I recently had the pleasure of interviewing Opportunity’s Global CEO, Vicki Escarra, to learn about her recent trip to Malawi, Africa. Pen in hand I was prepared to hear about the typical field visit—news about the banks, meetings upon meetings and always a much anticipated tidbit about our dear clients. What I wasn’t prepared for rocked me to my very core. As a 13+ year employee of Opportunity who started working with Vicki on her very first day as CEO, I thought I knew a lot about her. I soon realized I had so much more to learn.
I pulled up a seat, pen and notepad in hand I spread beautiful photos of her trip at our fingertips. I asked Vicki to tell me about her time in Malawi where she traveled with Frazer Hume, Opportunity’s Global Managing Director of Governance & Partnerships. Vicki briefly updated me on the success of her meetings. A few moments in she segued more quickly than usual to her favorite part of every trip – her time spent, no matter how busy, visiting with our beloved clients. I am privileged to know her well enough to know this activity is her cherished memory from each trip, evidenced today by the instant change in tone of voice and immediate softening of her features.
“The rains have been very heavy in Malawi this year. Beginning on February 8th, rising waters and overflowing river beds left more than 2,200 homeless in and around Lilongwe, submerging schools and businesses and washing out roads and bridges. When we arrived on February 14th, Frazer and I were eager to join the relief efforts which Opportunity Malawi had already joined. On February 16th, we visited families living in a temporary camp on the grounds of a local church where we donated 500 packs of beans and 50 sacks of maize and listened to people who were displaced from their flood-ravaged homes. We then made our way to the Adziew Orphanage in Kauma, home to more than 500 children, whom we heard were growing fearful as their food supplies began to run low. More donations of maize and beans were made and oh how we wished we could do more. Yet they were clear about their needs, and knowing fully the importance of dignity, we left it in the hands of the administrators and the Lord to know what was best.”
“The Adziew Orphanage was immaculate and really wonderful. Like other orphanages I have visited In Africa, most of the children have lost both parents to illness, accident or a myriad of risks that take lives early. Let me tell you what really sets Adziew apart. Run by a roomful of women, they seek out orphaned cousins, brothers and sisters of the children who are placed elsewhere and reunite families under one roof. The women explained their reason for doing this is, despite the loss of their parents, they feel the children must maintain a deep connection to their family line and their culture. That’s when it struck me, these children are not lost forever through the death of their parents. They are found. All of the children become family to each other. And new families are formed within their larger orphanage family too. This absolutely blew me away.”
I don’t know how much time passed. For a moment, everything stopped for me. I had not realized that I had set my notepad down, to be replaced by Vicki’s hands. Her eyes were filled with wonder and love amidst unshed tears. I recognized the children and struggling families had blessed her beyond measure, but as her story continued they became more than a memory, they became a symbol of what she knew would be etched on her heart forever - a handful of the millions of reasons she would never really leave Opportunity completely. I turned to leave her with her thoughts and she stopped me, saying, “I love you dear.” Do you work for a CEO that makes 100s of staff each feel loved and valued? I do. I dropped a photo on her calendar before closing her door. I pointed to her bent knee, pant legs kneeling on the red clay-colored dirt, to put herself at eye-level with a beautiful little girl. I whispered, “Vicki, your dusty knee is what makes you different. It’s what makes you Opportunity.” She replied, “How else does one talk to people if not drawing near to them right where they are?”
From the corner of my eye, I saw her dash a few stray tears, push her uneaten salad to the side and shake her head once or twice, signaling an end to her luxury of a few minutes of reflection and her refocus back to her burgeoning schedule.