Guest Post: My Time in Boruca– MacServe Engage as experienced by Danielle Hulan, McMaster Alumna


Surrounded by Costa Rican mountains, our team sat eating our last authentic Desayuno [translation: breakfast]. Perhaps it was the taste of the local coffee beans making me feel emotional. Maybe it was simply that we had a lot to process after our two week Service Learning trip in the indigenous community of Boruca, three hours south of San Jose.

We lived with families who opened their homes to us, enveloping us in their love and genuine interest in who we were. We spent our days with fresh mangoes in our palms, paint dripping down our brushes and mango juice down our faces. Our wheelbarrows carried dirt while our shovels feverishly mixed small mountains of concrete. At the end of the work day, we replenished our bodies with a daily serving of ice cream from the nearby shop, chattering in wavering Spanish with our new friends-Borucan Boy Scouts−who patiently led us on the school project.

We had a lot of questions. Why were we taking so many breaks? Were we doing enough? Could we be doing more? Could the community do these tasks without our help? Should we be teaching something? Were we actually . . . helping?

While we identified with ease that the pace and stress of our lives in Canada was unhealthy and terribly juxtaposed the way that we wished to live, it was a more painful realization when we saw that we automatically projected this pace of life onto our host community. What else were we projecting? What harmful assumptions about our role in this community and in this world did we hold?

We struggled in our own discomfort, considering that it might be possible that the answer to our discomfort was not to do more, but to take a step back and create space for greater self-reflection. We took our questions, and gently turned them inward. We dug for the roots underneath our assumptions that we carried so deeply embedded in our beings. In our safe space together, we stepped into our challenge zone. Why were we here? What was our purpose for this trip?

Service Learning.

Our awareness of our power and privilege, of our implicated role in the world’s most concerning social issues and injustices had laid itself bare. We could not go back. We would not become unaware. We are not stuck in traffic. We are traffic. We are implicated in and even responsible for the very “problems” that we might have thought we were simply objectively helping with.

As our trip was coming to an end, we sat as silent passengers on the winding roads away from Boruca. Solemnity filled the spaces between rows of seats, between individual and collective experiences. In some way, we had each been transformed. I let my pen scribble the pages of a well-worn journal:

Consider voices in your life that captivate you, that push you to new areas of growth, that create space for you to openly question yourself, your world, and your relationships with people in your life. Consider voices in your life that hold space for deep exploration of your feelings, voices that inspire novel thought patterns, voices that create safety for your most vulnerable self.

Consider your own voice – its unique vibrational qualities that make it your own. Consider how your voice represents your own personal power – and how if used in a way to protrude self-destructive thoughts, if used to speak judgment of others, if used to take space that isn’t yours to take, if used in anger, frustration or mal intention – it harms you, it harms others, and it harms the world. We share ourselves with the world through our energy and through our voice.

How will you speak about this trip, the people you’ve met, the relationships you’ve built, your personal growth and increased understanding of you and your world? What has social justice come to mean to you – and what role will your voice play in it? How will you use your voice as an act of future resistance?

It’s a spiritual feat to recognize the implications of our daily choices, from our commitment to fair trade coffee, to where we work and how we spend our time, to our clothing and transportation choices. While we are eating our next organic Costa Rican pineapple, we will know that because of our choice, we will not be contributing to the use of toxic pesticides in the lush beautiful country we once spent two weeks living in. With this choice, we honour our bodies, we honour the hands that nurture our food, and we honour our environment – our planet, and all of the plants and animals within it.

Social justice acknowledges that there are harmful power imbalances and inequalities in this world that have served and continue to serve the privileged, perpetuating systemic and often invisible oppressions that keep entire groups powerless. We know this as institutionalized racism, poverty, sexism, and homophobia to name a few. Access and distribution to our world’s resources is unfair and unjust.

And so, a social justice warrior moves with swift grace to unlearn past teachings that this is “just the way the world works.” She has become aware, and with every fibre in her being, believes that societal transformation is possible. She moves carefully to renegotiate power imbalances, catching fire to her destructive or simply unhelpful assumptions about “them.” There simply cannot be an us and a them in a world that we are in the process of creating together.

We are imperfect humans on a journey together. Where are you on your journey? Are you confident? Questioning? Lost? Bewildered? Know that you are exactly where you are supposed to be.

As we become more grounded in our life’s purpose, our surroundings will shift. We will attract more like-minded people into our world, and we will start to feel more at peace. Our most powerful reflective and grounding tool is and will continue to be our breath, our life force. Come back to it daily. Come back to it now, in this moment.