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The Aymara Indigenous University, a Path Towards Helping Native Communities in Bolivia

Rising Voices note: As part of a partnership agreement with La Pública, we are republishing some of the stories written by Aymara university students at the Aymara Indigenous University of Bolivia “Túpac Katari” (Unibol). The students have been taking part in a citizen journalism project coordinated by La Pública and Jaqi Aru. All of the blog posts were written originally in Aymara or Spanish.

Estudiante de la Unibol. Foto - La Pública.

Student at the Aymara Indigenous University of Bolivia (Unibol). Photo – La Pública.

The Aymara Indigenous University of Bolivia “Túpac Katari” (Unibol) attracts students from across rural communities on the Altiplano in search of educational opportunities. Some of the students have had the lifelong dream of pursuing higher education, while others were encouraged by community members to learn all that they could to improve life back home. Each student has a unique background and unique experiences, many of which were captured on the project's blog.

The following was written by Eva Alvares Mamani, a food sciences student from the community of Chajlaya.

En mi pueblo se trabaja mucho para tener una vida mejor; los habitantes son agricultores y, como el sol es muy fuerte, se te quema la piel.

En ese lugar crecieron tres hermanas que se quedaron allí después del tiempo del patrón. Se casaron, cada una con un hombre llegado de distinto lugar, y tuvieron hijos. Una de ellas es mi abuela, quien tuvo siete hijos. La familia criaba chivos y ovejas y, según cuenta mi abuela, la comida apenas alcanzaba. Lo poco que tenían, cada sábado lo llevaban al mercado más cercano para obtener algo más.

Mi papá era quien acompañaba más a mi abuela. Uno de esos días conoció una iglesia, la Adventista, y los sábados acudía al lugar, aunque su padre, mi abuelo, se oponía pues odiaba todas las iglesias. Pero fue así, desobedeciendo, que mi papá aprendió a leer, pues ni él ni mis tíos asistían a una escuela debido a que no había una en el pueblo y la pobreza de la familia.

Mi papá iba contento a la iglesia, le gustó mucho aprender y así se capacitó y quiso saber cómo se podía hacer agricultura. Él sabía que en un pueblo más abajo del suyo había producción de verduras y frutas, así que él se fue a ayudar y aprender.

Cuando se casó con mi mamá, a los 20 años de edad, él tenía sólo 150 bolivianos de capital. Con eso empezó a trabajar y se arriesgó a plantar tomates por vez primera en su tierra. Dice que cosechó siete cargas y así mis tíos, al ver que producía bien, se animaron a sembrar y poco a poco aprendieron a ser agricultores.

Hoy en día, en mi pueblo hay una escuela que educa hasta sexto de primaria. La gente siembra tomate, lechuga, vainita y choclo. La comunidad me ha enviado a la Unibol para que yo pueda ayudar a mejorar la producción.

In my community, one works hard to have a better life; the residents there are farmers and since the sun is very strong, the skin burns easily.

In that community, three sisters were raised there, remaining there after the time when there were land masters. They married, each to a man that arrived from a different community, and they had children. One of them was my grandmother, who had seven children. The family raised goats and sheep, and according to what my grandmother told me, the food barely was enough. Each Saturday, with what little they did have, they went to the nearest market to acquire something more.

My father was the one that accompanied my grandmother the most. One day he learned about an Adventist Church, where he went on Saturdays even though his father, my grandfather, opposed it because he hated all churches. However, because he disobeyed, he was able to learn how to read. Neither he nor my uncles attended school because the town lacked a school, and because of the family's poverty.

My father was content to go to the church. He liked learning and that's how he was trained how to farm. He knew that there was a community nearby that produced fruits and vegetables, and that's how he went to help and learn.

When he married my mother at the age of 20, he only had 150 bolivianos (approximately 20 USD in current conversion) as capital. With that he started to work, trying to plant tomatoes for the first time on his land. He said that he harvested seven loads and that's how my uncles, upon seeing that it produced well, started to plant little by little and also learned how to be farmers

Currently in my community there is a school that educates children up until the sixth grade. The people plant tomatoes, lettuce, beans, and corn. The community sent me to Unibol so that I can help to improve the farming production.

Other students arrive to learn more about the textile industry, so they can help their communities, too. Two female students,Julia Apaza Mamani and Zelma Mamani Mamani, write about the lack of male students in the field:

Somos más mujeres (80%) que varones (20%) quienes ingresamos a la carrera de Ingeniería Textil de la Universidad Indígena Boliviana Aymara Túpak Katari. Y luego, algunos de ellos se van saliendo, pues parece que el enfoque práctico de tejer, por ejemplo, no les gusta. Se sienten humillados frente a las mujeres al tener que hacer un tari, una istalla, una chambrita para wawa (saquito para recién nacido)… Ellos quieren “ciencias exactas”. Por eso, ahora que estamos en sexto semestre, los varones son pocos.

There are more women (80 percent) than men (20 percent), who entered the field of study for Textile Engineering… Later, some of the male students started to leave because it appeared that they did not like the practical focus of weaving. They felt humiliated in front of the women because they had to weave a tari (cloth), istalla, or chambrita for babies (a coat for newborns)… They wanted “exact sciences”. Because of that, we are now in the sixth semester, and there are very few male students.

We'll continue to share more stories from the Aymara students as they write about their educational experiences at this unique university.

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