Surprise and Delight: Mutual Learning among Bolivian Quaker Interns and Friends in the U.S.


When an FWCC veteran heard that a young Bolivian Friend was visiting the 2009 sessions of New England Yearly Meeting, her first reaction was to regret that NEYM did not have translators in place.  But Rubén Hilare did not need translators, neither for conversations nor for his presentation at an interest group.  All went smoothly in English, and 16 Friends came to learn more about Bolivia on an evening when there were a dozen simultaneous interest groups.

Rubén was one of two Bolivian Quaker teachers in the US for the 2008-09 academic year.  He worked as a teaching intern for the 2008-09 school year at Oakwood Friends School (OFS) in Poughkeepsie, while Alicia Lucasi did the same at Carolina Friends School (CFS) in Durham.  They delighted and surprised their hosts.  Of course they learned a lot, and said that the experience was like a dream come true.  But they gave as much as they got, according to administrators at the two schools. 

Alicia and Ruben traveled among Friends a good deal while they were here.  They both attended a Friends Council on Education workshop at Pendle Hill and the FGC Gathering in Blacksburg. Alicia attended the Piedmont Friends Fellowship and made presentations at SouthEast Yearly Meeting as well as several local meetings in North Carolina.  Ruben did the same at the Farmington-Scipio Spring Gathering, New York Yearly Meeting and NEYM, as well as several local meetings in New York.  They were warmly appreciated everywhere.

They are warmly appreciated in Bolivia, too.  Bernabe Yujra, BQE-Bo Coordinator in Bolivia, is already making use of their experience in planning how to strengthen Bolivian Quaker education.  They will both be working with English teachers and they will offer workshops on distinctive features of a Quaker classroom, making use of FCE workshops as well as their own experience.

The mission of the Bolivian Quaker Education Fund (BQEF) is to enrich relations between Bolivian Quakers and Friends in the North, through educational programs.  The first program, and the one that retains the highest priority, is scholarships for higher education.  A scholarship is a “beca” and a scholarship recipient a “becario”.  About 120 young Bolivian Quakers, half men and half women, have received becas, and several dozen are now ex-becarios who have completed their university education. 

During 2009-10 two more ex-becarios are preparing to spend the coming academic year in the US, without the assistance of translators.  Emma Condori arrived in July to begin a three-year M.Div. program at the Earlham School of Religion in Richmond IN, and Elizabeth Lucero, somewhat delayed by new Homeland Security scrutiny for the R-1 visa, expects to spend the year as a teaching intern at CFS in Durham.

Rubén and Alicia are deeply grateful to our generous donors, as well as to CFS and OFS, for making their dreams a reality.  Thanks, too, from Emma and Elizabeth and all the other becarios, as well as from the students and staff of CFS and OFS.  Thank you!  Thank you!  Thank you!

It is of course true that these four are exceptional young people, but it is not true that exceptional young people are a rarity among Bolivian Friends.  The becarios come together once a month to receive their stipends, and anyone listening to their achievements and aspirations soon realizes that there are many more as exceptional as these four.  Alicia, for example, tells us that her grandparents speak little or no Spanish, let alone English – that is true of many of the others as well.  As more doors open here in the US, Alicia, Ruben, Emma, and Elizabeth will be seen as just the first in a new wave of interaction between US and Bolivian Friends. 

Be sure to watch the interviews with Alicia and Rubén, which were recorded at the FGC Gathering in Blacksburg.