Posts filed under ‘Bolivia’
Any Kiva Fellow will tell you that visiting Kiva borrowers is one of the most satisfying parts of our experience. This is our moment to go beyond the borrower photographs and short biographies on the Kiva website. We greet borrowers by shaking hands and kissing cheeks, we sit in their homes, we walk through their fields, we touch the garments they sew and taste the baked goods from their ovens, we learn the names of their cows, and we try to make their children smile.
These are moments when we transcend the digital world and our Kiva connections become human.
Señor René, Vegetable Farmer, Cochabamba (CIDRE)
Señor René lives in a high-altitude farming community a couple of hours from Cochabamba. His several small parcels of land are perched on the slopes of the Bolivian Andes that reach eastwards. The views of the surrounding peaks, the nearby farms and the valley below are simply magnificent.
He lives in a one-room adobe home with his wife and four children. The Kiva loan helped pay his one-time share in the community irrigation system which allows him to double his agriculture production since he can now grow crops after the rainy season.
René and his family received me and my CIDRE colleagues with extreme generosity. We were served a tasty and healthy almuerzo (the sustaining midday meal) of home-made cheese and hot salsa, fresh steamed broad beans and boiled potatoes that were harvested from their garden that morning.
During the meal we talked about his farming. He is genuinely grateful for the Kiva-funded loan and the low interest rate — this goes a long way in helping support his young family.
As we were leaving he surprised us with a fat bag of fresh-picked beans. It was a large gesture that the CIDRE loan officers especially appreciated. He thanked me personally for coming all the way from the United States to spend time with him.
Pointing over the distant mountain peaks, René asked me to pass along his greetings and thanks to everyone at “home.” I smiled, looking over those mountains knowing that everywhere is home to the Kiva family.
Señora Yelica, Baker, Santa Cruz (Emprender)
The heat of eastern Bolivia can be intense. As soon I reached the shade of Señora Yélica’s backyard she handed me a cold glass of Coca Colla, Bolivia’s coca-leaf enhanced “real thing” soft drink.
Her property on the outskirts of Santa Cruz is filled with flowering fruit trees: orange, mango, papaya, avocado, pomegranate and fig. This is tropical Bolivia and she takes full advantage of the sun, warmth and rich soil to supplement her family’s diet with fresh fruit right from her backyard.
Rising early seven days a week, Yélica bakes dozens of pan de arroz (a bread of yucca meal, rice flour and cheese encased in banana leaves) and cheese empanadas. She sells these to neighbors but with her Kiva-funded larger oven she can now sell in the markets for more income.
She offered me samples of all her baked goods, covered with cotton towels to keep them warm. She introduced me to her smiling grandmother who listened intently to our discussion and enjoyed watching this visiting foreigner trying his best to keep the sweat from rolling down his brow. We laughed about her lazy pets, a sleeping puppy in the shade beneath a wheelbarrow and a curled-up kitten.
It was a sublimely pleasant visit. Graciously welcomed by outgoing hosts amid a lush paradise, my thoughts lingered on the joys of being a Kiva Fellow at times like this.
Señor Gustavo, Magician, La Paz (CIDRE)
As soon as I stepped into Señor Gustavo’s home workshop, I knew this would be like no other borrower visit. I was surrounded by stacks of boxes, cardboard, playing cards, coins, yarn and CD’s – there were enough Kiva-funded materials to assemble 1,000 Maletines de Magia, the magic kits he sells at fairs throughout Bolivia.
He welcomed me with a huge smile and immediately the show began. He jumped right into performing tricks, explaining the design and manufacturing process, and how he sells these at fairs. Gustavo is a seriously committed to his business. A fan of magic as a child, he has now made it his livelihood. He designs his magic kits to be especially didactic for children, helping them develop cognitive abilities, such as basic math, counting, probability logic and pattern recognition.
As I sat back in my seat, I was amused and awestruck by his magic… and equally impressed at how simple the tricks are once he explained them.
