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."

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