Learning Through Engagement with the Head AND the Heart – Cassie Brouillard ’18

This spring 2017 semester, I decided to participate in Casa Bayanihan, a study abroad program in the Philippines that is rooted in four pillars: community living, accompaniment, spirituality, and academics, with a focus on immersing oneself in the social realities of the Metro-Manila area. I entered into the program with a sense of openness but definitely had expectations that something big would happen in my life. I assumed that I would encounter suffering that would immediately shake me from my roots and that I would have an emotional turning point that cultivated in a complete self-transformation. In other words, I mistakenly assumed that my transformation would occur solely from the heart. However, it is not possible to be touched by suffering with the heart alone. Within the past two months, I have learned how to encounter others and enter into their realities through both deep self-reflection and integrated classroom study.

The time that I have spent at my Praxis site, a community that I enter into every Monday and Wednesday with one of my classmates, has helped me to understand the need for academic exploration alongside cultural immersion. My Praxis site is called The Homeweavers Upward Looking Microenterprise Association or HULMA. It is a community of weavers in Caloocan City, Manila who create woven panels that will be used for products in the Rags2Riches (R2R) non-profit in order to support their livelihoods. During the 7 hours that I spent in this low-income community every week, it was very easy to be repulsed by trash, flies, the dirty smells, cramped houses, and crowded streets. However, reflections with my classmates during our weekly Praxis Seminar have helped me to not be ashamed by these initial reactions. The seminar has also given me the space to open up about my anxieties surrounding the language barrier as well as the need to be patient amidst awkward silences as we got to know the weavers of HULMA. Fortunately, in the weeks that I have spent in the community thus far, my perspective has grown from an initial resistance to one of appreciation and curiosity. While I have enjoyed my time in conversation with the weavers, my perspectives here have also been shaped through the questions and discussions that I have in my Theology, Political Science, Filipino (I have to learn Tagalog somewhere!), and Fine Arts classes. These courses have allowed me to enter more deeply into the community despite an initial hesitancy in order to form meaningful relationships with the weavers and to learn about the social realities of Manila.

After being in the Philippines for two months now, I realize just how important academic integration is for understanding the experiences that I am having within the community. In fact, learning with the head and experiencing with the heart go hand in hand with one another. I have been deeply touched by the generosity and loving care of the weavers, and I have been deeply challenged by entering into and spending time in a community that experiences such a high level of poverty. However, my studies have given me a more practical standpoint and a political, cultural, and social context for the realities of the weavers. While my time in the classroom has not necessarily provided me with solutions, it has helped me to understand their challenges, which is the first step in walking with them. In this sense, encountering another’s reality with the head has allowed me to immerse myself more deeply with the heart. The stories that I have heard have helped me to develop more compassion to walk with others.

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