Wednesday, July 3, 2013

prevention, detection, and diagnosis: addressing tuberculosis and leishmaniasis

One of the many things that makes the UAC-CP unique is its emphasis on practical learning. Students in all five major areas of study at the College are required to participate in extension activities that not only provide applicable professional experiences, but also offer important services to marginalized populations.
Third semester UAC-CP Nursing students and Public Health Program Coordinator Angelica Quisbert.
One example of this focus on social service extension activities is a new public health project launched this year in the Nursing Department. “Prevention, Detection, and Diagnosis: Addressing Tuberculosis and Leishmaniasis in Yungas, Bolivia” responds to the needs of people infected with or at risk of being infected with leishmaniasis and tuberculosis. Both leishmaniasis and tuberculosis are relatively common and potentially fatal diseases within the College’s service area.* In addition to preventing and diagnosing the diseases, the project also serves as a model for other regional public health centers and provides UAC-CP Nursing students with practical experience as public health educators.

For the first semester of 2013, 25 students from the UAC-CP Nursing Department worked to implement the first phase of the project, which included a comprehensive public health survey of households in 14 communities, two K-12 schools, and the College (a population of approximately 3,500 people).

Before they could implement the survey, all third semester Nursing students participated in multiple training sessions that covered topics such as: introduction to tuberculosis, leishmaniasis, dengue, and chagas disease; identification of symptoms of leishmaniasis and tuberculosis, collection of sputum samples, surveying, social interaction, etc.

Once they were trained and organized logistically, they went out in groups of two to visit communities and do an “active search” of people with tuberculosis and leishmaniasis. In order to find people at home before they left to work in their fields, students had to start walking at 5am in the morning. (The farthest community was located three hours away.) “With a hand drawn map we walked on narrow trails through what you could call the forest to visit people house by house,” said third semester Nursing student Beto David Mamani.

A UAC-CP Nursing student talks to a local family about proper waste management.
At each household, students gathered information for the public health survey, looked for people with potential signs of tuberculosis and leishmaniasis, took samples of people with obvious symptoms of the diseases, and provided educational talks to promote healthy lifestyles, including ways to prevent and treat tuberculosis and lesihmaniasis.  “Our job is to not only diagnose people, but to educate them and advise them,” Beto said. The students are often the only medical professionals for miles around.

In addition to identifying cases of tuberculosis and leishmaniasis and helping people get the proper treatment, Nursing students also attended to special medical emergencies. “We’ve seen some pretty bad things,” Beto said recalling one particular situation in which students treated a little girl suffering from a dog bite on her face. “The family hadn’t taken the girl to the hospital, so we treated her. We walked to their home three mornings in a row to help the girl’s parents clean the wound and make sure it wasn’t infected,” Beto said. Grateful for their help, the family “paid” Beto and his classmate with bags of homegrown fruit.

Students told me that they were well received by community members. “It was really cool,” said Nursing student Roger Tapia. “We would stay and converse with community members for a long while. Often they would invite us to eat breakfast with them.” Beto agreed. “It has been a beautiful experience to work with the community members.”

The next steps for the project include expanding the active search and public health survey to include other communities within the Municipality of Coroico. Project coordinator Angelica Quisbert said she also wants students to stat processing the samples, rather than sending them to the Coroico Hospital for diagnosis. In order to do that, the College needs a better laboratory with more sophisticated equipment. “I want our students to leave [the UAC-CP] with the experience of working in a lab and processing samples.” If UAC-CP students will be working in understaffed rural clinics some day, they need to have multiple skill sets.  Currently, the only obstacles to growing the program are financial limitations.

Roger said he is grateful to everyone who has made a financial contribution to make this project a reality.  "There are many people in my country who need health care assistance" he said, "and that’s why I’m proud to be part of a project that is making a real difference for people. If we all just give a little, together we can make a big difference. In just five months we are already seeing positive results of our work. Thanks to this project, we are helping to prevent disease and, in some cases, death.”

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

20th anniversary tour

Unless you've been there and experienced it, it's really hard to fully understand the College and the significance of its success during the past 20 years. That is why Carmen Pampa Fund is organizing a tour to visit the College. We invite people to join us for a trip to Carmen Pampa, Bolivia, October 4-14th. 

This special 20th anniversary tour will focus on the role of the College and its impact during the past two decades on development in Bolivia's rural sector, especially with regard to agriculture, animal husbandry, tourism, education, and health care. Participants will also learn about the College's vision for the future.

Examples of trip activities include: 
  • Conversations with students, staff, and faculty at the College. 
  •  Cultural evening, including traditional Bolivian food, music, and dance. 
  • Visits to local extension projects managed by the College to help serve rural farmers and their families. 
  •  Visits with UAC-CP graduates to learn about their post-graduate work.

Click on the image of the brochure on the right for details about the trip. For more specific information, contact Sarah Mechtenberg at or call our office at 651.641.1588.

We hope to see you in Bolivia!

Monday, February 11, 2013

twenty years later

This year, on October 4th, 2013, the College will celebrate its 20th anniversary of the founding of the UAC-CP.  It's been nearly two decades that the College has provided higher education and services to the people of Bolivia's rural area.

Sr. Damon Nolan literally built the College with students.
Planning for the College dates back to 1990 when Sr. Damon Nolan, a Franciscan missionary, who had been living and working in the area of alternative adult education in the Yungas and later served as director of the Carmen Pampa high school, started talking with local people about the need to train young people from the rural area at the college level.

A college education, everyone believed, would not only help empower the families and communities of Bolivia's poor, rural area, but it would also give aspiring men and women control over their own destiny.

