The Power of Stories
January 10, 2018 // by Abbie Condie
As a researcher for Opportunity, I love any chance I get to visit our partners in the field and witness Opportunity’s transformative work first-hand! Days before Thanksgiving I had the chance to attend the Fifth Annual Leadership Congress – an event that recognizes the hard work and dedication of client leaders from our Trust Groups in Colombia. These are women (and a handful of men!) who have been recognized by their loan officers as not only exemplary clients but leaders in their communities.
The Congress was held in Cartagena, Colombia – a gorgeous city famous for its Caribbean beaches and colorful colonial architecture. For many of the leaders who attended, it was their first time traveling on an airplane, staying in a hotel, or seeing the ocean. The Congress was an amazing opportunity for client leaders and staff from different parts of Colombia to connect and learn from one another, guided by this year’s theme for the Congress – “Leading with Values.”
This theme strikes a particular chord in this year’s context as Colombians have embarked on a peace process following half a century of violence within the country. Values and beliefs, more than ever, must translate into action. Camilo Garcia, the executive director of OICCF, articulated this point well during the Congress: “We need to move forward with reconciliation so that we can leave a country for our children completely distinct from that which we have experienced. This can only be accomplished through compromise and humility.”
The Congress continued to emphasize the importance of expressing values through actions by having a panel of leaders share about their own experiences with the group. These were people who had been invited earlier in the year to participate in one of my team’s research studies on spiritual well-being, which asked clients to share stories about how their relationships with their community, the environment, their family, and God had changed in the past year.
Even having read each of these individual’s stories in advance, I was still floored to meeting these clients in person. The wisdom they had gained through personal experience – and for many, their deep personal faith – was immediately evident.
- Olga shared about how in the past year AGAPE’s training session for couples had helped her and her husband communicate more respectfully and honestly with one another.
- Basilia shared how using a housing loan to renovate her kitchen filled her with a sense of dignity.
- Omaira gave a piece of her land to a family that was struggling to survive so they could build their own home because she remembered how hard it was moving to Bogotá as a single mom with three kids and no one to support her.
- Virgelina empathized with a young woman, taking her and her four small children for six months to keep them from becoming homeless after a family dispute and ultimately helping the woman reconcile with her family.
- Jhon shared how growing his new business had allowed him to purchase a home for his family and move out of his mother-in-law’s home and improve unity within the family
After sharing their stories, the rest of the client leaders were invited to share their own experiences about how God was working in their lives in the past year – the last relational category. This opened a powerful time of emotional sharing that could have lasted for hours as people shared their stories of tragedy, illness, doubt; how God had worked miracles or how he was comforting them in times of grief.
The discussions were raw and powerful. I felt barely equipped to moderate and was grateful just to be witnessing the conversation unfolding around me; women and men sharing their own experiences – empowering one another by speaking truth and wisdom into their fellow leaders.
I can see the good in your heart, and I know that God has given your life a great purpose. I am so glad to have met you and I hope we meet again.Farides
At the end of the day, as were saying our goodbyes, one of the leaders, Farides, found me. I had seen her say very little over the past couple days – even when we had eaten lunch together the first day. She took me by the arm and said, “I can see the good in your heart, and I know that God has given your life a great purpose. I am so glad to have met you and I hope we meet again.” These words stunned me. I am already grateful to work for an organization that strives to empower people; but on that day, Farides empowered me.
Abbie is the Research and Knowledge Coordinator for Opportunity International.