I heard about Opportunity International Australia many years ago through a lady at my church who’s an Opportunity Ambassador. I thought I understood what Opportunity was about until I visited the Philippines and saw for myself how incredible its work is. I thought it was just about giving a loan to someone to buy tools for their business so they could earn a living and be less poor. However, I now see the holistic approach that Opportunity has with in-country partners like ASKI, the most incredible organisation I’ve ever come across. It provides small business loans, runs schools, filters drinking water and sells it to its microfinance clients at a cheap price so they can make a living selling it and does everything it can to set families up for success.
I see that Opportunity and ASKI are so strategic in the way they change the lives of families living in poverty. Their programs affect whole communities. They affect generations and you know the simple fact that any donation to Opportunity will be multiplied like the Parable of the Talents.
As a pastor, Opportunity and ASKI are great organisations that are making a massive difference. My visit to the Philippines with them certainly educated me a lot and I’ll forever remember the faces of the children I met at the schools. The families I met in the slums. I saw how together Opportunity and ASKI set them up for success. These memories will be etched in my mind forever. It was a life-changing experience and I loved it.
I’ve always thought we’ve got the curse of prosperity in Australia. One of my favourite quotes is: “To comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.” I think in Australia we’re way too comfortable. We’re in a bubble of prosperity. We live for our iPhone, iPad, iMac. We live in a selfish Western way that’s all about me. I believe in the commandments: “Love God with all your heart and strength” and “Love your neighbour as you love yourself.” We’ve got to love, we’ve got to care for our neighbours and the Philippines is one of Australia’s neighbours. We’ve got to reach out to our neighbours.
The biggest lesson I learnt on the trip to my Philippines is that we often try to go into developing countries to fix things. We think we can show them how to live their lives. I think this is the wrong thinking. I think we need to visit developing countries in a spirit of humility. We need to first listen and learn, watch and be educated. On my trip, I took copious notes, recorded many radio interviews, some videos and some YouTube clips and I’ve learnt something from everyone I met. I’ve brought it back to Australia with me.
I think everyone needs to be educated about the problems of poverty and we don’t want to just put a Band-Aid on it. We want to look at the root causes and deal with the problems in that way. And I think that’s one of the awesome things about Opportunity. Those guys are looking at the macro problems, not just the micro problems. So, I think the first thing with this trip is that we need to learn to be educated, understand what the problems are and not think that we know it all. We always need to be teachable.
I met two ladies in the Philippines who really stand out. One of them, Maria, sells Filipino sweets she makes herself. She’s gorgeous! She has heart. And she shared her absolutely yummy sweets with us. She already has a successful business, but the Opportunity guys suggested they could train and mentor her on how to better package and market her products to help her expand the business. I’ve worked as a Pastor for many years but I’ve also worked in sales and marketing. I know how important it is to have a good marketing strategy. I thought to myself: “Wow that’s great, they want her to get to the next level now.”
Maria and her team
I also met a gorgeous young woman, Amina, whose story is amazing. I recorded a video of her and shared it on the Opportunity Facebook page. She’s been blessed. Her mother accessed a small loan from Opportunity 15 years ago to buy three piglets, and out of that her mother was able to take her family out of poverty and now Amina works with ASKI. She’s a brilliant mathematician and topped her maths class in the final year of her degree in the US. She’s an amazingly talented young woman and a history maker. She’s received so much and wants to give back and help others out of poverty. I’d like to say as a preacher, let your mess become your message or let your tests become your testimony. And that’s what she wants to do, and what she’s been through. She wants to help others up. It’s like the Parable of the Talents - you receive a blessing but it’s better to give than to receive. She really wants to give back. Let’s watch her. She’s got so much potential and I’m so inspired by meeting her.
Amina and Remy Mendez
I have to say that I have been particularly inspired by meeting Mark Daniels, Opportunity’s Philippines Director. He’s a good Aussie larrikin and he’s a great bloke but he and his family have paid a high price to live and work in the Philippines. He’s a history maker as well, someone who has decided to give up the comfort of Australia to dedicate his life to helping families in the Philippines make the journey out of poverty. And he’s the kind of bloke who I want to meet in heaven. We’ve become Facebook friends and hopefully we can keep in contact. But I really think he’s the kind of guy who’s an example to us Aussies that we need to step out of our comfort zone and do the work that God has called us to do no matter how uncomfortable or the price you have to pay. When God tells you something you have got to do it. He’s an example of this and I do want to honour him and thank him for that.
Mark Daniels and Maria