After half an hour of the “Don Gustavo Show” I had to get down to business and verify some key details of his loan. He answered my questions but his mind was clearly on his next Kiva-funded loan as he quickly dove into an enthusiastic pitch of his next “Magic Kit” project.
The CIDRE loan officer wryly explained that he’d still need to stop by the office to fill out the paperwork. He grinned broadly as she told him that Kiva funds can’t simply be pulled from a hat.
Some truly magic moments with Kiva borrowers!
Peter Soley is a Kiva Fellow (Class 19) serving in Bolivia (La Paz, Cochabamba, Santa Cruz) with CIDRE and Emprender. Become a member of their lending teams (CIDRE, Emprender), lend to one of their borrowers today (CIDRE, Emprender), or apply to be a Fellow!
“Do you know the real San Severino?” asked the inebriated man next to me on the bus back to Cochabamba. “The real San Severino!”
I wasn’t too sure exactly what he meant; the real San Severino died over 1500 years ago. “Well, um, I know he was a saint, from Europe I think, who brings the rains…” I stumbled but tried my best to answer him.
“Bah! No one knows the real San Severino!” he blustered.
After a moment the question came again: “Do you know the real San Severino?” I knew this was going to be a circular conversation making the hour-long ride seem even longer. So I countered and turned the question on him.
“Ahh… ¡si pues!” He raised his right hand emphatically: “San Severino… he was… um… a Christian and a patriot… from the early republic, who… uh…” After an uneasy pause he dropped his hand in exasperation.
Snickering behind us, I spotted a couple of grinning chola woman looking at us. They were swearing those lovely shiny dresses and colorful bonnets typical of the indigenous women here. I smiled at them and asked if they knew who the real San Severino was.
They just shook their heads and laughed.
Apparently, even the faithful who come to celebrate the festival of San Severino don’t know who the real saint was. I admit there are a lot of Catholic saints to remember, numbering well over 10,000. But at the end of the day, when the processions, fireworks, drinking and dancing were over, here in Bolivia it really doesn’t really matter who the real San Severino was.
What matters is the celebration in the streets. A celebration for the change of seasons and a time to welcome the hot sun and the saturating rains. It is a time to revel with family and friends (and strangers, like myself) with good food and dance. It is a time to rejoice that the rains will bring growth and abundance to everyone.
Old Traditions Die Hard: Lliupacha Yuyaychay (The Andean Cosmovision) + Christianity
For thousands of years festivals in Bolivia have celebrated the unity of the physical and spiritual worlds through pagan rituals and dances, centering on the Pachamama, the supreme and life-giving Mother Earth goddess. Natural cycles, especially seasonal change, have long meant party time in the Andes.
The conquering Spanish were intolerant of the local religious traditions and tried hard to erase paganism. But Christian beliefs never fully replaced the existing practices, as is evidenced in the syncretism of such powerful religious icons as the Pachamama and the Virgin Mary. Today most Bolivians practice a combination of both Catholic and pre-Hispanic rituals.
San Severino, Patrono de Tarata
Enter San Severino, an Italian saint who died over a thousand years before the Americas were known to modern Europe. Some of his remains were allegedly brought to Tarata with the Franciscan missionaries who established a church here during their evangelical march eastward.
It is said that during the first procession on the saint’s feast day (actually in early January), it rained so hard that the locals were convinced that San Severino was responsible. This milagro (miracle) secured his fame here as the Patron Saint of the Rains.
Because San Severino was such a hit with the locals, the Franciscans conveniently changed his feast to coincide with the traditional rainy season welcoming rituals already in place. And tah-dah: the San Severino festival was born. Or born again.
Today thousands flock to Tarata to worship the saint who will bring the all-important downpours needed to replenish wells, dampen fledgling crops and quench the thirst of livestock. Farmers carry pitchers of water blessed in Tarata to sprinkle in their fields, venerating both San Severino and the Pachamama.
