Casa Bayanihan

experience a new country. a new reality. a new way of learning.

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Casa Goes to Naga City!

Last Wednesday, for the first time ever in Casa Bayanihan history, our community hit the road to journey south for the annual celebration of Our Lady of Peñafrancia in Naga City.  Naga City is located at the heart of the Bicol region of the Philippines, and every September millions of Bicolanos fill the city to overflowing in expression of their devotion to Ina, the region’s beloved icon of Mother Mary. 

The trip was particularly meaningful because five of our seventeen Batch 6 students proudly call Ateneo de Naga their home university.  We loved spending time chatting, eating, and celebrating with the families of Cho, Juin, and Monette, who generously opened their homes to us. 

Our three days in Naga were full of excitement and activity as we witnessed the various events and processions taking place in honor of Ina.  These included a festive parade of costumed children performed intricately choreographed dances, a prayerful early morning procession of Ina around the city by barefoot women, and Ina’s final procession before floating down the river to her home church, when mobs of people filled the streets, competing to touch Ina and receive her blessings.  One image in particular that stands out from our trip is the long, winding lines of pilgrims waiting for hours to simply touch their hands or a white handkerchief to the hem of Ina’s elegant cloak.  Who or what would you wait hours in line to be near? 

The astounding religious fervor and devotion we witnessed provoked many thoughts and questions about the diversity of approaches to practicing one’s faith, and who or what we, in our own lives, would make a pilgrimage for.  Casa alumni from Ateneo de Naga University joined us for our a spirituality night in Naga, and we reflected together on how, in our own life journeys and Casa Bayanihan experiences, we are like pilgrims, always on the way together.  Our community returned to Manila on the Saturday overnight bus, grateful for the opportunity to encounter a new aspect of Filipino reality through the vibrant Peñafrancia festival.  In the words of the pilgrims, “Viva la Virgen!  Viva!”

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Kapit Bisig—A Tale of Two Churches

Greetings from Casa Bayanihan! We’re Gus Hardy, Julie Buensalida, and Monica Macheca, and our Praxis site is none other than Kapit Bisig (Tagalog for “Linked Arms”). Kapit Bisig is a small settlement in Quezon City where many families live together, often with one or more family members working overseas. Though everyone in Kapit Bisig comes from all walks of life, they all remain united by their common faith in the midst of life’s various strifes and hardships. We were privileged during our Praxis weekend to witness two powerful examples of this faith at work, and we’d love to share them with you.

On Saturday, we spent the day teaching the children music and English (though we made sure to fit in a lot of playtime as well). Then after lunch, Ate Diding (the matriarch of the family we were staying with), offered to take us to a service at her church, the Iglesia ni Cristo. Founded in 1914, Iglesia ni Cristo is a fast-growing church unique to the Philippines which recently celebrated its Centennial this year. Its members are passionate in their worship and devotion, and we couldn’t wait to see the inside of the large church that we had passed by so often. We dressed our best and made our way to the church located next to the INC’s New Era University. The service was simply unforgettable.

Later that evening after dinner, Ate Mercy (another mother in our community) took her with us to a nightly Couples For Christ meeting. CFC is a fast-growing lay Catholic movement in the Philippines that emphasizes devotion and piety from the family level up. Kapit Bisig enjoys a solid relationship with CFC, with dozens of people holding membership in the organization. We travelled with those dozens to the Our Lady of Mt. Carmel Church to hear an energizing spiritual talk given by a dynamic lay speaker. A session of prayer followed this, accompanied by a thick chicken noodle soup called lo mein. Masarap na Masarap! As we walked home that night back to this community that we were privileged to call home for the weekend, we felt a sense of spiritual satisfaction that’s hard to come by, and cannot simply be found in the Philippines, but must be searched for in the power of the communities united in faith. Until next time!

Hanging out with the children’s choir after Sunday Mass in the Kapit Bisig chapel.

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This past month, Casa Bayanihan had the privilege of welcoming graduate students from the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University! Thanks for spending your time with us!

This past month, Casa Bayanihan had the privilege of welcoming graduate students from the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University! Thanks for spending your time with us!

