Expeditions: a cultural exchange of ideas and expertise

Expeditions: a cultural exchange of ideas and expertise

by Charity Erickson

In February of this year, I joined a World Accord construction expedition and went to build a school in rural Honduras. Even as a child I had dreamed of doing something like this, but there was always an excuse standing in my way.

Sometimes the excuse was of a practical nature. For example, I couldn’t get the time off work, or I didn’t have the funds, or what would I do with my cat? But more often than not, the roadblocks that really stood in my way came from my half-baked ideas about “the system,” and about how wealth and prosperity are held in the hands of the few, and about how, as a little person of no consequence, there was nothing I could do to help change such a vast and troubling reality. Looking at it from this point of view the picture seemed pretty discouraging indeed.

But by actually going to Honduras, and having the chance to meet and talk with so many dedicated community members and volunteers on the ground, my ideas about how change really occurs has shifted radically. I met ordinary people, just like me, who are creating extraordinary change by doing just one small task at a time. The people of Honduras are working together on practical, everyday projects, to achieve, what some people would call, idealistic goals.

In my mind these trips are not a charitable exercise. They are a cultural exchange of ideas and expertise that we, as North Americans, need just as desperately as they do. In the course of a short plane ride, infrastructure and support systems fall away, and I was able to see how I have gotten into the passive habit of waiting for “the system” to make things right. I pulled a lucky straw having been born in North America, and I haven’t been using even a quarter of the wealth and resources that I have at my disposal. I urgently needed a first-rate lesson in grassroots community building.

There are people in Honduras with, at the most, a Grade 6 education, who are building up communities and doing work that is desperately needed and that really matters. And they do it with next to no resources. I can see now how much potential there is for community building in my own neighbourhood or workplace, and how a little spark of an idea can set off an explosion of positive change.

I am proud to have played a small part in helping the people of Honduras achieve just a little bit more of their potential by going on this trip. But the real lasting impact for me in all this is in how I now see myself and my own potential. This trip taught me a little more about what it means to be a good friend, a good neighbour, a good citizen. It means having faith in myself to share what I have to give, and to open myself up to receive from others what they have to give and teach me.

Between the bricks and mortar of this construction project, a different type of wealth and capital was being built. It’s the capital that exists between people and nations. It’s called social capital, and it is here where I need to invest more of my time and energy. The value of my financial investment was exponentially increased by my hands-on participation in this build, because it was between the bricks that the true meaning of wealth and prosperity had a chance to build in me.