Tarata: Small Town with a Big Reputation
Tarata today is a one-horse town with fewer than 3000 inhabitants but it boasts favorite-son Bolivian Independence hero Esteban Arze and three former Presidents of Bolivia. The most infamous being Mariano Melgarejo, a brutal autocrat who is remembered for giving a large chunk of Bolivia to Brazil in exchange for a white horse (he allegedly traced the horse’s hoof on a map of Bolivia to designate the parcel).
Normally a quiet town, the cobblestone streets come alive as the faithful and fun-seekers arrive en masse for San Severino. Events kick off the last Saturday in November with the entrada (inaugural procession) and an evening of fireworks, drinking, dance and general revelry.
Dancing In the Streets: San Severino Sunday
The following day a solemn mass is celebrated at the church and the San Severino statue is carried through the streets. This ends the Catholic part of the celebration. The rest of the day is spent drinking, dancing and watching the energetic fraternidades (fellowships of marchers) parade through the streets in flashy costumes, dancing, and singing mostly in Quechua (the language introduced by the Incas).
Chorizo y Chicha: Full Flavors in the Streets
And of course no Latin American festival would be complete without a vast assortment of street vendors. Hand-cranked ice cream, fresh fruit, fried potatoes, sweet gelatine, good luck charms, handicrafts, ceramic jugs to carry holy water and chicha, games and children’s rides… something for everyone.
Most conspicuous were the meaty morsels in large cooking vessels that lined the main streets. Tarata is known for its chorizo sausage and there was plenty of supply for San Severino’s feast.
Of course there was chicha, the beloved corn beer that is ever-present in the Cochabamba region. Cooked above huge adobe fireplaces and fermented in oversize terracotta jugs, chicha is served up in buckets and consumed liberally from dried-gourd saucers.
Chicherías are everywhere in Tarata, just look for the little white or red flags hanging outside homes. And one mustn’t forget to spill a little on the ground in honor of Pachamama when it’s your turn to drink!
Finding Friends and More Fun
I find most Bolivians to be warm and especially courteous but today they were overflowing with affability. I enjoyed the many smiles in the streets and I made new friends over shared buckets of chicha while watching the processions pass.
I was happy to run into Mario, a CIDRE colleague of mine. He introduced me to his family and friends and fed me peanuts fresh from his farm. We spent a good time chatting and joking and enjoying the festival.
By late afternoon the processions had ended, the grilled meat stands disappeared and the chicherías slowly became quieter.
And I noticed that the sky was turning a bit darker… it seemed in every way the San Severino festival was a success!
Peter Soley is a Kiva Fellow (Class 19) serving in Bolivia (La Paz, Cochabamba, Santa Cruz) with CIDRE. Become a member of CIDRE’s lending team, lend to one of their borrowers today, or apply to be a Fellow!
Agriculture has long been the anchor for the people of land-locked Bolivia. As a testament to the region’s horticultural richness, the number of foods originating here is impressive: potatoes, chili peppers, peanuts, pineapple, kidney beans, manioc, quinoa… foods we all know and should love.
And nowhere else in Bolivia is farming as vital as in the Central Valleys near Cochabamba, an area blessed with ideal climate and naturally rich soils. This is where I have been working with CIDRE, one of Kiva’s partners, and I am learning much from Kiva borrowers (quite literally) in the field.
The Incas colonized Cochabamba to help feed its growing empire. Then the Spanish arrived, introduced dairy farming and exploited the Quechua locals with the hacienda system. The conquistadores’ pressing concern was to provision the Potosí silver mines which provided much of the wealth to world-power Spain.
Today much of the land has been redistributed more equitably and farming continues to fuel the Cochabambino economy.
