Casa de la Solidaridad is not your typical study abroad program. At Casa you are fully immersed in the Salvadoran culture. This enables you to develop lasting relationships with Salvadorans in the communities, Salvadoran scholarship students and the other Casa students. Come and join us for an experience of a lifetime!
Casa Bayanihan students spend two days a week accompanying community members in marginalized Filipino communities. Their classroom expands into Metro Manila as they build friendships and learn through experience about the daily struggles and joys of the people
This past weekend Casa Bayanihan students and staff took a day trip to hike Taal Volcano, just an hour and a half drive outside of Manila. The day's adventures took us to the lake shore town of Talisay, where we took a relaxing boat ride out to Taal Volcano. We then began the 45 minute hike, enjoying the lush views of the surrounding ridges and the lake on the way. Upon reaching the peak, the view of the sulfuric lake, Crater Lake, inside the volcano was stunning. The beauty of nature in the Philippines was both serene and rejuvenating for all of us, and we left feeling inspired to keep seeking out all that the Philippines has to offer!
"I have no grammatically correct sentences that can adequately portray the feelings, experiences or insights I’ve brought back with me from Calatagan. All I have is awe. Awe for the fishermen who go out to sea early in the morning, awe for the women who go out to the market to sell, awe for the children who constantly carry with them the hospitality and love of their parents and awe for the entire province for their trust and loyalty with one another. "
-Amber Cavarlez, USF
"There was something very peculiar about the energy of Calatagan that reminded me of my father, so I wrote this poem the last day I was there. After having lost my father five years ago, it was refreshing to know that his presence still remained in what I encountered in this very special and sacred place."
I will remember the rain.
I will remember the ways in which it poured down, washing away my tears
and reminding me that my father is still here.
There is something sacred about this place.
My father's spirit dwells with me here.
In the dancing of the tree branches in the wind,
in the gentleness of the ocean waves in the shallow,
in the drops of rain that fall-sometimes light,
sometimes powerfully falling down, fleeting.
In the love that is shared, through the spirit that is Angel.
Returning to the Philippines to study this past spring, Teresa Cariño ’13 anticipated a kind of homecoming. The Philippines is her parents’ homeland, after all. She had visited many times. What she found were families crowded into shanties and children living on the streets—scenes she had previously only glimpsed from the security of her family’s car.
"It’s been intense. There is no other way to describe it,” Cariño, a theology and religious studies major at the University of San Francisco, wrote in an email from Manila. For Cariño, Casa Bayanihan has thrown back the curtain on a world of injustice that she knew little about from family vacations.
Thanks to an anonymous donor, six other USF students were with Cariño during the spring semester—all studying tuition-free and accompanying members of underprivileged communities as part of the Casa Bayanihan program.
The study abroad and immersion program—jointly administered by USF, Santa Clara University, and Ateneo de Manila University in Manila—just completed its second semester. Unlike other study abroad programs, Casa teaches by immersing students in marginalized communities and pairing those students with residents or nonprofits working for change. The pillars of the program are accompanying residents of marginalized communities; rigorous academic study; community living, including eating simple meals, washing clothes by hand, and taking cold showers; and spiritual formation.
Students study the Philippine economy, culture, and society; gender equality; Tagalog; and more. Two days a week, and occasionally on weekends, students take what they’ve learned in the classroom into the field at praxis sites, learning from locals about the realities on the ground. The richness of the program lies in the combination of what students learn in the community and in the classroom, and the dialogue that ensues.
Indeed, Casa isn’t about students “parachuting” in to aid needy Filipinos. Historically, that approach has damaged cultures. Students are taught to resist that impulse and reminded that, prior to using the benefits of privilege and power to help others, they must walk humbly with them, and be instructed by their daily reality, said Mark Ravizza, S.J., the Jesuit-in-residence at Casa Bayanihan.
“We aren’t here to help. We are here to learn,” said Cariño, recalling a quote that was recited during her Casa orientation: “‘If you have come here to help me, you are wasting your time. But if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.’” (Lilla Watson)
For Cariño, accompaniment meant building friendships with disabled Filipinos, who often face discrimination, and learning how they manage daily tasks such as cleaning, cooking, and traveling around town. Cariño also tutored special education students and packaged medications from a local pharmaceutical company. For other students, accompaniment meant improving the construction of shanty homes in squatter communities, helping nonprofits educate street children, or learning how micro-loans are administered to small business owners.
Class assignments, community-based research, films, and weekly discussion groups all relate to students’ experiences in local communities. The program’s integration of classroom, real-world, and spiritual lessons are key to students developing an awareness of and compassion for those who experience harsh realities, to advancing a deeper knowledge of themselves, and to living more justly with others, said Grace Carlson, Casa co-director.
Casa challenges students’ thinking about poverty and privilege, the role of faith, the factors that give rise to the suffering they see, and what it means to “help” people. Students stepping outside of their comfort zones is what Peter-Hans Kolvenbach, S.J., the 29th superior general of the Society of Jesus, had in mind in 2000 when he issued a new imperative for Jesuit higher education: “Students,” he said, “must let the gritty reality of this world into their lives, so that they can learn to feel it, think about it critically, respond to its suffering, and engage it constructively.”
