A unique study abroad program in El Salvador turns 15: Casa de la Solidaridad
A unique study abroad program in El Salvador turns 15: Casa de la Solidaridad.
As origin stories go, this one has a special flavor: the taste of pupusas—thick, handmade tortillas stuffed with cheese and beans—in Pati’s Pupuseria in San Salvador. It was February 1999. Two Jesuits—SCU’s Steve Privett, S.J., and Dean Brackley, S.J., who had come to El Salvador in 1990 after teaching community organizing in the Bronx—sat with Kevin and Trena Yonkers-Talz, who had attended Boston College for graduate school before working with Jesuit Volunteers International in Central America. They ate and talked, and they hammered out how to make a unique academic program in El Salvador that could host students from Jesuit universities and other schools throughout the United States. Building on the strong connection between Santa Clara and Universidad Centroamericana, Casa de la Solidaridad was formally launched in November 1999. It’s become a model for other programs reaching across continents, including Casa programs in the Philippines and Argentina.
For students, from the very first day the emphasis is on convivir—the Spanish word that means “to live with”—to learn and share the dramatic events in the recent history of El Salvador, as well as the day-to-day reality people face now. Along with creative writing and philosophy, there are courses on Salvadoran literature, the history of the country’s civil war, sociology, political science, theology, and Spanish. Praxis, though, is what truly defines the experience at the Casa: getting involved in real projects with the communities surrounding the university.
For me, when I’ve taught creative writing in El Salvador, it’s an opportunity to help students discover the mystery of joy in solidarity. Living in the community, they’re challenged intellectually and spiritually. The Casa experience transforms those of us who teach as well. Personally, I never truly grasped the meaning of the term companionship until I first came to El Salvador in 2004. Here the journey is inner as much as outer.
Read more: Juan Velasco is an associate professor of English and modern languages. Read his essay on the Casa, “No simple highway,” from our archives.