Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Universidad Academica Campesina-Carmen Pampa, Bolivia

Un Recuerdo de Bolivia: Living the Global Locality
Josh Meuth-Alldredge
Living and working at the UAC-CP is often feels like exploring the innards of a paradox. This place is fundamentally defined by what is local, just as it is essentially characterized by its global engagement. Every day I learn new things both about the university and the village in which it was founded. Carmen Pampa is a mostly Aymará community of two hundred people that dedicates itself primarily to the cultivation of coca, coffee, bananas, and the raising of livestock and chickens.  At the same time, this village is home to 700 students of the Unidad Académica Campesina-Carmen Pampa.
The UAC-CP is one of the premier accredited undergraduate institutions in rural Bolivia, and represents one of five such Campesina Academic Units within the Bolivian Catholic University system. Situated in a mile-high jungle valley, our university offers B. S. degrees in Agronomy, Education Sciences, Veterinary and Zootechnical Medicine, and Nursing. Additionally, we offer a 3-year technical program in Ecotourism and a one semester Pre-university preparatory program.
Our students hail from across all of Bolivia, and most of them come from low-income families as the first member to attend university. Studying in the UAC-CP, for them, is a unique gateway to a rewarding and empowering professional life. But just as importantly, it allows them to gain the skills necessary to return to their communities and empower the entire population. In a very real way, these graduates sustainably develop their communities: They often return home and improve the local schools through their teaching, implement and share new crop technologies, bring higher quality medical attention to their communities, and make animal production more safe, efficient, and humane. Through these actions, they help to integrate and advance rural Bolivia in the global economy. In short, our empowered graduates become the next generation of development in Bolivia.
                Through our five majors and diverse projects, the students we serve are entering the global marketplace as nurses, vets, teachers, sustainable farmers, researchers, and ecotourism guides. The uniquely local-global aspect of the university exists most visibly within them; coming from rural, poor, and often isolated villages, they receive a heavily subsidized quality education, which helps them seek new opportunities in a developing Bolivia and a globalized world. Crucially, though, the graduates strive to remain involved in their localities, either working within their communities to effect change or improving their region by pursuing careers in the nearby cities and countries.
Working within this university context as the External Relations Coordinator is truly eye-opening. Every day runs the gamut from tasks such as advancing international collaborations, grantwriting, and coordinating international visitors to local jobs like advertising our guest speakers, scheduling traditional dance workshops, and introducing campus staff to newly engineered water facilities. The work is never boring, and there are always new projects and crises to be approached (and hopefully handled!).
Best of all, the local, intimate, real aspects of this community permeate my life, and hold the pressures of our globalized work system at bay. Making it to Skype meetings can become a novelty when the tropical downpours cut power every other day.  Twenty feet from my front door is a trail that winds through the jungle for hours of hiking, accompanied by good-natured hunting dog.  “Commuting” to and from my home to the upper campus, where I work, involves a thirty-minute trek up Uchumachi mountain through coffee plantations, groups of livestock, and forest.  But it’s the people, and getting to know them, that really solidify the connection to this locality of rural Bolivia. Walking down from upper campus the other day, I came upon the washed-out remains of a log bridge crossing a stream. On my side, watching the flow, there was a stooped and elderly chola (cholas are indigenous women who wear a distinctive outfit of multiple skirts, elaborate shawls, and tophats).  Clearly unable to balance on the few wooden poles that remained of the bridge, she turned and muttered a few phrases to me. Together, hand in hand, we managed to walk her across one of the logs. On the other side she loudly thanked me in Spanish, grabbed my hand again, and said a few words in indigenous Aymará, ending with “waliki.” Waliki is one of the few Aymará words I know, and it means good. Little things like this give me strength and perspective, and hardly a day goes by that I don’t appreciate this link with “the local.” It balances my stressful workdays, and it helps me understand better the reality from which the UAC’s students come. And that perspective is sure to be the most lasting lesson of my time here in Bolivia.

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