Hello, my name is Teresa, and I’m here to share with you all a little bit about my experience in the Casa Bayanihan program in the Philippines last semester. To quote one of my Casa-mates, simply put, “Casa was the best decision of my life.” Not only did I receive a holistic education, learned what it actually meant to live in community, and was blessed to enter so intimately into a reality that two-thirds of the world face, but I came to live in hope. The education I received during Casa was unlike anything I had had before. Here, the education model was entirely based on Jesuit values. My professors were personally invested in my education, but learning also extended beyond the classroom. Every encounter was a learning experience, especially when I was in a community. I learned more about myself and the world I live in.
My time was spent in several communities. Throughout the semester, my Casa-mates and I created a beautiful community of support and love, despite all the conflicts and frustrations. We lived in a neighborhood in Marikina City called Barangka. For the first time, I actually knew my neighbors and played with their children. My praxis site was this NGO called Tahanang Walang Hagdanan. It sought to provide people with disabilities with jobs to sustain themselves, as well as provided various other programs that attended to their needs, since the government could not adequately do so.
In the middle of the semester, my Casa-mates and I went on a one-week immersion into a village of fisher folk called Sitio Rodriguez in Calatagan, Batangas. The nature of the Casa program allowed me to enter so intimately into the reality of my communities, deeper than I would have if I were a tourist in another country or another program. They shared their stories of struggle and heartache. I had a first-hand experience of their daily lives. Their pain was my pain and their joy was my joy and mine, theirs. It was through the experiences of grace in these communities and the relationships that I was gifted with that in which I came to hope.
The hope that I found in my Casa-mates, neighborhood, praxis site, and Calatagan moved me to live in hope. It is living in this hope that I find the strength and that I am grounded to live a life that works for justice, a life that loves. Throughout my semester, I experienced countless moments of grace, communion, and transcendence. They would come unexpectedly, like when I’d look over at my Casa-mates and just be taken aback at their beauty. Or, like when I’d take a camera into Tahanan and everyone suddenly became a model, or when I’d watch my host mom in Calatagan lay out her fish for drying in the unforgiving sun, just like her mother had done before her. Or, once more, when I would walk through campus and look up at the trees and how the sunlight would shimmer through the leaves, electric with life. These transcendent moments, these moments of encounter, moved me to gratitude to God for these moments, for these people, for all things created, and for the Casa program.
USF Class of 2013