But there are powerful challenges:
Land: Low Supply, Rising Prices and Deteriorating Quality
While the 1952 Revolution in Bolivia went a long way in granting farmers their own plots, the last decade has seen land prices increase dramatically due to urbanization, limited turnover since family plots rarely change hands, and increased demand from migrants seeking better opportunities in the Cochabamba area.
Rising prices have encouraged some farmers to sell, usually to larger landholders and cash-flush immigrant Bolivians returning from abroad. This all adds up to great demand for land but low supply for most Bolivians.
Soil degradation is another major problem. Years of deforestation, excess grazing and rapid urbanization cause heavy erosion that washes away valuable nutrients needed to strengthen the soil. Decreased land productivity requires more chemical fertilizers and genetically modified seeds, resulting in higher costs to farmers and arguably less healthy food for consumers. It puts at risk the lives of countless rural Bolivians who depend on the land for their survival.
Advances in past decades have greatly expanded farmers’ access to water for irrigation. Kiva’s partner CIDRE did some pioneering work in the 1980’s to introduce wells and canals to under-served rural areas. Most farms now yield three crops per year, an increase from 1-2 previously.
But adequate supply of clean water is still a concern: expanding (and thirsty) urban centers, shrinking glacier-fed sources, and a sharp increase in contamination are limiting factors. Cochabamba’s Water War of 2000 made international headlines when massive popular protests halted the privatization of the public water works.
Without water there is no growth. Sadly, the water problems facing Bolivian farmers have few real solutions today.
Climate Cycles and Change
Weather in Bolivia has long been extreme: a long dry season (usually culminating in drought) and a saturating rainy season. Many parts of Cochabamba’s valleys flood during the months of December to March which dramatically reduces available pasture. Moving cattle to higher elevations, pasture rental and additional fodder all increase the costs to farmers during this period when dairy production (and income) is low.
Global factors compound these normal patterns. Bolivia’s glaciers are disappearing. Unprecedented shifts in weather, such as more frequent hailstorms, can wipe an entire crop in minutes. Severe thunderstorms obliterate fields and collapse stables. Gradual warming in the higher altitudes, while allowing for a more diverse crop portfolio, has introduced new pests and other problems that leave local farmers unprepared.
You don’t have to listen to scientists if you don’t want to. Just ask the farmers: climate change in Bolivia is real.
New Demands for Dairy Producers
As consumer demand for dairy products has grown, so too have the burdens on Bolivian farmers. Few alternative outlets exist so most dairy farmers must sell crude milk at increasingly lower prices to large-scale industrial producers, such as the behemoth Pil Andina. While industrial producers have introduced new quality controls which lead to healthier and safer dairy products, farmers must pay for more expensive production methods which squeeze profits.
Only farmers who can achieve greater economies of scale are doing well. Smaller farmers face extinction. As a consequence of newer technology (fortified feed, milking machines, and storage tanks) there are fewer manual day-wage jobs which hits landless Bolivians especially hard.
Bolivia faces tremendous hurdles in getting its agricultural products to markets abroad. Stiff competition with far-more-industrialized Argentina, Brazil and Chile (who also control access to ports) puts Bolivia at a distinct disadvantage with regional partners.
Moreover, the recently-expired Andean Trade Promotion and Drug Eradication Act (ATPDEA) which favored Bolivia with duty-free status, no longer covers nearly 30% of Bolivian exports to the United States. Several people told me this as yet another uncertainty facing Bolivian farmers today.
Finally, agricultural production is far below optimal levels. Many farmers still till their fields with wooden plows dating from the colonial period. And massive emigration in recent years of able-bodied Bolivians has left many fields fallow. Bolivia doesn’t normally produce a surplus but when it does the transportation costs to ship the goods abroad neutralize its competitive advantage in price.
Despite all this, what seems to work for farmers in the region?
Many take out small loans, frequently with the help of Kiva, to help manage the agricultural ups and downs. They invest in feed futures to avoid spiking prices during drought. They use the extra capital to build stables, drainage ditches and sustaining walls to protect their farms from the rains.
