There was a sharp pain in my lower back, my feet were sore from standing all day, and my stomach felt woozy from too much caffeine and not enough food. “Let’s put these tables over in the library.” James and Sepehr were lugging tables around with me. We were preparing the space for our closing ceremony. It was 2:30pm and the ceremony was supposed to start at 3:30. I was worried that we wouldn’t get it done in time.
The closing ceremony was the culmination of the La Ceiba student trip. It is where Kristen and Aashna, of the Education Team, would celebrate the participation of clients in financial literacy classes. We had invited over 20 clients and their families in addition to 15 colleagues from Student Helping Honduras.
“Ok tables are done what’s next.” Sepehr began to organize the plastic chairs in a specific sequence while James, Jessica, and a few others collected more chairs from the library and around the school.
When the trip started and the group arrived, things didn’t go as planned. The challenges we faced included a missed flight, delays during breakfast, a door that wouldn’t open, a sick teammate, and a broken printer. No one got upset, no one lost their patience, no one blamed me or bad planning, we simply took on the challenge and kept working.
“What is that squiggly line called?” Sepehr and I were finishing the programs for the ceremony. Sepehr had stayed up with the Education Team until midnight on the night before to get a start on the program. In the late hours of the night we all felt loopy from exhaustion and sleep deprivation. Jokingly, we would remind Sepehr to do his job. “I’m doing this for you guys as a favor. I hope you understand that.” Sepehr would respond. The next day I couldn’t help but remember what he said. Finding the “enye” sign was probably the least efficient thing Sepehr did all day but he was determined to find it. I thought about how capable and talented he was, and yet he was willing to do this unflattering, and unexciting task.
With 30 minutes left before the ceremony was set to start, I began to worry. We hadn’t printed enough programs, we didn’t have enough chairs, the food table wasn’t in the right place, and the Education Team was missing. But as I looked around I noticed James was in the computer lab printing more programs, Courtney was putting up string to cordon off the reserved section, Sepehr continued to organize the chairs, Jeff was setting up his go pro, and everyone was doing something or was offering to do something to help. When Education Team showed up, I understood that they had their own preparations to finish. Their gifts for clients were organized, they changed into business casual attire, and they had speeches prepared.
It could have gone differently. We could have succumbed to our anxieties and insecurities; we could have done exactly what was asked of us, we could have worked to impress Dr. H instead of working toward a collective goal. Instead, everyone took ownership of the ceremony and of their task, no one waited to be told what to do, everyone went beyond what was expected and we all supported each other.
Underlying our efforts is a commitment and belief in our ability to change things. It’s the idea of client-centeredness. And, while at times it can be difficult to define what client-centered really means, on that day we all agreed that the ceremony formed part of that purpose. It served as a reminder of the power of La Ceiba: we put aside our individual needs and devoted ourselves to a collective goal.
That moment in the library, when my back hurt most and my feet felt like cramping, watching Sepehr and James go about their work reminded me that we were a team, that they had my back and I theirs. Like a basketball player after a sweet bucket, I quietly pumped my fist and got back to work.
Santiago Sueiro, co-Chair of La Ceiba MFI (www.santiagosueiro.com)
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