Front Row (L-R): Gabriel Richard (USF); Nebu Kolenchery (SLU); Matt
Shea (USF); Christopher Lamelas (USF); Casey Conneely (USF)
Second Row (L-R): Sally Morton (USF); Carla Gibbs (SLU); Charles
Parker-Alofs (USF); Daniel Setiady (SCU); Willie McDonald (USF)
Third Row (L-R): Nina Ragonese (USF); Katharine Borah (BC); Michael
Lank (BC); Moriah Bauman (BC); Alexandra Barrett (BC)
Top row(L-R): Justin Iselin (USF)
Back row (L-R): Juliane Peithman (UC Santa Cruz), Amber Cavarlez (USF), Lauren Frank (USF)
Front row (L-R): Yolanda Jones (LMU Los Angeles), Charlene Nayan (Seattle University), Colleen Ross
In August I boarded a plane to the Philippines, leaving behind my family, best friends, and boyfriend to live with strangers in an unknown community with different mindsets and traditions. I sat next to the oval window staring out at the San Francisco city skyline as tears swelled and stung. I regretted ever booking my ticket. Why am I leaving? Who, what, and where am I leaving? Five months of my life will be dedicated to this new community, to these new people. And what would I be missing out on in San Francisco? Nothing.
I missed out on nothing in San Francisco, because I gained so much in Manila. Looking back on my life in San Francisco before the Philippines I thought I would lose time. Time keeping up with friends, time with alarm clocks to keep up with my schedule, time I intentionally set to keep me unaware and distracted. With a rigid schedule there is no room to really look into the hours, minutes, and seconds that go into making up the valued definition of time. In the Philippines I met a second mother: Ate Ehmie. She, along with the Casa staff and friends I made there, allowed me to look at time differently. Time became a verb, it was a valued action of how I used my hours, minutes and seconds to interact, to love, to serve and to simply be. By intentionally looking at time as a space for getting to know others, loving others and fully exploring the depths of what I could be, feel or do, life became lighter.
In December I boarded a plane to San Francisco. I brought with me the memories of playing with the children I met, cooking with Ate Ehmie, talking with the Casa staff and CC’s, and working through deep times with my new Casa friends. I looked out of the oval window and saw the Manila skyline, my eyes still swelled and stung, but it was from relief instead of regret. I could only cry from relief in knowing that there was still time, still valuable, intentional, light time to be spent.
It is hard for me to put into words everything that my semester in the Philippines with Casa Bayanihan was for me. A semester at Casa Bayanihan is comprised of many different parts: academics, community living, spirituality, but the part of the program that holds everything together is Praxis. During the semester, my praxis partner and I would sometimes joke that the long skirts and modest shirts that we wore to praxis made us look like missionaries—people sent to teach others about God. In the reality, however, nothing could have been further from the truth. I was not the missionary, but the disciple, and the men, women, and children that I met and spent time with during praxis taught me day after day.
At my praxis site every day I was welcomed in to someone's home and treated with generosity and love. Whether it was a tasty homemade snack or someone putting their work aside to be with me, the message that I really heard was "You are welcome here". Even with what I'm sure were our many accidental cultural faux pas and my broken Tagalog, all of the Filipinos that we met at praxis still invited us warmly into their communities. The love that my praxis site showed us during the semester moved me, and inspires me today to search for ways to share that unconditional love with others.
One of the things that most remember from spending time in my praxis community was the inclination to share anything and everything with others. Thinking back to one time that I brought a bag of chocolate cookies to praxis, it seemed like no one could enjoy their cookie unless they knew that other people had some to enjoy too. All I could do was watch, stunned, as the cookies I had baked were broken into halves, into fourths, into sixths and passed around until everyone had gotten a taste. Cookies are not the only things that I witnessed being shared this semester. Stories, babies, baby powder, jump ropes, rice, joy, and sadness- all of these things were all shared between neighbors, friends, and family. Witnessing these acts of selflessness and seeing the friendships and the satisfaction that came from this type of generous sharing made me reconsider my own life and the things that I sometimes hold too close to share. What if I also trusted that there would be enough rice for myself and my family and was willing to share some with others instead of hoarding it for myself, or trusted that there would be time to get my work done later so instead of worrying and being anxious I could just enjoy the present moment.
Since Casa Bayanihan and especially because of praxis, I have realized a much better understanding of what is truly important in life. When I asked one very wise woman at my praxis site what her priorities were in life, she said "Family first, then friends, then money." Sometimes in the United States it can be easy to forget what those things are that we should care about the most. I get distracted by my classes or by the internet or television and can make the mistake of ignoring someone or something that I should have paid attention to. Spending time in praxis helped me to see that things like how much money you make, or how many material possessions you have are not as important as questions like how much do you care for your family and who are your true friends? Now there is not a day that goes by that I don’t appreciate the true joys of life; the people I know and the relationships I am building.
My Casa experience completely transformed my life. I find it hard to describe in words, in one sitting, what my casa experience really meant to me. I was broken open to be made whole again. There was some serious soul searching that went on. I think everyone who had the opportunity and privilege to experience casa has not been placed there for just any random reason. Throughout my experience in the Philippines, the reasons for me traveling there unraveled in many beautiful, and life changing ways.
It was a journey of self, a journey of accepting light and love, of learning how to choose what gave me life. I made extremely deep and genuine connections with not only the students and staff of Casa Bayanihan, but also with the families and children at my praxis site. I became connected with myself and the divine in ways I could have never imagined.
There was so much that I learned. I learned how to live more simply. I learned that when all of these material things aren’t surrounding us, we can have a deeper connection with each other.
