Ripples of Transformation

Misha MacKinnon is a carpenter with a love of finishing and a long term employee of Legacy Kitchens with an infectious enthusiasm and passion for everything he does. He was selected as part of the group of 10 from Legacy that visited our work with Opportunity International in Colombia this past January. Misha’s wife is Paula Vargas who was born and raised in Bogota, Colombia. This is their unedited impression of the fascinating visit we had with Isela Torres, a loan recipient of Opportunity. When I read this story from Misha and Paula I was struck by how transformation affects those around us, our communities and those who hear our stories. 

For myself, it was my first visit to a client’s home.  Not a house but her home.  Isela greeted us with a wonderful smile.  She invited us in and made us feel welcome with a hug and kiss on the cheek.  Her house had been flooded a few years earlier and with a roof and floor loan* she raised the floor 2 feet up.  And just to be clear “raise up” means raising the walls and roof up 2 feet as well because the new floor is added to the ground level.  You would otherwise be 2 feet closer to the ceiling.  The roof is basically lifted off and 2 more feet of bricks and cement are added on as well.


Steps lead from the backyard to the raised portion of Isela’s home. 

She spoke of her thankfulness for the loan and for the fact that her community and Opportunity International had faith in her and her abilities.  She looks out for and cares for her community and in return the trust group** believes in her.  She runs a small business out of her home selling wares such as dresses, hair ties, school supplies, candies and chocolate, and some of the daily needs like something for a headache.  I was able to purchase a pair of flip flops from her which now brings back inspirational and grounding memories.  Her place was clean and well organized.  She spoke of her hopes and dreams and future plans.  She would like to add another room on to the house for her mother to move in with them as she is getting older.  We walked through the small 4 room house, as we introduced ourselves and told her about our families and our dreams and then out to the back yard.  A small pet turtle was clambering around in a water tub and a little white kitten joined us for some hang out time.


Visiting in Isela’s backyard


Isela’s in-home store

On this trip I was repeatedly reminded of how strong a community can be and how distant, and detached western ones often are.  These trust groups are a great way of using the financial investment for a stronger community.  If someone gets sick, then the others must help them with their health and family responsibilities and also with their loan payment if necessary.  Some of the trust groups have even started trying to save some of their money from profits to use as an emergency fund.  As you probably know there is no healthcare plan and certainly no welfare.  If someone keeps missing loan payments from irresponsible reasons then the group may not invite you back.  It sounds like a great loan system even for North America.  You can live next to someone for 10 years and not know if they are married or have any kids.  That would be impossible here.  If they don’t come together life would be much more difficult.

The loans run on small amounts first and on short terms, as little as two months, allowing for a “light at the end of the tunnel” and a sense of accomplishment to have taken out a loan, and showing your peers that you can handle it.  During the trip I made a comment about the “hand up instead of a hand out” idea and someone pointed it out that it’s really a “helping hand along”.  The people we met were entrepreneurs before the money was there.  They are now just able to legally fund their businesses, and with an organization that respects and encourages spirituality.

When we left we felt we were welcome back anytime.  I knew if we were able to visit her again in a couple years, there would be more house projects completed, more stories of community becoming stronger and of course closer.  We met one of her three daughters as we were leaving and I tried to figure out who was prouder of the other.  Isela, proud of hard hard work to be able to give her family a dry home to sleep in and solid floor beneath their feet when they get up in the morning.  The benefits of having a roof over your head and floor that doesn’t turn to mud when it rains can give a family a sense pride and dignity.  A feeling like they are in fact, getting ahead.  Often a trip like this will help one appreciate what you have.  It also made me realize what I don’t have.  Things like worrying if it’s going to rain soak me while I’m sleeping or a community that really knows and cares about me and my family. They have less than I do but they know what strength and love is and what it’s like to really want the best for each other in health, spirit and true success.

Misha and Paula making their purchase

I thanked her and daughter for opening arms and sharing their lives with us.  And for the flip-flops; To give real service you must add something which cannot be bought or measured with money, and that is sincerity and integrity.

Holistic Transformation Through Microfinance

In July of 2008, a group of managers from Legacy and Affinity Kitchens took an insight trip to Cartagena, Colombia to see how Opportunity’s unique delivery of microfinance helped bring holistic transformation to the lives of their clients. To make it easier for us to bring the story of our experiences back to our employees we produced the following 9 minute video. Although some of the statistics you will see are from 2008, the video is an accurate picture of how OI is organized at the grass roots level to help the entrepreneurial poor. The people of Cartagena featured in this video, the clients and the OI staff that serve them, are indeed heroes of transformation.