Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Empowering Women to be Leaders (Rosy & Isabel - Nursing & Education students)

When Sr. Damon founded the Unidad Académica Campesina-Carmen Pampa in 1993, she said that the key to lifting people out of poverty was to give them options for their future.

Rosy and Isabel Apaza Catari, two sisters who study Education and Nursing at the College, agree.

“At the UAC-CP, it’s our decision—what our future is going to be like,” says Isabel.

Sisters Isabel (left) and Rosy Apaza Catari.
For Rosy, a 4th year Education student, and Isabel, a 1st year Nursing student, the ability to choose their life’s path is a blessing. Since their father passed away several years ago, their mother has sacrificed a great deal to send the two young women to school and give them these options.

“Our mother always tells us, ‘Don’t be like me.’’’ Rosy says. “She works hard, in sun and rain, so that we can support ourselves with our minds rather than working in the fields.”

In addition to providing an affordable choice for higher education, studying at the UAC-CP allows the sisters to be close to their family. They come from Coripata, a neighboring town in the Nor Yungas region, and often return home on the weekends to work with their mother.

“Her desire for us to get ahead is what motivates me to learn,” says Rosy. Isabel adds, “She often calls us to make sure we’re studying!”

As the first and second in their immediate family to attend college, Rosy and Isabel understand the importance of studying, graduating, and becoming professionals. While they have different interests—and live on different campuses (the College is made up of two campuses--one upper and one lower)—they share a common goal: to use their education to help people. 

Rosy believes her schooling experience has been a privilege and wants to inspire young people in the region to know that they too have options for their futures.  “Education is my passion,” says Rosy. “I want to make children laugh and learn to be creative. I want to teach them that they can do anything.”

Isabel’s desire to study medicine started at a young age. When family members got sick or hurt working in the fields, she didn’t like the feeling that there was nothing she could do to improve their situation. “I wanted to be able to help my family and the people around me get better,” she says. “In the Nursing major, we learn how to help people who need it most.”

Both women appreciate the theoretical and practical balance of their majors; it's a feature that attracts many students to the College. For Rosy, that means taking what she learns in her classes to other classrooms in the area, working with children to ensure equal access to quality education in the Yungas. Isabel loves being able to learn from doctors in hospitals across the region in month-long practicums each semester.

Outside of class, the sisters are active in campus life. “There are so many opportunities we can take advantage of here,” says Isabel. “We go to Mass, we sing karaoke at English Club, we participate in Mujeres Valientes...there is always something happening on campus.”

Mujeres Valientes, a women’s empowerment group that meets regularly to discuss themes like self-esteem, friendship, navigating stress, and leadership skills, has played a major role in Rosy and Isabel’s educational experiences. In addition to eating snacks and dancing Zumba, the gatherings inspire the women to continue fostering the qualities they’ve seen in their strong, independent mother.

“Mujeres Valientes gives us a place where we can be leaders and speak our minds,” says Rosy. “We understand each other as women.”

Isabel agrees. “I’ve learned to have more confidence in myself,” she says. “And we lift each other up as women, helping each other to be more confident as well.”

The College’s emphasis on the holistic formation of each student—academically, spiritually, socially, and emotionally—encourages students to empower themselves, to take their education back to their communities and improve their lives. Rosy says, “The most important thing I’ve learned at the UAC-CP is that I can do it. I am capable of achieving my goals, and I can do anything.”

“I know I am being formed as an individual here,” says Isabel. “I get to learn from people who are already professionals.”

At the same time, studying and living together with students from across Bolivia reinforces their passion to work towards the common good and the well being of all. “The UAC-CP teaches us to dedicate our life to others, to do our work with enthusiasm and not complain,” says Isabel. Rosy adds, “We want to go where people need help the most.”

After graduating, both women would like to enroll in a master’s program—for Rosy, in higher education, and for Isabel, in clinical psychology. Above all, however, they want to work to lift their mother and the rest of their family out of poverty.

“I want to see my mother’s face when I graduate,” Rosy says. “I do it for her.”

