Posts filed under ‘Africa’
There is no shortage of articles documenting Africa’s position on the cusp of global development, with Kenya as a particular harbinger of those expectations. The Economist has reneged on writing off Africa as a “Hopeless Continent” several times since it featured the headline a decade ago. In 2011 it published “Africa Rising,” in which it identified 6 of the fastest growing countries in the world as African, with GDP growth surpassing East Asia. Last August, it dubbed Kenya Africa’s “Silicon Savannah,” bringing an onslaught of attention to the burgeoning technology scene here. Its March 2nd issue includes the article “Aspiring Africa,” that describes the continent as the fastest growing in the world.
The fan fare around African growth is not limited to sporadic shout outs from The Economist. Recently, Johnathon Kalan of the Huffington Post published an article that describes the fusion of “Potential, Poverty, Politics and Parties” that draws American college graduates to social enterprise start-ups in Nairobi. More important, however, is the current generation of young, educated Kenyans who are tired of the status quo. They feel entitled to jobs and livelihoods that are fulfilling and afford them some degree of social mobility. They are joined by Kenyans abroad, some of whom have been away for a decade at least, pursuing degrees and jobs, who are now choosing to return to Kenya for opportunities that did not exist when they emigrated. Together, these young professionals understand the role Kenya can play in spearheading growth for the entire continent. They are prepared to role back their sleeves and play a role.
As much chatter as there is surrounding Kenya’s burgeoning technology scene, most articles stop short of explaining why it’s happening in Kenya and why it’s happening now. This week, I’m digging a little deeper into the context behind the phenomenon.
Until rapid urbanization began after independence, Kenya’s population was predominantly rural. In 1963, only 8% of the population lived in ‘towns’ or cities. Nairobi’s population was 267,000 and Mombasa’s was 180,000. Of those ‘townspeople,’ most were Arab, Indians and Europeans; not Africans, who typically worked in town for short or long periods, then returned to their rural homesteads where their families remained. Today, Nairobi’s population has grown to approximately 3 million people.
Although people are flocking to cities, their ties to the countryside are still strong. Often, one or a few family members migrate to cities and the rest of the family stays behind. A taxi driver I’ve used frequently is from the Naivasha area in Rift Valley. His wife and children remain in the country side, where he farms fruits and vegetables to sell at Nairobi bound markets. During the week, he leaves his family behind and comes to Nairobi to drive a taxi. This is a common arrangement in Kenya; city work during the week and village life on the weekends.
The movement from rural to urban by one or a few family members created the need for domestic remittance transfers. Family members are making money in the cities and need a way to send it back home. In other countries, like Mexico, where many family members work abroad, the opposite is true, the demand for external remittance flows are greater. Hence, Kenya’s unique rural-urban dichotomy set the stage for the internal funds transfer explosion that we’re amidst now. Once cheap mobile phones flooded the market, Safaricom filled the need with its SMS based money transfer platform, M-PESA, making Kenya the global leader in mobile banking technology. All of the subsequent innovations here have been inspired and made possible by the widespread use of cell phones and M-PESA.
Government and Infrastructure
The government is promoting the use of mobile money and technology development in Kenya. Bitenge Ndemo, who became minister of Information and Communication in 2005, is credited for spearheading the initiative. He bypassed ceaseless discussions between 23 African countries about launching a joint fiber optic cable, by linking right into a cable from the United Arab Emirates instead. It’s been his priority to lay down additional cables ever since. “When the cable was switched on in 2009, Ndemo made sure universities got unlimited internet capacity.” said Robin Dixon of the Los Angeles Times.
Bitenge Ndemo’s push for Kenya to become a regional technology hub does not end there. Most recently, he’s spearheaded the Konza Technology
City project, which broke ground on January 23rd. Fifteen kilometers outside of Nairobi, the $10 billion investment will be a public-private venture that includes a business district, science and technology parks, a university, conference facilities and residential areas. The government of Kenya anticipates that the project could yield 200,000 jobs in 20 years, along with sizeable investments in other sectors like health, education, manufacturing, financial services etc. Executives behind the project have already received 250 applications from local and international firms who would like to invest in Konza. Some of the multinational corporations seeking a piece of the pie include Samsung, Google and China’s Huawei Technologies.
Critics of the project have serious reservations about the government’s ability to bring such a large-scale project into fruition, when it has not yet managed to gain hold of municipal issues in the capital like traffic, electricity, water and drainage that fester under expansion. Nonetheless, the proposition and ground breaking of Konza represents a clear vision that policy makers and business executives have for Kenya as an ICT hub in the region.
Research Labs and Business Incubation
M: Lab East Africa at the University of Nairobi: Key to Kenya’s growing role in IT and mobile application development are its research labs and business incubation centers, where techies and entrepreneurs gather to collaborate, network and implement projects. In 2011, the University of Nairobi established M:Lab East Africa with the help of iHub, a local technology center. First funded by the World Bank InfoDev grant, the lab was founded to facilitate the innovation of low-cost, high value mobile applications.
iLab Africa at Strathmore University: Just on the other side of town, Strathmore University, Kenya’s premier private institution for business education, has its own research and incubation center called iLab Africa. At iLab, faculty and students have teamed up to develop mobile applications that overcome development challenges in health and education. ILab boasts a few high profile partnerships. For example, Strathmore and Safaricom offer a masters degree in mobile application development. Samsung has established an innovation lab there and Google funds IT education for girls in rural schools, in addition to sponsoring mobile application boot camps at Strathmore and elsewhere in the region.
With support from the Clinton Foundation and Ministry of Health, iLab has generated an application that tracks pre and post natal care of mothers and their babies in rural areas. They’ve also created one that sends the HIV status of newborns to doctors and clinics for treatment. On the education front, they’re mobile application development is centered around digital rights management and the provision of learning materials.
Climate Innovation Center (CIC) at Strathmore University: In addition to ilab Africa, Stathmore University hosts Kenya’s Climate Innovation Center, a climate technology innovation hub, established with the World Bank’s infoDev program. The center is poised to accelerate growth and innovation in renewable energy, agriculture and clean water by providing entrepreneurs with the funding, mentorship and facilities needed to innovate.
iHub: iHub is a physical nexus for the tech community in Nairobi. Established in 2010, it is an open facility for young entrepreneurs, programmers, designers and researchers. Free membership is offered to anyone with a demonstrated involvement in technology. Ihub provides access to facilities, networks for funding and opportunities to collaborate. You can become a member of its online community remotely, have physical access to the work space or pay a monthly fee for a semi-permanent desk.
Ihub’s very own research team is engaged in projects like their collaboration with Refugees United, an organization that helps refugees track missing family members. The team has upgraded the organization’s paper based sign up form to a WAP enabled sign up on mobile phones. They’ve generated easy to consume info-graphics about trends in East Africa and launched Spider M-Governance in 2011 to identify gaps in water governance transparency in Kenya.
Marion Walls | KF19 | Tanzania
I’m on a quest to follow a Kiva loan from lender to borrower! How often have I dreamed of this whilst browsing my loans on a frosty winter weekend in Canada? Now I have an ideal opportunity to do so as the Kiva Fellow in Tanzania, so I’ll take you along for the ride!
My directions are set when a friend emails from Calgary: “I donated to the Jaguar Group. They’re asking for a loan in support of their beauty salon. I chose that one in honor of you – I figure you might want a haircut or a color given you are there for months!” Too true; I’ve been in Tanzania since September and this Kiva fellowship has been rich and rewarding, but also tough, so I’m looking a little ragged… And salons here offer beautifully intricate braids – why not give them a try?
I love the idea of making the personal connection between a Kiva lender in my hometown of Calgary, and a Kiva borrower here in Dar es Salaam! I had the dubious distinction in KF19 Fellows’ class of traveling furthest to my placement, so this will be an opportunity to reel in some of that distance. And what fun to report back to my friend on how his loan is working out here on the ground! I immediately start making arrangements to meet Juliet, the featured borrower of Jaguar Group…
Lender’s city; borrower’s city
You may already be familiar with Calgary – prosperous modern city buoyed by oil wealth; 5th largest metropolitan center in Canada; enviable location at the foot of the Rocky Mountains; renowned for its volunteer spirit; host city of the ’88 Winter Olympics (remember The Jamaican Bobsleigh Team?); 9th largest lender city on Kiva in 2011 (way to go Calgary)! In short: it’s a privileged city with a lot of heart!
What can I tell you about Dar es Salaam? The name conjures up exotic images of centuries old sea-trade, sultry summer evenings, and short ferry rides to magical Zanzibar island!
But the reality of daily life is far from tropical paradise for most of Dar’s 3 – 4 million inhabitants; believe me, this is one grindingly hard city in which to eke out a living… Still, people keep coming, lured by hopes of a better economic future than they face in their hometowns or villages. Dar is one of the fastest growing cities in the world. It’s a statistic with unenviable consequences: Dar’s infrastructure is clearly not keeping pace with the burgeoning population. Unrelenting heat and humidity are exacerbated by almost daily power cuts that mean no fans or air conditioning (in the words of my office-mate: “We are practicing for the fires of heaven!”), and no reliable refrigeration for foodstuff (where do maggots come from anyway?)
