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Casa Program and Our Visit to El Salvador
I am happy to offer my thoughts on having Kathleen at the Casa program and our visit to El Salvador.
We were very comfortable with her going, because she had been there on an Arrupe trip, her Spanish is quite good, she is passionate about social justice, she has travelled in a Spanish speaking country before and there were kids from her school also attending.
When we got to El Salvador, I have to say I was surprised by what a pained country it seemed to be. I could not begin to see where hope would lie, given the pollution, the poverty, the crime, the lack of an infrastructure, and on and on.
What I did see, when we went out to the Campo, was how relationship becomes so terribly important to the people, as they have so little else. The people were so lovely, so welcoming to us and to our kids, that I could see why Kathleen had such a fierce attachment to the experience. Also, the opportunity to live in community with other students who are also so passionate about service is such a rare experience, and one which Kathleen embraced.
We loved the day at the UCA--the teachers do such a great job tying all the experiences together for us. The tremor was a bonus, coming at the perfect point in the lecture! I have to reiterate that the way the classes are structured to help the kids make sense of their experiences and the weekly spiritual direction really enhance the whole semester. It is very difficult to make sense of the experience and to go back to one's former world. As Kathleen's younger brother said 'Kathleen, you are so emotional when you come back from El Salvador.'
And Kevin and Trena welcoming the students, as well as the visiting parents, into their family makes the students feel so at home and safe. The Thanksgiving dinner was such a highlight of the trip. It was beautiful in the garden at night, the food was communally prepared and delicious, and so many wonderful people came together from lots of different communities.
Kathleen is working on a Fulbright application right now, hoping to return to El Salvador next year, if she gets the scholarship. In the meantime, she will be leading an Arrupe trip to El Salvador in January, from BC.
--Ann Bersani (Durkin), mother of Kathleen Durkin, Fall '09
One Parent's Reflection on the Casa de la Solidaridad Experience
My kids grew up like many--in play groups, in classes, on teams, in church, and in volunteer groups. To my surprise, my son's first real experience of community came from his time at the Casa. Living with peers--cooking, studying, playing, listening, singing--in a place apart; 'being with' rather than 'doing for' people whose lives are radically different than ours, were experiences impossible to replicate in the U.S. Living in community with other kids, and spending days with the people living in the volcanic hills of 'Las Nubes,' brought my son a deep understanding of himself and the world. We fool ourselves as parents. This learning is something a parent cannot give. The teaching of a life-time happens at Casa. The teaching is this: I can live with my eyes open. I can embrace reality. I am involved in the mess of life. I know what it is to love. I have hope.
--Sue Anderson, mother of Ricky Anderson, Fall '09
When I got the e-mail this afternoon from my Casa alum son Gregory, images came flooding back and I am surprised at how excited I feel to be able to share a few thoughts three years later. Two images arose immediately. The first is the joy on Gregory's face as he greeted me at the airport in San Salvador. He had several Casa friends with him, and they, too, welcomed me warmly. The second was seeing the two guards holding machine guns at the entrance of the hotel where I was going to be staying....alone! Kathy, you are not in Missouri anymore!
However whatever fear I may have felt dissipated quickly as I was welcomed into this community of soul searching, giving young people. So many were willing to share their stories and their dreams. The warmth and dedication of Kevin and Trena is almost beyond anything I have ever experienced. Their commitment to the college students and the people and culture of El Salvador is phenomenal.
I was there for less than five days but I felt like I had gone on pilgrimage, unintentionally at that. We visited the house where the Jesuit priests and their housekeeper were murdered and saw the repository of their belongings and stories...holy ground. I stood listening to my son and his companion carry on a conversation in their halting Spanish with two women who told the stories of their hopes and hardships, smiling through saddened eyes as they remembered pain beyond imaginations. I went to lunch in the simplest house I have ever been in but the welcome and the food could not have been richer! Again through halting translating we shared stories of eating rabbit and squirrel (me); they could not imagine such a thing! I clapped and danced with a group of Salvadoran dancers and musicians who are trying to keep the indigenous instruments and dance alive; that included using turtle shells for drums.
I am deeply grateful that my son had both the desire and the courage to spend a semester in El Savador with the Casa program.
It not only changed him, it changed me.