Some supplement their income with non-farm work, such as construction or transportation. Others cultivate niche products, such as preserves, honey or quesillo cheese to sell at local markets.
Others turn to the community and leverage the collective power of farmers. They join farmer cooperatives to purchase storage tanks to aggregate products for higher prices or pay for shares in community-owned reservoirs and irrigation canals.
Farmers are an enterprising bunch and manage to find ways to move forward.
So, what does the future look like for farmers here?
Despite continuing urbanization and many young Bolivians finding work in the cities, there is a farming future here. The national government has few resources to carry the agricultural sector to a profitable and sustainable future, but many NGO’s are working hard to help bridge the gap.
Of course, Kiva’s field partners in Bolivia have a strong history of helping farmers grow their businesses and succeed in spite of the environmental and economic challenges. They continue to offer innovative funding options to clients with the help of Kiva loans.
One of the first dairy production projects in Bolivia, the Simón I. Patiño Foundation on the outskirts of Cochabamba offers state-of-the-art research on non-GMO plants, a seed center, and model dairy farm. It eminently influences farmers in the area.
Other organizations are working with farmers to develop soil stability and crop diversification programs, such as planting barrier and cover crops (i.e. supporting grasses and legume “green manures”) to increase soil fertility without chemicals.
Many other groups, such as the Foundation for Sustainable Development, are expanding the capabilities of nonprofit organizations to implement other sustainable solutions that include and empower local communities.
The future of farming in Bolivia may not seem entirely bright. But with steady progress in recent years on increasing environmental awareness in the general public and implementing lasting changes in the agricultural sector, the future promises to be green!
Luckily I’m here in Bolivia for one of the most important celebrations of the year so I jumped at the chance to witness the Todos Santos holiday up close and personal. My previous knowledge was limited to piecemeal notions imported from Mexico, but here in Bolivia this special celebration takes on its own particular traditions dating back centuries and is deeply rooted in Andean cosmology.
Life and Death: A Revolving Door
Long before the Spanish arrived, the Andean people viewed life and death as a continuum. Each spring these two worlds converge — the dead return from the underworld (ukhupacha) to momentarily enjoy the pleasures of life and to deliver happiness and abundance to loved ones in the living world (kaypacha).
This intersection of life and death is the Day of the Dead; its celebration coincides with the Catholic All Saints’ Day holiday in Bolivia.
Todos Santos ceremonializes the never-ending succession of arrival and departure, of renewal and disintegration, of the changing cycles in the natural world around us. It accompanies the coming wet season, known in Quechua as Aya Markay Killa, when the rains return after the annual period of drought to nourish the dormant crops and begin a new season of growth.
In Andean society, Todos Santos is a celebration of reciprocity. Knowing the returning dead will be famished and very thirsty after a year in the dry earth, family members prepare the mast’aku, an offering of favorite foods and beverages to be shared during the festivities. This feast nourishes the bones of the deceased, who in turn bring rains that will ensure abundant crops and livelihood for loved ones.
Receiving the Dead: A Feast for All
Todos Santos begins on November 1st with almuerzo, the filling midday meal, when the dead are welcomed home. The family meal is celebrated in style with rich flavors, prayer, amusing recollections and tales, music and togetherness.
The celebration turns public on November 2nd when farewell festivities move to the burial grounds. Streets leading to the cemetery host a lively fair.
Flower vendors, milliners, clowns, artists cram the sidewalks. Food stalls offer ice cream, orange juice, grilled snacks and colorful candies to celebrants en route to the burial grounds.
Flowers and Food
As families gather in the cemetery, the first order of business is to spruce up the grave sites. Vases are washed while trash bins overflow with faded flowers and the stems of their replacement bouquets.
Next, another mast’aku (offertory table) is arranged with sentimental items such as a photographs, flowers, toys and personal mementos. The main contribution is food: dried fruit, pineapples, oranges, sodas and chicha (fermented corn beer) – an appetizing tribute to the dead.
