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Portrait Project: Olga Bibiana Lotero Cortes

Olga Bibiana Lotero Cortes

“It’s like this magic thing that I have to make you smile. As human beings, we need to have a heart for others.”

Olga Bibiana Lotero Cortes, who prefers to be called “Bibiana,” doesn’t speak English but listens carefully to those who do in order to improve her understanding of the language. A native of Florencia, Caquetá, Colombia (10.5 hours southwest of the capital of Bogotá), Bibiana worked for years alongside her mother, a librarian, researching and performing advocacy work to support childhood literacy in their area. She read books to kids at the library’s storytime events and felt passionate about changing the world for the next generation.

In 2014, Bibiana and her husband Mario moved the family to the United States, seeking a better quality of life for their children, Melanny and Rodrigo, then seven and 19 years old respectively. They first settled in Virginia, where Bibiana found work in a turkey processing plant. Finding the climate too cool for their liking, they relocated to Houston, Texas, where Bibiana secured a position as a cafeteria worker, preparing breakfast for elementary school students every morning. The four remained in the Southwest for about two years before stress and heat brought them here to North Carolina.

New friends at Durham’s El Centro Hispano told Bibiana about an opportunity to serve as a Dishwasher at The Forest at Duke, and Bibiana went for it. After earning the role in the summer of 2019, she quickly impressed her supervisor and teammates with her reliability, work ethic, and flexibility. She eventually earned a well-deserved promotion to Utility Captain. Despite managing mostly behind-the-scenes responsibilities, Bibiana sometimes finds her way to Heartwood Café during busy meal times to share her brilliant smile – framed by friendly brown eyes and cheerful red lipstick – with residents and fellow team members.

Her ultimate dream is to return to her home country and enjoy her family in the place where she was born and raised. Bibiana and Mario, married now for 27 years, want the best for Melanny and Rodrigo, whether that means the children eventually return to Colombia or remain here in the States to pursue education and success.

Bibiana loves to dance and listen to music – especially vallenato, salsa, and a little bit of Ricky Martin. If someone looks sad, she does her best to bring them cheer. “We all go through hard times,” she recognizes. “We all need to lift each other up.” With a smile and a spirit almost certain to lift others, Bibiana has danced her way into our hearts here at The Forest!

In Bibiana’s honor, this Portrait story was written while the writer enjoyed vallenato. Special thanks to Yesenia Avila, Housekeeper (General Services), for serving as the translator for Bibiana’s Portrait Project interview – your contribution to sharing her story is invaluable!

Forest team member since 2019