--Kathleen Stock, mother of Gregory Stock, Fall '07
Casa Parent Alum '07
The first time Sarah asked me about studying abroad, I thought what a great experience this would be for her. I knew that Saint Louis University had a sister campus in Madrid, Spain and since she was a double major in Spanish and Biology I thought, what a great fit. Then she informed me that she wanted a 'different' study abroad experience and she wanted to go to El Salvador. So for the next four or five times she asked, I just said no. I wasn’t sending my only child to a place where I didn’t speak the language, the government wasn’t exactly always stable, and modern amenities weren’t commonplace. But she persisted, made her arguments for going and told me if I had concerns to reach out to other parents until I felt comfortable that it was a safe place for her to be. In the end, I decided that I had raised an intelligent and careful girl, and that I shouldn’t let my fears place limitations on her experiences in the world.
And so she went. I can tell you that I had a few sleepless nights waiting to hear from her because she couldn’t get to a phone or make it to the internet café before it closed. But once she got there and I could tell that she was safe and happy, I felt better about my decision. It was an adjustment not to get those everyday calls that I normally got when she was between classes at SLU but I did enjoy hearing about her experiences with the other students as well as at her praxis site when she could call home.
As was recommended, I decided to go to El Salvador for the Thanksgiving week. I have to admit that El Salvador wasn’t really on my top 10 places to visit but I felt it was important for me to see what she had been experiencing. And I really believe you need to see and experience it if at all possible. Since I was there for the week, I was able to visit her praxis site and meet the people she talked so passionately about. I have to say, for me, the most lasting impression I still have is that people can live in such abject poverty and still have such a warm and welcoming spirit. That indomitable spirit is a testament to the El Salvadorian people.
Being in El Salvador for Thanksgiving was an experience I will never forget. Thanksgiving is obviously an American holiday but what is Thanksgiving about but family, food, and thankfulness? Speaking with the people that are touched by the Casa program and meeting their families was amazing. They want the same things for their children that we want for ours--for them to have a better life than we did. To share this time with them was very special to me.
I would be remiss if I didn’t take time to thank Kevin and Trena for all they do for the Casa program. To commit to the program not only for themselves but for their children as well is remarkable. If I couldn’t be there for my daughter, I’m glad that they were.
If you have any hesitations about the program, I hope you reconsider. I think it was an experience that neither my daughter nor I will ever forget. You can feel free to contact me at email@example.com.
--Aggie Waninger, mother of Sarah Waninger, Fall '08
Traveling to El Salvador and sharing our daughter Kathleen's experience with the Casa program was one of the best experiences in a long time. I say that for three reasons:
--Mike Durkin, father of Kathleen Durkin, Fall '09
When my daughter first approached me about the notion of studying abroad in El Salvador, my first instinct was not unlike when she approached me to attend Fordham University in the Bronx, New York--fear and trepidation. My miscalculation with this instinct, as it was in the case of Fordham, was that I never factored in the extrodinary caliber of people she would be surrounded by in El Salvador who would surround her and support her.
So I did my research: asking questions of both the directors Trena and Kevin and the study abroad office at Santa Clara University. Each time, I was provided with a timely, fact-based, understanding response. My wife and I then supported my daughter's decision to go to El Salvador and then we made the journey ourselves for Parents' Weekend--something I read that over two-thirds of parents do for students enrolled in the Casa de la Solidaridad program.
What we witnessed as parents in El Salvador changed our lives forever. Here was our daughter fluently speaking Spanish and teaming with other students from Jesuit and other Catholic Schools from around the U.S. to work with the poor. The students were happy, energetic, faith-based, and devoted to each of their individual assignments. They were fully immersed in the food, the culture, their studies, and their site work. I felt that the program had provided adequate safety and secuirty measures to ensure the students would be protected. The students, I felt, were an extension of Trena and Kevin's own family. As I was about to leave the country, the nephew of my daughter's praxis site contact said to me in Spanish (translated to me by my daughter): 'your daughter is a gift sent to us by God--know that I am watching over her as you as her father would want me to.'
The people of El Salvador have little in the way of the material things we are used to but they are a people of immense faith with an inner harmony that is inspiring. My daughter is a better person for having experienced them and their country and so am I. Please contact me if you would like any additional parent perspective.
--Michael S. Komich, father of Kelsey Komich, Spring '10
Our daughter Emily's experience with Casa de la Solidaridad was very positive. The Casa program help strengthen Emily's leadership talents. Emily lived in a rich learning environment with a diversity of fellow students in the program, students at the university, praxis personnel, and welcoming Casa staff. We think the teachers and study material at the University of Central America were superior. Emily was a high academic performer prior to her Casa semester and she continued thrive and be challenged in a rewarding academic setting.
For Emily the Casa experience was spiritually, emotionally and intellectually satisfying. It was difficult for us as her parents to see her go to El Salvador for a semester. We are happy we did not let our own limitations prevent our daughter from the Casa experience.
--Ron and Kay Thenhaus, parents of Emily Thenhaus, Fall '09