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Some Thoughts after Visiting El Salvador
When my wife and I first heard of our daughter Mallory's desire to study abroad, we were excited to hear that she had decided to venture out into the world and experience life outside the US. Hearing , though, that her choice to study abroad was in the country of El Salvador was a bit of a shock. Having an occupation that frequently takes me to 3rd world countries level-set me a bit, but I wasn't sure if it was for the good or the bad. Sure, it would open up her eyes, but there was also the protective father in me that wanted to do just that - protect her from the effects of rampant poverty and the chance of being put in a dangerous situation. We did our research on the program though and felt good about her opportunity there and sent her on her way with anxiousness only a father and mother could know.
Not only did Mallory adapt to her new surroundings she thrived in them. The need for keeping safe is always of most import with the program, but it doesn't get in the way of the learning experience. For Mallory, the opportunity to apply herself to study outside of the US at the University of Central America in conjunction with conducting real, hands-on service projects has allowed her to grow in many more ways than we could have imagined. Her 5 months there have opened her up to new experiences and learning that could only be had by experiencing such excitement, teamwork, and frankly, heartache at times, that this program is set to achieve.
If our daughter's experience is anything like that of others, it can be said that Trena, Kevin and their group have designed a program that will confront a student's beliefs system and help expand their realm of understanding in a world that is ever changing and also known to be extremely challenging. We were lucky enough to see this not only through our daughter, but also first-hand at the parents week visit. The Casa program definitely helped our daughter understand the world a little better and prepare her for the many challenges that lie ahead.
Cole Daily, father of Mallory Daily (Spring '13).
When we booked our tickets to San Salvador in August, we had no idea what to expect - other than the obvious delight in seeing our son Jake after 4 long months. What we experienced was more, so much more, than we ever imagined. We feel so privileged to have had the chance to experience just a few days of Jake's Casa life. The Casa program is profound and life changing. We were really thankful with the director for orchestrating such a wonderful opportunity for parents, grandparents, siblings, uncles, and aunts to walk in our student's shoes. The mere fact that we now have an understanding of Jake's daily life will make his transition home so much easier. But more than that, it has left a huge imprint on our hearts and minds and even after our short visit we know we have been changed for the better.
I have done more than my fair share of global traveling- often to places off the beaten path and with deep poverty - but more often than not, I have passed through the experience and have not had the opportunity to stand in it. I have to say that my experience in El Salvador was one of the most deeply moving experiences I have had. Sharing a day with Jake and his praxis families was truly eye opening and heart rendering. I know that this experience alone has reshaped Jake's future.
When you add the layer of deep understanding and reflection that comes from the Casa directors as well as Gene, Peggy, and all the other instructors and staff and praxis coordinators...words fail...all that is left is a lump in the throat and a heart full of gratitude. So even though words are not enough - thank you is all I can offer. But it is a "thank you" from the entire Dillabaugh family and it is deeply heartfelt.
Christa Dillabaugh, mother of Jake Dillabaugh (Fall '12).
My trip to El Salvador to visit my daughter during her studies abroad was by far the best week the -2- of us spent together in many years. My few days of immersion into her Casa program were fantastic! The classes we attended were fascinating. As a parent this is a must-go trip...experience of a lifetime with your son/daughter...the one-on-one time free of email, cell-phones and all the trappings of daily life in the States are left behind...don't miss this rare opportunity for a great time with your student...most highly recommended.Warm Regards,
Thomas W. Trotter, father of Maren Trotter (Fall '12).
I was enchanted by my visit to El Salvador through the parent stay program with Casa de la Solidard though I do have to admit that I was a bit apprehensive before I arrived. Not only do I not speak Spanish but I hadn't heard very good things about El Salvador. My reasoning for allowing my daughter to study abroad with this program was entirely based on the excellent reputation of the program.
My accommodations were quite nice at the Arbol de Fuego. We were very busy keeping up with Caitlin's schedule and the added tourist stops: class at the Universidad Centroamericana (the UCA), many meals at one of the casa's (such good food), pupas (very yummy), a tour of the Universidad de El Salvador (the murals are pretty amazing), soccer matches, Museo Del Café (okay I really like coffee), the salt murals (so cool!), mass in remembrance of the Jesuit martyrs, Playa el Tunco (a beautiful beach), Sunday Fiesta & crafts downtown, and, of course, the praxis site visits (an eye opening experience) as well as many other things. I was impressed with how the program kept our kids safe from educating them on appropriate dress and behavior and places to go to drivers bringing us from one site to another.
Everyone related to the program was warm and welcoming as were so many of the Salvadorans that we met. My entire perspective on El Salvador has changed from one of apprehension to one of appreciation of a lovely culture and this is thanks to Casa de la Solidaridad!
Maybeth Terashima, mother of Caitlin Terashima (Fall '12).
When I first learned that Megan intended to apply for the Casa de la Solidaridad program, I have to admit that I was concerned about her traveling to El Salvador, a country and part of the world about which I knew very little. I explored the Casa website and was impressed by what I found there. The program seemed to be very well organized. The leaders Trena and Kevin Yonkers-Talz had put together a lot of information on the website, and they appeared to be passionate about the success of the program and the experience they wanted to provide to the students who chose the program. The fact that they have lived in San Salvador for 13 years with their own 4 children to run this program really impressed me. This was not a once and done thing for Trena and Kevin, but instead a program which had evolved and been carefully organized from start to finish for each group of students.