Bringing Happiness and Comfort to God's Creatures (Reina - Vet Student)

Born in the urban center of El Alto, the city that sits on the high plain just above Bolivia's capital city of La Paz, Reina Arizaca Chinahuanca grew up cultivating and selling corn products on a plot of land just outside of the city limits. 

Her family’s specialty is the production of traditional boiled corn cakes called humintas. Though her parents dreamed that she would become the first of their family to obtain a college degree, worries about the cost of living and security threatened to impede her professional path. But then a cousin told her about the Unidad Académica Campesina-Carmen Pampa--a subsidized residential college serving rural youth. “My parents knew that at the UAC-CP I would be cared for--that I would have food to eat and a new family to call my own.”

Now a seventh-semester student of Veterinary Sciences, Reina is thriving at the College. She is one of three students tasked with caring for the nearly 900 chickens that the UAC-CP raises.  For Reina, a career in veterinary medicine is about “working to bring happiness and comfort to animals of all shapes and sizes.” She recalls the first time that she lost one of her dogs to an unknown illness: “I was overcome with a need to know what happened to my dog, and what I could do to keep my other pets healthy in the future.” But her passion for veterinary medicine is also rooted in a desire to keep humans healthy. After graduating, she hopes to establish a ranch that focuses on the production of safe, high-quality meats.

Reina is a leader in the College’s youth ministry, as well. “God is everything for me,” she says. “He is love; He is knowledge; and He is life.” The youth ministry provides a space for students of all years and majors to come together and explore their faith. According to Reina, the ministry’s weekly meetings are “an opportunity to share and be present with our peers.” These gatherings are particularly special for Reina, having grown up in a community without a full-time pastor. “This is the first time in my life that I have had the opportunity to be part of a church. I know that God is with me each and every day, but I am especially blessed to have a space where He speaks to me directly.”

The College’s Food Cooperative Program provides another opportunity for Reina to share with her peers. While the lunch and supper program cost students approximately $30/month to participate, a grant from Cross Catholic Outreach ensures that all of the College’s 600+ students are able to eat breakfast every day, free of charge. “The reality is that some of us have the resources to afford the food cooperative and others do not,” Reina says. “But, at breakfast, we have the opportunity to come together as a family and share a meal.” Reina sends a message of thanks to all of the donors who make these shared meals possible. “If not for you, we wouldn’t have the opportunity to learn to learn, to share, and to eat as a community each day. God bless.”

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Sharing the Wonders of Bolivia's Diversity (Diego - Ecotourism Student)

For Diego Lopez Zeballos, a sixth semester Ecotourism student at the UAC-CP, the importance of rural tourism as a field is twofold: to protect the environment and to share his country's cultures.

Diego first became interested in tourism as a profession while working as a tour guide in Madidi National Park. A jungle sanctuary located in northwestern Bolivia, the park is one of the largest protected areas in the country and is situated in the most ecologically diverse region of the planet. He loved sharing the lush, green paradise with people he met from all over the world.

After working there for several months, Diego decided to study at the UAC-CP for the opportunity to advance his career as a tour guide and gain more theoretical and practical knowledge of the field. "I will be able to put everything I learn here in practice when I return to work," he says.

In the UAC-CP's Ecotourism Department, Diego enjoys learning about preserving natural areas and endangered species, market trends and client management, Bolivian history, and the different types of tourism that exist in rural areas. He also appreciates taking English classes from volunteer teachers who are native speakers. "Studying here makes me want to know more about cultures within Bolivia and around the world," he says.

Because of his interests in ecosystems and cultures, Diego is particularly drawn to turismo vivencial, or experiential tourism, which Diego describes as when tourists travel to a place and experience life as those in the community live in order to really understand it. Experiential tourism encompasses both ecotourism, which involves nature and conservation efforts, and cultural tourism, which concerns the history and lifestyles of different populations. In addition to providing a meaningful career for Diego, experiential tourism also plays a significant role in preserving the cultural and natural assets of the Bolivian countryside and ensuring a sustainable source of income for generations to come.

