The Kiva Community: A Kiva Fellow’s Support System
By Tara Capsuto, KF12 Ecuador / KF 13 Kenya
Kiva is ultimately about people: lenders helping borrowers, borrowers helping themselves, and the staff at MFIs and Kiva who make it all happen. As other Fellows have commented before, one of the many humbling aspects of a Kiva Fellowship is the extent to which people reach out to help. One of the most frequent reactions I got in the field was, “You’re traveling and working completely on your own?!” I would answer that, “Technically, yes, I am.” But, as you’ll see, I wasn’t really alone. Here’s a little window into a Kiva Fellow’s support system.
As my plane touched down in Nairobi I felt energized for the next chapter of my Kiva Fellowship – a journey that has taken me from South America to Africa and which I have unofficially dubbed “microfinance adventures along the equator” (both of my fellowship countries, Ecuador and Kenya, lie along the equator). I had many hours of flying time to reflect on my experiences as a Kiva Fellow in Ecuador over the past 3 months and I can easily say the most salient theme is the role of people. The past 13 weeks has been a rich tapestry of experiences sewn together by the many people I’ve met along the way. Really, it’s a story about the strength of the Kiva community.
From help with housing to providing tips for disembarking from moving public buses, many people reached out to provide a helping hand. I owe a great deal of gratitude to each one of them for demonstrating the strength of the Kiva community and ultimately making my time in Ecuador a valuable experience. Here are a few of those people:
From sharing stories of success and failures at our host MFIs to commiserating over adventurous eating gone wrong, the Kiva Fellows 12th class banded together and supported each other in our various corners of the world. As long as I had an internet connection there was camaraderie available in almost any time zone.
Cynthia McMurry (Kiva Field Support Specialist for South America)
Cynthia’s timely and helpful responses to my inquiries and those of other Fellows, especially in the early weeks of our time in the field, played at key role in helping us support our host MFIs.
Karina Pico (Fundación Espoir staff, Quito)
Karina took me under her wing and into her apartment for several weeks. She often invited friends and co-workers over for dinner and was very generous in sharing her social life and whatever she happened to be serving up, from empanadas to Chinese food.
Santiago Guillen (Fundación Espoir staff, Quito)
Santiago is the head of human resources at Fundación Espoir. He made a tremendous effort to show me ropes at Espoir and became a great friend during my short stay in Quito.
Sonia Juana (borrower, Fundación Espoir & Kiva)
Meeting borrowers is hands-down the most rewarding aspect of a Kiva fellowship and their stories serve as a great source of inspiration. I met Sonia at a village bank meeting in Portoviejo, Ecuador where she juggled variety of small businesses to support her family – from selling cosmetic products and Tupperware from catalogs to making soy milk and natia, a flan-like dairy dessert, which she shared with a number of women at the village bank meeting. She managed all of this with five young children and seemed to have boundless enthusiasm and for her work.
Luis Alverto (borrower, Fundación D-MIRO & Kiva)
A single father of 3, Luis and his children live in very difficult conditions in a marginalized area of Guayaquil called “Paraiso,” made up of dirt roads, where most homes have no running water or electricity. Yet, he radiated optimism during our interview. He was able to construct a cement floor in his home and open a small grocery store with loans from Fundación D-MIRO. He said “thanks god for his loans” and for the Fundación.
Nelly & Family (Fundación Espoir staff, Portoviejo)
Nelly, a supervisor in Fundación Espoir’s Portoviejo office welcomed me into her home with four generations of her family, for two weeks. Pictured here are Nelly and her daughter, Nicole, as we were getting manicures at their neighbor’s house. During my stay they pulled a frozen cuy from their freezer (guinea pig, a traditional Ecuadorian dish) which, for better or worse, deterred me from trying the dish!
Lenders In particular, I owe a special thanks to the University of California Berkeley Alumni lending team and the member who made six loans to Espoir and D-MIRO when I let them know that I’m working as a Kiva Fellow. This particular lender’s generosity and comments from other group members served as examples I used to show staff at my host MFIs the power of the connections between lenders and MFIs and within the lender community.
As part of her role in spearheading D-MIRO’s Kiva work, Rubi has the difficult task of encouraging loan officers to carry out Kiva responsibilities. Her enthusiasm for Kiva is the driving force behind D-MIRO’s Kiva connection and she works hard to share this through monthly bulletins to loan officers and updates on D-MIRO’s intranet. Rubi’s work is especially impressive: in addition to working full-time she’s also a university student working on her economics degree at night.
In addition to the many wonderful people I’ve gotten to know over the past 3 months, I’ve been humbled by the many borrowers who welcomed me into their homes for village bank meetings, served me a soda in their convenience stores, and in one instance, allowed me to try on an elaborate ball gown she had just made.
I can only hope that I have been able to give back as much as I’ve gained by being a Kiva Fellow…and to all the new Kiva Fellows who just landed out in the field – remember, you’re not alone!
Tara Capsuto recently completed three months as a roaming fellow in Ecuador, serving at Fundacion Espoir and Fundacion D-MIRO. She is kicking off the next segment of her fellowship in Kenya at three of Kiva’s field partners in Nairobi.