Opportunity of a Lifetime

An evening about Opportunity International with special guest Lt. General Claudia Kennedy (U.S. Army Ret.) was held at the home of Wayne and Sharol Siemens. Ms Kennedy is the first and only woman to earn the rank of three-star general in the United States Army. After retiring in 2000 she became a spokesperson for Opportunity International and women in poverty.

While having cocktails and dinner, director of marketing Matt Neal (who lives here) said Opportunity International’s main mission is ending poverty. “Eighty-six percent of their clients are women, most mothers like one in the Philippines who was living in a dump, sorting through the trash to find fabric to make throw rugs,” Neal said. “Opportunity gave her a loan (they average $200) and she bought a sewing machine. Now she has moved from the dump, bought a little house and has ten employees.”

Clients are able to start small businesses (egg laying chickens or a cow to milk), they pay back and the dollars are loaned to someone else. According to CEO Christopher Crane, the organization handed out nearly $68 million in loans last year to more than 300,000 clients – mostly women in 27 countries in Africa, Asia, Eastern Europe and Latin America. These loans are given to cluster groups who meet and help each other if someone gets sick and can’t keep up with the loan. The applicants receive business training and if someone in the group doesn’t pass, they are kicked out. Loan payments are made weekly and the group takes pride in its individual successes.

Opportunity International was founded in 1971 about the same time. Vice President of Marketing Charlene Caldwell told me about one of the newer ventures – banking. “The Opportunity International Bank Malawi has opened forty thousand savings accounts in its first years of operation,” Caldwell said. “Since the poor have no identification, each client has a ‘smart card’ with their fingerprint embedded on a chip. Though we have branches they can go to, we also have begun a mobile bank in Mozambique and Malawi, which is a Brinks truck with an ATM on the back and windows on the side.” The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has partnered with Opportunity International in Africa to promote the ‘smart card’ program.

To learn more visit their website www.opportunity.org.

A Goal of Perfection

“At the very early age of eight I became interested in eighteenth-century French decorative arts. I thought I was Louis XV,” half-joked Ronald Freyberger during a recent afternoon. Freyberger, who said I could call him Ronny, was at the Santa Barbara Historical Society’s 25th Collectors Series lecturing on his favorite subject – French decorative arts.

Freyberger addressed the packed gallery and told us that between 1660 and 1790 France’s artisans produced furniture and decorations at an aesthetic level that pretty much has never been equaled. They used tortoiseshell, mother-of-pearl, gilded bronze, gold, silver, marble, semiprecious stones and silks. There was furniture by André-Charles Boulle, Louis XIV’s 22 tons of silver furniture (later melted down to finance war), Sevres porcelains and furniture belonging to Madame de Pompadour and Madame du Barry in the Rococo style. Marie Antoinette’s furniture was within the Neoclassicism of the Louis XVI period.

The kings and queens of France, the official mistresses and European royalty had it pretty good until some Frenchmen decided, “Off with their heads!” during the Revolution of 1789. And now we have mass marketing of goods for the majority rather than catering to the elite. End of an opulent era.

Our speaker, Ronny, has all the degrees in art history but he is entirely self-taught in his field with the exception of once studying with the Conservateur en Chef of the Louvre, Pierre Verlet. Ronny is published in magazines and quoted in material from Versailles, the Louvre, J. Paul Getty Museum and the Metropolitan Museum of Art. He has lectured in many venues in several countries. His dry wit shows through. After showing us a painting of the Sun King during his lengthy toilette (wigs, medals, etc), he asked the audience, “Can you imagine Rumsfeld or Rice going through that every morning?”

Honorary chair and author Beverley Jackson chatted with Freyberger, whom she knew from time spent in New York. Executive director George Anderjack thanked chair Stefani Taliaferro and co-chairs Nancy Wall and Jean Goodrich for heading up the first luncheon in the Historical Society courtyard since the Edisons’ toxic cleanup of the corner began many moons ago. The cleanup will be totally complete in six months. Others boning up on their French history were Jill Kent, Bruce and Ida Rickborn, Elizabeth and Warren Youker, Betty Bagdasarian, Eileen Mielko, Diane Pannkuk, Ellen Pillsbury, Diane Sullivan, Kathryn Alexander, Eleanor Van Cott, Jo Beth Van Gelderen, Marie Wangeman and Robin Schutte.