"There's a big focus on really understanding a culture and respecting it," he says, citing the archeological site Tiwanaku, a UNESCO World Heritage site near Lake Titicaca, as an example of a tourist attraction that promotes Bolivia's environment and cultural heritage. "This kind of tourism shows the rich, diverse cultures that exist in each region of our country."

When Diego graduates in 2019, he will become the first in his family to obtain a college degree. One day, he hopes to open his own experiential tourism business with the knowledge and life skills he has gained as a UAC-CP student.

Submitted by Sarah Neuberger.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Alternative Development on the Gold Road (Diana - Vet Grad)

In Bolivia’s tropical lowlands, mining is king. Situated on the Camino del Oro – the Incan “Gold Road” that connected altiplano capitals with lowland goldfields – the town of Guanay is no exception. Mining activity accounts for nearly 70% of all employment opportunities in the municipality. In spite of the fertile soils, which, at one point, produced some of the nation’s highest-quality coffee beans, agricultural production has taken a backseat to mining in the zone.

Imagine verdant jungles and lush pastures stretching in every direction as far as the eye can see. Now, picture this greenery scraped and scoured by bulldozers and dredgers.

Diana and her family traverse an abandoned mining site to reach their poultry farm.
Diana León Cerda was born in a small mining town one hour outside of Guanay. During her childhood, Diana’s isolated community lacked the infrastructure for livestock production, and did not have access to a veterinarian. When her dog began to suffer from complications while giving birth, then, Diana’s family was helpless to save her. In that moment, she decided that she would find a way to bring veterinary services to her town. “I knew that I wanted to dedicate myself to caring for the creatures that had no protector in rural towns like my own.”

As a UAC-CP Veterinary Medicine student, Diana quickly became involved in the wide array of animal production modules unique to the College. Starting in their first semester, Vet students spend a minimum of four hours weekly working on the pig farm, in the chicken coops, at the meat processing plant, or with assorted livestock such as sheep or quail. Daily opportunities for hands-on learning through productive enterprises encourage students to do what the College does best: unite practice with theory in support of sustainable rural development.

Diana smiles in front of one of her four chicken coops.

Inspired by the UAC-CP’s productive offerings, Diana saw the chance to use her education to improve the livelihoods of her community members. Each semester, she would return to her hometown and speak with friends and family about practical ways to stimulate sustainable production in the region. After her third semester at the UAC-CP, she began working with her community to build pigpens, vaccinate livestock, and treat the few large animals that her neighbors raised for subsistence farming.

After graduating from the College, she returned to her home community with a vision of economic and social transformation. Working with her older sister, a UAC-CP Agronomy graduate, Diana built a model poultry farm just above town. They began by delivering chicks to local homesteads, supporting families as they built larger chicken coops and returning every 15 days to answer questions about raising these new animals. Speaking about the lack of community knowledge surrounding livestock production, Diana says, “Before us, subsistence farmers didn’t give much thought to how they raised their animals. They didn’t know that well-raised livestock could be a source of income – much more stable and healthy than working the mines.”

Diana's nephew looking at the family's chickens.
Working with local farmers, Diana recognized that technical support in livestock production was a need not unique to her own town. In response, she founded a veterinary clinic in Guanay to serve more of the surrounding rural communities. “I am the only veterinarian in my town, and one of the few who is willing to venture outside of Guanay. The UAC-CP taught me that, as a vet, it is my duty to educate my community.”

Individuals from every community across the region now know Diana by name, regularly calling her with questions and requests for individualized trainings. From her Guanay clinic, Diana travels the region to incentivize diverse production and provide sustainable alternatives to mining. “It is clear that we can’t live off of mining forever,” she says. “I support production to support my people.”

Diana with her sister, María Nela, a UAC-CP Agronomy graduate.
Diana attributes her social mission to the UAC-CP’s focus on “professional ethics.” “Our peers educated at other universities are trained to be professionals, but we are taught first and foremost to be good people.”

She continues: “I hear community members complain that my colleagues don’t understand them and don’t want to understand them. That these vets are impatient or inconsiderate. We have many families without the means to implement what we are taught to be the best productive methods, but we from the UAC-CP know that it is our obligation to sit with these families, speak to them as individuals, and find alternatives together. For all of our religious and moral education, College graduates respect humanity and know that we are responsible to community members as people.”

