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.

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