The dala-dala (bus) system is extensive and was genuinely well designed at inception – but now it’s inadequate and the overcrowding is epic! Likewise, unremitting traffic on overwhelmed roadways morphs the “5 p.m. rush hour” into the “2 – 8 p.m. standstill”. (Can traffic officers judge precisely when 64 passengers crammed in a sweltering dala with seating for 32 will finally reach breaking point? Only then do they signal us through the intersection!) Admittedly construction is underway to address transportation issues, but I regret the almost imperceptible progress in the 5 months I’ve been here.
Yet, in the face of wretched infrastructure challenges and the fact that formal employment is not keeping pace with population pressures either, the people of Dar find ways to get by – they have to. So the informal economy is bustling and every hot and dusty road is lined with shops and stalls; every opportune space is claimed. (Note to self: “That’s why Kiva loans to entrepreneurs are so relevant in Dar!”)
And if half of all Tanzanians are getting by on $2 per day per Kiva’s country statistics, it’s surely not from want of trying: it’s common to work long hours here in Dar.
No two ways about it – it’s a hardscrabble life here. But there’s a side to this city that defies all expectations: people in Dar (as in all Tanzania, in fact) are extraordinarily friendly, and helpful, and tolerant! I know it sounds cliched, but this is truly friendliness, and willingness to help, and tolerance, on a scale I’ve seldom encountered in my travels on any continent. It occurs to me this is the real key to living in Dar!
The expedition across town
Of course you realize Kiva borrowers don’t work in downtown office towers, but still you might be surprised by the widespread locations of their businesses (such as Juliet’s salon). Greater Dar es Salaam area is extensive, and many Kiva borrowers live and work on the outer fringes – perhaps 50 km away from my base at the main branch of Kiva’s partner MFI, Tujijenge Tanzania.
I had no concept of the stamina it would require before I started visiting borrowers last September! My mind boggles when I consider that loan officers from Tujijenge routinely travel across Dar to attend borrower group meetings every week… (The numerous challenges MFIs such as Tujijenge face in delivering services here in Dar are daunting. That’s why I admire MFIs for working here - where the need for microfinance is great, where it can make a significant impact on the lives of borrowers, but where it is not easy.) The loan officers are all busy as bees so I enlist Rita, the star Kiva Coordinator at Tujijenge, to join me on this visit to Juliet. We set off together, as always.
I use my favorite strategy: Start early in the morning. Take a series of “city-bus” dalas to the furthest point at which bajajis (auto rickshaws, named for the pricipal company that makes them) are available. Cover the final stretch to the borrower by bajaji, because the alternative of switching first to a “mini-bus” dala then risking life and limb on a piki-piki (motorbike taxi) is no fun at all. Persuade the bajaji driver to wait whilst we visit the borrower. Then do the trip in reverse. And hope to get home before dark…
(Rita scolds me for excessive expenditure on bajajis, but I can’t help it: I love everything about them! Bajaji drivers are fearless; they are consummate alternate-route-finders in the face of traffic jams; they are willing to tackle any road. Bajajis can negotiate all terrains successfully, or at least are light enough for this Kiva Fellow to push out of the sand when stuck… The open-air design provides sweet relief from the heat (even if the air I’m breathing is laden with diesel fumes, and bugs impale themselves on my camera lens), and I can choose how many of us are on board. I bet you’d take a bajaji too, if you had the chance!)
On today’s trip to see Juliet, a second bajaji driver dashes up just as we finish negotiating our fare with the first. “Mama,” he calls to Rita, “you gave me my loan at Tujijenge!” It means he has a Kiva loan! “Oh, I wish we could go with you then,” Rita responds. “It’s alright, you can go with him – he’s my friend,” says the Kiva guy, with characteristic Tanzanian friendliness. (What a great coincidence! I told you I love bajajis!)
Meeting the borrower
Turns out my meeting with Juliet is not happening after all… Instead of Juliet, Prisca is waiting for me at the roadside. Prisca is Chairman of Jaguar Group, and she tells me Juliet has bowed out today. Of course I’m disappointed, but I try to imagine myself in Juliet’s position as a borrower. Is she simply too shy? Battling a family or business crisis she’d rather not discuss? Scared because she’s behind on a repayment (even though she’s paid off 5 previous Tujijenge loans successfully)? Unwilling to have nosy neighbors learn from my obvious presence that she has a loan (out of financial privacy concerns, or because they may press for a share of the cash)? Unwilling to have her husband learn she has a loan (and thus jeopardize her personal financial stability)? Or is it something else entirely? I don’t know, but I’d far rather Juliet refuses than indulges me at her own expense – my visit is purely whimsical and not business related. It’s an apt reminder that a borrower’s loan is a significant business contract that is not undertaken lightly; it must be managed and paid back in the context of real-life complexities.
Meeting the borrower (Take 2)
Prisca saves the day by inviting me back to her store. I’m very happy to accept because, after all, the Kiva loan covers Jaguar Group, not Juliet alone. (Group loans are a mainstay of microfinance. You can read about their many benefits in Dar in my earlier Kiva post: Group Loans – Filling a Particular Niche.) Prisca hops aboard our bajaji and we’re off on a roller-coaster ride!
Prisca owns an impressively well-maintained store selling sodas (pop) and beer. There’s a shady seating area too, so Rita, the Bajaji driver, Prisca, and I settle down to enjoy a cold soda (bonus – Prisca has a fridge!) and a chat. I show Prisca her Jaguar Group’s loan on Kiva, and she breaks into a wide smile as she sees herself in the photo! She quickly points out Juliet, as well as Judith who was featured in Jaguar’s previous Kiva loan. She’s somewhat incredulous when I point out my friend from Calgary in the Lender section…
I ask Prisca about herself. She’s married, has a young son and daughter, and has always lived in this area of Dar. Her store used to stock a wide variety of goods but in 2011 thieves broke in and stole pretty much everything, including the scale for weighing goods like rice and dried beans. It was a cruel setback. That’s when Prisca joined Jaguar Group and started taking loans from Tujijenge to try to get back on her feet. Yes, the series of loans have helped restore her business – injections of cash every few months are invaluable in buying bulk stock at cheaper prices, and purchasing items like the fridge to draw customers. Some of the extra profit that is generated helps with household expenses (think school fees) too. But there’s still a way to go… That’s why Prisca has stayed with Jaguar Group, and recently become group Chairman.
Closing the circle
I’ve done what I’ve always dreamed of doing: followed a Kiva loan from lender to borrower! Now I know the people on both sides of the contract, and I’m totally delighted.
I report back to Calgary: “The bajaji ride was one of the best yet! The rest of things didn’t quite go to plan, but still they ended well. I met Prisca, not Juliet. I got a soda, not braids… Prisca was amazed to see you! Her business is coming along, and she says the loan is helping. Here’s the postcard I made you – it was a brilliant day, thank you! M.”
Click here to lend to a Kiva borrower in Dar es Salaam. (Please check back at the start of next month if all Tujijenge Tanzanian loans are currently funded!)
See more of the daily sights I’ve enjoyed in and around Dar in The Illustrated Guide to Cooking Thanksgiving Dinner! (Tanzania Edition). Or see the complete antithesis in On the Road Less Travelled: Kagera Region in Tanzania.
After an easy trip. I arrive to Accra, Ghana. The first feeling you have when you step out of the plane is an intense hot an humidity, and this in when you miss the snow at home.
It is 8 PM and the Ghanian national football team is playing the semifinals of the African Cup against Burkina Faso. The whole country is mobilized. I can hear the screams all along the airport. For the moment they are drawing, but with good opportunites. Maybe it is because of the macth that taxi drivers are behaving in a foolish way. I asked one of them about a hostel I knew, and he answers me he takes me there without any problem. I jumped on the taxi with all my stuff, we move forward few meters and he starts asking everyone where the hostel is. I ask him if he truly knows where it is, and he answers me no.
I make the same process with another taxi and it happens completely the same, till a kind woman called Evelyn, offers me her help. She told me she knew a hostel not far from her home. I relied on her and her little son John.
After a few minutes drive we arrive to the hostel. It was not as cheap as I expected, but it is 10 am, I am exhausted and the last thing I want to do is wandering in an African city of 3,5 million habitants. I go straight to bed.
The day after everything is the first time for me.
My first bedroom
Mi first sight of Accra
My first bathroom
My first coconut
My first meal
My first defeat.
I realize Ghana lost in penalties. It is in that moment when I remind they almost are the first African country in reaching Worldcup semifinals. An Uruguayan player´s hand and the latter missed penalty of a Ghanian player impeded it.
Bad luck in football continues for me. In El Salvador I attended with Fundación Campo Microfinance the qualifying game between Costa Rica and El Salvador. Of course, they lost.
But this event do not remove the smiles from them. They know what is suffering in the field and out of it. This is why they give thanks for reaching so far and they will try again harder than ever next year.
The day after the defeat, some supporter demonstraiting their devotion for the national team.
By Kiva Fellows | KF19 | All Over the World
With January 2013 coming to an end, KF19 fellows are either continuing on with KF20 or returning home to various responsibilities and careers. Regardless of the next adventure or destination, one thing is common among all: KF19 fellows have been permanently changed by their placements.
What began as a joint blog post about any person, place, or event during the course of the fellowship that affected our lives, of itself turned into simply the one person who left the most impact. Afterall, Kiva’s mission is to alleviate poverty through connecting people. The fellows of KF19 have witnessed this connection over the course of the last three to four months, and nothing could have prepared us for meeting the people who would touch our lives in various ways.
KF19 presents to you Kiva One, a small collection of stories about human connections, hope, and inspiration.
Why should you fund a Kick Trading loan?