Diana supports this professional-personal development by offering internship opportunities to current UAC-CP veterinary students, showing them the impact that one veterinarian can have on rural livelihoods.

Her younger brother, Rimer, is currently an Ecotourism student at the UAC-CP. She wants the donors who have supported her family’s education to know that, without their support, she would not be where she is today. “The UAC-CP is a true home for those in need. Thank you for everything that you have done and continue to do for us!”

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Educating the Whole Child (Nenrry - Education Grad)

It was in elementary school that Nenrry decided she would become an educator. The eldest of five children, Nenrry Vasquez Rey was born to a coca-farming family in the Afro-Bolivian community of Tocaña.

“You can see in your own educational journey the needs that exist,” Nenrry says. And, in her first experiences with education in Tocaña, a culturally unresponsive classroom left her feeling failed by the system that was meant to support her.

“As a young child, I was very aware of the fact that we in Tocaña lacked an education that encouraged us to stay and grow in our unique community.” The faces of her teachers were foreign: not a single Afro-Bolivian stood at the front of the classroom. Instead, teachers were brought in on short-term contracts from ethnically Aymara communities, located hundreds of miles away in the Bolivian highlands.  

“When your teachers, your role models, don’t know your culture, you begin to think that what you have and where you live isn’t good, that it's somehow less.”

Nenrry smiling in a La Paz café

With the goal of “filling the educational gaps” in her home community, Nenrry entered the UAC-CP in the second cohort of Primary Education majors. While at the College, she was sent to a conference on indigenous leadership in Cochabamba, Bolivia, and another on indigenous language education in Argentina. She noticed at these meetings that Afro-Latino communities were not represented, and so, together with a UAC-CP agronomy graduate, she founded CONAFRO – a national organization that supports and unites Afro-Bolivians across the nation through labor, education and human rights advocacy.

Nenrry’s work mobilizing the Afro-Bolivian community soon garnered international attention; upon graduating from the UAC-CP, she was offered a consultancy with UNICEF to conduct an educational needs analysis in Afro-Bolivian towns. This opportunity segued into a position at the Bolivian Ministry of Education, where she led the development of an Afro-Bolivian educational support plan under the Gender, Race, and Social Justice Division.

Today, Nenrry travels throughout the country, monitoring and supporting the construction of regional indigenous curricula for the Ministry of Education. She works as part of a team that monitors the implementation of a novel piece of Bolivian education legislation, which mandates that two types of curricula be used in each school: a common national curriculum, and a regional curriculum drafted by each of Bolivia’s 36 recognized indigenous groups. This model has teachers integrate an indigenous group’s cultural knowledge and history into the classroom, even if only one student is affiliated with that ethnicity. So, if an ethnically Aymaran student is in the classroom, his or her teacher would be responsible for incorporating lessons on Aymaran livelihoods, production, customs, and language into regular lessons – this would mean, for example, teaching Aymaran units of measurement in math class, and exploring Aymaran history before moving on to Bolivian history.

According to Nenrry, this law stems from the idea that all students have “distinct social needs” in the classroom. “In heavily indigenous communities, we see very high rates of desertion beginning in elementary school. A major factor contributing to this epidemic is that the education system does not respond to children as unique individuals.”

The most meaningful part of this work for Nenrry is that it enables her to support Afro-Bolivians all across the nation. Through CONAFRO, she was able to lead the development of the Afro-Bolivian regional curriculum, highlighting the knowledge that she wished she had learned as a child. “Our work allows those children studying in towns far from large Afro-Bolivian communities to know and remember their homeland.”

Nenrry dreams of taking the best practices she has learned while traveling and opening up a model school in her home community. Schools, she believes, need to provide more than a basic education. Her education center would be “a space for integral learning,” valuing music, sports, and languages together with traditional academic subjects. And it is inspired by the “whole person formation” she experienced at the UAC-CP.

“The children of Bolivia deserve a complete education that recognizes their individuality. Because the UAC-CP educated me as a whole person – as a person as well as a professional - I dare to dream this education for Bolivia's children.”