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Well it’s been busy here in Manila the last two weeks! First we welcomed our new staff members (L-R): David Romero, SJ, as our new Jesuit scholastic, as well as Lauryn Gregorio and Greg Ouellette as our new CCs. Second, we also welcomed Batch 6 last week!! This semester includes students from University of San Francisco, Ateneo de Naga, Marquette University, Santa Clara University, Seattle University, and Boston College. We’re really excited to walk with them as they journey with and learn from the Filipino people. 

We got to check in with Lauryn, Greg, and David, and here’s what they want to share…

From Lauryn: Greetings from Manila!  Ako ay si Lauryn, and I am so thankful for the opportunity to return to the Philippines as a Community Coordinator.  I am the oldest of three children, and my family lives in Paradise (yes, that’s a real town!), in Northern California.  In Spring 2012, I said yes to Casa Bayanihan shortly after entering the University of San Francisco, and was blessed to accompany the families of Kapit Bisig, an urban community in Metro Manila.  My semester at Casa Bayanihan challenged and inspired me to choose closeness to the reality of suffering in our world, and give my life in service to those who are marginalized and the communities who choose to be in solidarity with them.  After a year back in San Francisco, I spent a second semester abroad at Casa de la Solidaridad in El Salvador.  While in El Salvador, I accompanied the praxis community of Mariona, ate too many pupusas to count, and was deeply affected by the memory of the Salvadoran martyrs and their commitment to a faith that does justice.  A little over two months ago, I graduated from USF with a B.A. in Theology and Religious Studies and a minor in Philippines Studies.  As a Community Coordinator for Bahay Alingal, I am looking forward to accompanying Batches 6 & 7 of Casa Bayanihan students, eating plenty of mangoes, and allowing Filipinos’ struggle and strength to continue shaping me.  

From Greg: Magandang Araw po, everyone! (Good Day everyone!)  My name is Greg Ouellette.  I am thrilled, giddy, and incredibly grateful to be returning to Casa Bayanihan as a Community Coordinator.  After growing up in Quincy, MA with one older brother and attending Boston College High School, during the Spring Semester of my Junior year of College at Georgetown University I was a Casa student with Casa Bayanihan Batch 2.  In the fall of 2012, after having encountered so much love, hospitality, inspiring education, enduring spirituality, and faithfulness at the Casa, I returned to Georgetown to complete my Bachelor’s degree in Classical Languages (Ancient Greek and Latin) with minors in Theology and Justice and Peace Studies.  From 2013 to 2014, I served as a Jesuit Volunteer in the Northwest at Catholic Charities Spokane’s program called House of Charity, a shelter with many resources and services for people experiencing homelessness. I feel thankful and privileged to return to Manila, Philippines, eagerly awaiting the arrival of Batch 6.  I am excited to walk with and serve students as they encounter a beautiful country with loving people and as they learn from some of the most enlightening professors and educators.  

From David: Hello from Manila po! I’m David Romero, SJ, a Jesuit scholastic doing my first year of regency with Casa Bayanihan. As a Casa de la Solidaridad alum (Fall ‘07), my experience with Casa had a significant impact on my discernment to become a Jesuit, and so I’m incredibly grateful to be a part of the Casa once again! Originally from the Los Angeles area, I studied theology at Loyola Marymount University and entered the Jesuits upon graduation. After two years in the novitiate I professed my First Vows, and then went on to study philosophy at Fordham University. I am really excited to accompany the students, learn from the Filipinos, and witness God’s presence in these encounters.

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Hello Casa Bayanihan family and friends! I’m David Romero, SJ, one of the new staff members this year. I’m really excited and grateful to work with this amazing program, and also look forward (along with our new CCs, Greg and Lauryn!) to sharing our journey with you this year. A HUGE shoutout of gratitude to Jillian and Connor for helping us stay connected to the program through wonderful stories and amazing photos! Maraming salamat!

In other great news, Casa Bayanihan joyfully celebrated the completion of a Fulbright Scholarship project by alum (Batch 1!), Zach Crosser, last week. He is the first Casa Bayanihan alum to receive a Fulbright scholarship! I had the chance to sit down with Zach and listen to how his semester with the Casa influenced his desire and decision to apply for a Fulbright scholarship, as well as a little about how his experience of it was this last year…

David: Zach, so good to be with you! So you’re a Casa Bayanihan alum. What was your semester like? How was that experience for you?

