Kaitlin Thaxton Elkins, ’17
Advocate for Community Engagement
Casa Bayanihan, Quezon City, Philippines
It is very difficult to sum up my experience in the Philippines with the Casa Bayanihan program. Almost every alum will tell someone who asks that. I could talk about what my everyday life was like there. I could talk about what I did. However, even these two simple concepts are difficult for me to explain because the Casa Bayanihan program is about taking students out of the context of their own lives.
The purpose was not for me to do, but rather to live and walk in solidarity with those experiencing injustice in their everyday lives. I learned by following and listening, allowing myself to be present in ways I had not been before, in a completely different country surrounded by people with completely different lives than that of my own.
When I struggle to explain what I did in the Philippines, people often incorrectly assume that I was doing some charity work. As an Advocate for Community Engagement (ACE), we are trained to understand the difference between charity, philanthropy, and service, but I was unaware of the concept of “accompaniment” that Casa Bayanihan follows until I applied. Lilla Watson, an aboriginal activist and educator, is often quoted in Casa Bayanihan settings to illuminate the mindset of accompaniment and praxis:
“If you have come to help me, you are wasting your time. If you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.” – Lilla Watson
Working as an ACE I have grown comfortable with working in communities different than that of my own. Being abroad through Casa Bayanihan allowed me to see beyond this comfort and understand the importance of mutuality of relationships when being in communities in a service or accompaniment setting. I halfheartedly expected that I would come to the Philippines and learn about other people’s lives without sharing myself as well. After spending months with people whose realities are different than that of my own, I have realized the importance of sharing myself in building relationships in communities. It takes both people in a service or accompaniment to be open and present to each other to grow an unforgettable experience.
About halfway through my semester abroad, instead of rushing home to complete the next task, I found myself talking to my neighbors or playing with the children. Living without internet or television made me realize they were just distractions from real conversations with people. The love I received in praxis from all of the women who opened their homes, families, and hearts to me made me see the power of selfless love. Being an ACE means more than three hours of direct service in an organization each week. Casa Bayanihan taught me that my position can be an opportunity to grow myself by accompanying a community by being present to the environment and people around me.
Applications for the Casa Bayanihan program closes March 1 – apply today!
Want to become an Advocate for Community Engagement? Applications are open until March 6.