On May 16th, the Carmen Pampa Fund organized an event in Minnesota to thank supporters of the College. It was an amazing time of seeing old friends, meeting new ones, and feeling that energy that comes with being part of something that transforms the lives of worthwhile young people.
Here is a photo of the founder of the College, Sister Damon, with students who recently graduated from South Dakota State University, and others who are interning at immersion schools in St. Paul and Sioux Falls.
The mass that kicked off the school year was a special one for me: I was named Director General of the College! I am excited about the coming years as there will be many challenges, and many exciting developments to report.
I want to thank everyone for their incredible support since the College was founded 20 years ago by Sister Damon; and over the last 14 years since I have been involved with the mission of this incredible place.
Luis Miranda graduated from the Veterinary department in December of 2011, and since then he has been working in Villa Unificada in the Municipal Office of the Alto Beni as project coordinator. He successfully set up a business with his family with funds from FONADAL, the European aid agency. To help farmers struggling to manage their grants, the mayor hired him to help other farmers organize their businesses financed through FONADAL. Recently he started working as a consultant on the side for the Fondo Indígena, a government-run fund for rural development. "Rural development depends on rural people starting and managing businesses," he explains. "But most farmers lack the skills to do that. My job is to help them get started, and help them along the way." And that is why we are here: to give people the skills to help themselves.
Photo: Luis poses next to the vet office on campus during his visit to the College today.
I went to the bank in Coroico on Saturday, and was glad to see one of our recent graduates, Freddy Gutierrez. He successfully presented his thesis in December. Here he is, after his presentation, being sworn in as a graduate of the College.
Freddy is the manager at the Coroico branch of Prodem, a bank that specializes in making small loans to farmers to support economic growth in rural areas. The bank has around 1200 clients, 75% rural, and is able to give loans that allow farmers to improve their production, or expand a small business.
Freddy is from Caranavi, a small town three hours from the College. Being from a rural area himself, he has the on-the-ground knowledge necessary to help farmers make good decisions about how to invest their loans and improve their situations.
Much success to you, Freddy! You are in our thoughts and prayers.
2005 graduate of the College Fortunato Velasquez organized a short course through Ecotop, an organization that promotes agroforestry in the tropics, for 28 farmers. The farmers worked for 6 months learning the principles of agroforestry and ecology, and then planted agroforestry systems on their own land to demonstrate their competence.
Today was their graduation. The Director of the Agronomy program, Nicanor Cuba, reminded the graduates of this program to put their knowledge to practice for all to see. As leaders from communities from all around the area, we are sure that their neighbors will follow their example.
Photo: Short course graduates with Ag director Nicanor Cuba (first row, far right), Fortunato Velasquez (to the left of Nicanor) and Ag department coordinator Yris Patzi (first row, second from left).
The Instituto Interamericano de Cooperación para la Agricultura (IICA) is an organization that supports agricultural development throughout the Americas. The College began collaborating with them two years ago, and one of the fruits of our work together is a project called "University and Territory." This project takes advantage of the region's best traits and the College's abilities to use these traits to help people life more dignified lives.
The project, which focuses on organic coffee and vegetable production, hog and chicken husbandry, and tourism, is in its early stages, but the concept of looking for synergies between territories and their institutions was highlighted in a Small Farmers/Food Securities conference in December. Fr. Freddy del Villar represented the College in Washington at IICA Day 2012.
"My message for this audience is that we need to listen to young people and give them the opportunity to have a decent, integral education that promotes the right values," said Fr. Freddy at the conference.
There will be more to come about the University and Territory project, as the College works to bring development to people both through its students, and directly through its extension projects.
Today young women and men came from little communities near and far to participate in the Semana de Inducción -- new student orientation -- and prepare for the placement exam that will be given Friday and Saturday. I spoke to many of the parents who came along to get their children settled and get a feel for what it is like to be a university student. They were all grateful for the existence of the College. One father said, he wants his daughter to study para ser alguien en la vida ("to be someone in life").
I went into a classroom, and they were so QUIET! If they are anything like students from previous years, that won't last.
Photo: Graduate of the College Rubén Pari reviews some math problems that will be on the entrance exam.
Last week the College graduated three more students -- two from our little community of Carmen Pampa, and one from around the corner.
Juan Ortega researched the incidence of parasites in elementary school students in his home community of Nogalani, on the other side of Uchumachi mountain. He discovered that 100% of the students had at least one parasite (most commonly the roundworm Ascaris lumbricoides), and around half the students had two or more parasites. These infections weaken students, divert nutrients from their bodies, and make learning more difficult. Treatment is easy, and very inexpensive.
Photo: Juan with his parents, wife and son.
Deysi Tintaya, daughter of José Tintaya, one of the men from Carmen Pampa who supported the College from its start, presented a business plan for egg production in the community of Carmen Pampa.
Photo: Deysi with her parents, José and Gertrudis, and Godparents, Filipe and Juana.
Julio Monrroy, son of Donato Monrroy, another great supporter of the College since its founding, presented a plan to raise edible snails in Carmen Pampa. Both of these plans take advantage of an initiative of the Bolivian government, the Banco de Desarrollo Productivo, to give low-interest loans (6.0%) to farmers who demonstrate viable agricultural projects in rural areas.
Photo: Julio, flanked by his wife Maritza (a graduate of our vet school) and his mother and father, Goya and Donato.
At the end of Julio's presentation, Donato spoke touchingly of the mission of the College, and his satisfaction at his son's success. He concluded his comments with the saying, "Soy rico, pero sin plata" ("I am wealthy, but without money").
It reminds me of something that Sister Damon used to say to all of us: poverty is not about money, it is about options. When you have more options, you are rich because you can decide how to live, and you choose to live according to your values. The College offers options to the poor -- and those options make so much more possible.