Zach: Yeah, it has pretty much influenced most of the larger decisions in my life since I’ve had the experience. It’s been—for the past three years—a life-changing experience, a conversion experience. And I think it will definitely continue to be that experience for me in the future.

D: And what was your praxis site as a student?

Z: Lingap Pangkabataaan (“Care for Children”). They work primarily with street children offering early childhood education, as well as trainings on how to prevent human trafficking and issues with child abuse, and they also have a microfinance program, too. This was interesting to me because I was a business/economics major at BC, so that was a little bit up my alley.

D: So you just finished your Fulbright Project/Presentation. Congratulations! Did your Casa experience have an influential role with that desire and decision?

Z: Yeah, definitely. I remember in my praxis class (at the time Kevin and Trena were the co-directors) Kevin told us that in El Salvador the Casa alums have a great track record [with Fulbright scholarships], and he encouraged us to apply. I think just practically, having the background of Casa is what the Fulbright people are looking for: someone who is going to come and be very engaged with the community, and hopefully be inspired by the work they’re doing. After Casa, I went back to BC and was kind of having a case of reverse culture shock. It was a difficult semester transitioning back home. So I was looking for ways to come back to the Philippines. And that was really the primary motivator. First, find a way to get back to the Philippines. And second, figure out how to do it, and what that’s going to be.

D: And what did you study this last year? What was it about?

Z: Yeah, so I had to come up with a project to do for the Fulbright program. I spent a couple months with different ideas, but couldn’t come up with anything I was happy with for a while. Then I just remembered this idea, and it was actually a title I had in my head: “Sari Sari Economics.” I thought about it and said, “Yeah, okay, that’s related to a lot of things I’m interested in.” I remembered being puzzled by the stores, how many of them there are, and how they kind of ran contrary to everything I was learning in business and economics classes. So that was kind of an interesting idea. And then I worked with an advisor at BC on turning it from an idea into a project. I submitted it, and the Fulbright people liked it!

D: Wow, that’s great. So you looked at Sari Sari stores and the economics behind them? Very interesting! And how was your experience of this last year?

Z: I think my experience was twofold. I had my work side, which I was definitely interested in and found parts of it very important, but I had a hard time actually carrying it out and a lot of other challenges associated with that. The other side was coming back to the Philippines, coming back to a place where I felt I grew a lot, and had a very formative and transformative experience here. I think this has been the most rewarding part of the experience. The project work was challenging and I definitely learned a lot while gaining a lot of practical skills.

But in the end it was the other work I was doing that made this experience such a strong one, as well: visiting my praxis site. The first time I walked back in there after a few years away, I was really really nervous! And at first they looked at me kind of puzzled and confused…like, “Wait…wait!” And then they realized it was me, and that I was back! And over the course of the last nine months, it’s been picking up that relationship again, and seeing how it’s grown since. Also, to see how their relationships with Casa have changed. I remember when I was a student—it was the third month—and they were like, “So, you’re missionaries?” And I said, “No, no, no!” So they were still learning about what we were here to do, and we were learning about how to do the praxis sites—how that relationship works. So just to see how the relationships have grown! When Conor’s mom and sister came, we visited [community] 155, and Tatay Fermin sat down and basically explained what he does. He explained it exactly…like…I couldn’t have written a better script of how to describe the praxis experience. And just to see how he has such a good grasp of what the students are here to do. Because he was the one who initially asked, “Are you a missionary?”

D: Sounds like it was great to really see that transformation in them and in their role with the students.

Z: And that they are embracing their roles so strongly! You can tell it’s important to them. That they are something for the students, as well.

D: What a gift to be able to come back and witness that, and be a part of it all as a Casa alum! Anything else you’d like to share, perhaps for prospective Casa students, or Casa alums who might be thinking of a Fulbright, or doing something similar?

Z: Yeah, for anybody interested in the Casa program, I’d say that—well—both experiences are not easy, but if you’re willing to go and be there, and pay attention, to listen, you’re bound to grow and change. For those interested in Fulbright, it’s a very different experience than the Casa. The Casa is very structured; the Fulbright is almost entirely unstructured. So it’s a blessing and a curse. It’s a very different kind of experience. But, if you’re able to find the things that will make it life-giving and fulfilling, then what more could you ask for?

