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.
By Angela Alaimo O'Donnell, associate director of Francis and Ann Curran Center for American Catholic Studies. Fordham University
At the University of Central America (known affectionately as “The UCA,” pronounced oo-ka) in the heart of the city of San Salvador, grows a beautiful rose garden. The roses were planted and meticulously tended by a man named Obdulio Ramos. Obdulio once worked at the UCA as a handyman and landscaper, and his wife worked for the University, as well, keeping house for the Jesuits who served as leaders, scholars and teachers.
On the night of November 16th, 1989, Julia Elba Ramos and her daughter, Celina, who was staying overnight with her mother, were awakened, dragged from their beds, and savagely murdered, along with 6 Jesuit priests who were living in the house: Ignacio Ellacuria, Segundo Montes, Ignacio Martin-Baro, Amando Lopez, Juan Ramon Moreno, and Joaquin Lopez y Lopez.
Father Ellacuria, the president of the UCA, had been an outspoken critic of the corrupt leadership of the Salvadoran government and the civil war being waged against its own people. The government sent soldiers to assassinate him and to brutalize his body, and were given instructions to leave no witnesses; hence, the “collateral damage” of the 5 unlucky priests, the blameless housekeeper, and her 16-year-old child. The bodies were discovered the next morning, most of them prostrate on the lawn—the very ground where Obdulio’s roses now grow.
These shots were heard around the world. Pictures of the slaughtered innocents were circulated widely, symbolic of the massacre of an entire people. International pressure forced the government to sign peace agreements and made way for more peaceable leadership to take root in El Salvador. The murders of these good people were terrible, and citizens around the world were moved to insure that their lives and deaths not be wasted. They are remembered to this day as martyrs whose sacrifice saved a nation and countless lives, and their collective symbol has since been the rose.
Human beings have long associated Roses with Remembrance. The rose is a perennial: she blooms, faithfully, each year, attesting to the pitiless passage of time and, simultaneously, renewing the promise of the eternal. She is the queen of flowers, the biggest of blooms, possessor of the odor and attar that soothes and enchants all who approach her.
It is no accident that the flower arrangement that best bespeaks our grief is the Bleeding Heart: white carnations arranged in the shape of a heart riven by a streak of blood-red roses. Red roses, in particular, are associated with human passion, with the heart, and with precious human blood—all words and things demonstrative of life. They insist, in the face of loss, that love endures.
Five years ago, on the 16th anniversary of these deaths, I visited the rose garden at the UCA. It was a warm November day in San Salvador, and the roses bloomed in shameless abundance. I was awe-struck by the peace of the place, a small corner that breathes beauty amid a troubled city, blighted by new violences and new injustice, kidnappings and gang killings and grinding poverty, the wars—ever ancient and ever new—waged against the human spirit. I also learned that Obdulio had since died and another gardener has taken over his task of keeping these roses blooming, a husband’s and father’s refusal to forget outliving his own mortal body.
The strangeness of being in that place—ground where precious lives were lost—and witnessing the testament of roses, made me feel the presence, in an other-worldly way, of the men and women who breathed their last breaths there. The roses were rife with remembrance of people I had never met, and somehow they were there among us, reminding us of how steep the cost of freedom, justice, and peace has ever been (and will ever be).
“A terrible beauty is born” (gracias, Senor Yeats), and that “Beauty will save the world” (gracias, Senor Dostoyevsky). I wrote the poem below in the days that followed, another attempt at remembrance—though no arrangement of words can offer the solace of a single rose.
Return of the Saints
November 19, 2007
The Rose Garden, University of Central America
Tonight the grass is bloodless,
and you’re surprised to find
beauty where your bodies once lay,
your new wounds blooming red as roses.
The man who planted them is gone.
For years he tended every stem,
hands sure as a father’s
soothing his dying child.
Only the murdered ones return,
a gift given in exchange
for the horror of death in the dark
roused from your lonely beds.
Your crimes (un)common as love:
aiming truth at the face of falsehood,
claiming justice for the disappeared,
shaming the proud and the fortunate few.
No one calls you saints, even now.
You loiter on the well-trimmed lawn,
toe stones along the brickwork paths,
search for your selves in empty rooms,
then retreat as you once refused
to retreat, before the coming sun,
your roses blooming red
at the heart of the martyrs’ garden.
Thanks to the generosity of a donor the cost of the program for the fall 2012 semester is $5000, which includes tuition, room and board. (This does not include the additional expenses such as airfare). If you or someone you know is interested in the fall 2012 semester, please contact Heidi Kallen firstname.lastname@example.org or Grace Carlson email@example.com right away! Application deadline is May 9.
There is nothing like going somewhere new in order to remember — or to realize— just how little you know. This is a daily occurrence for me here in El Salvador. For the last two months, I’ve been studying with a Santa Clara Universityrun program known as La Casa de la Solidaridad. A program aimed at Jesuit university students, Casa seeks to immerse its participants in la realidad — the reality — of this tiny Central American country.
