The events of the day were all set against the backdrop of the community center, now beautifully painted inside and out, and the incredible mural that our students created over the course of the last ten days. This mural represents hours of work by students, program faculty and staff, and members of the Loma Pampa community, all of whom devoted their time, energy, and creativity to this project. The result is a truly unique work of art, unlike anything to be found anywhere in Cochabamba's impoverished southern zone.
Watching the events of the anniversary celebration unfold, with hundreds of people gathered in the space of the community center, all talking, laughing, eating and playing, I was powerfully struck by the fact that all of this was made possible by the generosity and hard work of so many people, both in the US and Bolivia. In the space of three short years, we turned a barren patch of ground into a thriving social space, where people can gather and a host of social services can be provided. This project stands as proof that international collaboration need not happen only at the level of governments. Individuals and communities (and universities!) have the ability to make powerful contributions, improving people's quality of life, producing new kinds of friendships, and promoting cross-cultural understanding. Maybe no one of us can change the world, but we can make positive change. This project is proof of that.
After the anniversary celebration we adjourned to don David and doña Celia's, where we ate an incredible meal (lapping, with Celia's famous camotes) and celebrated Ben's birthday with a giant cake that just barely fed the assembled crowd. At the end people made more speeches. Tears were shed, but I think we all left with a very warm feeling, glad of our friendships and proud of our accomplishments in the barrio.
This marks the end of another year of the Rutgers University Study Abroad in Bolivia program. Many thanks to all the people who have supported this program over the years. You share in our accomplishments. Hasta la vista!