The initial planning for the College was a joint effort that involved the Cathlic University of Bolivia (which, to this day, provides academic accreditation for the UAC-CP), the Missionary Franciscan Sisters of the Immaculate Conception based in Boston, the Diocese of Coroico, and the Villa Nilo Sub-Central (a local governing body of the indigenous Aymaran people).  The four groups were united over their shared concern about the lack of job opportunities for recent high school graduates and a need to have professionals from the rural area trained to seek solutions and address the problems of their people living in poverty. Building a college, everyone agreed, would be a way to dismantle barriers to education and lift people out of poverty. 

Pictured of initial construction of dormitories on Campus Manning.
When the College first opened its doors for classes in January 1994, 54 students were enrolled for basic technical training. Now, nearly 20 years later, the College has a current enrollment of approximately 700 students per year and offers five degrees--four of which are undergraduate degrees: Nursing, Agronomy, Veterinary Science, and Education. (Ecotourism is a 3-year technical degree). The College boasts more than 500 graduates and thesis students, approximately 20% of whom go on for continuing studies and about half of whom are women.

In less than 20 years, the College has become a vibrant catalyst for social and economic development. More than any awards or recognition, the work of UAC-CP graduates is proof of the College's success in implementing its mission.

The desks and periodic table have remained the same, but many different faces have come and gone.
This year, we look forward to looking back on the past. Recalling stories and news events and looking at old photos, we hope to both reminded and inspired of all that has been accomplished in 20 years. This kind of exercise will be important, as it can help us evaluate the mission, vision, and  outcomes of the College's work. As a result, it will serve as a foundation to help us dream and make plans for the College's future.

If you supported the beginning years of the College in some way (a volunteer, visitor, donor, etc.,) and have pictures and/or stories to share, please send them to

Friday, February 8, 2013

public health in carmen pampa

The College has been fortunate to have help from Dr. Pilar Hernández. Dr. Hernández, a native of Spain and now living in Bolivia specializes in public health and infectious diseases, helped to develop a public health project for the College's Nursing Department and Public Health Center. The three-year project, "Prevention, Detection, Diagnosis and Treatment: Addressing Leishmaniasis and Tuberculosis in Yungas, Bolivia," will start this February at the College.

Dr. Hernández writes a blog about health issues in Bolivia--many of which people assume have been eradicated from the world, but still exist and prey upon people in developing countries, like Bolivia.  On her blog she also writes about her work, including the UAC-CP project.

Dr. Hernández writes on her blog:

Dr. Reynaldo Mendoza, Director of the UAC-CP's Health Clinic.
The Unidad Académica Campesina de Carmen Pampa (UAC-CP) is a university located in the Yungas subtropical region of the Department of La Paz, Bolivia. It provides access to higher education and community service for Bolivia’s poorest and most marginalized population. The UAC-CP’s Nursing Department and Public Health Program prepare young Bolivian women and men to understand and respond to health care needs and improve the quality of life for people, especially those living in the rural area.

The project I’m working in: Prevention, Detection, Diagnosis and Treatment: Addressing Leishmaniasis and Tuberculosis in Yungas, Bolivia will provide services for populations at high risk for tuberculosis and leishmaniasis, which are highly endemic in the Yungas area, as well as provide UAC-CP Nursing students with hands-on training in public health and laboratory work. The project aims at detecting tuberculosis and leishmaniasis cases in the service area of the UAC-CP, taking samples for diagnosis and provide treatment to patients.

For this project, there is a current collaboration with the Public Health Faculty of the St. Catherine’s University in Minnesota for the construction of the data base of the project. In addition, another collaboration with the Parasitology Department of the Pharmacy Faculty at the University of Barcelona on the test of topical treatment for cutaneous leishmaniasis has been also established. Since the current treatment for leishmaniasis in Bolivia consists of injected Glucantime®, the use of an external treatment that can be applied by the same patients represents a big advantage.
This project has received partial funding for the first year of the three-year project, but the College and Carmen Pampa Fund continue to look for financial support. If you have suggestions for funding or questions about the project, please contact Sarah Mechtenberg or Dr. Pilar Hernández.

Thursday, January 24, 2013


Today is the kick-off of one of my favorite Bolivian celebrations: Alasitas.

To explain Alasitas, I take a paragraph from the Lonely Planet guide book:  "During Inca times the Alasitas Fair ("buy from me" in Aymara) coincided with the spring equinox (September 21), and was intended to demonstrate the abundance of the fields.  The date underwent some shifts during the Spanish colonial period, which the campesinos weren't too happy about.  In effect they decided to turn the celebration into a kitschy mockery of the original.  'Abundance' was redefined to apply not only to crops, but also homes, tools, cash, clothing, and lately, cars, trucks, airplanes and even 12-story buildings.  The little god of abundance, Ekeko ("dwarf" in Aymara), made his appearance and modern Alasitas traditions are now celebrated every January 24th"...and for a couple weeks following."

A vendor displays the Ekeko, the keeper and distributor of material possessions, surrounded by tiny replicas of the things that the person wants.  The Ekeko's mouth is black from smoking too many cigarettes.

Public parks and plazas throughout major Bolivian cities and municipalities (like the town of Coroico) were crowded today with people looking to buy small versions of nearly anything you can imagine: cars, hats, dolls, candy, furniture, appliances, airline tickets, diplomas, food, and money--lots of tiny Bolivian bills and US dollars. "Buy the money, Señorita," one man told me. "And it will bring you more money!"

That, in essence, is the idea of Alasitas. All of the tiny items represent things that people either aspire to own or want to achieve/accomplish.  If you want to own a car or truck, for example, you buy a small car/truck.  If you want to travel in the coming year, you would buy a tiny passport. Once you make your purchase, you have a yatiri, or shaman, bless your purchased goods. Then, you wait for the "wish" to come true within the year.