Colleen Curry ’13, who completed Casa in fall 2011, said the realities she encountered in the Philippines broke down barriers that let her close herself off from others’ problems. “It exposed me to a new way of living,” said Curry, an English major. “No longer do I just exist in my California bubble, but in the greater world reality.”
Filipina American Tara Peithman ’12, who also completed Casa in 2011, called the program the most valuable part of her USF experience. “It changed what I want to do after graduation,” said Peithman, who accompanied families living in a squatter community, helping to build homes, teaching art to children, and painting church pews.
Peithman plans to apply for work as an advocate for the Asian community. She’s also pursuing opportunities for development work in the Philippines. “Living in community with others in solidarity and developing a spiritual dimension has completely empowered me,” Peithman said.
Hello! My name is Brianne, but I am in the process of changing my name to something easier to say in Spanish. I attend Gonzaga University in Washington State and grew up near Seattle. Here in El Salvador I will be accompanying the families of Mariona and I look forward to learning the local crafts and how to make pupusas! I cannot wait to grow as an individual and improve my Spanish, “poco a poco.”
Loyola University Maryland
Hola Amigos! My name is Antonio. I go by Medina for all those wondering. I am from Secaucus, New Jersey. I am a junior at Loyola University Maryland where I study communications and hope to one day work for National Geographic in some form or fashion. I am currently living in Casa Ita as part of the Casa program in Antiguo Cuscatlan and find the people and the culture to be invigorating. I don’t know why I decided to come to El Salvador but something in me knew it was the right place for me to study abroad. My Praxis sight is El Pueblo de Dios en Camino and is located in San Ramon and the nearby community of Las Nubes. Every Monday and Wednesday I get to walk up a dormant volcano and listen to the beautiful inhabitants of Las Nubes. I couldn’t be more blessed. For now I’m taking things day by day and trying to live every experience to its fullest in my new home. Poco a poco.
Buenos todos! I am Catherine Erbes and I’m majoring in Life at Gonzaga University with a concentration in Spanish language and global culture studies. We have only just started our semester in the lovely El Salvador, nestled in the crook of Central America but I have high hopes for our coming days here! I’m looking forward to exploring all the cultural dynamics of El Sal as well as the hearts and minds of the Salvadorans and my fellow CASA community members! Saludos :
¡Saludos a todos! My name is Matthew Ippel (Mateo). I hail from Dearborn Heights, Michigan and I am currently a Junior in the Walsh School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University in Washington, DC where I am majoring in Regional and Comparative Studies. I am concentrating my studies on international development and social justice within Latin America and the Middle East. I spent last semester studying in Amman, Jordan and, now, I am here in El Salvador with the Casa. It’s great to be back to Central America – a place that I feel very much at home. With only two weeks into the Casa experience, I feel as if I have been a part of it for much longer! As the semester moves forward, I hope to engage El Salvador, the people, its history, and the hopes and dreams that many deeply desire. As I grow in my faith and discern God’s vocation for me, I also hope to develop relationships among my fellow Casa students, Casa staff, professors, and the people of FUNDESO (my praxis site) and explore the possibilities of what 'solidaridad' can lead to.
¡Buenas! I’m Hannah from Hales Corners, WI. I am a junior at Marquette University in Milwaukee studying International Affairs and Spanish. I am so thrilled to have joined the Casa community; in El Salvador I am surrounded by inspiring people and having a ton of fun. Although it’s still early in the semester, I can already tell that my classes at the UCA and praxis placement in Las Delicias will be rewarding experiences and that may time in El Salvador will be life changing. I am so excited to be taking a giant step toward simple living and solidarity with Salvadorans; “I want to link my destiny with that of the poor in this world” – Jose Marti
Hey! I am John Byrd and I study philosophy and theology at Fordham University in the Bronx. I am originally from Marshfield MA but I went to high school at Boston College High. I can’t believe that I am finally in El Salvador and I get to spend four amazing months here! While I had studied the history of the martyrs and the civil war, being here and hearing the reality of these events from first hand witnesses has already blown my mind and I am excited for that feeling to continue.
Mary Catherine McDonald
University of Dayton
Hi! My name is Mary Catherine. I am a sophomore from the University of Dayton double majoring in religious studies and human rights. I am so excited to be a part of this program! It is fascinating to be here and learn about the Salvadoran culture, history, and development while experiencing it. The people that I am meeting are teaching me so much through their love and openness that a class or text would not be able to communicate. I truly feel like a student of life itself. This experience is such a unique gift, and already I have learned and grown so much!
Meg Stapleton Smith
Hola a todas y todos. My name is Meg Stapleton Smith. I am a junior at Boston College and am majoring in Theology with a double minor in Faith, Peace, and Justice Studies and Catholic Studies. My praxis placement is El Pueblo de Dios en Camino and I am really looking forward to accompanying the people of Las Nubes. My hope is at the end of the semester I have irreversibly fallen in love with El Salvador, deepened my faith, and explored the depths of Liberation Theology.