Kick trading, Kisumu Innovation Centre Kenya, was one of our favourite groups because the borrowers were enthusiastic and their workspace was bright. We entered to see some artisans painting, others selling items in the colourful stalls, as we ducked under hundreds of mini wire bicycles and Santa Clauses in the outdoor workspace.
Kick trading provides training opportunities to young artisans and allows them to earn a fair wage. They are encouraged to be creative by hand making products using hyacinth and papyrus from Lake Victoria.
Log on to Kiva Zip today https://zip.kiva.org/
By Kiva Fellows | KF19 | All Over the World
A Happy Holidays to the Kiva family everywhere! May your celebrations be filled with foods and flavor, smiling faces, natural beauty, light and memories… here are some gifts from around the world courtesy of the Kiva Fellows 19th class:
On the Twelve Days of Christmas my Kiva Fellow gave to me…
Watching Green Turtles hatch on a beach near Mafia Island in Tanzania was magical, and heartbreaking, because they looked so vulnerable. They’re tiny little things – no bigger than the palm of my hand – so the 15m of beach is an epic journey but they scramble forward determinedly despite the obstacles. I was thrilled to see this little guy heading out into the world!
Day 2: Two Washington War Memorials
Christina Reif | Kiva Zip (Washington D.C.) | United States
The Korean War Memorial (left): Nestled between juniper bushes which represent the rugged terrain of Korea, 7ft tall statues of soldiers – wary of a suspected ambush – give the visitor a haunting feel of the a soldier’s reality.
The Vietnam Memorial (right): As I stood taking the picture I overheard the veteran say: there were 18 of us and only 9 came back. It was said matter of factly, a story told many times before, a piece of history that never loses its emotional impact.
Day 3: Three Colorado Microbrews
Rachel Davis | Kiva Zip (Denver) | United States
Here are three beers from three Colorado breweries, enjoy!
Day 4: Four Kuki Carolers
Eileen Flannigan | WSDS-Initiate | India
What are these Kuki’s most excited about this holiday? “The caroling bus!” This tradition only happens every two years because of the cost of renting the buses, which each family in the village (200+) contributes to all year. On Christmas Eve the buses tour all the neighboring villages as a symbol of peace, unity and good old fashion fun! At midnight, the elders go home and the youths visit each house in the village to “offer them a song”, which include tribal songs, classic Christmas songs and even Justin Bieber’s “Mistletoe”.
When I asked them what they would like to say to Kiva lenders around the world, they joyfully said they wanted to “offer a song of thanksgiving”. Through giggles and jolly spirits, these Kiva borrowers sing “Joy to the World”, dressed in their holiday best, which is all weaved from their own hands. They graciously wrap me in these special threads and awake my heart with the “Christmas spirit”.
Day 5: Five Gorgeous Costa Rican Birds
Jane Imai | EDESA and FUNDECOCA | Costa Rica
What speaks of Costa Rica more than a bunch of beautiful, tropical birds? Costa Rica boasts a huge biodiversity when it comes to wildlife, including almost 900 species of birds. Here are some of ones I was able to see while I was here:
- Blue macaw (wild, La Fortuna)
- Scarlet macaws (wild, en route to Monteverde)
- Violet sabrewing (wildlife refuge, La Paz Waterfall Gardens)
- Yellow-naped parrots (free roaming pets known as Lola and Paco, San Jose)
- Keel-billed toucan (wildlife refuge, La Paz Waterfall Gardens)
Day 6: Six Delicious Dishes from Kyrgyzstan
Abhishesh Adhikari | Bai Tushum & Partners | Kyrgyzstan
- Lagman: Noodle dish with beef and pepper
- Mante: Dumplings filled with ground beef and onions
- Turkish Kebab
- Russian style roast duck with apples
- Plov: Fried rice mixed with meat and carrots
- Traditional Kyrgyz soup with meat and potatoes
Day 7: Seven Candles for Día de las Velitas
Rose Larsen | Fundación Mario Santo Domingo (FMSD) | Colombia
Día de las Velitas (Day of the Little Candles) is a holiday in Colombia honoring the Immaculate Conception. Every year, on the 8th of December, at 3AM, Colombians light candles and put them in colorful lanterns outside their homes. This day is also the (unofficial) launch of the Christmas season.
Day 8: Eight Filipino Christmas Lights and Festive Faces
Keith Baillie | Roaming Mindanao | Philippines
Christmas preparations start early in the Philippines. Since November, carols are played on the radio and offices and homes have put up Christmas decorations. Groups of children roam around singing carols, hoping for a handout. Here are some pics of Dipolog’s tree lighting festival – with monsters for kids, sculpted and living angels, fireworks and popular bands.
Maayong Pasco! (Bisayan for Merry Christmas!)
Day 9: Nine Jordanian Herbs
Taline Khansa | Tamweelcom | Jordan
One of the most exciting and lively areas in Jordan is the downtown Amman “Balad” region. The streets are filled with a multitude of elements that stimulate the senses from perfumeries making custom concoctions to falafel hole-in-the-wall restaurants. My favorite places are the small shops selling bulk herbs and spices (for super cheap!), some of which I recognize and others I’ve never heard of. The merchants will often allow you to smell or taste the products and may offer some advice on use and preparation techniques.
The nine bulk herbs in this picture are: Two kinds of sage, Melissa, Rosemary, Artemisia, Rose, Guava Leaves, Marjoram, and Hibiscus… Happy Holidays from the Middle East!
Day 10: Ten Bags-a-Brimming With Honduran Coffee
Wesley Schrock | Roaming Fellow | Honduras
Kiva borrower Miguel, a coffee farmer from Trojes in Honduras, stands in front of a wet processing station. In the lower left-hand corner note his ten bags of pulped, fermented, and dried coffee beans ready for roasting.
Having spent close to three months in India, I must say I have not had one bad meal. The food is always flavorful and delicious. While working at Mahashakti, I have been fortunate to have lunch with the staff every day, prepared by the office caretaker, Radha Kanta, or just Rahda for short. Since many of the staff travel from branch to branch at a regular basis, they stay at the office overnight. Radha prepares meals for the traveling staff and me.
One day I learned to make a traditional Odisha dish – Simba Rai – from the following ingredients (pictured from left to right): Garlic, Turmeric, Radha in action, Ginger, Masala paste and powder, Green Chili, Potatoes, Green beans (Simba), Chili powder, Mustard seeds, Tomatoes, Shallots, and we’re ready to eat!
The smiling faces of twelve bright futures for the children of Kiva borrowers in Togo and Benin!
FROM THE KIVA FELLOWS!
By Holly Sarkissian, KF 19, Benin & Togo
In Benin, New Year’s Eve is a BIG HOLIDAY. I recently spoke with two Kiva borrowers about their plans to celebrate. Meet Flaure:
Flaure is currently saving money to celebrate the New Year. She plans to buy pagne (or colorful fabric) to make a new outfit for each member of the family. She will also celebrate by cooking a special meal and dancing with her friends and family.
Meet Romance of the Dieu Est Grand Group (God is Big Group):
Romance is looking forward to celebrating Christmas and the New Year. She plans to sell pre-made New Year’s outfits for children in order to earn additional income. During the festivities each member of her family will wear a new outfit made of pagne or colorful local fabric. They will also celebrate by eating and dancing together. Romance’s favorite dance is Zouk which originates from the Caribbean islands of Guadeloupe and Martinique and has gained popularity in francophone Africa .
In addition to Zouk, there are several other dances popular in the region. Many of the kiva borrowers in Ghana, Togo, and Benin will be celebrating the holidays with the following dances:
1. Cool Catché is a dance with origins in Togo that is very popular throughout West Africa. This dance is done by lifting one’s hand or foot in front of the body and alternating right and left to the beat of the music. There is also a version of this dance called Cool Catche Mama which involves moving the head and neck back and forth to the beat of the music. You can see both versions in this popular Togolese music video LA GRIPPE CC.
2. Azonto originates from Ghana and Nigeria and is also very popular throughout the region. It involves knee bending, hip movements, and alternating pulses of ones hand in front of the body between the legs and then up to the sky. It is said that Azonto is the dance of the spirits so in many popular versions of the dance, the dancers will wear masks to enhance the dance’s cryptic element. You can see it in this two popular songs:
3. Cutata originates from Togo and Cote d’Ivoire . This is the dance for booty dancing lovers everywhere. It involves shaking ones behind up and down very quickly. You can see some starting at minute 1:52 in this popular Togolese music video, Fo Mapelé.
4. Agbadja is a traditional rhythm originating from the Mina and Ewe ethnic groups. It comes from the southern region of Togo and the southwest region of Benin. You can see Agbadja in this video.
5. Simpa comes from the central region of Togo, originating from the Kotokoli ethnic group. You can see a performance of Simpa in this video taken in Sokodé, Togo.
6. Kamou comes from the North of Togo, originating from the Kabiyè ethinic group. You can see an example of this dance performed by the group The Seeds in their music video Lidaw.
Now you too can celebrate the New Year by dancing like a West African Kiva Borrower.
It never ceases to amaze me how you can connect with people who are completely different from you. Maybe you don’t speak the same first language. Maybe you grew up on opposite sides of the world, or you were born in different decades. But somehow, despite all your differences—and perhaps against all odds—you find commonalities. And what’s more, sometimes you realize that below the surface, maybe you’re not actually all that different after all.
