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Director of Philanthropy in the Field: My Trip to the DRC

By Heather Radzinski

“A mind that is stretched by a new experience can never go back to its old dimensions.” - Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr.

We had been traveling for hours and the dense Congo forest stretched out across the horizon as far as the eye could see. This was my first trip to Africa, and upon landing on a strip of grass in the Ubangi region in northwest Democratic Republic of the Congo, my fellow travelers and I were in for a welcome we won’t soon forget.

We were greeted by what seemed like the entire town. It was an overwhelming feeling as the kids were jumping up and down, waving, while a receiving line formed for us. Each traveler shook hands with various pastors and leaders in the region giving the local greeting, Mbote. The president of the church led the gathering in a song and prayer. 

This welcome set the tone for the weekwhat we would learn and experience, and the ways we would be stretched and changed by the people in the DR Congo. 

“The real voyage of discovery consists of not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.” - Marcel Proust

In my work as a Director of Philanthropy, I often find myself sitting in my home in Chicago imagining the difficulties that our clients face. I often make assumptions based on other travel, past experiences, or what I hear from my colleagues and our partners. It wasn’t until I went on the 2-hour road trip as our driver navigated through deep sandy roads, holes and difficult terrain, that I came face to face with the complexities and the challenges our farming clients battle day in and day out.  The realities of their circumstances challenged my assumptions. 

Our clients are resourceful

One of Opportunity’s clients, Mama Jemima, was hired to be our caterer for the week. She cooked and traveled with us throughout our trip, preparing banana chips, freshly roasted peanuts, sliced mango, lasagna, pizza, and homemade banana bread, just to name a few. Now picture this—she did all that with nothing more than a small fire on the ground. There isn’t a doubt in my mind that Mama Jemima could rival any top restaurant chef in the U.S.  

Our clients are hardworking

It was 90+ degrees out, the sun was blazing and the group and I were on one of our excursions meeting clients. We watched in awe as a client walked back and forth from a stream near his small plot of land to water his crops. Trip after trip, he would take his two watering cans and carefully water each strip of seedlings.

Across our Agriculture Finance programs, Opportunity is innovating our training and irrigation systems to include climate-smart practices. For smallholder farmers, being able to sustain or even increase productivity in the face of mounting climate change is imperative—an incremental increase would significantly improve local food security as we work to address hunger and poverty in rural Africa. 

Our clients embrace new technologies

3 out 4 people living in the DR Congo live under $1.90 or less per day. The majority do not have electricity nor running water. And yet, you would see some homes with portable solar panels sitting outside in the sun so they could charge their electronic devices.

The use of cell phones is essential for our clients that will serve as Farmer Support Agents—using them to share training videos on farming and business best practices with other farmers in the community. The availability of these new technologies means that Opportunity International can reach more people, especially those in the most remote areas, with financial services, training and support.

“I alone cannot change the world, but I can cast a stone across the waters to create many ripples.” - Mother Teresa 

Just as one Farmer Support Agent will create a ripple effect of change in their community, and each diligently poured drop of water will lead to a good harvest, we too have an opportunity to bring about meaningful impact. By providing access to financial services, training and support, each Opportunity client can hope for a bright future, transforming not only their life but those of their children and their community. 

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