The Jesuit conference last April in Mexico City, “Networking Jesuit Higher Education for the Globalizing World: Shaping the Future for a Humane, Just, Sustainable Globe,” provided a fitting setting for the birth of the Casa Educational Network, a new initiative in building a global network among Jesuit universities of praxis-based educational opportunities grounded in accompanying the poor and marginalized.
During the conference, the presidents of the University of San Francisco, Santa Clara University, and the Ateneo de Manila University signed a memorandum of understanding of cross-university collaboration to develop and run a new study abroad program, Casa Bayanihan in Manila. The first cohort of students will start in the Philippines in August 2011. Those three Jesuit universities, along with the Universidad Centroamericano, which is involved with the Casa de la Solidaridad in El Salvador, comprise the new Casa Educational Network.
“The hope of the Casa Educational Network is to be able to take the successful program of Casa de la Solidaridad and make that kind of praxis-based education available to more students,” says Mark Ravizza, SJ, an associate professor of philosophy at Santa Clara University who will serve as Jesuit-in-Residence at Casa Bayanihan. The plan, he says, is to continue to find partners in different countries around the globe for additional Casa programs.
Through the Casa Educational Network, students from across the US who want to partake of the Casa experience of solidarity with the poor can choose from a variety of programs in different countries, while universities can share resources and expertise to provide those educational opportunities.
“One of the things that I think is so promising about the Casa network is that we can enter into collaborative partnerships that allow us to share our expertise across borders,” Ravizza says.
The collegial nature and goodwill among the participants shows that “universities from the developed world can work with those from the rest of the world, that we all benefit from each other,” notes Gerardo Marin, vice provost at USF, who oversees international programs. “That ability to speak the same language in a sense, the shared values [of the Jesuit mission and identity], makes it much easier to understand each other, to contribute and to collaborate.”
He emphasizes that the relationships involve sharing back and forth among participants. “This is not us taking over a program, or exporting our program,” he says. “We’re all learning from each other and our experiences, which are very different. So everyone is learning in the process.”
Kevin Yonkers-Talz agrees. He and his wife Trena have served as co-directors of the Casa de la Solidaridad in El Salvador for the past 11 years. They will relocate to Manila in January to help launch Casa Bayanihan.
“We were very impressed with the Ateneo,” he says of his trip to the Philippines last February with Ravizza and Marin to investigate the feasibility of developing a partnership with the university. “I knew the university was committed to academic excellence, but what surprised me was their extensive formation program. They immerse a large percentage of students into local reality, local communities. We have learned a great deal about praxis-based education here in El Salvador and the trip to Manila made it clear to me that in partnering with them we would learn even more. This is going to be a really dynamic process.”
As they continue the process of putting the program in place, Trena Yonkers-Talz notes, they will be considering how to share resources and expertise and yet be flexible enough to respond to the differences in the universities and the differences in cultures and context. The model developed in El Salvador “is going to look different there in ways that we can’t yet imagine. We look forward to seeing how Casa Bayanihan takes on its unique identity in a different cultural context.”
That model is built on the pillars of accompaniment, academics, community and spirituality. Students spend two days a week accompanying people within the local community, allowing genuine relationships with the poor and facilitating an understanding of the realities of their lives. “We are clear with the students when they arrive that we do not talk about their experiences in the communities in terms of volunteering,” she says. “When they are here, it isn’t about solving problems. It’s about accompanying people on the margins. These experiences of accompaniment are then intentionally interwoven with their academic, community and spiritual life."
Over 500 students have gone through the Casa de la Solidaridad in the last two decades. Two alumni, Grace Carlson and Heidi Kallen, will direct the new Casa Bayanihan beginning in January 2012, when the Yonkers-Talz family returns to El Salvador.
“With the Casa Bayanihan, there seems to be a recognition of the potential to unite the expansive network of institutions of Jesuit education, focusing more on greater interdependence rather than isolated pockets of cooperation,” Carlson says. “Programs like the Casa have the potential to plant seeds for continued work in service of others. Perhaps there has also been recognition that an education that ties academics closely to a difficult reality of people we have grown to love will have the power to move people towards justice.”
Although the Casa Education Network itself may be new, the fundamental principles behind it are firmly rooted in the Ignatian identity, Ravizza says. “That’s what’s exciting about it. In many ways, we are being faithful to a long tradition of Jesuit education, but we are adapting this old tradition in new ways for the globalized world of the 21st century.”
A unique and special feature of Casa Bayanihan is the Barangka neighborhood in which student homes are located. The community is often bustling with activity, from vendors selling food in the early mornings to kids playing energetically in the park each afternoon. The nature of the neighborhood allows for deep learning and relationships to form between community members and Casa students. As a way of celebrating and strengthening these relationships, Casa Bayanihan and the Barangka neighborhood recently shared a community gathering (called a Kamustahan) in the local park. The community opened the celebration by leading a rosary outside of the Mama Mary statue at the edge of the park. Mama Mary is the name affectionately given to the Virgin Mary in the Philippines. As a way of honoring the park as a place of gathering, the Casa and Barangka community decorated the statue with fresh flowers. Then, everyone participated in lively games before sharing merienda. It wouldn't be a complete Filipino party without a delicious treat! The Kamustahan is just one way of deepening the relationship between Casa Bayanihan and the Barangka community. Simple, daily interactions are just as valuable as organized events, and Casa students and staff often enjoy playing in the park with the kids and conversing with community members as they walk through the neighborhood.
Hello and greetings from the Philippines! As a SLU graduate and a current Community Coordinator with Casa Bayanihan, I'm extending a warm invitation to consider studying with us in the Philippines! Living and working in the Philippines has already been a rich experience of cultural surprises, hospitable welcomes into the Filipino communities, and continued questions of how to respond to the realities we see around us. If you too have felt a similar tug to further immerse yourself in the diversities of a new culture as I did, then I encourage you to simply pay attention to it. As you consider what a semester in the Philippines may mean for you, please know that the Casa Bayanihan staff and praxis communities are all ready to welcome you warmly into our community here. Together we share a lot of energy around creating an experience that challenges students in the right ways and always supports them individually and communally. During my short amount of time here in the Philippines, I'm already discovering a culture that celebrates life deeply, even in the midst of harsh realities. It's the kind of daily life that's hard not to want to share with others. So, please know that we'd love to share life with you here in the Philippines! Feel free to contact me with any follow up questions, as I'm happy to accompany you through your discernment of studying with the Casa.
Greetings from the Philippines! I am a 2011 graduate of Marquette University, and in my time at MU I had the great privilege of studying abroad with the Casa Educational Network.
For the past year and a half, I have been working with the Casa staff—moving from El Salvador to my current life and job in the Philippines. I wanted to reach out to you as Marquette students to tell you about the wonderful opportunity to study abroad in this unique and remarkable program, Casa Bayanihan.
Casa Bayanihan is a cultural immersion into the beautiful, gritty reality of life in the Philippines. It is a chance to experience a new culture, live in an intentional and holistic community, stretch your mind beyond boundaries and borders, and learn more about how we all fit into this mysterious and, at times, challenging, world. I invite you to come to the casa. To experience the joy, the reality, the Philippines. If you want to learn more or APPLY, please visit the program site: (http://www.scu.edu/casa/bayanihan/) OR our new Casa Bayanihan tumblr page (http://casabayanihan.tumblr.com/). Pictures, videos and real life experiences tell the story much better than I could on my own!