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50 for 50: Journeying from Client to Advisor

By Berta Regina Sierra Aguas

My name is Berta Regina Sierra Aguas, and I am 52 years old. I live with my husband, my two sons, my daughter-in-law, and my two grandchildren in Soledad, Atlántico—a municipality an hour and a half from the city of Barranquilla, Colombia. With God's help, we now have a big, beautiful home. Most of my time is dedicated to my work at AGAPE—Opportunity International's partner in Colombia—but I like to spend my free time with my family, especially my grandchildren.

I first heard about Opportunity International in 1992 through AGAPE's community banking program in the community where my family and I lived. At that time, I had been married for six years, my first child was five years old, and I was expecting my second child. My family lived in a rented apartment in the Lipaya neighborhood, located in Southwest Barranquilla. My husband and I worked together to support our family, building a small business sewing underwear with a simple Singer sewing machine.

My husband joined an AGAPE Trust Group that met weekly and received small loans for their businesses. He was part of the group called Superación for two loan cycles and was in charge of collecting the payments to take them to AGAPE's office. After two cycles, my husband got a job at a company—and I joined the group in his place. My first loan was about $40, and we used it to build our business. During the day, my husband worked for the company. Then every evening, we dedicated ourselves to our business.

Our biggest challenge at the time was to simply move our family forward. Another child was on the way, which meant new responsibilities and greater expenses, and our income was small. My dream was to finish my studies and get a good job so that I could help support my husband and family.

I was an Opportunity International client for two years. As a client, I showed my love for the community—I was always wanting to serve others and build my leadership.

In 1996, by the grace of God, AGAPE gave me an incredible opportunity. Opportunity International hired me to work as a Trust Group advisor. My job was to help with the formation of groups—especially with women like me who wanted to move their small businesses forward. At that time, Mitzi Machado and Elías Cabarcas were my mentors, and so, with their support and training, I became part of AGAPE's community banking team.

During my journey with AGAPE, I have grown personally, professionally, and spiritually. God has given me the opportunity to hold various positions within the company. After three years as an advisor, I was given the opportunity to be a Trust Group Supervisor. I was in that position for four years, leading teams of advisors.

In 2002, I was promoted to Branch Director, where I served for five years. In 2005, thanks to the opportunities and support I received from AGAPE, I obtained my university degree in Public Accounting. They encouraged my education and helped me achieve the educational credits I needed to fulfill my dreams of being a professional.

And in 2008, I was appointed Coordinator of Training for Field Staff, alternating my duties with other functions of methodological auditing.

Since 2015, I have been a Program Coordinator. I coordinate the group savings and loans team and support Opportunity's programs and special projects, including the Shalom Holistic Community Assessment initiative.

Along this journey, I have had countless valuable learning experiences. I've learned to thank God—both when I have little and when I have abundance. I've learned to value the small details and understand the needs of the people, teaching them to fish instead of only giving them the fish.

What I like most about my work is getting to connect with people. I love getting to visit communities and share with them, listen to them, give them a voice of encouragement, and provide words of advice and comfort. The most difficult thing about this work is to see so much need, both economic and spiritual.

As a former client and someone who now works with many clients, my advice to clients is simple: Value the programs and opportunities Opportunity International offers you. They can help you make your dreams come true.

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