The steep slopes of the beautiful Sorata Valley are sprinkled with small clusters of simple homes where subsistence farmers eke out a living. Many of these tiny communities have no high school nearer than Sorata, which may be as much as 6 or 8 hours walk away.
The BQE-Bo Student Residence "Hogar Estudiantil" offers a home away from home for up to 24 students. In addition to a safe place in town that gives them easy access to high schools, they have three nutritious meals a day plus snacks and the academic support and guidance their parents are unable to provide.
The student residence in Sorata is the fulfillment of a dream of former BQEF scholarship student Benito Jallurana (right), who made the 3½-hour round trip walk from his Quaker home community of Pallcapampa to attend school in Sorata for 3 years. Benito was the first from his group of villages to attend university. He wanted others from similar isolated communities to have access to secondary education, so he brought BQEF his dream, with the enthusiastic support of his home community. Friends in Ireland, the U.S., and other countries financed purchase of the building and pay ongoing expenses.
One of our graduates was Manuel, who lived in a community with no public transportation. So he left school early every Friday to walk 10 hours to his home village in the Yungas, tropical lowlands at about 2000 feet lower altitude. He helped his widowed mother farm all day Saturday, then walked the 10 hours back up to Sorata on Sunday to be ready for the school week. When he was lucky, he sometimes caught a ride on a truck carrying cargo over the very dangerous road. After graduating, Manuel returned to his community, quickly became a community leader, and was elected mayor the next year.
Juanita and her younger brother Franco (not their real names) walk 6 ½ hours together each Sunday to the student residence in Sorata so that they can have access to secondary education. They spend the school week in a safe and supportive community with nutritious meals, academic support, educational enrichment and loving guidance. On Friday after school they walk home to help the family - tending the chickens, cornfield and vegetable garden.
When Juanita finished 6th grade, the last year available in her local school, her father came to the Hogar Estudiantil in Sorata to apply for her to enter at the start of 7th grade. On the morning that the list of accepted students was to be posted, he left home in the rain at 2:00 in the morning to be sure to arrive before the list went up. He wanted to make sure his daughter was accepted. Her name was on the list.
Juanita is expecting to graduate in December of 2014 and is looking forward to enrolling in a nursing course of study, hoping to work in a small public health outpost near her home.
The students, whose career plans include teaching, architecture, and law, are clear about their career aspirations. Most plan to attend university. Rural Bolivians typically earn less than $300 a year, but college graduates earn $300 or more a month. So education changes lives dramatically - for the individual, the family, and future generations.
Aymara culture carries a strong sense of responsibility to one’s community. Just as Benito dreamed of the student residence as a way of sharing the benefits of his education, it is exciting to imagine these young people reaching out to help others as a result of their education.
A donation of $25 pays for food for a student for a month; $1000 supports the full cost of operation for a typical month. Please click here to donate.