and women who have the ability to turn possibilities into life-changing realities.

Monday, February 27, 2012

eating in the food cooperatives: in their own words

The College, located in the rural mountain village of Carmen Pampa--three hours from the capital city of La Paz--is not only responsible for educating students, it's also charged with providing housing and food for all students.* 

Understandably, preparing meals for nearly 700 students every day is no small task. The College's Food Cooperative Program does a pretty amazing job of not only providing three healthy meals a day, but the student-managed program provides UAC-CP students with the unique opportunity to learn about project management and teamwork.
To eat in the Food Cooperative, all student members must pay 150 Bolivianos per month (approximately $21 US). However, the full cost for a student to eat three meals each day costs more. Donations to the Food Cooperative Program and the Scholarship Partners Fund help subsidize costs and keep them as low as possible. And thanks to Cross International, the College also provides a free breakfast program for the entire UAC-CP student body population. Of course, costs are also kept to a minimum thanks to the student members take turns cooking, cleaning, buying food, making the menus, etc.
 The Food Cooperative Program feeds body, mind, and spirit. In addition to eating, it also provides students with important leadership experience.
As I was preparing a couple reports this week for people who contributed to the Food Cooperative Program, I came across interviews with UAC-CP students that express their gratitude for the support. And more than gratitude, their personal testimonies also indicate the importance of the Program.  As one student said: "If it weren’t for these donations we wouldn’t be studying." 
The following are a couple passages from UAC-CP students who benefit from the Food Cooperative Program. In their own words, they explain how the food cooperative program has allowed them to stay in school and focus on their academic studies.
Students take turns cooking, cleaning, purchasing food, creating the menu, etc. There are three separate food cooperatives at the College.
David, 19-years-old, Pre-University student:
"I arrived at the UAC-CP after hearing about the College from other people. I am interested in studying and it was necessary for me to work the first days. Luckily I could eat and it is not a concern for me to go into the kitchen and peel potatoes. Later I received financial assistance from one of the volunteers so that I could enter the cooperative.

To be in the cooperative helps me to relate and see there is companionship. And you can eat more if, with luck, there are leftovers.  I remember in my house breakfast was rice with a banana, and a piece of meat. Lunch was soup. Supper was rice with beans. However in the cooperative you eat better, and you also eat vegetables that I had never eaten, like: broccoli, cauliflower, and also oatmeal with milk.

I thank the College for being concerned about us, for providing us with free breakfast thanks to funders, like:  Cross International, Carmen Pampa Fund, Elizabeth Hayes Fund, International Foundation, and others who are part of this aid. I ask them to continue to help because without this possibly we wouldn’t be able to study, as healthy food is very important. Thank you!"    

Janeth, 22-years-old, Agronomy major:
"In the beginning, the first days [at the College] were difficult...I was very concerned about eating at the food stands because they were expensive, and I was concerned also how to enter the cooperative, as they select the young people most in need.  I was very happy that they chose me to be a part of the cooperative. I was, however, sad, because with the economic costs, for three children from my family to study it was not possible for my father to pay for all three, so my older sister left her studies and therefore only two of us stayed.

My experience in the cooperative involved sharing, I was able to make more friends. It was nice because you hear about different meetings and can participate in different activities that are available. You also learn from other students in advanced semesters who generally assume leadership in the cooperatives. Also I was able to know students who were not in the cooperative and many of them didn’t eat because they didn’t have the money and I had the opportunity to share with them... Now, I am part of the leadership of the cooperative (I am an “economist” watching prices of food)." 

Rita, 21-years-old, Education major:

"I entered the food cooperative because it was economical and really has a lot of support. My sister is also in the cooperative and there wouldn’t be enough money for us otherwise to eat.  

"To be in the cooperative taught me to participate in different activities. I like to help in the kitchen and clean. I remember in my home breakfast was complete with rice, meat, and yucca with tea. Lunch generally was vegetable soup and for supper we had tea or nothing. In the cooperative, however, before we had up to 4 eating times a day (breakfast, lunch, tea break and supper and I got used to eating more.

The cooperatives complete a very important function at the College because the food stands don’t have enough food for all my classmates and economically the costs would be three or four times more than what we pay and many don’t have the money because we come from the rural areas. Also in the food stands they cook chicken, while in the cooperatives we eat a variety and it is more nutritious.

We therefore are able to enjoy this help thanks to the support of many donors. If it weren’t for these donations we wouldn’t be studying. I ask our donors to please not stop collaborating. May they know that God will always enlighten them in the work that they do."

*While dorms and food programs are commonly part of higher education in the US, they are practically non-existant in Bolivia, where university students live and eat off-campus. In fact, one of the reasons the College in Carmen Pampa is  uniquely accessible to young people is because it offers food and housing.