Step into Chaos

La Ceiba forces you outside of your comfort zone and makes you choose: you can go back and be safe, where research papers and professors define the struggle, or you can face some hard truths about yourself and the world.

This reality is full of chaos.

Chaos can be jarring and raucous at first, but out of chaos arises beauty, a natural occurrence of serendipity and depth in human interaction.

Something curious happens when you step into the chaos. You don’t have the benefit of your system, that system that taught us why our world is the way it is. That world doesn’t exist in the chaos. How do we behave in this space? How do we make sense of things we don’t understand?

It starts with humility.

To be humble is to be honest about what you are and to consider how we affect those around us. When we step into the chaos we don’t understand what is around us, at first, but we can understand what we are.

I am a male from Washington, DC. My mother is a Peruvian immigrant; my father is of Spanish decedents. I am a college graduate. I went to a private school for middle and high school. My family doesn’t have wealth or status, but they gave me everything I needed to be healthy and happy. It’s because I was given those opportunities that I have a degree of privilege that clients don’t.

To understand requires honest, sometimes uncomfortable, discussion about our circumstances.

  • It’s uncomfortable to ask why a grown woman, mother of three, never finished 2nd grade.
  • It’s uncomfortable to talk about my home feeling that the client wished she were there instead of Honduras.
  • It’s uncomfortable to feel the anger and frustration of clients emanating from their stifled goals.
  • It’s uncomfortable to communicate my mistake in assuming the client was something that she isn’t.

When I think about chaos I envision a dark room. I envision a person standing in the middle of this room and objects of all shapes and sizes whizzing by at random speeds and from every direction. I like to think that if you stood there long enough and stared into the space in front of you, eventually out of that randomness, patterns emerge. Eventually you see the same object more than once. Eventually those movements, those objects, and that room become familiar. Eventually you start to appreciate that chaos. Eventually you find beauty.

When I started my work in Honduras, I was a boss, a director, and a savior.

By the time I left, I became an equal.

I know this because I stopped receiving preferential treatment. When I did something to upset someone, I heard about it. That is the act of an equal.

Clients weren’t clients anymore, they were neighbors, mothers, fathers, daughters, sons, feisty, shy, religious, indifferent, angry, generous, petty, honorable… they are complicated and whole individuals.

If my work were just about Microfinance, I would not be the person I am today and I would not have found meaning in my work. La Ceiba is more than microfinance. It’s about something else:

  • Creation by disruption with question
  • Struggle for meaning against fear, the tribe as my ally
  • Listen with empathy to understand

Let’s move away from the idea that we are here to help and that microfinance will eradicate poverty. Let’s define a new role. One where our purpose is to learn, listen, and take our cues from the people we serve.

We are here to get yelled at when needed, to receive hugs when needed, to be present through thick and thin, to understand each other, to love each other, to walk through the world together and stumble upon beauty in the midst of chaos.

Santiago Sueiro, co-Chair of La Ceiba MFI (www.santiagosueiro.com)
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