This post was written by Tsuyoshi Domoto, who is volunteering with Unión MicroFinanza and plans to join the team as an intern in Honduras in February.
I first came across microfinance when I picked up Muhammad Yunus’ book Banker to the Poor at a bookstore in Los Angeles. I can’t pinpoint what had drawn me to that book out of the thousands in that bookstore. Maybe it was the gold logo on the top right corner of the book, which stated that Muhammad Yunus and the Grameen Bank were co-winners of the Nobel Peace Prize. Or maybe it was my inner soul trying to reconnect with the outside so called “real world,” with which our college community was so out of touch. I was still a freshman in college at the time and I had no clue what I wanted to do with my life, let alone what I was supposed to do for the upcoming summer break! Little did I know then that Yunus’ book would come to define the rest of my college career and potentially the rest of my life.
Fast forward several years to November 2011; a colleague and I were having lunch in the Marunouchi business district of downtown Tokyo. It was inside a traditional Japanese izakaya (Japanese style drinking house) located in the basement of an office building. It was because of the conversation that I had with my colleague there that I decided I had to fundamentally change the direction of my life.
We were discussing the Japanese virtue of gaman, which he said had two definitions; one was that of patience and endurance, but the other was that of persistence. He then put it in context and laid out a scenario where one would be working hard and enduring gaman all for the sake of gaman. The next scenario was one where he/she would be enduring gaman, except this time for a noble goal, a worthwhile cause.
It was a rude awakening for me that I had, until then, mindlessly endured my work just for the sake of it! I had worked in a 9-to-5, or at times a 9-to-9 (or even later), sort of job for the previous year and a half, which was unfulfilling, monotonous and to me, lacking in value. At the end of the day, creating confirmations or financial contracts for derivative transactions isn’t something that you can say is really “changing the world for the better.” I came to the realization that if I was going to endure hardships, face obstacles and surmount challenges, it would be for a cause that I cared deeply about.
Enter my grandmother. When people ask me, “Who is your hero?” I usually reply with an embarrassed smile on my face, “it’s my grandmother.” I personally do not know anyone else who has had to endure so much in one lifetime and yet have the spirit to say that she is blessed and that she has no regrets about her life.
However, there is one thing that she told me that she wished could have been different…and that was to complete her studies. However, due to the circumstances of the time she was yanked out of third grade so she could learn a trade (sewing) in a distant town to support her family. She was an intelligent woman who loved to learn, and if she had been given the opportunity to fulfill her potential, I wonder what she could have accomplished. Recently, when I was in Japan, I watched her as she studiously worked on a math Kumon worksheet. She had not given up her dream at the age of 90 and her passion for learning was still as strong as ever. I was moved to my core and with it, I came to the realization that it is for people like her for whom I must dedicate my life.
My father has always used a relay as a metaphor for life. One generation must pass on the baton to the next in this never-ending race of human civilization. My grandfather was only able to give my father just enough so he could complete his higher education. My father has taken a step further in allowing me to study in the United States as well as travel to countries he himself could only have dreamed of visiting.
It is now my turn to pass the baton. In the past, I had pondered if it was my responsibility to put my son or daughter on a space ship and take them to the corners of the universe. I now realize that the answer could be found not far in space, but in reality, right in front of my eyes.
The baton needs to be passed not only to my children, but also to children around the world; some, like my grandmother, are yearning to go to and finish school, yet do not have the resources or the opportunities to do so. My responsibility is to help them have an equal chance in this race, in this relay, so they can stand on the starting line just as my own children will one day.
This is where microfinance returns to the picture. Microfinance is a tool that is, despite its imperfections, the best we have in eliminating poverty. It allows people who have been deprived of an equal opportunity to stand side-by-side with others at the starting line. It is not a hand out, but a hand up. This firm belief in the power of microfinance and a strong sense of responsibility is what has led me to my decision to move to La Unión, Honduras, to work with UMF and its team. Uncle Ben from Spiderman summed it up best when he said, “With great power, comes great responsibility.” I am no Spiderman and I have a lot to learn, but I hope I will be able to make a positive difference in the lives of the Honduran people during my time there.