Kiva’s mission is to connect people through lending. That happens every day through its online lending platform, http://www.kiva.org. But as Kiva Fellows, we have the opportunity to carry out this mission in the field. Sometimes we get to meet with borrowers, but all of us get to connect with the local people where we work and live. We learn about who they are and how they live, and we share a little bit about ourselves as well. And when you find yourself having a good laugh with them, it’s a pretty amazing thing.
So, the three months of my fellowship are drawing to a close. It’s hard not to get sentimental when I think about leaving behind this beautiful country and the warm, generous people who welcomed me into their homes, their families, and their lives. Some took the time to get to know me, others took the time to share their stories, and others still simply made me feel at home, wherever I was. Many went out of their way to make sure I had a fantastic experience here. Pictured in this blog entry are just some of the wonderful Ticos that I met in Costa Rica.
My time here has been full of adventures, sightseeing, and some notable firsts. Among those have been:
First time seeing toucans. They are too cute for words!
First time riding on a moto, or motorbike, ever. (I think I’ve gained some street cred in Uganda).
First time seeing dressage. One weekend, I chanced upon a big street party that was complete with cowboys and horses getting their horse ballet on. I thought that was pretty fortuitous, since I had recently learned what this sport was all about (courtesy of Stephen Colbert).
First time eating rice and beans for 90 days straight. I’m talking about the famous typical Costa Rican dish, gallo pinto, which is pretty much what everyone here eats every day for breakfast—and sometimes lunch and dinner, too. OK, so maybe I didn’t eat it for all 90 days, but I tell you it was pretty darn close. It’s a good thing I like rice and beans!
First time trying sopilote (vulture meat). Ooops, wait! That was chicken and a couple of colleagues trying to trick me.
First time watching the entire Twilight saga. Oh yes I did! (It made for a fun bonding experience, OK?)
But in any new experience, it’s always the people you meet who make all the difference. While I love to travel and see new places, I also love the very different experience of living abroad, because that’s when you really get to know the locals.
People asked me why I wanted to come to Costa Rica for my fellowship. In fact, it’s somewhere I’ve wanted to go for a long time. I have always been intrigued by this country that constitutionally abolished its army in 1949, thus diverting resources towards health and education for the general population. I was curious about the nation with a long history of ecotourism that today remains one of the world’s leaders in environmental protection. I wanted to meet the people who lived in the country that was ranked #1 in the 2012 Happy Planet Index.
So here are some things I’ve learned:
Ticos are proud of their country and have a strong sense of national identity. The expression Pura Vida (Pure Life) says it all. It’s something of a national motto here, but it’s more than just words; it’s a way of life. It’s used here in greetings, as an expression of gratitude or satisfaction, and also to describe something or someone who’s generally pretty awesome.
Ticos love to toot their horn. I’m not talking about national pride anymore. I’m talking about the constant beep-beep you will hear as you walk along any road or highway. The pitos (horns) are how Tico drivers communicate, and the beeps can mean very different things. Here’s a little guide to help you decipher the various meanings, should you be traveling to Costa Rica anytime soon:
Beep! Hellooooo there, baby.
Beep! Coming through!
Beep beep! You go first!
Beep! Thanks dude!
Beeeeeeeep! I’m stuck in traffic and mildly annoyed.
Beep! I’m bored and tooting my horn is fun!
Beep! Beep! BEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEP!……………….
Ticos love their coffee. As they rightly should: Costa Rican coffee is really good! Even for someone who’s more of a tea-aholic, two coffee breaks a day will get you hooked in no time. If you search long and hard, though, you will find some tea aficionados, and you might even chance upon a tea store if you’re lucky.
Ticos are incredibly tolerant of rain. I’ve never seen so much rain in my life! It’s true I’ve been here during the rainy season, but I never thought this kind of rain was possible—where a heavy downpour can last 5 hours, or sometimes even two days. But nobody complains. (The cold is another thing, but it’s totally fair game to complain when it’s 12oC and windy, given that buildings are not insulated here.)
Costa Rica is largely rural. Like the diminutive Tico suggests, things here are small-scale. Even the bigger city centres are more like large towns. Many Ticos live in rural areas or have some connection to rural life. For example, quite a few people who work in the city commute some distance from a more rural area, or their family might own a finca (a property in the countryside).
And many Ticos and tourists alike are averse to San José, whose metropolitan area has some 2.3 million people. While it may not be the world’s most attractive city, the Ticos’ dislike for it stems more from the fact that it is a city. I am going to make a bold statement: I like San José. That may be attributed to the great people I met while I was living here, though.
Ticos are quite devout. Costa Rica is fairly homogenous and its population is made up of 70% Catholics and 14% Evangelical Christians. It was interesting trying to explain that my family’s roots are Buddhist, since Buddhism, like many other religions, has had limited exposure in Costa Rica.
It was also interesting being introduced as Canadian to new Ticos. Their eyes always said the same thing: You can’t fool me. A further explanation of my parents’ Japanese origins brought a sort of relief to their faces and often facilitated the conversation that ensued. I was, without a doubt, something of an anomaly to them, although that humoured me more than anything.
The word china means many things in Costa Rica, as it does in other Spanish speaking countries. Hmm… seems like not a lot of thought has gone into the nuances of its meanings. For example:
- China = the country
- china = the language
- china = a Chinese person
- china = any other Asian-looking person
In addition, there is a type of flower called china and porcelain plates are also called china. To add some variety, I tried to make up my own word, chinesa, to describe the language, but I was corrected. Por favor. It’s china.
That being said, China (the country) has become Costa Rica’s most important ally after the US, as evidenced by the generous gift they sent last year. (A symbol of its former relationship with Taiwan can also be found firmly planted in northern Costa Rica.) So maybe it’s good that, as long as they’re going to use one generic word to capture all these meanings, that the word be china.
Ticos work hard to get ahead, but that’s not always easy. They could use a break. That’s why lending through Kiva’s partners like EDESA and FUNDECOCA can go a long way. (Stay tuned for FUNDECOCA on www.kiva.org—they’re a new partner so their partner page is forthcoming!)
These MFIs are doing a great job of providing opportunities to people in rural areas, where the poverty is often striking, but urban poverty is rampant as well, and sometimes microfinance can overlook this. One of my colleagues pointed out that a person is probably better off being poor in a rural area of Costa Rica, because at least then they can still produce their own food. In the city, on the other hand, if you don’t have money you can’t survive.
Recently, I had the opportunity to get to know a lady here in a similar situation. While she had a job in the city that gave her enough income to support her family, she was in a position where she could not access credit from the regular banks. As such, her daughters would never have the chance to pursue a better education so that they might someday be able to get ahead. As we chatted, I realized that rarely had I met someone so wise and open-minded. She had a lively curiosity, and she had come to grips with her situation in life with laughter and a positive attitude. She left me with a feeling of admiration mixed with heartache.
Over the past 10 years, I’ve had the fortune to live and work in 7 different countries, and travel to countless others. Throughout those experiences, I’ve met friends who come from over 70 countries, and I’ve come to understand so much about the world thanks to them. Ticos, I’ve learned, are totally pura vida. And hopefully, they’ve learned something about me, too, so that the next time they meet someone really different from them, the differences won’t be as striking as the similarities are.
Laura Sellmansberger | KF19 | Uganda
Roughly 1.6 billion people in the world do not have access to reliable electricity. Lack of power is a complex issue that results in countless other problems, and it is both a cause and an effect of unremitting poverty. Without light, children are unable to do their homework and study. Midwives must perform deliveries in the dark. Children, especially girls, often spend hours a day collecting firewood to be used for light and heat instead of going to school. Mothers are forced to cook with kerosene, which is expensive, toxic to the lungs, and a major cause of fires in the home.
Solar Sister, Kiva’s newest partner in Uganda, is a social enterprise committed to tackling energy poverty as well as creating economic opportunity for women. Using an Avon-style distribution system, Solar Sister sells solar lamps through local women in remote parts of Uganda. These entrepreneurs are provided with training and marketing support, and use their own networks of friends and family to distribute solar lighting products throughout their villages, providing their communities with clean energy, empowering themselves, and providing their families with additional income.
A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to accompany Solar Sister on a trip to the villages of Central Uganda, where we met two Solar Sister Entrepreneurs and their customers.
Meet Florence, Solar Sister Entrepreneur
Florence is 38 years old. She has four children under her care (two biological children and two whom she adopted after their own mother passed away). She runs a small computer center in the town of Buwama where she teaches computer literacy courses and also provides typing services. Since becoming a Solar Sister Entrepreneur, she has enjoyed brining light to others in her community.
Meet Agnes, Florence’s Customer
As a small-holder farmer, Agnes grows vegetables and raises cows. She is also community nurse and runs a small health clinic in her home. Her biggest challenge as a nurse has been lack of light. Without electricity, she is unable to work after dark – even though health emergencies do not become any less common after nightfall.
Agnes purchased a simple solar light system from Florence and now has light in a few rooms in her house. Since she installed the lights, she has been able to begin seeing patients at night.
Agnes understands the dangers of kerosene more than most people. A few years ago, her teenage daughter was studying in bed by the light of a kerosene lantern. Her mosquito net caught fire, causing severe burns to most of her body. She feels very lucky that her daughter survived, and she is glad that her children can now read at night without having to worry about potential accidents.
Meet Jane-Francis, Solar Sister Entrepreneur
Jane-Francis is 48 years old. She has eight children. She primarily earns the income with which she supports her family through farming. Jane-Francis became a Solar Sister in order to earn extra money that she puts towards school fees for her children.
