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.”