“Damn this printer!”
I had to make 80 copies of the invitation and the printer jammed after 40.
Chilo looked over at me, smirked, and shook his head.
“I told you it would jam.” He said.
A mild desperation started to build inside.
“Lets get the document on the USB and head over to the print shop.”
Pablo the printer guy attended to us when we got to the shop. We usually made small talk or told jokes, but I wasn’t in any mood for jokes.
“Hey Pablo. Forty copies please.”
I was feeling the pressure. We were planning a breakfast for clients. It was the last event of the year before the student trip. We wanted to organize something nice where we could communicate our appreciation for clients.
The next day I got to Villa at 8:00am. That hour from 8 to 9 was agonizing.
The breakfast was a mistake. No one will enjoy this and I just spent $75. What was I thinking? Is this really what a Program Director should be doing?
At 9:15am the first person showed up. Carmen walked in and sat down. We served her coffee and made small talk. It was 9:25 and still only 5 people had shown up.
A few minutes later something happened. The La Ceiba ladies showed up. They were all impressed by the set up, they all gave us hugs and thanked us for inviting them. Guillermina gave me a Christmas present: a pen, a notepad, and gum. She said it wasn’t much but she wanted to give me something.
Inside clients were striking up conversations with one another. Ladies from Villa were talking to ladies from Monte de los Olivos, Carmen who was previously silent was laughing at Selma’s jokes, and more ladies were showing up.
We had planned for 30 people to show up. In the end 38 ladies showed up.
Before we served breakfast, I gathered everyone’s attention and asked Chilo to say a few words.
“I just wanted to say that I like working with you and I appreciate the kindness and respect you have shown me.” Everyone clapped.
Some of the women who came had loans that were in arrears and previously felt too ashamed to talk to me. However, one woman pulled me aside during the breakfast. She was a year behind on her payments. She explained to me that shortly after she received her last loan her husband left in dramatic fashion and now she was alone to care for her three children. There was nothing I could do except listen.
I wondered why so many women came to the breakfast, and why that one woman in particular felt the need to be so open with me. I didn’t think they wanted breakfast that badly, they know that we cant force anyone to come, and the one woman had no reason to explain her situation (she could have just kept quiet and there would have been no consequence).
It’s in the relationship, with Chilo, with students, and with myself, where clients find meaning. The common thread among all of our relationships is mutual respect. Despite difficult moments, moments where I give bad news and moments where clients articulate their displeasure with me, through successes and failures and my own moments of despair, we always treat each other with respect and empathy. We try to understand each other and forgive each other for our failures.
At the end of breakfast I asked everyone if we could take a group photo together. We gathered in front of the bilingual school and called the guard over to take the picture. As we posed together awkwardly there was a long pause. “Did he take it yet?” “What is he doing?”
Finally the guard blurted, “how does this damn thing work?” Everyone burst out laughing.
Santiago Sueiro, co-Chair of La Ceiba MFI (www.santiagosueiro.com)
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