Meet Jane, Jane-Francis’ customer
Jane is a mother and smallholder farmer. She is also a village nurse. Since purchasing a lamp from Jane-Francis, she has been able to continue seeing patients after dark. She also says that having light at night helps her stay awake for her favorite radio show, which she likes to listen to on her battery-powered radio every evening at 10:00 pm. She is currently saving money to buy another lamp for her home.
Lend to a Solar Sister Entrepreneur today on Kiva.org, and help her not only to increase her own income, but also to bring light, hope and opportunity to her community.
Marion Walls | KF19 | Tanzania
If you prefer the road less traveled, then I have just the place for you: the Kagera region of Tanzania!
You may not have heard of Kagera – even though it’s exceptionally beautiful, and the people here are especially friendly – as it’s not part of the Tanzanian tourist circuit. And that’s precisely what makes it ideal for those of us who prefer to explore places off the beaten track! Kagera is tucked away on the western side of Lake Victoria. The region is bordered by Uganda to the north, and Rwanda and Burundi to the west, and it takes a 20+ hour bus ride (or two flights) to get here from Dar es Salaam. I’ve come here in my capacity as a Fellow to visit Kiva borrower Gration and his project partner Daeni in the town of Muleba, as well as Andy in the town of Ngara. They both obtained Kiva loans earlier this year to purchase solar power products from Kiva’s partner, Barefoot Power. The time I’ve spent with them and their Wata na Nuru (Light for the People) teams, resellers, and solar clients has been truly remarkable. You see, I am here to work!
I’ve long been fascinated by solar power, so I’m thrilled by the opportunity this Kiva fellowship has afforded to see firsthand the impacts and challenges of providing solar lighting in rural Tanzania. And I’m looking forward to sharing these Barefoot Power updates with you when I get back to an area with sufficient internet speed to upload the blogs… Meanwhile, here’s a photo journal of my favorite (non-work) experiences in Kagera over the past two weeks:
1. The dawn chorus of songbirds in a beautiful garden in Bukoba. The birdlife is prolific here; the garden in this video reminds me of the home where I grew up in Zimbabwe; and Bukoba (Tanzania’s second-largest port on Lake Victoria) is a breath of fresh air after my last nine hot and sweaty weeks in Dar es Salaam. What an uplifting way to start the day!
2. Expansive views of Lake Victoria. It’s called Lweru (The Big White) by the Haya people of this area, and as soon as I saw the lake I knew why. This is an area of vast panoramas and glorious open skies! The shoreline of the lake is dotted with granite outcrops, and the surrounding landscape is lush with green grass (good grazing for the heavy-horned cattle in this video!) and trees, thanks to plentiful rainfall and the rich red soil.
3. A frenzy of activity as 450 donated bikes – recently arrived in a container from Switzerland – are reassembled and prepped for sale. Daeni is involved at this bicycle center in remote Nshamba, where youngsters learn the skills of a bicycle fundi (expert). I’m delighted to see the Tanzanian side of this project, because I’m familiar with the donor side of a similar project in my hometown in Canada.
4. Kagera isn’t called the banana capital of Tanzania for nothing… Banana plants grow everywhere! Matoke (plantains, or cooking bananas) are the staple food here, usually eaten with maharage (beans). The bananas we eat start growing from tiny yellow flowers – initially the size of your thumb nail – hidden under the dark reddish bracts of a large inflorescence known as the banana heart.
5. My hilarious bus ride from Muleba to Ngara! It rains. The bus leaks. I am drenched from head to foot! I balance my little daypack on my knee as water pours down upon me for several hours, relieved that my laptop and camera – the tools of my trade these days – are sealed in a waterproof bag. I’m sorry when the kid sitting snugly next to me gets off at his stop; I was grateful for his warmth… And just for the record: I’m beginning to think a ticket agents’ assessment that “it will take 3 hours” is an optimistic way of saying “a long time, maybe even 6 hours”!
6. Wandering for hours along a ridge at Murgwanza that overlooks the Tanzanian border with Rwanda. I’m drawn onward by the tantalizing views from the next rocky outcrop, and the possibility of finding another flame lily swaying in the breeze. The sounds of distant voices, wood chopping, and the occasional cock-crow drift up to me from the valley below, and mingle with the low buzz of insects and melodious bursts of birdsong. The African bush is so alive! Goat herders on the next hillside call mzungu! (the friendly Kiswahili term for foreigner) to catch my attention, and wave. Could I be any happier?
7. The harmonious singing voices of a church congregation in Murgwanza stop me in my tracks as I’m passing by. (The picture quality in this video is poor, so just close your eyes and listen, and you’ll hear birds trilling joyfully too!)
8. A vibrant market operates under cover of huge white UNHCR tents that have been repurposed in downtown Ngara. The tents are remnants of the refugee crisis in Kagera that was caused by the Rwanda genocide in 1994. It’s impossible for me to reconcile the idea of such horror with the normal daily life and tranquility I see around me now.
9. My 9-hour bus ride through Karagwe region. Since there are no direct buses for the next 3 days, I’m advised to take a bus from Ngara to Karagwe (it’ll take 3 hours!), from where I can get onward transport to Bukoba. I arrive at the bus stand before dawn to get a window seat. The bus fills rapidly (and I do mean fills…), and we set off close to schedule but lose time as we inch our way through the mist and up the steep hills. The man wedged in next to me buys water at our first stop and downs more pills than I’ve ever seen in one dose; I wonder sadly if he’s one of the many people here infected with HIV/AIDS. (I’ve visited a sewing class at one organization that cares for 1800 orphans, and met a worker from another that cares for 3700. The numbers overwhelm me.)
Then the bus halts at a barrier and a man with an automatic rifle, (I recognize it as an AK47; I grew up during the war in Zimbabwe), climbs in next to the driver. My neighbor explains this is our escort, but I’m a bit disconcerted and text a message to Andy in Ngara in case this all ends badly… He replies that an armed escort on this route is normal… I’m still feeling pensive when suddenly there’s great excitement on the bus: Twiga, twiga! Someone’s seen giraffe, and we all scan the bush eagerly for a glimpse! I snap a couple of photos, and pass my camera around. My fellow passengers laugh happily at our good fortune, and my mood lightens! I can face the rest of this 9-hour bus journey with equanimity now.
10. Young girls are delighted by their new dresses for Christmas! I think the dressmaker is equally pleased. Entrepreneurship is visible everywhere I go – this woman set up shop in front of her house, in the midst of a banana plantation. And she’s doing a roaring trade as the festive season approaches!
And finally: The unlikely Kiva connection. Yesterday I chatted with a charming woman at Bukoba airport as we waited in vain for our flight – the runway too muddy for the incoming plane to land. We met again today, and I showed my new friend the Tanzanian content on Kiva website. Imagine my surprise and delight when we scrolled through the last Update I posted about Tanzania, and she exclaimed “I know her! That woman is an excellent baker!” Who’d have thought there would be a connection way out here in Kagera? It’s a small world, thanks to Kiva!
Barefoot Power loans in Tanzania also went to Martin in Dodoma, and Clive in Moshi. That’s were my travels as a Kiva Fellow take me next! No Barefoot Power loans in Tanzania are currently fundraising on Kiva, but each month you can find loans posted by Tujijenge Tanzania.
As you might have heard many times before, meeting with the borrowers is the most rewarding part of the fellowship. It’s always such a great feeling to meet the Kiva borrowers in person and see that the loans are actually making a big difference in their lives. When you work with Kiva Zip you also get the opportunity to meet our trustees, which are fantastic organizations and individuals that all have in common that they want to help low-income entrepreneurs to create a better life for themselves and their families.
During last week’s field visit, me and my colleagues Shy and Alyza visited the trustee CTC International. CTC is based in Maai Mahiu in the Rift Valley, Kenya. Maai Mahiu is a small town located on a major trade route that runs through several countries in Africa, commonly known as the HIV Highway. According to CTC around 1.6-1.9 million people live with HIV in Kenya, and the spread of the disease is particularly high in this area of the country. Prostitution is very common and with thousands of truck drivers stopping by in the small “hotels” that are lining the streets of Maai Mahiu, the spread of HIV has run rampant.
CTC International is an amazing organization that works with a variety of projects to fight poverty. One of the projects is called GAPA (Grandparents Against Poverty and HIV / AIDS), where all members have in common that their child has died of HIV / AIDS. These grandparents are all raising their grandchildren, with little or basically non-existent financial resources. CTC is supporting these grandparents through income-generating activities, training and support groups.
CTC also helps the grandparents to get access to microloans, and the reason for our visit was to train one group of borrowers on the Kiva Zip model. All borrowers are working with different income generating projects, ranging from soap making to poultry keeping.
It was so rewarding meeting these women. Even though they all have suffered terrible losses of their children, they didn’t give up on their grandchildren, and they do everything they can to support them. And the best thing is that you can help them too, shortly we will post their loans on our Kiva Zip website and you can help fund their businesses. Click here to get to the Kiva Zip website.
Read more about GAPA here
Laura Sellmansberger | KF19 | Uganda
Uganda offers its visitors a wide variety of foods to sample, but many would agree that the most delicious of these is the rolex. What is a rolex, you ask? I have heard many people describe the Ugandan rolex as something similar to the “breakfast burrito,” a peculiar food item that can be found at a number of American fast food chains. For purposes of basic mental imagery, this description may not be too far off; however, I personally believe that this comparison fails to give the rolex the credit that it deserves. That’s why I have decided to dedicate an entire blog post to this uniquely Ugandan culinary delight.
