Valley Girls (and Boys) in the Andes
In Manizales we’ve gone through a crisis during the past week which promises to go on for a few more days; a serious crisis but one which, as crises do, tends to separate the wheat from the chafe.
I teach political science to a group of Colombian university students in whom I’ve placed great faith as the source of solutions to tomorrow’s problems. Primarily privileged students from good families, but in some cases students who have to work to help pay for their expenses and in a few cases, students from the most disadvantaged segments of society who are pursuing their education and trying to wrest their future from fate on a wing and a prayer.
Crises can bring out the best in us, a communal spirit to find and implement solutions and to bond with each other, or, they can bring out our most superficial aspects: mere complaints and criticism without a trace of willingness to participate in the hard work involved in responsible solutions.
The population in Manizales has, by and large, been magnificent. They complain and criticize but make do with what they have and even manage to learn better habits through the crisis. I wish I could say the same about the majority of my students, the ones who are normally comfortable and well to do. The complaints are vociferous, well organized and loud as they should be, but the thought of living with inconvenience in order to meet their responsibilities is beyond their ability to even comprehend. To attend a class without proper grooming is unthinkable. That disturbs me, not only because of the lack of maturity and dedication it demonstrates, but because it makes it highly unlikely that the students in whom I’ve placed so much confidence have the mettle to deal responsibly with the challenges of leadership. Perhaps effective leadership has to percolate from those elements of society who face daily challenges just to survive, and when they manage to excel, have overcome a Darwinian obstacle course that only the great can survive. I’m glad we have some of those too.
It’s sad for me to see so much intelligence and charisma wasted. To see so much of my time and effort wasted. Still, if only one of the very few, the poor, the challenged and the brave make it through, it may all prove worthwhile,
 © Guillermo Calvo Mahé; Manizales, 2011; all rights reserved