Friday, June 6, 2008
We held our first class session today. Prior to their arrival, students had been asked to read Kohl and Farthing’s “Impasse in Bolivia,” a book that chronicles Bolivia’s political and economic history, with an emphasis on the years since the 1952 national revolution, and the turn to neoliberalism in the 1980s and 90s. Many of the students showed a real engagement with the material, and were able to offer insightful critiques of the impacts of neoliberal reforms on Bolivian society and economy. This knowledge provides an important background for understanding Bolivian reality today, and the conditions in which people live in the communities where we will be working.
In the afternoon we visited the offices of the Defensoría del Pueblo, the human rights ombudsperson charged with defending the rights of the population against violations by the state. “Why is there no Defensor del Pueblo in the United States?” our guide asked, tongue in cheek. “Some of the problems that Michael Moore has publicized could be addressed by a Defensor.”
My efforts to plan and coordinate continue apace. Things keep shifting, as new opportunities emerge which conflict with existing plans. I have tried to explain to the students that this is the nature of things in Bolivia, where everything is flexible and plans are constantly changing. As I’ve told them, this is the first year of this program, and my first year running it, so we have to approach this experience as an adventure, a process of exploration in which they and I are both engaged. Rather than the usual top-down educational experience, this is one in which they will be fully part of the process of discovery, and I expect to learn as much from them as they do from me. Being flexible and ready for change and disruption is thus the most positive and productive orientation they can take to their daily routines. Still, I hope they are not getting fed up with the changes to their schedules, or with the fairly demanding pace of the program thus far.