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NBA Legend Dikembe Mutombo Joins Opportunity International Board of Advisors; Opens Doors in Democratic Republic of Congo
Date:12/18/2007

Visits clients in Mozambique marketplace like one where he worked as a

child

OAK BROOK, Ill., Dec. 18 /PRNewswire/ -- Houston Rockets center Dikembe Mutombo, who is known as much for his philanthropy as his storied NBA career, has joined the Opportunity International Board of Advisors. He is helping the organization prepare its entry into his home country, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), where he has just opened a world-class hospital and healthcare facility.

"The only way we are going to eradicate poverty," said Mutombo, "is for each one of us to do his part. Opportunity International and its people working in Africa are a solution to breaking the cycle of poverty by providing financial services to the poorest of the working poor. I am excited for them to build a bank near my hospital in Kinshasa."

This past July, Mutombo invited Opportunity International executives to the dedication of the Biamba Marie Mutombo Hospital and Research Center, named for his mother, which opened this past week. It is the first major healthcare facility dedicated to providing the finest medical services to the poor in the DRC.

While there, Mutombo introduced Opportunity International to key government ministers to discuss the organization's plans to provide microfinance services including loans, savings and insurance for the poor. He also met with DRC President Joseph Kabila to further accelerate the organization's timetable for entering the country, now planned for late 2008.

"What you quickly learn about Dikembe Mutombo," said Christopher A. Crane, president and CEO of Opportunity International, "is that he is not a sports celebrity doing a little charity work. This is a man of deep commitment to the poor who puts his own time, energy and significant amounts of money into projects like his hospital. He influences others in a position to make a difference, whether they are NBA players donating time and money or doctors and government leaders contributing their talents to serve the poor, who have been underserved for so long. Dikembe Mutombo is the very definition of a philanthropist and we are honored to have him join Opportunity International."

Mutombo Visits Opportunity Clients in Mozambique

In September, while on a goodwill tour for the NBA, Mutombo visited Mozambique where Opportunity International is already serving the poor. He toured the bank and visited loan and savings clients in marketplaces in the capital city of Maputo.

"I used to work in a market like this as a child for my father's small business. I sold bread and cheese and sausage," Mutombo explained. "My father woke me up every day at 5:30 a.m. and I worked until it was time to go to school at 8 a.m. It was how I earned money for my education. My father was poor."

Mutombo created an immediate stir entering the market, as would any person who is 7'2" and dressed impeccably in a suit and tie ("I always dress this way in public," he explained). Soon hundreds of men, women and children were following him as he stopped to talk with Opportunity International clients selling food and household goods in the market stalls.

Not everyone recognized him as an NBA player. "Is he a giant?" one woman was overheard asking. Her friend immediately responded, "Of course he is, silly!"

"Bom dia, my sister, bom dia, my brother," he greeted the entrepreneurs in what little Portuguese he knows. It is not one of nine languages he speaks.

At one business that sells shoes, the proprietor, a woman named Rosita, tried to find a pair of basketball shoes to fit him. "Rosita, I need size 22!" he exclaimed, holding up his foot. While she did find a large pair of Nikes, which is his basketball shoe sponsor, they were at least six sizes too small.

While spending the day in the marketplace, Mutombo asked many questions of the entrepreneurs served by Opportunity International. "What they all tell me is that the first thing they do when they get a loan and expand their business is buy better food that is more nutritious for their children. And they use the extra money they earn to keep their children in school," he said.

"Africa is beautiful, Africa is my birthplace. All we need is a hand up, not a handout," Mutombo said at the end of his visit. "I believe we are all created equal in God's eyes and that the Gospel teaches us to find a way to serve humanity. This is what Opportunity International and I are doing and we hope that many others will join us."

To view video of Mutombo's visit to Africa, visit http://videos.opportunity.org/WelcomeDikembe.asx.

About The Dikembe Mutombo Foundation

The Dikembe Mutombo Foundation is dedicated to improving the health, education and quality of life for the people of the Democratic Republic of Congo. The Foundation strives to accomplish this goal through an emphasis on primary health care and disease prevention, the promotion of health policy, health research and increased access to health care education for the people of the Congo. For more information, visit http://www.dmf.org.

About Biamba Marie Mutombo Hospital and Research Center

The Biamba Marie Mutombo Hospital and Research Center, which opened this past week in Kinshasa, provides healthcare to the nation's poorest residents and trains its health professionals with the latest innovations. Dikembe Mutombo contributed over $15 million toward the $29 million project. It is one of the very few well-equipped and modern hospitals in the DRC, designed to diminish gaps in healthcare in the poor country. The hospital includes state-of-the-art facilities and equipment, with inpatient beds, an outpatient clinic, emergency services and a pharmacy.

About Opportunity International

Opportunity International is committed to solving global poverty. Serving over one million poor entrepreneurs in 28 developing countries, Opportunity International is a pioneer in offering small business loans, savings, insurance and training in basic business practices to women and men living in chronic poverty. Founded in 1971 as one of the first microcredit lenders, Opportunity International provides small loans -- sometimes as little as $50 -- and other services that allow poor entrepreneurs to start or expand a business, develop a steady income, provide for their families and create jobs for their neighbors. Opportunity International is motivated by Jesus Christ's call to serve the poor and maintains a network of offices across the globe, with U.S. offices in Oak Brook, Ill. and San Diego. For more information, visit http://www.opportunity.org.


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SOURCE Opportunity International
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