Making Change

Professor takes on-the-ground approach to economic development

In El Progreso in January are (front row) La Ceiba Honduran loan officer Ana Lucia Galo Melgar and Humphrey. In back are (from left) La Ceiba assistant Tano Lopez and UMW students Santiago Sueiro, Tatiana Faramarzi, Daniel Tees, Ashley Cameron, Sarah Alvarez, Nicole Cochran, Emily Sherman, and Ashley Hess. Photo provided by La Ceiba.

La Ceiba isn’t for everyone. With each new semester, Humphrey keeps an eye out for students he thinks might be willing to commit to the project and not be overwhelmed. “The only thing I come back to is, we are a tribe,” he said. “We have a set of customs, and you have to internalize our value system.”

Each year, one or two students struggle. Sometimes the pressure of being responsible for real-life consequences to the Honduran clients is too much. Other times, it’s the lack of structure that overwhelms them; La Ceiba is a student- run effort “and some people buckle under that freedom,” Humphrey said.

The professor has had his own doubts. Is he expecting too much from undergraduates? After all, he was a professional in his 30s when Honduras changed his view of the world. What is it like for the members of La Ceiba?

To find the answer, Humphrey asked Greenwell whether he was being fair to her and to her classmates.

Humphrey said, “I was thinking, ‘Am I doing more harm than good when it comes to the advancement of my students?’ She was like, ‘Hell yeah, it’s fair. You make a decision that you’re going to do it or not do it.’ ”

Every year brings new students and clients to La Ceiba. One challenge is how to keep the mission true to its origins. That’s especially true this year, since students who graduated in May have ties back nearly to the start of La Ceiba.

Faramarzi spent most of April in Honduras working to create a job description for the new loan officer, a critical position for the project. “We want people to see us as a microfinance organization and not just a bunch of kids throwing checks to people in a country we know nothing about,” she said.

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