Message given at Durham Friends Meeting, July 18, 2021
Thank you very much for inviting me. I became a Friend in Poplar Ridge NY, a hamlet so small that it is frequently not included on maps of New York State. The Friends Meeting is located in an area of the finger lakes that many Friends settled in the early 19th century and is the only surviving one from about 7 within short distance that were active at one time. It is semi programmed three Sundays a month and unprogrammed the last Sunday.
I will share a bit about me and why I am passionate about BQEF: the worst day of my life was the day my younger daughter was killed in a terrible accident. Emily was 23. It was a year after she graduated from Hampshire College. My Friends Meeting cared for me and gradually I began to see my way again. A hospice grief counselor told a group of us bereft parents that we needed to find a way to take our children with us through our lives. A Friend from my Care Committee suggested that I join the Bolivian Quaker Education Program Board and share the story in my new home in Michigan. Way opened to for me to do that, and the work has stretched me and brought me joy.
There are more than 30,000 Quakers in Bolivia, and they are all Evangelical. Almost all of them are Ayamara, which, with Quechua are the largest groups of Indigenous people in this majority indigenous country. You may wonder why they are Quaker. Quaker missionaries and educators went to Bolivia in the early 20th century from the West Coast, Indiana, and Ohio. It was illegal to educate indigenous people until 1950, but somehow Quakers built schools and taught in them. The cultural values of the Ayamara are very similar to Quaker values, which may have made our religion attractive.
Newton Garver, a philosophy professor at the University of Buffalo, made several trips to Bolivia starting in the late 80’s. There he met and had conversations with Bernabe Yujra, a leader in the Aneala Yearly Meeting, about what Quakers in Bolivia needed. Bernabe was clear that they wanted more connections with Friends in the North and that their young adults wanted higher education and needed some help with it. A few were enrolled in the tuition-free public universities, but because they also had to work to pay for food and housing and transportation, it often took them 8-10 years to complete degree requirements.
In the new organizations, it was determined that Bernabe would manage a small office in LaPaz, recruit and choose scholarship students, and pay the stipends, and support and counsel the students who are the first in their families to attend universities or other schools of their choice. In most cases their parents are only partially literate. In the 19 years of its existence, BQEF has graduated 220 young Bolivians! It is a drop in the bucket of need, but it has been highly successful in bringing those young people and their families out of crushing poverty!
The US office of BQEF is modest with one part time contract employee. We raise funds to support the program and make sure that all US laws are followed in handling funds and transfers to Bolivia. The program is funded largely by individual Friends, monthly and yearly meetings. We have also run study tours, the most recent having been postponed due to Covid. We hope that may go next year.
BQEF has sponsored graduate teaching assistants to come to the US to work in Quaker schools. After a year in the US they take home teaching resources, and hands-on methods of teaching. Their English and leadership have greatly improved, and they are comfortable in international Quaker settings.
We have had North American and European volunteers go to Bolivian that have used their skills in a variety of ways. Because there are very few native speakers teaching English in Bolivia those skills are always needed.
One of the ways that Friends Meetings can help is to sponsor a student, currently at $850. per year. This has the advantage of connecting First Day Students to a real person in Bolivia, with the possibility of an ongoing relationship. Scholarship students write letters to their sponsors and we have just begun a program of connecting sponsors and students via Zoom with the assistance of a translator.
Zoom is an asset that Covid has brought to our attention. We now have meetings with staff and students in Bolivia, and if you are interested, we could arrange a session with an English-speaking graduate. In fact, on Tuesday there will be an interest group as part of NYYM annual sessions, on how Covid has affected our students and their families.
I will be glad to answer your questions following Meeting for Worship. Thank you for your attention.