Tuesday was a stressful day for Edgar, our supervisor, as it was his first day in the office since Ferney, our student receptionist, completed his internship. There was no Ferney to open the office at 7:45 a.m., no Ferney at the front desk to answer the phone, no Ferney to do all of the other small things that were often overlooked. The Career Workshop or TAL, which was taught this week, is when Ferney's absence will be sorely missed. Carlos Fernandez, the area director from Peru over all Self-Sufficiency activites, was in town today for training. All of the office staff met with him in the afternoon, where he shared some exciting new PEF information. Some of the changes we talked about in detail include the age change and the discounts. The present program limits the age of participants to 18-30 years. Now, the program is open to ages 18-65+. Mike tells the people that it they promise to live long enough to pay off their loan, they can apply even if they're 120! The great thing about this change is that many, many men and women who abandoned their studies before finishing their education due to family needs or economic hardship will be able to return to school, finish their studies and receive their "titula" (degree). Without a degree, their pay has been lower for sometimes thirty years of more. Case in point: Oscar is self-employed in "sistemas" (IT) and is married with three children. He dropped out of the university twenty years ago with only three semesters left and has never returned because of lack of funds. When he bids a job, they ask if he has his title. Since he doesn't, his pay is automatically decreased. He is now applying under the new PEF program and will finish his program, increasing his pay at each job. The second major change are the new discounts, which can total up to 60% of the loan amount. Discounts are given for good marks (grades), graduating on time, finding employment within your area of study, paying on time each month, and paying off the entire amount of the loan early. We are so happy for these changes, as it will reward those participants who are faithful in keeping their promises.
|Our Missionary Crew Eating Lunch on Tuesday|
On Wednesday Mike made the most delicious fish and chips for dinner. It was a nice treat. I haven't eaten chips like that since Honduras.
Thursday. A group of five young people showed up today to get started on the big, big, job of entering 7,000 different items in our systems detailing the particulars of the universities and programs approved for PEF loans. Our new PEF computer interface will be activated shortly and this info had to be input before the transition. We decided to pay them to get the work done quickly (a good idea). We could do it, but figured it would take us twice as long and it has to be finished within five days. On April 21, the entire PEF system will shut down while the old system is changed over to the new system. The change-over should take about ten days. The students who are applying for PEF loans for the next semester are sweating a bit, but Peru has assured us that if they apply on or about May 1, there should be no problem receiving their checks by June 15. The changes coming May 1 are so exciting and will help alleviate some of the our past problems. The word must be getting out, because we've had lots of calls in the past few days from students inquiring about what they owe in order to be "al dia" or paid up.
Oscar Florez, a stake leader from Bucaramanga, drove eight hours to come to the CAS in time to attend our 9:00 a.m. TPE (Planning for Success) workshop this morning. It was the fourth and final class where we covered all the ins and outs of the PEF loan process. More information about the new program arrived by email early in the morning so we were able to share it with our sixteen students. All but one of the students received their certificates. (The student who did not, must get her profile in LDSjobs up to 90% first!) One young couple attended every class with their cute baby girl in tow, so Mike made up a certificate for the baby also. Her parents thought that was so fun!
We planned to leave at noon since we will be training all weekend out of town, but you know how that goes. Oscar had lots of questions and we didn't actually leave until 3:30 p.m. We had the taxi drop us at a cute kitchen store to see if we could find plastic Easter eggs for our egg hunt planned for next Tuesday. (We have been looking for weeks.) The clerk said they didn't have any, but a sweet young woman paying for a purchase told us she had seen some at a store near her office. She began writing the address down for us, but then said to her companion, "Let's just take them to the store since we are going back to the office anyway." We thanked them immensely, then followed them to their car and hopped in. The store was only about eight blocks from our house. We scored, as the little hole in the wall place had a cute Easter display with cellophane bags each containing four plastic eggs filled with chocolate. I bought six bags so everyone will get to find three eggs which should be enough to bring smiles. Everyone we invited to the Easter party looked at us strangely when we described our plan – obviously this will be a new experience for them!