Primero Dios… Buenas!!! My name is Michael A. Martinez and I was born and raised in Miami, FL where I attended Belen Jesuit Prep. I am currently a student at Fordham University (Bronx, NY) dual majoring in Philosophy and Psychology with a concentration in American Catholic Studies. Due to my previous education, I have been infected with the contagious “Jesuit Virus” and am now participating in this amazing and unique experience that I am extremely grateful for. God has placed me with the San Antonio Abad community to learn, grow and love in faith with this beautiful country (which is very appropriately named “El Salvador” or “the Savior”). I am only certain of one thing: God wants me here and in the words of Dean Brackley, SJ, I am prepared to be “ruined for life.”
Loyola University Maryland
Buenas! I'm very proud to be part of the Casa de la Solidaridad program in El Salvador. I hail from Loyola University Maryland in the charming city of Baltimore where I study Global Students & Latin American/Latino Studies. After witnessing the effect that El Salvador has had on many Loyola students, I've been patiently awaiting my own turn at the helm. In the short time I've been here I've been experiencing a continual expansion of my worldview through accompaniment and immersion.
Saint Louis University
Hello! My name is Sara Hanel, I’m a sophomore studying Spanish and Social Work at Saint Louis University, and I was born and raised in Minnesota. I’ve already learned so much from El Salvador in my first few weeks, and I’m so excited that I get to be here for the next four months to open myself to new realities and learn and grow as much as I can from the beautiful people here.
University of San Francisco
Hola a todos! I am beyond excited to be here in El Salvador, learning about a new reality and embracing life in a close community. While I am originally from Portland, Oregon, I am currently studying at the University of San Francisco. While working towards a major in Art History, I was recently captivated by the history and culture of Latin America and so I am now adding Latin American Studies to my academic pursuits. At my praxis site in Mariona, I am looking forward to a semester rich with experiences shared with the unbelievably kind members of the community.
Saint Louis University
Hello my name is Stewart Heatwole from Morton, Illinois. I am a Social Work and Theology major at Saint Louis University. I am incredibly excited to be in El Salvador, the thing that gives me the most excitement is the opportunity to learn from the people of El Salvador. These first weeks have taught me that there are no better teachers on how to live life, than the El Salvadorian people.
Hola! My name is Ted o Eduardo depending on whichever is easiest. I come from Cheyenne, Wyoming and usually take classes at Regis University in Denver, Colorado. This year I am living in Casa Romero in Antiguo Cuscatlan with the best Salvadoran and American housemates one could ask for. My praxis site is Tepecoyo and I am taught by some of the most interesting people at the UCA. Stay chivo!
Hello to all! My name is Tom Haskin and I am a junior studying history at Fordham University. I think that a desire to explore realities previously unknown to me has brought me to El Salvador, a desire to constantly alter, broaden, and refine my worldview. I hope to challenge myself in these next four months to examine what it means to be both un estadounidense and — more generally — any individual, in this 21st century of increasing interconnectedness and globalization.
¡Buenos! My name is Lacey Schmitt and I am from Eden, NY. I am studying International Relations at Canisius College in Buffalo, NY. I am already enjoying my time here with the Casa community and Casa Ita. I came to El Salvador to fall in love with the Salvadoran people and this country. I am looking forward to the coming months that I will be working with the people of El Cedro. There is no better way to learn than being immersed among those who know life best.
University of San Francisco
Hey! My name is Kelsey and I am a junior studying International Relations: Latin America at the University of San Francisco. Jesuit education has fueled my passion for social justice and service learning, and now the CASA program in El Salvador is offering me more. I was interested in the El Salvador program because of my desire to serve, but my three emotional weeks here so far have shown me the importance of community and confianza over action and ability. Casa de la Solidaridad has ultimately given me more love, more reflection, and more inspiration than I ever could have expected, and I am realizing that there is just more for myself and for the world. The Salvadorans we are living with, and their testimonies of Monseñor Romero and the Jesuits, are true examples to live by. My continuing months in El Salvador will be spent exploring ways to embody the Jesuit mission, possible Spanish translations for my name, and an understanding of how uselessness can be the best possible thing! La paz.
Saint Louis University
Howdy! My name is Alexa Phillips and I am a sophomore at Saint Louis University. I am studying Spanish with a concentration in American Studies and International Studies, Political Relations and Special Education (a mouthful, I know) and I hail from a small town in central Illinois. I am so excited to have this opportunity to work alongside these beautiful Salvadorans and to learn all that I possibly can about this way of life. I am spending these wonderful four months in the midst of some truly inspirational people in Tepecoyo and I cannot wait to spend as much time with them as possible. As one of my dear Casa Ita friends would say, this experience and opportunity truly is ¡Que increible!
Last Friday, Jon Sobrino S.J. shared some words of wisdom with Casa students in Gene Palumbo's Perspectives on El Salvador's Civil War class. He spoke about his experience as a jesuit priest in El Salvador, his memories of the six jesuits murdered at the UCA in 1989 and some of his memories of Dean Brackley S.J.
Today we want to share with all of you those memories of Dean Brackley S.J. by Jon Sobrino on a video.