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.