Thursday, May 15, 2014

long journey home

UAC-CP students always have a way of putting things into perspective for me.  The other day, for instance, I was a bit homesick; I was feeling particularly far away from my Minnesota/South Dakota friends and family. Then, I chatted with Soledad.

Twenty-three-year-old UAC-CP Education student Soledad Carcasi is from a community named San Fermin in the province of Apolo located in northern Bolivia near the border with Peru. When she travels home to visit her family during summer and winter breaks, the two day trip home takes her through the capital city of La Paz, over Bolivia's high plain, across part of Lake Titicaca, and past the border into Peru. One of the final legs of her journey home takes Soledad across a river back into Bolivia on a balsa boat.  From there, she walks even farther before reaching her family's home.

That sound's exhausting, I think, and insist that there must be another way that doesn't require travel through another country. "There is another route," she admits, "but transportation isn't frequent." After a 17 hour ride on a bus from La Paz to the town of Apolo, this way home requires that she walk for 4 -5 days through the jungle.  I ask if she's ever walked it and she admits that she has "various times."

Like many UAC-CP students, her home community of San Fermín offers no educational opportunities past the eighth grade. Determined that she graduate from high school, Soledad's parents took her and her sister to the "nearby" town of Apolo.  There, the two girls shared a room and were looked after by a friend of their parents.

"During vacation [from high school], I was supposed to stay in Apolo," Soledad explained. "But I was only 14 or 15 -years-old and I always wanted to go home. So I would make the 4-5 day journey on foot--along with 2 or 3 other friends, including my sister."

Knowing what I know of rural Bolivia, I try to imagine the logistics of young teens making this trek.  I ask where they would sleep at night.  "En el monte," she tells me laughing. Essentially, they would just lay down in the middle of nowhere in the jungle and sleep until the sun came up. "Then, we'd get up and start walking for another day."

This August, Soledad will yet again travel across international borders to arrive at a place she will call "home." As one of two young women chosen from the UAC-CP Education Department to participate in a 10-month long teaching exchange program through Amity Institute, the UAC-CP student body president will travel from the College in Carmen Pampa to Adams Spanish Immersion School in St. Paul, Minnesota.  Though obviously thousands of miles farther away, it will take less than half the amount of time for Soledad to be greeted by her host family at the MSP airport than it does for her to visit her family in San Fermín.

Considering, I'm sure Soledad won't mind the things that cause most of us to complain: security checks, cramped seats, and airline food.  I wonder if she'll find it curious that in a journey of more than 1,000 miles, the only signifant amount of walking she will probably do will be on moving walkways between gates in Miami.

Always welcoming a new perspective, I'm excited to hear about her journey.

Monday, April 7, 2014

cpf board member brings unique experience

When Becky Monnens joined Carmen Pampa Fund's Board of Directors in 2013, she was no stranger to the cause.

As a volunteer at the College in Carmen Pampa from 2000-2003, Becky played an integral part of day to day operations. "I worked on development of projects and proposals with college staff and faculty, organized and coordinated visits from donors, partners (South Dakota State University, St. Catherine University, etc.) and others. I also was the staff advisor for the student-run food cooperative, occasionally taught English classes, managed the computer lab and other various tasks."
Becky pictured in 2001 with UAC-CP founder Sr. Damon Nolan. She volunteered at the College for three years.
The experience of volunteering at the College gave her a clear sense of self. "I learned so much about myself in those years that has continued to influence how I work and play in my life now."

In addition to sharing her time and talents with the College and Carmen Pampa Fund over the years, Becky has consistently been a generous donor.  "It's easy to donate to CPF because I know how incredibly useful my funds are in Carmen Pampa. I know how hard everyone at the College works to make good use of the funds. I've kept in touch with a number of students (now graduates) from the time I lived there. I know what a huge difference their education has made for not only them and their family, but also their communities. The effects of my funds multiply rapidly and for many years to come. You can't make a better investment than that."

Becky, Program Officer at The McKnight Foundation, makes one extra "easy" step to ensure that her employer matches her donations and volunteer time.
Becky gets an extra big return for her investment thanks to her employer, The McKnight Foundation. "My company matches both monetary donations and volunteer time.  I fill out a form that my company provides. This form is then verified and signed by CPF and returned to my company and a matching donation is made. It's a very easy process." Becky encourages other CPF donors to verify whether their employers provide matching gift options.

Why has Becky dedicated nearly half of her life to supporting the College and Carmen Pampa Fund? "The students," she said.  "It is rare that you experience the kind of dedication and hard work in a college student that is so common in UAC-CP students. Their drive to overcome poverty and a multitude of other obstacles is inspiring."