Last semester, my daughter, Teresa Cichello, then a junior at Fordham University, spent a semester abroad in the Philippines. Teresa was attracted to the structure and support of program. She liked the fact that she not only took classes but also served in one of 6 placements 2 days a week. She also loved the fact that she lived in community with students from other US Jesuit universities and with Filipino students. Somewhat to her surprise, among the highlights were community reflection nights and other occasions for discussion and reflection on her faith.
I visited Teresa for a week and loved seeing her so deeply happy and immersed in the culture. Heidi and Grace gave an overview to the parents and I was impressed at how organized and supported my daughter was by Heidi, Grace and her community coordinators. I visited the informal settlement community Teresa worked in. It was so awesome to see the little children run from all directions as the Casa students approached.
I was moved when I heard Teresa proudly shared with an American friend the idea of 'accompaniment' that the Casa program teaches and her role at her placement as building relationship with the families she visited. I was struck by the humility and faith of the Filipino people. I was there during Holy Week and some of the Filipino women who cook for the students took us around to different churches where they prayed. There were thousands of people standing room only spilling out the doors and processions in the streets. Teresa kept repeating how safe it is there and how people look out for you.
One of my fondest memories was having Teresa stay with me at the hotel. I was jet lagged and falling asleep and Teresa was showing me pictures of all her fellow students, Fr. Mark, the children in her community. I kept dozing and waking up to her laughing and telling me story upon story of each person to whom she had grown attached. She also went on her first silent retreat which she described as “just what I needed.” The commitment, love and support my daughter received by being a part of this program was very moving to witness.
Chris Cichello, mother of Teresa Cichello (Spring 2014)
When my daughter, Katharine, began considering her options to study abroad, it was immediately evident that this was not going to be the typical semester overseas as most college juniors know it. Instead of destinations such as Rome, Florence, London, or Prague, Katharine’s list of candidates included India, Cambodia, and the Philippines. She sought something beyond a passive international stay. She wanted her time to have meaning and purpose, and a bit of adventure to boot. She wanted to immerse herself in a completely foreign culture, and experience it from within.
From her first emails home, it was obvious that the richness of Katharine’s experience at Casa Bayanihan was precisely what she had been seeking. Her long missives detailed every aspect of her new home and community with an infectious sense of discovery; the house, the neighborhood, the campus, the jeepneys, the new foods and smells. Mostly, though, it was the people in the Philippines who captivated her; her fellow students and leaders, the Ates and Kuyas, and the people at her Praxis site and in Calatagan. Her happiness and satisfaction quickly overwhelmed any apprehension we had about the distance that separated us.
Other children at home, a busy fall schedule, and the daunting prospect of traversing a dozen time zones initially dissuaded us from planning to visit Manila for Parents’ Week. As the semester wore on, however, I felt Katharine’s need to share her experience firsthand pulling me toward the Philippines. The emails and Skype calls were wonderful, but I needed to walk the Barangka, sip a 3-in-1, play with Luiz on Friday night, attend Teacher Tess’s class, and meet Maricar and Max in Calatagan to get some semblance of Casa’s true impact.
Although I could not stay for the entire Parents’ Week, my four days in Manila were well worth the effort. My action-packed visit allowed me to put faces with names, and meet all the wonderful people who had shaped my daughter’s experience at Casa. Getting to know the selfless, motivated, and inspirational students and leaders confirmed that it takes a special person to embark on a semester at Casa Bayanihan. After four months in Manila, Katharine’s only regret about her decision was that she did not remain at Casa for the following semester! She returned home with a confidence, fulfillment and sense of purpose that was enhanced and affirmed by her semester, and after sharing a slice of the Casa experience alongside her, I have a great appreciation for why that is so.
Tom Borah, father of Katharine Borah (Fall 2013)
"Family week” at Casa Bayanihan in Manila was a GREAT experience for my wife and me. It allowed us to see first-‐hand what our daughter Jillian was experiencing and it also provided us an opportunity to go places and see things we’d likely never have done otherwise. We were able to attend all of our daughter’s classes and meet the wonderful teachers and program leaders, along with other students. It was such a diverse group of wonderful people and those interactions provided some of the most enjoyable and memorable aspects of the trip. We were also able to travel with our daughter to her praxis site one day and see first-hand where she was going, what she was doing, and meet some of the wonderful people at the site. It was very humbling and rewarding for us to not only see the site, but to see our daughter’s interaction with and love for it all.
