The Universidad Académica Campesina – Carmen Pampa: a College for Bolivia’s Rural Population

Rachel Satterleeby Rachel Satterlee

Bolivia is a beautiful, mountainous country that is very culturally diverse but which also has many inequities. None are more pronounced that those in education: As of 2004, secondary school completion rates in urban areas were at 65 percent for men and 50 percent for women, whereas rural rates were extremely low at 20 percent for men and 10 percent for women (Ministerio, 2004). Lack of educational attainment disproportionately affects the indigenous poor. According to the National Institute of Statistics, two-thirds of rural dwellers (compared to only 44 percent of urbanites) identify with one of Bolivia’s 38 recognized indigenous groups—the largest of which include the Quechua, Aymará, Guaraní, Afroboliviano, Mosetén, and Chiquitano—and in rural areas 66 percent of the population lives below the poverty line. The Unidad Académica Campesina-Carmen Pampa (UAC-CP) is one institution helping to meet this challenge by offering undergraduate degrees to men and women from Bolivia’s rural areas.

The University was founded in 1993 by Sister Damon Nolan, a missionary Franciscan who worked in education in the Andean community of Carmen Pampa since 1980. After consultations with the community and local indigenous leaders, the Carmen Pampa community concluded that a lack of access to higher education and a lack of job opportunities for young people was a large reason for the pervasive poverty in the region. Young people—especially young women—had very few opportunities to become professionals in order to help advance their own communities. Tuition and housing at universities in large cities like Bolivia’s capital city of La Paz are unaffordable for young people from rural areas, even if they have the personal motivation and moral support from their families. Attending a university in a large city takes these young people away from their traditional communities, separates them from their families’ livelihoods, and rarely offers the hands-on learning needed in order for them to return to rural areas and help them flourish.

The UAC-CP is fulfilling this need, offering undergraduate degrees in agronomy, education, nursing, veterinary/animal science, and rural tourism. The unique curriculum incorporates classroom studies, community service outreach, research methods, and production activities. The College also places an emphasis on peace and justice and gender equality. A dedicated team of professors and administrators are all part of the College’s achievement in giving students the footing that they need to succeed after graduation.

Nancy Chambilla Machaca and Felix Bohorquez Murillo with their two children. Photo credit: Rachel Satterlee.
Nancy Chambilla Machaca and Felix Bohorquez Murillo with their two children. Photo credit: Rachel Satterlee.

A unique outcome of the UAC-CP is that many graduates return to their home communities to help support people who continue making their living through traditional means. Many of the graduates’ parents worked as farmers during their childhood and now many of those graduates have obtained agronomy or veterinary science degrees. This means that they are able to combine conventional science with contextual, indigenous knowledge to improve production as well as economic, social, and environmental conditions within their communities. In fact, in a recent survey of UAC-CP graduates, 47 percent of agronomy graduates had parents who worked as farmers. Now, many agronomy graduates work in microfinance organizations, giving loans and technical consultation to farmers who are working to improve their production.

An indirect result of the College is a growing number of young men and women who meet, marry, and start families. Many couples first met at the UAC-CP and are now not only college professionals contributing to Bolivia’s development, but also have children of their own who are growing up in households where higher education is expected and supported.

One of these couples is Felix Bohorquez Murillo and Nancy Chambilla Machaca. They are married and live with their two children in Caranavi, a town of 12,000 people situated three hours northeast of the UAC-CP. Nancy studied agronomy and Felix veterinary sciences. While Nancy works in central Caranavi at the Sartawi microfinance organization, Felix commutes to the town of Coroico to work at FUNDACOM, a honey processing association. Both are supporting rural people through providing loans, consultancy services, and a reliable market to sell their honey.

Felix working at FUNDACOM, a honey processing association in Coroico.
Felix at the FUNDACOM processing plant, preparing honey for packaging and sale. Photo credit: Rachel Satterlee.

