Here’s a really brief recap of our trip, with highlights, insights and surprises.
First, we travelled to Opportunity International’s Arusha branch to meet with the local staff and see their office and bank. Something that surprised me was how similar the bank in Arusha looked to my local bank branch in L.A. It was clean, airy and of course everyone was incredibly friendly. We spent some time talking about how the loans are dispersed and managed, then we hit the road.
We went to a local market where we met a few Opportunity clients. We met clients who sell potatoes, vegetables and miscellaneous home goods. We also stopped into a bustling restaurant started by an Opportunity client. While everyone worked in the same market, and sold different goods, I couldn’t believe the similarities. Everyone was able to use their loan from Opportunity International to increase business by getting more goods to sell and by hiring people to help them. Then, the first thing they did with their increased profits was send their kids to school. It still sends chills down my back when I think about how a simple concept is changing so many lives.
We also visited with a group of widowed women. The group, brought together by a common bond–they had all lost their husbands–created a Trust Group and together they’re working on their respective businesses. Some of them were farmers and needed more supplies to improve their returns, and others needed the loan to buy supplies to make more handicrafts to sell. I really enjoyed sitting with the women in one group member’s house to hear how they’re thinking about building their own businesses. Again, it was such an inspiring experience.
From there, we went to the Faraja Centre, a school and home for orphaned girls, many of whom have been the victims of human trafficking and may have children of their own. I bonded with a young woman named Theresa. She had been brought to the center by the police, but with the love, care and resources from the center she was blossoming into a beautiful young woman. After that visit, Roberto and I knew we would be back to visit the Faraja Centre again. It’s an experience that changed my life. See one of my favorite pictures from the trip at right. It’s Roberto with a young girl at the center.
The next day, we drove for a while to visit the village of Mwanga, to see Opportunity’s Himo branch. It took a couple of hours to get there but once we arrived we had the visit of a lifetime. We sat with about 30 people during a Trust Group meeting and we invited them to ask questions about our lives. We expected the questions to be about life in Hollywood, filming movies, etc. But instead we got one request: to hear Roberto play the drums. So with an upside down water bucket, Roberto pounded out a drum beat. The group rose to their feet, dancing and cheering–it was a pivotal moment for all of us. We realized, through Roberto’s music and talent, we are all connected.
Sometimes life gets so serious, but with a simple request and the willingness to share, we all have something in common: a love for music.
As the trip continued, we visited healthcare centers, we learned more about the financial tools clients use, and we were humbled, impressed and surprised by how much people are able to do with so little.
Roberto and I took a mini-vacation after the trip to Ngorongoro Crater National Park. I’m so glad we had the time together in Africa to reflect on our first trip with Opportunity International. We know we have found an organization we can support–one that lets people make their own decisions, but provides the tools to do so.