by Clarisse Bautista ’17
I participated in the Casa Bayanihan alternative study abroad program in which the experience is based on praxis and immersing oneself in the daily realities of the Filipino people of particular urban communities in Manila, Philippines. In three words, my semester long experience was challenging, intense, and life-giving. One of the most important things I learned was the notion that there is no substitute for contact. Often times we learn various concepts without really engaging reality. I think what makes an immersion experience so transformative is the fact that it requires one to be in contact with others in a way that encourages learning about and sharing in their experiences. Twice a week over the course of the semester, the students in my program would spend the day at our respective praxis sites. This routine allowed us to develop relationships with the people in our praxis communities and my experience in sharing in their daily realities helped me to form intimate bonds with individuals and learn more deeply about the struggles and joys they faced. By participating in their daily routines, conversing with them, and ultimately building relationships with one another, it allowed us to reach a point where we became more comfortable with each other and could feel open to share personal stories and experiences.
Something unique about my praxis site was that many of the families in the community had at least one family member who was abroad as an Overseas Filipino Worker (OFW) or had a family member who was a former OFW. Many Filipinos often struggle with finding work in the Philippines that can adequately sustain their families. This causes individuals to go to other countries as OFWs in order to find work so they can send money back to their loved ones. By the middle of the semester, I began to hear some of the stories and struggles of being an OFW or having a family member who was one. I learned about how the male OFWs in Saudi Arabia had to grow beards, the prejudice that Filipino men and women encountered there, and how OFWs had to assimilate to the culture and customs. I also learned about the children’s pain and confusion regarding the absence of a parent since some kids expressed envy about why their mother or father was not with them when they saw other children with both their parents. In addition, I gained better insight into why individuals decide to be OFWs which is mostly based on trying to alleviate their struggles due to their current socioeconomic situation as well as in hopes to give their family a better life by earning more money to send back to them.
Through their stories they shared with me about their personal circumstances and the decisions they had to make out of need, I learned more about the socioeconomic climate in the Philippines and developed a better understanding of why some of my relatives were OFWs. My praxis community revealed to me how they utilize their respective faiths as nourishment and resilience. They also showed me how they have such a strong community by being of service to each other because they understand one another’s situation and have a strong sense of connectedness. The relationships that develop from immersion experiences like this not only teach and encourage individuals how to be women and men for others, but how to be women and men with others.