A rolex costs 1,500 Ugandan Shillings ($0.60) and is available on almost every street corner in Kampala. The name “rolex” has nothing to do with the luxury Swiss watch company, but rather relates to the ingredients of this scrumptious delicacy and the way it is made: roll + eggs = rolex.
The rolex first appeared about a decade ago in the Kampala suburb of Wandegaya near Makerere University, Kampala’s oldest institution of higher education. After appearing in Wandegaya, the late-night student snack took the region by storm and has since become a staple street food throughout all of Central Uganda.
Here I will outline the basic steps in the creation of a rolex.
1. First, the chapati is made. Chapati is a tortilla-like flatbread made from flour, water and salt. Chapati was first brought to Uganda by Indian migrant workers in the early 1900s. The dough is rolled thin, placed on a circular frying pan, and cooked until it has reached a solid yet soft consistency.
2. Next, the omelette is mixed. Two eggs are blended together with pieces of fresh tomato, cabbage, onions, bell peppers and salt.
3. On the same pan where the chapati was cooked, the omelette is fried.
4. The omelette is placed on the chapati and is topped with cold tomato slices and salt. The chapati is then rolled into a burrito-like form.
And that’s how a Ugandan rolex is made. I can’t think of a more delicious way to spend $0.60. Bon appétit!
Laura Sellmansberger is a member of the 19th class of Kiva Fellows, working at Grameen Foundation AppLab as well as two other nontraditional Kiva partners.
Marion Walls | KF19 | Tanzania
I’d like to celebrate Thanksgiving with you, the Kiva community! I’d love to cook dinner for us to share but this is the thing: I’m in Tanzania right now. (I’m a Kiva Fellow, serving with Tujijenge and Barefoot Power.) So I’m enlisting your help with getting the food to the table. It’ll be easy! I’ve chosen a familiar Thanksgiving menu:
Turkey with Pan Gravy
Nut Loaf (*vegetarian option)
Coffee or Tea
And just to be certain we end up with the same meal as each other, I’ve provided step-by-step instructions (with full-color illustrations from Tanzania!) for you to follow. You can’t go wrong… So let’s get cooking!
2. Cook the Bird till the juices run clear, and the skin is nicely browned. (Turkeys proved elusive – here’s rooster from Bagamoyo instead…)
3. Pick, peel, and roast nuts for the nut loaf. Cashews are abundant here, but feel free to use any nuts growing locally near you.
I hope you’ve cooked up a feast!
Happy Thanksgiving from Tanzania!
Marion has written many pages of operating instructions for polymer manufacturing facilities… You too can apply to be a Kiva Fellow for a totally different experience!
By Marion Walls, KF19, Tanzania
There’s a buzz about Group Loans here in Dar Es Salaam! And now that I see them in action every day, I’m sold too! I’m volunteering as a Kiva Fellow at Tujijenge Tanzania where all Kiva loans are Group loans, so I’ve learned considerably more about them in the last six weeks. It’s become clear why Group Loans are a mainstay of microcredit: they fill a particular niche for borrowers.
Let me show you what I’ve learned…
Borrower groups at Tujijenge are made up of around fourteen members who know each other, though there may be as many as twenty or as few as eight. Groups choose their own names – and names run the gamut from the practical “Mt Rungwe”, to the motivational “Breakthrough”, and confident “Top Class”. Their names are just the first indication that each group is unique… It’s been immediately apparent when I’ve met them that each group has it’s own personality: some are shy and quiet, others cheerful and full of energy!
Group members don’t necessarily operate the same type of business as each other. One may have a fruit stall in a market;
another may own a general store;
while a third raises (inquisitive) ducks!
Group members don’t all borrow the same amount as one another either – each member’s loan amount is dictated by both the amount they requested and their personal loan history at Tujijenge.
I’ve participated in a number of Group loan disbursements at Tujijenge’s main branch. I’ve been delighted to meet members on their tenth loan cycle, borrowing Tsh 1,800,000 (about US$ 1125), because it confirms for me that the loans provide genuine benefit. I’ve been equally happy to meet members who’ve only recently joined a group and are on their first loan cycle, borrowing Tsh 80,000 (about US$ 50). Wait a minute…. surely that can’t be right? $ 50! I’ve never seen an Individual loan for $ 50 on Kiva. And this is precisely the point: Group Loans are special. They enable borrowers to start borrowing.
This thrills me – I’m here, seeing borrowers stepping onto the first rung of a ladder that could lead upward out of poverty! New group members are borrowing $ 50 to boost their fledgling business, or to make a lump sum payment on an item such as school fees. The main reason these borrowers join a Group is that members guarantee each others’ repayments, so small loan amounts are accessible to those who don’t yet have physical collateral. (Tied to this fact, too, is that members don’t need spousal approval for participation in a Group loan – an important consideration in a culture where gender equality has not been the traditional norm.)
Group loans also provide a good environment for nurturing new borrowers. Established group members can help new borrowers learn the skills and discipline associated with repaying a loan, all within the safety-net of the group guarantee. And, I was fascinated to learn, a Group is a self-regulating mechanism against the scourge of over-indebtedness. Group members actively discourage each other from taking out simultaneous loans from multiple organizations because they know they’ll personally be on the hook for paying back the Group loan if a fellow member cannot.
Then there are the intangible benefits to a Group loan that I’ve discovered while attending Group meetings!
Groups meet on a weekly or bi-weekly basis in a location convenient to them (but that entails several hours’ journey on a hot and supremely overcrowded dalla dalla for the Tujijenge loan officer and Kiva Fellow…), to register repayments with their loan officer. At one meeting, I ask the Group Chairman if hers is a tough job and she sighs: “Yes, following up with members who haven’t repaid is the hardest part.” I ask her why she’s persevered in the role for five years, and she answers without hesitation: “Leadership!” She’s referring to leadership within her group, as well as within her community. It’s her very practical way of bettering the community in which she lives.
Likewise, the young Treasurer is demonstrating her accounting skills and acting as a role model to new borrowers within the group, whilst also developing her status outside it.
And another group member, (an irrepressible character who offered me a two-week home stay to get my Swahili vocabulary up to scratch!), has the opportunity for the group interaction she so obviously thrives on. It’s a big part of the reason she was a founding member of the group five years ago…
But it’s not just idle chit chat at a Group meeting; the support members gain from one another is so highly valued that many well-established borrowers choose to stay in a Group long after they are eligible for “graduation” to an Individual loan. In this case – and in a nice paradox – the Group loan enables borrowers to access some of the largest loan amounts on offer. So chalk up one more winning attribute: Group loans empower the borrowers that started with them to keep moving upward!
If you’d like to loan to Tujijenge’s Group borrowers, you can do so here.
As we say in Tanzania: Karibu sana! You are very welcome!
On my second day in Nairobi, I had dinner with family friends, during which a 9-year old boy jokingly told me not to forget my umbrella when traveling to Kibera. I looked at him confused and he said ‘flying toilets’. My roommates and I assumed ‘the flying toilet’ would be as enthralling as the name sounds. Simply put, it is a plastic bag used as a toilet which is then thrown on to the road.
About 10 million Kenyans live in slums, and this number is growing at a rate of 7% per year. About 80% of these residents lack adequate sanitation facilities. On average, 150 people share one toilet and 70% of slum residents are not connected to sewers. 90% of defecation is placed in water sources contributing to the contamination of water and the food supply.
The average toilet in the Mukuru slums (photo credit Marielle Schweickart)
Sanergy is building a network of low cost sanitation centers in the Mukuru slums, distributing them through a franchise of local entrepreneurs called Fresh Life Operators. Fresh Life Operators are able to make a profit by charging a small fee for the use of toilets. The waste is then collected and processed into fertilizer and electricity.
Meet some of the Fresh Life Operators
This is where the magic happens: compost is turned in to organic fertilizer
What stands out about Sanergy is
- local materials are used to build the toilets
- toilets are clean and environmentally friendly (no septic tanks)
- they are affordable, 5 Kenya shillings per use (.05 cents)
- children are often 30% of customers and charged 1 shilling!
- the support provided by the Sanergy team- opening ceremonies of toilets where the home is painted the blue colors of fresh life or a theatre group performs a skit showing how to use the toilet
- jobs are created through Sanergy in Mukuru where the unemployment rate is higher than 40%
- diarrheal disease is lessened in children
- the risk of rape is lowered for women trying to reach distant toilets at night by increasing the volume of toilets
The Kiva partnership with Sanergy allows local entrepreneurs without enough capital to purchase a toilet and pay back in monthly installments.
Our interview with Mary and her youngest son John for a Kiva loan with Marielle Schweickart
Exactly one month has passed since I arrived in Nairobi, Kenya. As a complete newbie in Africa, I had no idea what to expect when I first landed at Jomo Kenyatta International Airport.
Before my arrival, I had done some research about the country that was going to be my home for the coming months. A quick google search on Nairobi informed me that Kenya’s capital is the 12th largest one in Africa, the name Nairobi is a Maasai phrase that translates to “cold water” and it’s located 1,800 meters above sea level. My internet search also informed me that the capital is commonly known as Nairobbery, due to the high level of crime, particularly armed robbery in the city. When I asked around amongst friends and acquaintances who had visited Nairobi, they described it as a dirty and boring city that should be avoided. For tourists, it is mostly used as a transit point for safaris in Maasai Mara, or beach holidays along the Indian Ocean coast. With this in mind, I did not have particularly high expectations of Nairobi when I first arrived on the African continent.