Congrats, again, to Zach! We’ll miss his presence here in Barangka, but are also eager to see how he continues to live out of the gifted time he had in the Philippines!

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Casa Bayanihan Greatest Hits 2013-2014 / A CC Swan Song

Near the end of every great rockstar’s career are wrinkles, a revival tour, and a greatest hits album. As I am at the end of my run as the keeper of the tumblr and Conor and I have ended our time as Dagani and Alingal’s community coordinators, I wagered our swan song could be a sort of ‘greatest hits’ of the past year. If the aging rocker metaphor doesn’t do it for you, at least 2014 has passed its midpoint, and what better way for us to celebrate on the Casa tumblr by sneaking a peek ahead to Batch 6, and taking a loving look back on the past year with Batches 4 and 5.

My little birdies in Manila inform me that Barangka is as busy as ever, as mid-August will herald the arrival of Batch 6, notable for their size (our largest batch yet!) and their university diversity, which highlights the fact that Casa Bayanihan continues to attract students from all over the United States and the Philippines. Even though it’s just under a month before the students arrive, the houses and neighborhood are abuzz with activity, from the ates preparing the students’ rooms and (knowing them) trying new, impressive recipes, to the kuyas making sure the Alingal garden, the Dagani porch, and everything in between are in order. 

Another exciting happening in the Casa’s neighborhood of Barangka is the arrival of a few new faces. David Romero, SJ, is one of Casa’s newest staff members, and if Facebook is any indication, has already been cooking with the ates and been availing himself of the country’s most popular late night snack, balut! Look for David to introduce himself via Casa social media soon. We’re so excited for his time with Casa! Furthermore, their stay may be shorter, but let’s hope it’s no less impactful - a visiting delegation of students from the University of San Francisco journeyed to the Philippines and spent time with Casa as part of their trip. Considering Batch 5 alum Amanda Mitchell will be one of the group’s leaders, I’ll be cajoling her into sharing pictures and stories of the experience. Stay tuned!

Speaking of past batches, what a segue that is into an overview of the past year! This time last year marked a number of exciting developments in the Casa program - we had acquired a new house and were preparing to welcome what was, at the time, our largest group of students yet. Our new house was, of course, Bahay Dagani, a humble abode that could accommodate our growing number of students AND featured a hammock and a pretty sweet view from the back porch. Over two batches, Dagani has been home to fifteen students and their esteemed community coordinator and has played host to a great number of events like the Bahay Kapwa talent show, Mass with Fr. Jett of Ateneo de Manila, countless Tuesday lunches and a number of memorable Friday night dinners. Dagani has established itself as a marvelous part of Casa Bayanihan and hopefully will be for many glorious years to come. As for that ‘largest group of students yet’, well, that was Batch 4. Let’s go back….

Batch 4

Batch 4 arrived in the middle of a super typhoon. I wish I were kidding, but nope, they came smack dab in the middle of an enormous natural synergy of rain and wind. I’m sure a few of them were wondering what they had gotten themselves into! But as the skies brightened, so did the outlook of the semester, and the students of Batch 4 were eager to engage their praxis communities and the neighborhood. This semester was also the beginning of Casa Bayanihan’s relationship with two new praxis communities - San Damian Center in Bagong Silang and L’Arche Punla. From the outset, we were so happy to have these communities in our Casa family, and both they and our students were incredibly generous with each other. Of course, the four returning praxis sites were noteworthy too for their continued generosity and the incredible growth that their communities have had with Casa. The apropos theme of our year was growth, and Batch 4 was marked by gratitude for the wonderful people that we partner with and have come to know as our family. 

Hailing from Boston College, Santa Clara, St. Louis University, University of San Francisco, and Ateneo de Manila, the students of Batch 4 made up a truly a special and creative bunch, with all of them bringing something unique to the table; music, poetry, chess, yoga, puns, and great senses of humor were just a few talents that Batch 4 students had in spades, and our communities were all the better for it. Casa’s relationship with Bahay Kapwa continued to grow as well, and the silliness of the Casa students meshed well with the humor and good nature of the BK students as they spent time getting to know each other’s families and lives over shared dinners and home visits. This batch also had a special relationship with Beyoncé, as muse and dance-party-starter. At any given moment, the likelihood of “Countdown” or “Love on Top” playing in the houses was high, and somehow, the songs never got old. Ultimately, Batch 4’s legacy lies in their willingness to be cool and express themselves to each other and also in how resilient they were through a number of challenges that the semester threw at them. Batch 4 was a really special group of students and will be forever treasured in Casa lore.


