In late April, Dan Bodwell, Opportunity’s regional director in Los Angeles, took his first Opportunity International Insight Trip, traveling to Colombia with Opportunity Canada staff and supporters. He sent back glowing and detailed reports from his trip. Below, travel along with him with these glimpses into his week.
I’ve arrived safely in Cartagena. We have a full itinerary for the next four days. We’ll meet directly with at least six individual clients, three Trust Groups, and two branches. Our guide this week is Jim Frantz, who is from the U.S. but has lived in Colombia for 15 years. He serves as Opportunity Colombia’s Chief Transformation Officer, overseeing training for all clients–a fantastic leader and loved by all who meet him. He brings a strong international business background to his work. My goal on this trip is to see for myself how Opportunity works and how effective we are in assisting impoverished Colombians in their quest for financial success and security for their families. I also hope to see, hear, and understand all that God has for me.
Today was a fantastic day getting to know the city of Cartagena, the local history, the cuisine (delicious!), and our program here. It’s a large port town, a leading vacation destination for the country, but there is also a sizable economic disparity between rich and impoverished people in the city. Jim told us that Opportunity Colombia is on its way to offering savings accounts to clients soon. He reminded us how essential this service is to them and how empowered clients feel when we offer them a business opportunity as opposed to a handout.
Today we started early and went to the Opportunity branch in Cartagena. We were met by the assistant branch manager, two supervisors and 10 loan officers. Most of the loan officers were once successful clients who are now well-equipped to teach others how to manage their businesses. We enjoyed a morning devotion that featured scripture, prayer and song.
Next we met individual loan clients in the hills outside of Cartagena. One client, Ana, uses her loans to buy materials to make purses. She’s a single mother and lives with her daughter. I bought one of her purses for a friend back home who was adopted from Colombia. Ana also buys bags and hats from other towns to sell in her area.
We also visited with a roof-and-floor loan client named Taolinda, a woman with a small shop where she hand-paints shirts. Taolinda was beaming as she shared about her new floors and roof, saying how grateful she was for the opportunity to improve her home. ”I have had more sources of capital,” she said. “I was able to build this house with the profits of my business.”
Most of Opportunity Colombia’s roof-and-floor loan clients are single mothers who often also need a bathroom in their homes, and so the program recently has been expanded to meet that need. Currently, the young woman that oversees this program has 70 clients. She has a construction background and plans to expand the program to another branch very soon.
After dinner tonight, I was treated to two episodes of Cartagena Jones, a creative and inspirational video series designed and directed by Jim Frantz, developed as a way to effectively offer financial training in savings, budgeting, accounting and more to our Colombian clients. It’s very well done with good graphics, and it’s no surprise that the person that did the videos does TV commercials here.
God took us on an incredible journey today with men in Cartagena who spoke of God’s grace, mercy, and provision like I have never heard.
One was Felipe, who struggled with addiction as a young man, and was indebted to seven loan sharks, which resulted in death threats. But today he has changed his life. He is the father of three girls, employs 11 people at the restaurant he owns that he named after his youngest daughter, and has a goal to make a donation himself to Opportunity one day so that he can help others.
The last man we met was Wilfrido, who inspired us all very much. Wilfrido is from one of the indigenous tribes, the Zenú, that makes straw products sold around the country, including the traditional sombrero vueltiao hats that you see everywhere in Colombia. He and the 5,000+ other tribe members, who lack education and live in extreme poverty, also make earrings, bracelets, purses and other products sold by the thousands every day here. Wilfrido welcomed us and told us his dreams for his tribe and his Trust Group, called “Friends of Progress.” He said, “We’ve always wanted to show the world as an indigenous group what we can produce, and we want to have economic growth, although we feel invisible to the world. We’re very proud because our work has become the symbol of the country, but still we have not been able to benefit. Our dream in Cartagena is to have a store where we can sell our goods directly at a fair price and become known internationally. I hope with God’s help we can realize this dream.”
After Wilfrido lost his home in the recent floods, a woman in town offered her backyard where he could rebuild his home. Though his entire community was shattered, he has persevered and rebuilt his life. He works every day with the hope of achieving his dreams for his people to be recognized and compensated for their work so they can make a better life for their families.
Both of these men are Opportunity loan clients and expressed how grateful they are to their loan officers for the training and encouragement they received. Each is clearly a great gift to their families, employees and communities.
What a week this has been for me! The Opportunity Canada staff and travelers have been absolutely spectacular and each traveler expressed how committed they are now more than ever to our work. I was told that going on an Insight Trip would be life-changing, a cultural immersion that would allow me to meet amazing clients. I can confirm that both have been true for me this week. I cannot wait for my next travel adventure with Opportunity.
If you’d like to travel on an Insight Trip to meet clients like Ana, Felipe and Wilfrido for yourself, register for an upcoming trip at opportunity.org/insight.