We walked downtown to buy some shoelaces off the street for Mike's dress shoes. He bought two pair since the price was right - 75 cents per pair. On the way home, a pizza place caught our attention, so we stopped in for dinner. It was okay, but I just can't figure out why a tomato-based red sauce has not been used on ANY pizza we have ever eaten in Colombia.
|Part of Our Graduating TPE Class|
|Even the Baby Attended All the Sessions|
On Friday, Mike and I took an early morning taxi to Edgar's apartment, where we called to let him know we were waiting outside with our suitcase and hang-ups at the front gate. He uses a basement parking lot for his car and threw his stuff in and picked us up on the way out. Security is quite tight at apartments like his, with high metal fences, electrified wire, and guards. It's a pain getting in at times. When Edgar drove out and saw us in comfy clothes, he parked the car then ran back in to change out of his white shirt and tie. We had planned to change into our missionary clothes on arrival in Tunja for our training meeting. He thought we ALWAYS wore formal clothes and didn’t want us to feel bad that he was going casual. It was a funny moment. The weather was perfect for our drive north into Boyaca. Edgar grew up north of Bogota and showed us where he lived as a boy and where he went to boarding school. We stopped for lunch at a roadside restaurant Edgar had eaten at before. Chunks of meat on metal spikes roasted over an outdoor fire. When we drove up, a young woman ran out serving chunks of hot meat to entice us to eat at their place instead of one of the two competitors on either side of them. The meat samples won us over and we sat at a huge table on the porch while the cook hacked off chunks of beef and pork, sliding them onto plates heaped with salted potatoes and yucca. We were also served a big bowl of soup filled with pieces of chicken, vegetables and yucca. The meat was not nearly as tender as the samples though - good marketing ploy!
We arrived at the Tunja chapel in late afternoon where we gave essentially three training sessions over a five-hour period as different groups with different callings in the Tunja Ward arrived at intervals. We have learned to be flexible with Colombian church training, as plans change, schedules we are given are not adhered to, and you just never know what to expect until it happens right in front of you. Also the different units and leaders have unique questions and needs, so you learn to adapt to the situation as it presents itself. We have developed various Powerpoint presentations and training modules of different lengths, then we just “go with the flow”. While we were inside, the local police were outside on the lawn conducting a youth training class. One of the young participants is a member of the church and volunteered the church grounds as a place for their training. She is a lovely young woman and hopes to be a police officer someday. We were very tired and hungry by the time we packed up the car to leave. One of the local group rode with us in our car to show us the way to our hotel. Tunja is a maze of one-way streets and it can be quite frustrating trying to find an unknown location in the dark. The hotel turned out to be nicer than expected and had a little sandwich place next door that was still open, so we grabbed a bite before falling into bed exhausted.
|Waiting for Our Ride|
|The Meat Cooking for Our Lunch|
|Cutting Our Portion|
|Our Lunch Plate - The Papas Are Usually Coated With Coarse Salt|
|A Boyaca Rose - Closeup By KR|
|Tunja Training Session|
|Tunja at Night|
On Saturday, we arose early to a beautiful day. The hotel had a buffet breakfast with really good hot chocolate! We drove the forty-five minutes to the chapel in Duitama, where the ward specialist over our program had arranged for us to meet with three people interested in different aspects of our programs- one with PEF, another in starting a business, and the last with getting training to find a better job. The specialist is a spunky woman with a testimony of the workshops offered by CAS. After attending the TAL workshop, she interviewed for a job that had many applicants and, using all the skills she had learned, got the job. She loves to tell the story to anyone who will listen! We ate lunch at an Argentine restaurant in Duitama. It was very good, except the large lunch made Mike sleepy for our afternoon meetings. Right after lunch we met with the stake leaders and all of the bishops, then we moved to a bigger room and held a longer session with the ward councils from the Duitama wards. We had to finish on time because we had an hour drive to Sogamosa to another similar session with the councils of the two wards in that city. They asked a lot of questions and we finally had to cut if off about 9:00 p.m. Fortunately, our lodging for the night was in Sogamosa, so we didn’t have a long jaunt to the hotel. What a long day! The hotel was not as nice as the one in Tunja, but the bed was okay and the water hot, so what else did we need?
|Tunja at Dawn|
|Iglesia de San Francisco, Tunja (Early 1500's)|
|Streets of Tunja|
|Bolivar Plaza, Tunja|
|Arriving in Duitama|
|The Nursery Toilet in Duitama Chapel|
|The Main Plaza and Cathedral, Duitama|
|Ending the Evening Speaking in Sogamosa|
Sunday. We were up early and headed out without breakfast to catch Sacrament Meeting in Duitama. Edgar was asked to speak in church (lucky Mike). During the Sunday School hour, I gave an orientation session on PEF to several of the young women in the ward who are finishing their secondary schooling and were interested in using PEF to finance their college courses. After a break, we held another long training session for the people that missed Saturday’s meetings. We were dragging by the time we finally packed up the car and headed home. We hit considerable traffic as we approached Bogota and didn’t get home until 9:00 p.m. or so. Mike was so tired he just fell into bed.
|On the Way to Church - First Horses|
|Mike Back in Duitama for Church Meetings|