The question then is, of course, what exactly is that reality? Or, how might a gringo college kid here for four months come to access any part of it? While I am still in the process of discerning those answers, I have an
idea about how our program strives to do that over the course of a semester. I am also learning about its limitations.
I spend two full days per week in the urban community of San Ramon, visiting a preschool classroom in the mornings, making home visits with social workers and community leaders in the afternoons and seeking to provide a context for the lives these children lead. We learn of fatherless homes, families affected by alcoholism and domestic abuse, un- and under-employment, water-borne illnesses and poor infrastructure. The list, unfortunately, goes on.
Though we are stationed in the prosperous and relatively safe neighborhood of Antiguo Cuscatlan, Casa emphasizes taking us out of the comfort of our houses (that we share with Salvadoran students) and showing us other parts of the country.
Therefore, we additionally spent a week in the rural part of the country bordering Honduras, where much of the violence occurred during El Salvador’s horrific civil war in the 1980s. (A war in large part financed by the United States — another
topic unto itself.) We heard stories and visited sites from those years, learning about how such a history still has major ramifications for the country and its people to this day.
I recount this to underscore, that unlike when I studied in London last summer with Fordham’s program, here I am constantly interacting with Salvadorans, hearing their stories and traveling through the country, encountering Salvadoran “reality” as much as one can in two months.
Yet I know there is still so much more. What about the hundreds of Salvadorans eating lunch in the air-conditioned food court of the brand-new mall complex near where I stay? Subway, Burger King, Pizza Hut — is this the Salvadoran dream,
what people do here when they have “made it,” when they have enough money that they do not have to worry about what those families in San Ramon confront on a daily basis? Then again, is this any different than the United States? What
effect has the United States had on creating this culture?
So, I ask, what about this reality? What is El Salvador — the war-torn families living in homes made of sheet metal with no running water, or the people who live behind armored gates and have personal drivers? Of course, the reality of El Salvador today is both and everything in between. We should recognize though that the former is altogether more common than the latter.
That said, what this demonstrates is just how hard it is to understand “reality” outside of our own context. For me to understand the world as a gringo who was raised in the United States is hard enough, to desire an
experience of anything else requires even more effort. Now that I am here in El Salvador, I am repeatedly reminded of just how many experiences of this world exist in the year 2012. With seven billion people on this planet, it’s tough to get a
grasp on anything beyond one’s own reality — but I think getting an education demands that we try.
As the daughter of Filipino immigrants, Teresa Cariño ’13 has memories of the Philippines that come mostly from the stories she was told growing up and what she glimpsed on visits from the backseat of the family car.
Now, Cariño, a theology and religious studies major (at USF), is back in her parents’ homeland. Thanks to an anonymous donor, six other University of San Francisco students are with Cariño — all studying tuition-free and accompanying underprivileged communities as part of the Casa Bayanihan program.
The scholarship includes room, board, and tuition, leaving only $1,000 in fees for students to pay. Likely as a result, more than double the number of USF students are taking part in the program as compared with fall 2011, when three made the trip.
In its second semester, Casa Bayanihan, a jointly managed study abroad and immersion program with Santa Clara University, and Ateneo de Manila University in Manila, is modeled on the successful Casa de la Solidaridad program in El Salvador. The pillars of the program include: accompanying marginalized communities; rigorous academic study at the local Jesuit university, Ateneo de Manila University; simple community living; and spiritual formation.
Students study the Philippines’ economy, culture, and society; gender equality; Tagalog; and more, as part of their coursework. Two days a week, Casa Bayanihan students work with local nonprofits or in disadvantaged neighborhoods to serve the disabled, learn from poor farmers how they grow crops in a community with no potable water or electricity, advocate for street children, or provide small businesses with micro-loans.
By accompanying the disadvantaged in these ways, students learn from locals about the realities of their daily lives and the factors that contribute their struggles.
As the world moves toward Asia, the mission of Casa Bayanihan offers students a more complete perspective on how changing economies and social systems affect the most vulnerable members of society, said Grace Carlson, Casa Bayanihan co-director.
The program provides a safe environment where students can learn and step out of their comfort zone to see the privileges they benefit from. Hopefully, in their professional and personal lives, they’ll find a way to continue to use their education and their talents as advocates for the marginalized, Carson said. “We want to form healthy young people grounded in faith, rooted in justice, who can look at the world with critical eyes, relate to the struggles of others, and respond together in community.”
Cariño, who understands a good deal of Tagalog but doesn’t speak it, sees Casa Bayanihan as an opportunity to immerse herself in the language and culture of the Philippines she never knew. “My biggest challenge is separating my understanding and experiences of the Philippines of my childhood vacations and the nitty-gritty reality of the suffering and injustices that affect most of the country, as well as the hope and light that is there in the midst of all that,” Cariño said.