Pictured above: Batch 4 and Bahay Kapwa during December’s despedida

Batch 5

In January, we could once again boast that we were welcoming our largest batch of students yet, as 17 students, from Boston College, USF, Regis, Fordham, St. Louis University, and Ateneo de Naga descended upon Manila. While we were not in the midst of a super-anything in terms of weather, the US students found the weather a little hot for their tastes. It was a balmy 75 degrees Fahrenheit, and I remember one student who shall remain nameless (but may or may not be leading the USF student delegation) asking me if it really got any hotter than this. I laughed inside, looked at him/her, and said, “Just you wait!” Predictably, temperatures rose to over 90 within a month’s time. Lest that be a deterrent to any cold-lovers in the tumblr crowd, the sun’s presence afforded Batch 5 some wonderful beach time, a great experience in Calatagan, and two volcano hikes! And when the heat got to be too much, a weekend trip up to Baguio or the mountain town of Sagada was all the relief needed! 

While Batch 4 dug their bongos and guitars, Batch 5 could often be found, buko (coconut) shake in hand, heading to the basketball courts for some pick-up with the neighbors or the park for some games with the kids. Batch 5 didn’t lack for musical talent either, as karaoke was a frequent activity for this bunch, and boy, could they dance, as evidenced by our Valentine’s Day dance party! There was no shortage of laughs when this group was around! Furthermore, especially with students from Ateneo de Naga, our relationship with BK continued to be strong, and included memorable activities like a scavenger hunt at University of the Philippines and a progressive dinner party. Batch 5 was such a marvelous group, and they too are sorely missed, especially by the I Heart Milk Tea franchise, which was undoubtedly kept in business by the frequent patronization of Batch 5. Miss ko na kayong lahat!


While tumblr and the general attention span are conducive to just short looks back at the semester, I hope you’re still with me, as this message concludes with the last look forward. My time as Community Coordinator with Casa Bayanihan was full of life and love and a whole lot of learning. It is a post I will miss greatly, but one that my co-CC Conor and I are totally honored to be passing on to good friends Lauryn Gregorio and Greg Ouellette. Lauryn and Greg are our friends and batchmates, going alllll the way back to the spring of 2012 when we were brought together before our own Casa journey with Batch 2. (Really, the relationship goes even further back, as Greg and Conor went to Boston College High School together!) Both of these lovely people are going to be incredible Community Coordinators, and Casa is lucky to have them. Conor and I appreciate the Batch 2 legacy that carries on, and I’m going to throw in a little shout out for the short-lived Bahay Agila, which housed Greg, Lauryn, and me while we were students. I’m SO excited to see where the semester takes Greg and Lauryn. If you’re a future Casa student reading this, know you are in excellent hands going forward. Oh, and a few tips/fun facts - Lauryn loves the game Jungle Speed and very much appreciates a home baked dessert. Her laugh is infectious and beautiful, and after Casa Bayanihan, did a semester in El Salvador with Casa de la Solidaridad. Equally brilliant and talented, Greg can do the perfect cartwheel, turns into a human amusement park around children, and is scarily adept at quoting basically every great movie ever. Share your knowledge of the lines of Will Ferrell and the Wilson brothers and he’ll love you forever. Just don’t give the man a peanut!

With that, the torch has been passed! Lauryn and Greg will be over to Manila in just a couple of days, with Batch 6 soon to follow. No doubt this tumblr will once more be filled with stories and pictures of all the happenings. I will be following closely.

So, dear reader, thank you for visiting the Casa tumblr. Whether you are a future student, a Casa alum, a Casa parent or just an interested reader, we are lucky to have you here, and I’ve been blessed to be your chief tumblr correspondent over the past year. Conor and I wish all the best for Casa for this next year and all the years to come; know you all are in our thoughts and prayers!

Hanggang sa muli / love love love,

Jillian and Conor