Students Connect With Their Community Roots at Bolivia’s Aymara Indigenous University

Citizen journalism workshops at Unibol. Photo courtesy of La Pública.

Citizen journalism workshops at Unibol. Photo courtesy of La Pública.

The Aymara Indigenous University of Bolivia “Túpac Katari” (Unibol) attracts students from across the Bolivian Altiplano, who are looking for a better future and a way to give back to their communities. Named after the 18th-century indigenous rebellion leader, the university was created in 2008 by the Bolivian government as a way to embrace traditional knowledge and to provide opportunities to study fields that can be of help in the development of the students’ rural communities. With an enrollment of approximately 950, students can choose from a number of fields of study including Altiplano agronomy, food engineering, textile engineering, and veterinary sciences.

Located in the community of Cuyahuani near Lake Titicaca, the university continues to experience growth with the construction of new classrooms and facilities for the students. Students live on campus on full scholarship, which includes tuition, room and board, and other related costs. However, competition is high, and prospective students must take an entrance exam. One of the requirements is that the student must speak the Aymara language because most of the classes are taught in that language. Many rural communities also provide their endorsement of the applying and accepted students, establishing this mutual commitment.

Mabel Franco, coordinator of the project La Pública, describes the average profile of the students and why this type of university is needed:

La historia de los estudiantes tiene mucho en común: hogares de pobreza extrema, años escolares cursados con gran sacrificio y frustración a la hora de buscar el ingreso a una universidad. Que el sistema de formación profesional tradicional deja al margen a muchos de estos bolivianos, atendidos apenas por una escuela ajena a la realidad rural, lo prueba el bajo nivel de aprobación del examen de admisión: sólo 11 de 260 obtuvieron la beca por esta vía (en cambio, el curso preuniversitario tuvo un 80% de aprobación).

The stories of the students have much in common: from homes living in extreme poverty, school years completed with great sacrifice, and frustration when it comes time to look for admission to a university. The traditional professional formation system leaves many of these Bolivians marginalized, attended only by schools outside of a rural reality. It is proven by the low rates of acceptance through admission exams: only 11 of 260 obtained the scholarship this way (in comparison to the pre-university courses which had an 80% success rate).

Members of the Jaqi Aru team. Photo courtesy of La Pública.

Members of the Jaqi Aru team. Photo courtesy of La Pública.

A new partnership between the Unibol, La Pública, and Jaqi Aru (a local organization that promotes the use of the Aymara language on the Internet) has launched a citizen journalism project to hear the voices of these students, who want to share their stories. Through hands-on workshops, the students are learning how to express themselves and publish their stories on the website of La Pública. While many students who speak Aymara are still hesitant to write in the language, some are attempting with the help of the Jaqi Aru team. Many of the blog posts are written in Spanish and then translated into Aymara. In future posts, we'll feature some of the blog posts that were first written in Aymara, and then translated into Spanish.

Here are some of the first blog posts from the Aymara Voices project, which seeks to collect “the social, environmental, socio-cultural, technological, educational experiences and express the daily lives of the students and of the communities.”

The road leading to the university has not always been easy, but for agronomy student Delia Mamani Callisaya, after some challenges she now feels at home. She describes the first informational meeting in 2010, where she along with 63 new classmates started to learn about the university and its opportunities. Originally from the community of Guaqui, she describes these feelings:

Me siento orgullosa de ser parte de esta institución que ha crecido como quizás pocos creíamos que iba a pasar. Mi universidad me parece muy diferente de las otras que hay en el país, sin desmerecer a ninguna. La amistad, por ejemplo, que une a los estudiantes es sincera: más que amistad es hermandad. Estamos juntos todos los días, conociéndonos y ayudándonos como una familia. Si un compañero se enferma o está mal en alguna materia, lo apoyamos para que no se desanime y siga con sus estudios.
La modalidad de internado nos permite mantener los valores que, creo, se van perdiendo entre los jóvenes.

I feel proud to be a part of this institution, which has grown more than many of us could have ever imagined. I believe that my university is different than other universities across the country, without disparaging other universities. For example, the friendship that unites the students is sincere, it is more than friendship, it is a brotherhood and sisterhood. We are together everyday, getting to know one another and helping one another like a family. If a classmate is ill or is struggling with a class, we support one another so that they do not get discouraged so that they can move forward with the studies. The on-campus living allows us to maintain the values that I think are being lost among the youth.

Abidan Triguero Calle's journey to the university was also long, but worth the effort. Originally from a community in the Altiplano, he started studying in La Paz. He looked at educational options in the city of Cochabamba, but the cost of the private university was prohibitive. He then heard about the opportunity at the Unibol and it was exactly what he was looking for. He is now studying food engineering, which will help his community. He writes about his first semester with the Unibol and how it changed his outlook towards his future:

Sinceramente vine a probar cómo era este lugar; pasó así el primer semestre y llevé materias como cosmovisión aymara y hoy puedo decir que me siento muy identificado con el lugar donde nací, con el hecho de que soy aymara nacido en la provincia Ingavi, municipio Jesús de Machaca, comunidad Lahuacollo. Esta universidad cambió mi manera de pensar, pues me siento muy comprometido con Bolivia.

Honestly, I just came to see what this place was like. I stayed for the first semester and took classes such as Aymara cosmovision and now I can say that I identify more with the place where I was born. I am Aymara born in the Ingavi province, Jesús de Machaca municipality, the community of Lahuacollo. This university changed my way of thinking, and now I feel very committed to Bolivia.

Stay tuned for more stories from the students from the Unibol, who write about the challenges and successes of their rural communities.

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