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© 2016 Opportunity Internationala 501(c)3 nonprofit.

Paying it Forward

By Dan Zarlenga

“I’m at a point in my life where I want to give back,” was his response. “You know, kind of pay it forward.”

At the end of the training session for my alma mater’s mentoring program (I volunteer to help college students with their professional development) I had asked my fellow volunteer why he chose to participate. When he said “pay it forward” his tone of voice was unmistakably happy and perfectly genuine, while his face told the story of someone who had worked hard, had been greeted by many successes, and whose life had now come full circle through meaningful involvement.

His answer made me think of Ana Serrano, one of our clients in the Philippines (and one of my personal heroes). Ana tells her inspiring story best in the video below (trust me, it’s worth the five minutes), so I’ll let her tell the details of her own wonderful story. But you should know that Ana survived most her life by scavenging the nearby garbage dump in Manila, sifting through heaps of trash and dead animals to find food to eat and recyclables to sell. Trying to fight her feelings of being “worthless,” Ana explains, “I saw that my neighbors had beautiful toys. They ridiculed us and said we were just street children and would avoid us.”

Ana eventually took a small loan from Opportunity Philippines to start a shop selling food, candy, medicine, and other retail items. Her loan (which she repaid in only six months) helped Ana become a successful, respected business owner and escape her former hardships.

As amazing as Ana’s story of transformation is, what’s most inspiring is how her business loan and hard work empowered her to give back. “I want to help other people, because my heart is soft for those who are poor,” says Ana. “[…]and the street children, when I see them I call and give them food and water to drink because I see myself in them.”

Back at my former college, the volunteer said something that rang so true: “It’s funny… most people associate ‘giving back’ with ‘giving up,’ as if you have to sacrifice something in order to do good. I don’t know about you, but I’ve received so much more than I can ever give.”

Giving back is a blessing, and most of us (myself included) are beyond fortunate to have the chance to give back in some way, every single day. For clients like Ana, this blessing may seem absent throughout the most difficult periods of their lives. But once they’re given the opportunity not only to be able to provide for themselves and their family, but also to provide for those who struggle as they once did, it is the most beautiful form of empowerment.

Watch Ana’s story:

Ana Serrano from Opportunity International on Vimeo.

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