Story of Jason Kling
Evolution not Revolution: Educating for Change in Rural Bolivia
I have spent the last eight months working with a friend, Paul Lechtenberg, on a documentary film about the Unidad Academica Campesina-Carmen Pampa (UAC-CP) - a university in the rural Yungas region of Bolivia. This university offers higher education to indigenous youth in an effort to provide them with opportunities for a better quality of life in a region marginalized by poverty and underdevelopment. For five of those eight months, we lived at the UAC-CP to learn about its impact in the Yungas and on the campesinos, or peasant farmers that live there. Through interviews with faculty, students, and visits to communities, we hope to show how the UAC’s solution of dignified opportunities through education is combating the problem of embedded poverty and its debilitating symptoms.
The story of the UAC and its mission of social change through education and service to the needs of the poor is an important one for all. We feel that people in the US can take much from witnessing a taste of living with poverty in the rural area of an underdeveloped country such as Bolivia. Also, college and university students in the US, especially those of Jesuit or Catholic ideals, could benefit from the students’ example to serve those in need. Finally, we hope to share our experiences of service and encourage students to look into service, especially after college to a place like UAC-CP.
In April 2006, we are visiting colleges, churches and other social groups to present the film and talk about our experiences. By doing this, we hope to generate funds and find sponsors that will help with the essential financial needs of the UAC-CP, such as tuition and food. The UAC is funded almost entirely by donations from the US, and its increased success has resulted in the need for increased support. We look forward to sharing this thought provoking and inspiring story with college students, parishes, and social groups.
The film was premiered at Loyola on Thursday, April 6, 2006 in Knott B01 from 7:00-8:30pm.
My Encuentra El Salvador experience came days after graduation from Loyola, but its impact will be one of the most lasting of my college experience. The trip showed me many important truths about the reality of the social, psychological, and economic devastation caused by war and oppression. There are clearly still many painful open wounds in the country from the war that ended almost 15 years ago. Our group could do little more than be witnesses to the stories of torture, horrific violence, and indiscriminate targeting of civilian populations. This experience reinforced in me the importance of making an effort to recognize and be witness to injustice and suffering in the hopes that we live our lives in a way that doesn’t turn a deaf ear to the cry of the poor.
It also was a profound call to strengthen my faith in the message of the Gospel and God’s love. The humble campesinos of the once war-torn rural pueblo of Arcatao showed me how they relate the suffering they experienced with that of Jesus’ suffering on the cross. Truly the poor and oppressed Salvadoreños have many important lessons in spirituality to teach us, and through their suffering they have been embraced by Jesus. Community members of the small pueblo of Arcatao in only a pair of days showed me a whole new way of seeing the message of Jesus and the Gospel.
Service gives us the opportunity to see the reality of the poor by breaking through the alienating social barriers, prejudices and stereotypes that divide individuals in an unequal society. It gives those of us blessed with opportunities and options and cursed with the temptation of enclosing ourselves in self-serving comfort to the wake up call of how most of the world actually lives – in a state of suffering that is avoidable and yet neglected.
We are blessed through service with an opportunity to get off the college campus or the couch and step into the reality of our brothers and sisters whose lives are a constant and insufferable struggle. We meet and interact with people with stories, feelings, opinions, talents, and struggles just like anyone else. I think recognizing the humanity of the poor is a crucial and easily overlooked element of the service experience. We must be aware that the double-edged sword of not being in need is that we can become very susceptible to overlooking the humanness of those in need. Once we are reminded of the simple truth that those in our world who have been abandoned (mostly women and children) are real people, we open ourselves to establish a relationships with them. And once we do this, we realize quite strongly that no one deserves the suffering the poor endure and in fact, this injustice sheds light on dehumanization in society.
For me it became very clear that in today’s society Jesus’ message along with the most universal moral truths have been neglected just like the poor. It seems as though the most important message God gave us through Jesus is trampled by what seems today to be the dogmas of Capitalism and the market, and the freedom and liberty to not be concerned with others. It is certainly our choice how we choose to live, but we must live in a way where our freedom doesn’t dehumanize or discriminate, oppress or cause suffering, but rather recognizes suffering and seeks healing. Jesus’ message in the Gospels is very clear that we must love all our brothers and sisters, and the best way of doing this is through self-giving love. We are called to recognize and embrace the humanity and worth of everyone, as we have been taught by moral and democratic principles.
Ultimately, service is an awakening to the reality of suffering and our call as Christians to denounce injustice. I believe the poor are the best teachers of these truths and once they show us this interpretation of service, we realize that they serve us much more then we could ever serve them.