Casa Bayanihan: Community a World Away

USF Students Hit the Books, Serve the Underprivileged in the Philippines

By Ed Carpenter, Office of Marketing Communications Posted Tue, 03/06/2012 - 16:00

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, 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.

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