Growing up as a Filipina American, I had never been in touch with my culture. I longed to feel that connection most of my life. When I went on Casa Bayanihan, I was able to discover myself by getting in touch with my roots in a more intimate and meaningful way.
I feel like there were many important seeds that were planted during my time in casa. Since casa, I have been consciously trying to nurture these seeds and answer yes to the life within me that wants to live.
A Casa education is the most amazing and transforming vision and practice of education I have ever experienced, and I think Casa is really doing the type of spiritual work that is necessary to bring about social justice. Whoever has the privilege to experience something like Casa is truly blessed. I touched something there- some sort of inner peace- that I have never known before. I try to remind myself every day that this same sense of peace is possible in my life after Casa.
Back row (L-R): Gregory Ouellette(Georgetown University), Chandler Sinclair (USF), Ray Krickel, (USF),
Jorege Galvis (Fordham), Conor Smith (Boston College), Lauryn Gregorio (USF).
Front row (L-R): Kyla Santana (USF), Christina Solitaria (USF), Samantha Allen (Boston College), Jillian
Baker (Boston College), Erin McCarty (Boston College), Teresa Carino (USF), Sarah Estrada (USF).
I’m Boston bred, through and through. In fact, I’m what they call a “Double Eagle”, in that I attended both Boston College High School and Boston College, as well as the son of two long lines of Bostonian families. I also happen to be the first member of the Smith clan to have had the opportunity to live outside of the United States for an extended period of time. This prospect was exciting for everyone, as almost certainly meant a family trip to Europe in the coming year. I still remember the looks of confusion when I told them of my plan to study in the Philippines. “The Philippines?” so many would ask, “Where even are the Philippines?”
To be honest, I hardly knew the answer to that question prior to my decision to study abroad there. For that reason, I remember struggling to explain my rationale behind choosing to study abroad with the Casa. I would try to explain how I wanted expand my Boston-centric world and to learn about a different culture. Yet, as many people pointed out, this could be done virtually anywhere—why choose a place that was literally on the other side of the world?
The answer to that question was much more complex, and constituted the true reasons why I ultimately chose to study with Casa Bayanihan. I knew I didn’t want to simply study abroad to experience a new culture. What I truly wanted was the opportunity to learn about a culture that I knew virtually nothing about, both in an academic setting as well as by the marginalized people of that country. “If your desire to study abroad takes root in a willingness to be opened and challenged by relationships with those who suffer,” states the Casa’s website, “then the Casa’s model of education has a place for you.” The choice was clear, and with those words in mind, I packed up my life in Boston into a suitcase and shipped off to the other side of the world.
Of course, studying abroad in the Philippines wasn’t worth it because of how it sold itself; it was worth it because of its ability to follow through on its promises. I did indeed grow in my openness, but as the Casa had promised, this came about through being challenged by relationships. I was asked to embrace a new culture, vastly different than the one I had grown up in. I had to orient myself in a city that dwarfed Boston in its complexity, something that I had thought all but impossible. I struggled to relate to people at praxis and elsewhere, who at times seemed to be (and sometimes literally were) speaking an entirely different language than the one I was used to.
Yet, it was within the challenge of building relationships with a people I found to be more hospitable and loving than any I had met before; within that complex city and country whose beauty was present as much in the traffic on Katipunan as it was in the caves of Sagada; within a culture that had once seemed so foreign and had now become central to the person I am today; that I found worth in my decision to study abroad with Casa Bayanihan.
Boston College (Class of 2013)
Majors: English, Philosophy
Minor: International Studies
When I reflect back on the semester I spent at Casa Bayanihan, my mind and heart immediately recall the beautiful children of Kapit Bisig, my praxis site. I feel so grateful to have fallen in love with these children during the four months I was there and I feel blessed to be called Ate Lauryn by them ("big sister"). Their shining, joy-filled faces still make me smile, and the love they shared with me expanded my heart and allowed me to see myself and my life in a new way. Seeing the world through these children's eyes, with all of its suffering and goodness, immersed me in a new reality, broke my heart, and made me a more open and generous person. I can still remember what it felt like to walk through Kapit Bisig hand-in-hand with one of these precious little human beings, and I look forward to the time when I can go back to the Philippines and visit these children, who were among my greatest teachers and friends during my time in the Philippines.
The semester I spent in the Philippines was also a time of immense growth and transformation for me, particularly in the development of my spirituality. As I grew in community with my fellow Casa students and immersed myself in the reality of Kapit Bisig, my praxis site, the intentional integration of spirituality and reflection in the Casa Bayanihan program allowed me to feel grounded and supported. Community spirituality nights, meaningful conversations over dinner, retreats, and spiritual accompaniment allowed me to feel connected to myself, others, and God in a deeper way. I began to see and feel love and grace in the people around me, in nature, and in myself, in a way that was new and exciting for me. The joy, peace, and connection that characterized my spirituality during my semester in the Philippines has continued to enrich my life and guide me as I continue to deepen my spirituality and keep myCasa experience alive in my heart.
Lauryn Gregorio (Casa Bayanihan Spring 2012)
Major: Theology and Religious Studies
Minor: Philippines Studies
University of San Francisco
Back row (L-R): Annie Rothrock (Santa Clara University), Diana Fitts (Santa Clara University), Suzie Lambert (Santa Clara University).
Front row (L-R): Zach Crosser (Boston College), Tara Peithman (University of San Francisco), Colleen Curry (USF), Luke Kantola (Santa Clara University), Marlee Thompson (University of San Francisco), Daniel Griffith (Seattle University).
For additional reflections from Casa Bayanihan alumni, read this article from the online magazine, Positively Filipino.