After four weeks in this city, I have now formed my own opinion. Nairobi has more to offer than I could ever have imagined. It is definitely a city of contrasts. Within a 15 minute drive you get from the modern city center, to the beautiful leafy suburbs to East Africa’s largest slum.
Nairobi City Center
The colorful Maasai Market in down town Nairobi
The leafy suburb of Kilimani
Rooftops in Kibera
There is only a well trafficked road that separates the two neighborhoods Kilimani and Kibera. Kilimani is one of the wealthiest areas in the country and is home to Mwai Kibaki, the president of Kenya. On the other side of the road you’ll find Kibera, one of the largest slums in Africa, where people live in unbearable conditions.
Kibera is one of the most densely populated places on the planet. Exactly how many people live here is impossible to say, but estimates range from 500,000 to 1.2 million. Only 20% of residents have electricity, and even fewer have access to clean water. Education is scarce, which traps the vast majority of people in a spiral of poverty. One in five children will not live to experience their fifth birthday.
Walking the streets of Kibera, Photo: Katarina Shakarian
During my visit to Kibera, I visited the organization “Shining Hope for communities”. Shining Hope founded “The Kibera School for girls”, where they give young, at-risk girls a brighter future through education. It’s an amazing organization that works to create a better life for the people of Kibera. Read more about them here.
Kids playing at “The Kibera School for Girls”
Pascalia from Kiva giving a presentation in Kibera about Kiva Zip
As I already stated, Nairobi is a city of contrasts. Just outside of the city center, not far from modern skyscrapers or Kilimani and Kibera, you will find Nairobi National Park. Here you can see giraffes, elephants, black rhinos, zebras and other wildlife attractions with the capital’s skyline in the background.
Nairobi National Park
Elephant Orphanage, Nairobi National Park
Nairobi has definitely given me a new perspective on life, and I would recommend anyone that has the possibility to visit this city. After spending a few weeks here I have learned that the city is not only know as Nairobbery, but also as “The green city in the sun”, which I think is a better description.
My new friends
Lend money to a low-income entrepreneur in Kenya here
Expanding Access to Higher Education in Kenya:
In January of 2012, Kiva, a microlending platform that aims to alleviate poverty by connecting lenders with borrowers who do not have access to traditional banking, partnered with Strathmore University, Kenya’s premier, private college, to launch a groundbreaking partnership in the financing of higher education. They joined forces to expand educational opportunity across socioeconomic lines and mitigate the absence of sufficient financial aid options for Kenyan college students.
Tuition at Kenya’s overcrowded and under-resourced public universities is heavily subsidized by the government. Students apply to the government’s Higher Education Loan Board (HELB) for loans to cover the remaining cost. HELB loans are about 60,000 Khs or $700. A HELB loan covers only a fraction of private tuition fees at a University like Strathmore, where tuition is not subsidized by the government and costs about $16,000 for four years of enrollment. For more than half of the country’s population that lives below the poverty line, on less than $2 a day, a Strathmore degree is unattainable, and reserved for rich, upper class Kenyans.
Together, Strathmore and Kiva are trying to change that. They offer students three low-interest loan products: full tuition, partial tuition and laptop loans. Currently, there are 34 Kiva beneficiaries at Strathmore, 9 of which receive full tuition loans. Students who receive the full tuition loan, are young men and women who would not be able to attend Strathmore without the assistance. You can refer to the Kiva-Strathmore partnership page for more details about the loan products.
Meet the Borrowers:
As a Kiva fellow at Strathmore, I am helping to expand the University’s credit limit, so that these loans can be extended to a new group of students. I’ve had a chance to meet the current Kiva beneficiaries at Strathmore and work with them through Campus Kiva, a club for loan recipients to support each other and engage in community outreach projects. Watch this video created by Strathmore University and read on for in depth biographies of two full tuition loan recipients, Lydia and Jackline.
Lydia is a first year student at Strathmore University. She is studying for a Bachelors of Commerce and plans to pursue a career in accounting upon graduating with her degree. She is part of the first group of students to finance their Strathmore degrees with full-tuition Kiva loans. Lydia is from Lodwar, a small town in the remote, northwestern district of Turkana in Kenya. Lydia’s journey to Strathmore University begins with a 5 hour trek through dry, arid bushland from her mother’s home in Lorengelup village to Lodwar. From there, she hops onto a bumpy, 12 hour matatu ride through Kenya’s unpaved hinterland to Kitale City on the Ugandan border. Finally, she transfers to a second matatu for the last leg of her journey, an 8 hour ride to Nairobi.
Lydia’s presence at Strathmore is groundbreaking. Economic opportunities in Turkana are sparse, centered mostly on the rearing and trade of livestock and weaving. 95% of the population lives below the poverty line. Most girls in the region cannot afford to complete secondary school, and are instead married off as young as 12 years old for dowries of livestock. Against most odds in the region, Lydia completed secondary school. Her primary and secondary school fees were sponsored by local charities and organizations. Lydia was amongst the top ten, highest academic performers in her graduating class, and the only student selected by her principle to travel to Nairobi to interview for a Kiva loan.
Lydia is very grateful for the opportunity to study at Strathmore. The University’s mentorship program has helped her make a smooth transition from rural life in Turkana to the fast pace of Nairobi. She loves the cosmopolitan nature of the capital, where she is interacting with Kenyans of all ethnic and socioeconomic backgrounds for the first time. Lydia is an avid football fan. On her free time, she plays football on a team of Strathmore students. In the future, Lydia is looking forward to returning to her community and inspiring girls to follow in her footsteps by completing their education. She would eventually like to sponsor a student’s schooling as hers was, and spread awareness about organizations like Kiva that can help finance their education.
20 year old Jackline is a first year student at Strathmore University. She is studying for a Bachelors of Commerce and plans to pursue a career in accounting upon graduating with her degree. She is part of the first group of students to finance their Strathmore degrees with full-tuition Kiva loans. Jackline and her siblings grew up adjacent to Beverly Flower, a flower exporting factory where her mother was employed in Nairobi. Her mother died when she was a child. Jackline and her sisters moved with their Aunt, a domestic worker for an upper class Nairobi family, and her brothers left Kenya to seek employment elsewhere.
It was at this time that Jackline said she began to see “God working in me.” After completing primary school, her Aunt’s employer insisted that she continue her schooling at a good provincial school in Nyeri, rather than attending a local one. In agreement with her Aunt, he began deducting a portion of her salary each month to create a savings account for Jackline’s education. Since he established that fund, she has always been able to cover her school fees.
Upon graduating from Secondary school, Jackline considered applying to a public University. She planned on raising money for tuition by spending a few years cleaning houses as a domestic worker, and working as clerk in a supermarket. She went to work as a domestic worker for Mrs. Irene Kiai, who saw Jackline’s potential and took her under her wing. When Jackline expressed an interest in taking computer classes to prepare for University course work, Mrs. Kiai encouraged her to enroll in the best program and covered the cost. Not long after, Mrs. Kiai saw an advertisement for Kiva loans at Strathmore University printed in “The Daily Nation.” They both attended the information session, where Jackline submitted her application for the full tuition loan.
Jackline is very grateful for the opportunity to study at Strathmore University. She has already begun thinking about how to make repayments on her loan, the first of which is due 5 years from now. She started a fund to collect donations towards repayments in case she cannot find a job immediately after graduating. On her free time, she enjoys listening to Swahili artists like Rose Muhando and gospel music. She is a member of Strathmore Unviersity’s church choir. On most mornings, you’ll find her awake as early as 5:30am going for a morning run. Jackline recently participated in a marathon organized by Strathmore University and Standard Chartered Bank’s 10th annual Nairobi Marathon.
Jackline feels a strong obligation to create the same kind of opportunities that were afforded to her for others. “If I’m not in a position to give materially, because of what I’ve seen in my life, I may be able to inspire someone. If I am in a position to give materially, I will. Outside there, there are very many people who are suffering. Maybe there are those who don’t have school fees and have to drop out. Or maybe they don’t have a person to inspire them to continue and have hope. I will do my best to give back to society.”
Happy Tabaski! Or Happy Eid al-Adha (for those not in West Africa).
Today is Tabaski, the Muslim holiday which celebrates the festival of the sacrifice. The day honors the Prophet Abraham’s willingness to saciafice his first born son as an act of submission to God until God intervened and allowed him to sacrifice a ram instead.
Last night I joined in the celebration by participating in the neighborhood’s Tabaski soccer tournament. Young adults organized into eight different teams – seven male teams and one female team. The small patch of dirt in front of the mosque was transformed in to a soccer field. The rules went as follows:
1. Three men or four women were allowed to play at one time.
2. No rough play (meaning no contact such as pushing or kicking of other players)
3. If the team tied at the end time period the winner would be determined using penalty kicks into the small but unguarded goal. This served as a test of the players aim.
In the end, the female team was undefeated. This is our victory picture:
The soccer festivities continued well past 1am. Despite the late night, my friend Kamal and I woke up early to join more than 2,000 people for today’s 9am prayer.