The most valuable experiences that Nancy took from her time at the UAC-CP were the courses in plant pathology, tropical crops, and vegetables. Through providing agricultural consultation and loans, she knows she is doing her part to resolve the problem of disproportionate poverty in the rural area. Felix lends his knowledge of animal science to the FUNDACOM honey association by supervising the quality of the honey that is sold to the association and advising farmers on how to improve their production processes. He has observed that climate change, the use of chemicals by local farmers, and possibly even the construction of cell phone towers have affected the bees’ honey production in the Nor Yungas area, but he is optimistic that the association will be able to support farmers with knowledge and resources to resolve these problems.

Felix helps manage the intake and processing of honey from many small, rural indigenous farmers from across the

Felix unloading raw honey produced by local farmers at the FUNDACOM processing plant. Photo credit: Rachel Satterlee.
Felix unloading raw honey produced by local farmers at the FUNDACOM processing plant. Photo credit: Rachel Satterlee.

entire region. Startup funding for FUNDACOM was provided by the Horning family from Washington, D.C., and now they receive funding and support from FONDAL, an E.U.-supported institution that “promotes integral development processes by financing projects prioritized by local stakeholders and beneficiaries…in the areas of “economic, social, and environmental [development].” With this support, the association is able to provide 98 percent of its supply of honey to the Subsidio Prenatal y Lactancia program of Bolivia, which is the equivalent of the WIC (Women, Infants, and Children) food assistance in the United States. FONADAL pays FUNDACOM a market rate for the honey that they provide to this program, which is in turn provided for free to poor families in Bolivia. The remaining two percent of their honey is sold in the general market.

Felix and Nancy are part of a growing population of more than 400 graduates from the UAC-CP who are supporting their communities and working towards creating social, economic, and environmental change in rural areas. Many more graduates are working as primary and secondary teachers, independent agricultural researchers, nurses, reforestation technicians, and risk management and environmental improvement systems technicians in local municipalities. Together, they are proving that the need for higher education in rural areas is high and that the UAC-CP is successfully training people to become professionals who are able to lessen the inequities that exist for rural, indigenous populations.

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Rachel Satterlee graduated with a master’s degree in Sustainable International Development from the Heller School of Social Policy & Management at Brandeis University in May 2013. As part of her degree program, she completed a six-month work practicum at the Unidad Académica Campesina-Carmen Pampa in Bolivia

For your reference:

INE (Instituto Nacional de Estadística). (2001). Bolivia: Población por sexo y area según departamento, provincia y municipio, Censo 2001. http://www.ine.gob.bo/indice/visualizador.aspx?ah=PC20102.HTM

INE (Instituto Nacional de Estadística). (2009a). Población indígena. Retrieved from http://www.ine.gob.bo/indice/EstadisticaSocial.aspx?codigo=30801

INE (Instituto Nacional de Estadística). (2009b). Pobreza desigualdad y desarrollo humano. Retrieved from http://www.ine.gob.bo/indice/EstadisticaSocial.aspx?codigo=30601

Ministerio de educación. (2004). Bolivia: Población de 19 años o más de acuerdo al máximo nivel de instrucción alcanzado, por sexo y área geográfica (2001). La educación en Bolivia: Indicadores, cifras y resultados. Retrieved from http://www.lib.utexas.edu/benson/lagovdocs/bolivia/federal/educacion/educacionbolivia-04_doc.pdf

 

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4 comments

  1. Rachel this is quite interesting. But how does Bolivia manage to attract the graduates back to rural communities they came from. What is the secret as it is quite different from African countries where most graduates shun the rural areas they came from.

    • Hi Dora,

      Thanks for you comment – you make an interesting point. I don’t know what the “secret” is, but in part it seems that many Bolivians have very strong ties to their home communities and naturally want to go back to help out their families and neighbors. Also, having had the chance to speak to a few UAC graduates, many of them mention that as well as the academic work, the college places a lot of emphasis on personal values – integrity, team work, responsibility. Maybe this has something to do with it too?

  2. Fascinating article on a very hardworking dedicated couple.

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