I learned that Megan, who attends Fordham University in New York, and her twin brother Patrick, who attends Saint Joseph’s University in Philadelphia, both knew friends who had been a part of the Casa program in El Salvador. I made an effort to meet those students (either in person or by phone) who had gone on the program to learn more about it. I was also able to talk to the mother of Megan’s friend who had been on the program. Both the students, and the mother, assured me that Megan would be safe and that she would have a life-changing, fun, and good experience if she traveled to El Salvador to participate in the program.
After we bought Megan her plane tickets, and the time came closer to her departure, I tried hard to support her in the decision to go despite my own anxiety about it. The packing list was comprehensive, and although we had a little trouble with ordering books (probably because we waited too long), we were able to find most of the things she thought she would need on the trip. After having a hard time saying goodbye at the airport, I waited to hear that she was safe on the ground in El Salvador. I was very relieved and happy when she was able to call me to say she had arrived safely and already met some of her new Casa friends.
The trust, friendship, and dedication of everyone involved in this program was tested early on as Megan’s beloved Grandaddy died less than a week after she had arrived in El Salvador. Trena and Kevin were supportive of Megan’s decision to come home for a few days for the funeral, and provided amazing guidance, prayers, and inspiration to Megan and our whole family during this difficult time. What was more impressive were the letters each of Casa students had written to Megan to read on the plane as she traveled home. Although they did not know her well, each and every student in the program wrote a beautiful note of support to her. It felt great to know she would be in good and loving hands when she returned to El Salvador.
I was privileged to visit Megan and the Casa program during parent week from March 12 -17. Plan ahead if you are going – there are lots of vaccinations involved! Upon arrival, I was greeted at the airport by other Casa students and Megan and we had a good reunion at the airport. Our accommodations at the local hotel were very comfortable, and we spent the first afternoon settling in. That first night, there was dinner at Megan’s house followed by a social hour at Kevin and Trena’s where I got to meet all the other parents who had traveled there, and the other students. I was very impressed by the friendliness and openness of all in the program – Kevin and Trena, as well as all the Salvadoran community (cooks, guards, professors, families) the Salvadoran students, and all the other Casa students from various universities in the U.S. What an amazing group – I knew immediately that Megan had made friends for life among all of the groups.
The next day I accompanied Megan and her partner to their Praxis (community) site and got to know the 3 families with whom she spent 2 days each week. The families were so generous and had formed an amazing bond with Megan and her partner Mallory. Megan’s and Mallory’s translation skills were put to the test as the families spoke little English, and there was so much I wanted to say to them and they wanted to say to me. We had some quiet meditation time, followed by a guided massage session with Oti, one of the women at the Praxis site. After lunch, we had a chance to see Megan and Mallory in action teaching English to the children of 3 families. I was very glad to be able to experience an entire day with Megan at her Praxis site, as I know that has been a huge part of her life in the Casa program.
The evening was also very special as it was spirituality night at Trena and Kevin’s. Everyone was so open in sharing their reflections about the day. It is something that folks in the U.S. don’t do very much, and was an incredible night to spend with the other students and families.
On the following day, I attended class with Megan and heard presentations from all the students about their community sites. That afternoon, the other parents and I watched a documentary about the civil war. We had dinner with the Salvadoran students at the Casa houses.
On the last weekday, Friday, I attended 2 classes with Megan. The first was Sister Peggy’s theology class, where we had the opportunity to learn more about the importance of faith in El Salvador. We took a field trip to see the home where Archbishop Oscar Romero had lived and the church where he was killed. It was very moving to be able to see the exact spot where he died, having learned more about his presence in the country. History class in the afternoon was fascinating as we heard 2 speakers describe their experiences during the civil war. We had dinner with the Salvadoran students, and then split off into groups of parents and students for discussion. Kevin and Trena did a great job of welcoming us again in their home and facilitating helpful conversations about how our kids were adapting to the program, how they might feel when they got home, and next steps in taking the program forward.
Saturday began early with a soccer tournament, where teams of 4 played sudden death elimination. The Salvadoran and American students were mixed together in teams of 4 and there was a lot of spirited cheering for each other! Late that afternoon, we gathered as a group one last time to participate in the Romero vigil. We marched together with thousands of others to the center of San Salvador, ending up at the main cathedral for an outdoor Mass. I was struck by the peaceful and joyful mood of the crowd. As we marched, one of the Salvadoran students asked me if there was a person in America revered as much as Oscar Romero. I told him that although there are holidays in America to honor Martin Luther King and Presidents Lincoln and Washington, there is no central figure who is universally beloved in the same way that Oscar Romero is treated by the Salvadorans. This really made me think about who our “heroes” are in America, and how we should honor them. I know that this experience has changed Megan forever. It has made her more passionate about learning about the reality of others, something which was already a driving force in her life but now is even more important. It made her think about living more simply and in a way which is more conscious of the environment and community around her. Megan has come away from Casa with lifelong friends, both American and Salvadoran, and no doubt these folks will play an important role in her future as she is determined to keep in touch with many of them. The experience also inspired Megan to consider her faith, and ways in which she can grow in faith and spirituality in her own way. I am so glad that I got to experience my time with her at the Casa program, as it helped me understand what she was learning there and gave me a little insight about how to support her in her journey now that she is home.
Denny Donovan, mother of Megan Donovan (Spring '13).