Santa Clara University

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Casa de la Solidaridad: Strengthening Intellectual and Social Values

By immersing students in the culture of El Salvador, Casa de la Solidaridad, a unique community-based learning program, allows students to develop their intellectual potential, strengthen their ethical and religious values, and learn to become socially responsible global citizens.

Through the Casa experience, an academic initiative between the Association of Jesuit Colleges and Universities (AJCU), the University of Central America (UCA) in El Salvador, and SCU, students spend a semester living in El Salvador, taking classes, and interacting with the faith-filled people of the country whose lives have been marked by civil war.

“The program educates young women and men not only on El Salvador but, through El Salvador, about the condition in most countries on this planet. It fosters knowledge, reflection, and action that allow participants to become global men and women for others,” notes Luis Calero, S.J., an associate professor of anthropology. He teaches a course on critiquing cultural change to students returning to campus from developing countries. It gives them an opportunity to process and analyze a tremendously packed and rich experience—and one that is often transformative.

SCU student Allie Dunne with Jesuit Mark Ravizza
SCU student Allie Dunne with Mark Ravizza, S.J., in the courtyard of Casa Romero in San Salvador. The Casa de la Solidaridad curriculum is designed so most undergraduate students, regardless of major, can participate and earn credits toward graduation.
A Deeper Sense of Solidarity

“The students tend to move from an initial attitude of ‘How can I fix the problem?’ to a deeper sense of solidarity in which they share in the life and struggle of the people of El Salvador,” says Mark Ravizza, S.J., an associate professor of philosophy.

That became evident during a recent class in Ravizza’s course at the Casa on the philosophy of suffering and solidarity, where students discussed a quote by an aboriginal woman, Lila Watson, who said, “If you have come to help me, you are wasting your time. But if you’re coming because you believe your life and your liberation are bound up with mine, then come let us work together.”

From the very first day, the emphasis is on convivir—literally ‘to live with.’ Students are immersed in the community, working alongside the Salvadorans, comments Juan Velasco, an associate professor in the department of English and modern languages, who also teaches at the Casa. “The students develop great relationships with their communities, with another language, with another culture. It is a very interesting exchange of knowledge and an unforgettable experience.”Student on immersion trip in El Salvador

Casa de la Solidaridad allows students to experience a reality which they otherwise may miss or only partially understand reading about it from afar, Calero says. “Whatever choices they make in the future will be informed by the Casa experience.”