I am not Muslim but I previously lived with a Muslim family in Cameroon who taught me how to pray. Despite my basic familiarity, I have never participated in prayer before in a large public space and, as the only white person in the bunch, I didn’t want to stick out even more by doing it wrong. I laid out my borrowed prayer mat next the line of women that had formed 100 feet behind the line of men facing the direction of Mecca. When the Imam began the prayer I watched the women next to me out of the corner of my eye and followed the steps which include standing, bowing, placing your forehead on the ground and sitting. It was amazing to join thousands of people performing these movements in sync.
After the prayer, it was time to get the cows and goats ready for sacrifice.
Each family sacrifices one animal for this holiday. 1/3 of the animal goes towards the family, 1/3 of the animal goes towards friends, and 1/3 of the animal goes to the poor.
Tonight I will join my friends for the feast. We will gather with the rest of the neighborhood around a large, round table to eat together and watch a performance of children dancing and reading from the Quran.
Happy Tabaski and Bon Appetit!
Laura Sellmansberger | KF19 | Uganda
If you’ve never been to East Africa, you may not have heard the term “boda-boda” before. A boda-boda, or “boda,” as it is more commonly referred to, is a type of motorcycle taxi driven in East Africa, and more increasingly, throughout other parts of the continent as well. To say that there are a lot of boda-bodas in Kampala would be an understatement. Boda-bodas are everywhere in this city.
The history of the boda-boda is an interesting one. Following the end of British rule in East Africa, the amount of paperwork required for motor vehicles crossing through the area between the borders of the newly independent nations of Kenya and Uganda dramatically increased. Passing through this area, also known as “no-man’s-land,” required a cumbersome stack of paperwork to be filled out (once before entering this ill-defined area, and once again promptly after leaving it). Eventually, out of this bureaucracy, a business idea was born: people soon began offering bicycle rides across no-man’s-land, allowing passengers to avoid the paperwork that was necessary for motor vehicles. It began in the southern border town of Busia, where there is over half a mile between the border posts, and it soon spread to the northern border town of Malaba. Vying for the attention of potential customers looking for a quick ride through, bicycle drivers would shout out “boda-boda!” (meaning “border-to-border”). Of course, in Kampala, there are no borders being crossed, and the bicycles have been replaced by loud, polluting motorcycles. Nevertheless, the name “boda-boda” remains.
Like many things in life, riding a boda has its pros and cons. I’ll start with the pros:
- Speed: Kampala is notorious for its traffic jams, known locally simply as “jams.” As an Atlanta-native, I had arrogantly thought myself to be a traffic expert. Oh, how wrong I was! Kamala gives a whole new meaning to the word “traffic.” (BBC recently named Kampala one of the top-ten cities for traffic jams in the world.) A boda rider, however, enjoys a certain immunity to traffic. The boda simply zips around, weaving around cars and potholes as idle automobile drivers enviously watch it speed by. If there is a “jam” and you need to be somewhere by a certain time, a boda really is your only option.
- Price: Bodas are very cost-efficient. A ride across town goes for about 5,000 Ugandan Shillings (approximately $2.00). In a hired car, that same ride would cost about four or five times as much.
- Street cred: It must be said: sitting on the back of a boda can and will make the rider feel like a badass. With the wind in his face, he nonchalantly gazes into the horizon ahead. Locals stare in awe, impressed with the foreigner’s bravery and ability to master this new culture with ease.
And now, the cons:
- Your life may occasionally flash before your eyes while on the back of a boda-boda. But every dark cloud has a silver lining, right? The silver lining here is that the rider gets off of the boda with a newfound appreciation for life. (I am told that people in South Korea pay good money for that born-again feeling).
If you are considering trying your hand at boda-riding while in Kampala, I suggest that you adhere to the following practices:
- Buy a helmet. I have always been a fan of Japanese engineering and when it came to choosing what I’d be placing on my head before each boda ride, I found that my enthusiasm for products of superior quality only increased. It took a while to find what I was looking for (a large portion of the products imported into Uganda are Chinese-made), and it cost about three times as much as a more cheaply-made helmet would have cost, but it was well worth it.
- Ladies, ride like a man. Ugandan women tend to ride bodas sidesaddle. This may appear more graceful, but it makes it harder to stay on the bike. If you know you will be riding a boda, leave the skirt at home.
- Be ready to negotiate. If you let them, many boda drivers will take your wallet for a ride, too. After all, the word “mzungu” (the ubiquitous term locals use to refer to foreigners, especially Westerners), literally translates to something along the lines of “confused person wandering around.” Confused people wandering around make for quite the business opportunity for the cunning boda driver. Try your best to appear as informed and in-control as possible, and demand a fair price.
- Always get on and off of the left side of the bike. The (very hot) exhaust pipe is on the right side. Ouch.
- If possible, find yourself a regular driver whose driving skills and judgment you have vetted, and stick with him. Store his number in your phone and call him whenever you need a ride somewhere rather than trying your luck with someone new every time.
Now that you have been educated on the art of boda riding, I think you are ready to try it out yourself. Hop on, hold on tight, and enjoy the ride…
Laura Sellmansberger is a member of the 19th class of Kiva Fellows, serving in Kampala, Uganda with three new nontraditional Kiva partners. Stay tuned for the official launch of these partnerships to find out about the exciting things Kiva has been working on in Uganda!
By Patrick Seeton | KF18 | Kenya
One of the most effective ways of improving Kiva’s relationship with its partners is travelling to the branches and providing Kiva Training. Kiva training involves a refresher for the Credit Officers – the ones who make microfinance really work on the ground – about what Kiva is, how it works, why it’s important, what they need to do for a Kiva loan and finally – taking GREAT photos!
Now, I’m not a natural photographer, but as you can see from some of the Borrower Profiles on Kiva.org, neither are all our partner’s Credit Officers! So as part of Kiva training at the branches I have been having the Credit Officers go through an exercise to practice taking GREAT photos of each other using just items around them in the office – you can see some of the results in the slideshow below.
Another critical part of a Fellow’s experience is going out and performing Borrower Verifications. Aside from the adventure and connection Fellows get from these often remote borrower visits and the audit function it provides for Kiva, we also get a chance to practice our own Borrower Profile photography! – again, you can see the results in the slideshow below.
Raphael Ferry | KF18 | Cameroon
I’m not thinking in terms of number of patent filings, amount of venture funding, or angel investors by square foot (or meter), but on many other metrics, Yaoundé, Cameroon far outpaces the more obvious entrepreneurial hubs of London, Tel Aviv, Singapore, and Silicon Valley. Everyone here is an entrepreneur. That spirit is palpable. From papaya sellers, to cell phone credit merchants, to self-proclaimed podiatrists selling shoes, the streets of Cameroun’s capital are swarmed with people dealing in every product you can imagine.
The diversity of enterprises is impressive. You’ll find jeans, q-tips, phones, tomatoes, ties, boiled peanuts, soccer cleats, and grilled corn all on one block. And every seller is somehow creating value. From purchasing ginger in bulk to sell individually to preparing and grilling fish (a delicious meal but with obvious risks for delicate expats), these entrepreneurs are doing everything they can to provide for their families. It’s in busy streets like these that microfinance still has tremendous potential.
Julie Kriegshaber | KF 18 | Uganda
On my seemingly endless journey from NYC to Kampala, Uganda, I barely slept at all.
Free movies on the plane, my recently updated Spotify playlists, even SkyMall – none of it appealed to me. Why? I was so engrossed in my book, Freedom From Want, that tells the story of BRAC and how it evolved from a small, temporary solution to a devastating cyclone that hit Bangladesh in 1970 to today being the largest development organization in the world by many counts.
We all are familiar with Bangladesh’s other major development export, the Grameen Bank, but what shocked me is how relatively unknown BRAC is outside of development circles in the west.
This year marks BRAC’s 40th anniversary -after growing for 30 years in Bangladesh, BRAC in the past 10 years has expanded to 10 other countries, including Uganda, where it is (no surprise here!) the largest NGO in the country. With operations reaching 2.8 million Ugandans, BRAC Uganda is a true all-in-one development organization with specialized programs from education to health to empowering young women to improving small businesses through microloans.
From what I have seen as a Fellow at BRAC Uganda, I think there are 3 distinct features in many of their programs that make BRAC as an organization so successful. In light of Kiva’s monthly theme “A Global Feast”, I am going to highlight these features in regard to BRAC Uganda’s agricultural development programme. (This is also convenient for me since I am preparing to roll out BRAC Uganda’s agricultural loans on Kiva!)
By Muskan Chopra | KF18 | Kenya
Sitting in the Virgin Atlantic flight to London after 10 weeks in the field, I knew of one thing with absolute certainty – Kenya will rightfully own a piece of me forever.
Never have I found myself in a new country, expecting it to change me. But Kenya surpassed all unreasonable expectations. Seeing such diversity of nature, living in local communities, soaking in the culture, meeting small people with big dreams… I transformed myself.
Compiled by Isabel Balderrama | KF17 + KF18| Bolivia
This week has only brought us one blog from our fellows in the field, but it is definitely worth a read. Julie Kriegshaber, our fellow in Uganda has been working with BRAC Uganda and has seen firsthand the positive effect that its Empowerment and Livelihood for Adolescents (ELA) program has had on the local community. In her blog post “Empowering Women through… Videography?“, Julie introduces us to one of the most successful subgroups within ELA, the PV group, which seeks to help local women by giving them the tools for greater self-confidence. For more on BRAC Uganda and its PV program check out Julie’s post. Also, don’t forget to check out last weeks’ updates for more on KF-18′s adventures in the field.