Cynthia Greenwood, Opportunity’s public relations specialist, and I recently traveled to Uganda and Kenya to capture the stories of Opportunity’s clients, programs, loan officers and services.
We started our trip in Kampala, Uganda, where we spent two days discovering the intersections amongst our clients: a school proprietor, a Trust group, marketplace vendors, and children that all benefit from Opportunity’s small business loans, savings, insurance, training and school fee loans. We were blessed to be accompanied by Teddy Ajiku from Opportunity Uganda, who took such wonderful care of us.
Our first day was filled with the sounds of children laughing and learning at the Lady Bird Infant & Primary School. Mariam, the school proprietor, educates over 400 children. Many of their parents have stalls at the market across the road. It was humbling to see the simplicity of their teaching tools and their modest space. We spent Monday afternoon with Trust Group clients in the Kalerwe Market in Kampala. This fast-paced, bustling market reflects the heart and resilience of our clients and the community they are building for their families.
The next day, we spent the morning at an Opportunity bank branch with our loan officers, who are the connection points to our thousands of clients in Uganda. From there, we went to the Owino Market, the largest in the city, to meet with our clients, many of whom work from 4 a.m. to sundown. The Ugandans we met were truly wonderful, with such hope for the future now that they are receiving Opportunity financial services.
Arriving at the Owino market and seeing poverty up close was difficult, especially since our days up to that point had been filled with encouraging sights and inspirational people. The market was not at all like the ones we were used to. Instead, it contained stall after stall of second-hand clothing and shoes, smoked fish and ripe produce. We were bombarded with sights, sounds and smells as we wove our way through dark and narrow aisles. We found it increasingly difficult to know where we really were. That night, we both lay awake, trying to absorb everything we had experienced. We kept replaying the story of one woman who is the provider for her four children plus four of her nieces and nephews, who are AIDS orphans. Four of her seven siblings have died from AIDS and three remaining siblings have it as well. We also learned that the average life span in Uganda is 54 years old, which may be the reason we saw very few elderly people.
Meeting with the Opportunity clients at a weekly meeting of one Owino Market Trust Group was a reminder of the importance of strong fellowship and support in Trust Groups. The clients shared stories of hardship that resulted from the market’s devastating fire a year ago. They are committed to rebuilding their businesses and are confident that they can achieve this because they have insurance and a bank that believes in them. After having many amazing conversations with our Opportunity clients, we both pray that we will do justice to their stories as we capture them in words, pictures and video, as they move forward in their lives.