Where We Become La Ceiba

imagesI could not sleep last night. All night long Honduras has been calling me back. How could a place I do not call home have such a hold on me?  What does this place mean to me and my students?  How do I explain the importance of Honduras to others?  How do I let them know that experiencing Honduras together is pivotal?

To borrow a turn of phrase from one of my students, Honduras is where we become La Ceiba.

Honduras is where we my students become the experts and I become an observer. Whether they are teaching a class, interviewing a client, executing a loan or orchestrating a meeting, they have no choice other than to take the lead and rise to the occasion.

Honduras is where we feel the true weight, pressure and responsibility of our work.

Honduras is Ana, Tano, baleadasPower Chicken, and switching out an empty water jug for a fresh one while mindful not to spill any on the extension cord.

All night long, I have been traveling over the landscape that is Honduras. My students are all there (in chronological order, of course).


Christine Exley – the dining hall at Hotel La Cascada. We were eating and reviewing the day’s events – which included THE INTEVIEW.  We interviewed Don Benjamin and his family about improved cook stoves earlier in the day.  The discussion turned to a loan they had received from a local moneylender and the stress and strain the repayments were placing on their family.  At dinner, I asked Christine if we should start our own microfinance institution.  She said yes and La Ceiba was born.

Dan Marsh – bending rebar under a shade tree in Villa. We performed this repetitive task for at least an hour just talking and learning from each other. Dan was already a great student.  After that conversation we became friends.

Melanie Walter – the dining hall at Hotel La Cascada setting up the room for the ceremony honoring our first group of clients. Banco Ficensa officials were in attendance. We got into a circle with our clients, chanted “1, 2, 3…La Ceiba!”, and then we danced.

Brian Downing – pushing the SHH bus out of the mud! We are teaching our first business class in one of the partially completed but unoccupied homes in Villa (also used as a storage shed and bathroom for all volunteers).  Hearing all kinds of racket outside, we look to find at least 20 plus volunteers and SHH staff struggling to push a school bus out of the unbelievable mud in Villa. After watching for a few minutes, I look at Brian who runs over, takes over, and solves the issue in 5 minutes.

Sarah Morin – front gates of Villa. Sarah was trying to walk in the same mud around a different bus while simultaneously smoking.  At one point she tripped, stumbled and performed some kind of magical pose that allowed her to keep that cigarette lit while landing in the mud.

Hart Wood – discotec in El Progreso. The one and only time I ever accompanied my students on such an outing.  Hart is on the dance floor on both knees with “hungry eyes” beckoning me to join him.

Ashley Cameron – crossing the ravine (with the tire steps) in Villa. As I was racing ahead of her, Ashley yells for me to slow down. After two years of working together but not really knowing each other, we made a connection and the walls came down.

Meredith Greenwell – cross-legged with a flashlight taped to her shoulder at the Hotel. Meredith was doing everything she could to keep pace the team teaching classes for our first business plan competition. To tell you the truth, Meredith seems to pop up everywhere in Villa.

Laura Dick – leaving the Education Center (aka the Echo Chamber). Our business training course had just finished up – which was an opportune time to get interviews done. It was also an opportune time for all the kids to come running in.  An outsider would be justified in characterizing this moment as pure chaos.  However, Laura and her team were able to get the interviews they needed.  Laura walked out of this moment beaming.  She turned to me and said “I loved every minute of that!”

Lizzie Conrad – extending loans in the Echo Chamber (I mean Leaning Center).  Lizzie had been questioning our policy of just giving out loans without screening all semester long. In the learning center, we were giving out loans the only way we know how…in chaos.  Face to face with a prospective client seeking a loan, I looked to Lizzie to make the decision. Without pause, she said let’s roll the die.

Caitlyn Payne – dining Hall at La Cascada. We were having our nightly meeting. It must have been day 3 and there must have been at least 3 people crying. Caitlyn begins her rant about everyone stealing her pens. We cannot contain our laughter.

TL Tutor – interviewing a client in Las Brisas. As non-Spanish speakers and role-playing as body guards (well at least one of us), TL began a discussion about how we carry ourselves, how we are perceived, and how with the Esfurezo de Amor program we were introducing concepts such as competition and other tenets of capitalism.  Was this appropriate? Are we aware of this? Needless to say, these are the types of conversations that make us the organization we are.  (There is another place I always see TL – the soccer goal.  We had a pull-up contest (with Brian D.). I will always remember my victory – even if Brian says it is unfair since they both have longer arms than me.)

Nicole Cochran – ducking under the barbed wire fence separating Villa and Monte. There was a giant spider perched on the wire. All of us (except Nicole) had already crossed under.  I am holding up the barbed wire for Nicole to get through but she refuses – yelling about how she is scared of spiders.  I yell back “just do it this is a moment of growth.”  Of course, she does it.

Emily Sherman – walking the dirt road between Villa and Monte. We had just run into the church group in Monte. They jumped out of their shiny new van and began prodding their kids to grab a Honduran child to play with while their cameras were flashing.  As quickly as they arrived they were gone. But not before telling us how without them these families would have died.  However, here is the rub. We had our own film crew there that day. On the walk back to Villa with Emily and others I lost it. Who are we? What were we doing? How were we doing it? Are we just another group of do-gooders building an organization and our careers on the backs of the poor? I apologized to everyone. Emily looked at me and gave me permission to go on…so I kept cursing.

Daniel Tees – the only one not tied to any geographical landmark because every time I turned around I was asking “Where the f#$*k is Daniel?”

Over the years, I have accompanied 40-plus students to Honduras. There are so many stories tied to many spaces – so many are not articulated above.  Some stories are meant to be private.  Others are not appropriate for a PG audience (Ryan Klein and Will Hawk).  For those who embraced the role of “charismatic, empathetic Spanish speaker” over the years (Ashley Lippolis, Megan Coolidge, Katie MacEwen, Ben Saunders, Tatiana Faramarzi, Sarah Alvarez and Santiago Sueiro), I found it hard to place them in a particular geographic space.  They are everywhere. They were and are the embodiment of all things La Ceiba. They had the responsibility of embodying our values, intentions, and aspirations.  This was and will continue to be a significant burden. I cannot thank them enough for taking up this task with such dedication.

Honduras is where we become La Ceiba.

I was looking forward to sharing and discovering moments like these with Kelsey, James, Lara, Keegan and Ambar. I am sad I will not have the chance to do so.

> Posted by Shawn Humphrey, founder, La Ceiba (@blucollarprof)

The following post was originally published on www.shawnhumphrey.com

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