In addition to following Jillian’s typical routine, there were several planned events…to further mingle with the group and experience additional social and spiritual aspects of the program. …We learned more about the program, those participating in and leading the program, and some of the motivations and emotions of the participants that brought them to the Casa...
Everything about the week was well done and enjoyable. The scheduled activities filled a good portion of the week, but there was adequate free time to visit, tour and do things aside from the Casa.
Actually being there in person and experiencing it all first hand, gave us far better insight into and appreciation of what our daughter was experiencing. There would have been no way for us to envision or appreciate it all, without attending family week... And since we traveled so far to attend, after family week concluded, we took the opportunity to visit the islands of Palawan and Negros to assure we saw more than just Manila.
We HIGHLY recommend anyone with a student at the Casa to attend family week. They are experiencing a wonderful opportunity and this is your opportunity to enjoy it directly with them.
Joe and Trish Baker, parents of Jillian Baker (Spring 2012)
Transforming Power of Casa Bayanihan — as seen through the eyes of a Casa
I accompanied my daughter Teresa to the Philippines and…must confess I had my early apprehensions and doubts — these Casa participants left their comfort zones and lived simply for four months without air-conditioning, television, microwave oven, washing machines, and with very limited access to the Internet.
I saw only happy faces and lively spirits, and that made me at ease…I gathered that they found the program fulfilling in how they've made attachments and built relationships with the less fortunate, underprivileged and marginalized communities. On the last day before their final retreat and departure for the US, feeling their sadness and heavy hearts, I thought I could console them by saying
"you can now go back to your places of comfort". Greg said, "That's
debatable". Wow, that said everything!
Teresa took me to Tahanang Walang Hagdan during Family Week. I was so touched seeing people with disabilities having to do work repetitiously for hours on end. Teresa then took me…to the Calatagan fishing village where their group spent five days in March. I found Teresa's words to be true, that these families of fishermen were warm, all-welcoming, all-giving and joyful despite hardship. I was surrounded and immersed in friendships and love. I did not want to leave — I was soaking in the beauty of the place and the beauty of their hearts. Little did I know that I would be transformed myself through my daughter's Casa experience!
I am so proud of all 13 Casa participants. I congratulate and commend them for
what they've been through and what they've accomplished. On that last night,
I addressed them as the "group that will shape the future". Cristina said, "You're our number one fan!" I sure am a Casa advocate!! God bless all of them for taking the plunge and coming out of it with such a rewarding experience.
Jean Carino, mother of Teresa Carino (Spring 2012)
As a family who has travelled very little outside the US, we had a sense of apprehension when Erin decided to participate in Casa Bayanihan in the Philippines…there were many unknown factors, not the least of which was our daughter being on the other side of the world for 6 months.
We gradually came to realize the depth of preparation, thought, and concern that Father Mark, Heidi and Grace put into the development of this program…in terms of housing, food, transportation and overall safety. The real value of this program is the way that they extend beyond these basics to introduce the students to new experiences and relationships and then reinforce what they have been exposed to in class work, group projects, retreats, one on one discussions, etc. This program really seems to focus on giving the students a means to reflect on all they have experienced and to provide them with the tools they need to understand their own role.
It was our Family Week visit to the Philippines that provided this insight. It created a shared experience with Erin and was very important to help our understanding of the mission of Casa Bayanihan. We sat in on classes, ate meals at the Casa houses with the students and other visiting families, travelled on Jeepneys with the students to their praxis sites and spent two afternoons talking and eating with their friends in these communities. To walk in Erin’s shoes for a week, doing the things that she and the other Casa students do every day made a world of difference in our understanding of their experience.
One thing that I didn’t realize until we visited was how important the students feel it is to share their new world. There were many moments of “This is the person I was telling you about” or “Remember, I told you about this place.” You could sense the enthusiasm as we made these connections. Another bonus…was bringing our 13-‐year-‐old son along and exposing him to this entirely new culture. Watching Erin introduce him to her host family and seeing him share his own toys and books that he brought from home was a great memory from the trip.
If the students that we met this semester are any indication, the Casa program really does attract special people. The students we met were open, friendly, inquisitive and very committed. I felt like they were becoming global citizens in such a way that gives me a lot of hope. I can’t say enough about them and their inspirational efforts.
Thanks to all the Casa staff for taking care of our kids, opening up their minds, (and ours!)
and inviting us to participate in this memorable week.
Bill and Lisa McCarty, parents of Erin McCarty (Spring 2012)