Friday, December 19, 2014

The Spirit of Christmas

 
Two fathers who walked and ran for 6 hours in the rain to get their children into the BQEF hostel



Potato harvest on the Altiplano -
subsistence farming is their way of life
It’s Christmastime. One of the things I love about Christmas is the many opportunities that are brought to our attention to help those in need.  There’s something about helping others that just gives you that warm feeling we associate with Christmas.

Quakers see those needs every day, and the number of Quaker organizations that try to create a better world are out of proportion to the number of members we have. At my first large gathering of Quakers, our regional yearly meeting, I became aware of this when I saw the involvement of so many in some of these organizations.  I was particularly moved when I met a young Quaker woman from Bolivia representing the Bolivian Quaker Education Fund (BQEF).


As Alicia showed us pictures and described the life of her indigenous people, the Aymara, I was hooked on the cause.  The BQEF is an organization that helps young Aymarans get an education. As an educator myself, I firmly believe that education is the best way to help people out of poverty. Organizations that give people a hand up rather than a hand-out have a more lasting impact. 


A student on the trail from home
to the high school in Sorata
Bolivia is the poorest nation in South America, and the indigenous people have largely been ignored by the government until recently, with the election of  Evo Morales, the first Aymaran or native person to ever be elected President.  The Many young people have stunted growth due to poor nutrition. The remote mountain villages only offer education to the sixth grade, and not having a transportation system in the mountains, students must walk for many miles to the larger villages that have a junior high and high school.

There are about  30,000 evangelical Quakers in Bolivia, most of them Aymaran.  The BQEF operates a student hostel in Sorata that provides housing, meals, and tutoring for Quaker and non-Quaker students attending the high school. The students go home on weekends to help their families with subsistence farming or working in the mines.

As I listened to Alicia describe how many of the students in the hostel, who had never had three meals a day, or slept in a real bed, were helped, I was touched by her dedication.  She was herself a recipient of the BQEF’s programs, and its impact was obvious in her -- a
Students having a meal in the new
addition recently added to the hostel
trilingual, self-assured young woman on a quest to help her people.


Another part of the program helps Quaker students who go on to college. Sponsors donate $65 a month to help them buy books, bus tickets,  and other things needed to help them successfully complete their studies. They correspond with their sponsors and this creates a bond that is hard to describe.  My husband and I have sponsored a young woman for the past few years, and have been able to encourage her when things get tough.  We feel so lucky to have had a small part in helping her as she has struggled to get an education.

There are other facets of the BQEF, and if you would like to learn more, you can go to: www.bqef.org. There, you can also  read some letters from recipients and how the BQEF changed their lives.
University scholarship students, La Paz, Bolivia
Wishing everyone a Merry Christmas, Peace, and Love,

Karen

1 comment:

  1. thanks so much for sharing this, Karen. I'm looking for podcasts now, about the Aymara people, and Bolivia itself.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aymara_people

    Like you, I've been a big believer in education... at least it gives people more choices...

    Blessings,

    Susan J.

    ReplyDelete

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