Plentiful masitas (baked goods) adorn every mast’aku: sweet breads in the shape of ladders (representing the Catholic tradition of ascending to Heaven), animals (such as llamas, snakes and birds) and doll-like t’antawawas (literally “bread children”) which date back to Incan times.
Earlier in the week the markets of Cochabamba were brimming with vendors selling these masitas. I watched buyers busily fill their shopping bags in preparation for the Todos Santos festivities.
I found the heaping stacks of baked goods a marvel, more interesting than the synthetic aisles of manufactured Halloween candies found back home. I now understand why Señora Celestina (A Kiva borrower in La Paz) has been so busy with her baking business!
Supplication and Song
Reverence imbues the entire cemetery despite the outward and celebratory nature of Todos Santos. Everywhere families join in prayer as children’s voices are heard around every corner: “…pray for us now and in the time of our death…”
Santa María, Madre de Dios,
ruega por nosotros pecadores,
ahora y en la hora de nuestra muerte.
Partnered with prayer, of course, is music: guitar players and groups of roving mariachi bands play Andean folk tunes, trumpeters blow a mournful rendition of Simon & Garfunkel’s “The Sound of Silence”, and children with pan flutes sing rueful melodies before bowed families.
Bidding Farewell to the Dead
All these ceremonial elements are crucial to the Todos Santos parting ritual that takes place on November 2nd. The abundant food, music and prayer energize the spirits as they return once again to the underworld. Nourished and adored by loved ones, the dead bid farewell to their families and leave the world of the living, ending the precious reunion.
In another year, a new cycle of growth and abundance will again join the two worlds of kaypacha and ukhupacha. Todos Santos will be celebrated once more with all the beauty and vitality that Bolivia inspires.
By Peter Soley | KF19 | Bolivia
By Peter Soley | KF19 | Bolivia
As a newly deployed Kiva Fellow, join me as I introduce you to La Paz and the Kiva Borrower Verification process that I am performing for two of Kiva’s partners in Bolivia. Come along as I visit Kiva borrower borrower Celestina who bakes holiday cookies high in the hills above downtown La Paz.
All is not quiet on the homefront. Challenges to conducting business and living life in La Paz, Bolivia
By Isabel Balderrama | KF17+18 | Bolivia
When thinking of the wide swath of qualities that make up a Kiva Fellow, one can be certain of the one trait all fellows possess: an unequivocal thirst for exploring unfamiliar territory.
A fellowship assignment presents us with the thrill of being given an opportunity to quench this thirst as it often sends us flying halfway across the world (and sometimes even further), thousands of miles away from our places of birth and comfort zones.
So here I find myself, on my second Kiva fellowship assignment with Kiva Fellows class 18 in La Paz, Bolivia: the country and city where I was born.
But before you go on feeling sorry for me for having had the bad luck of missing out on halfway-around the-world travel opportunities, you must know that I wanted this.
Compiled by Kate Bennett, KF16 Peru
The sixteenth class of Kiva Fellows has all but left the field- but we’re by no means done talking about our experiences. We’ve collectively spent 422 weeks in the field (just over 8 years!) and worked an estimated 16,650 hours at Kiva field partners around the world. Needless to say, we’ve got a lot of opinions about how to use this time wisely.
Now, we’re no experts in living or working abroad (though we sure do like it), but we have some nuggets of wisdom to offer up for those of you transitioning into a life abroad or beginning your next Kiva Fellowship. Stick by these tips, and you can’t go wrong. (And for more hints and tips, check out 33 Tips from Kiva Fellows (written November 2009) or 45 More Tips from Kiva Fellows in South America.) Enjoy!
By Eric Rindal – KF 16 – Bolivia
Before I volunteered as a Kiva Fellow in Sierra Leone (May of 2011) and Bolivia (September 2011), I was living in Santa Barbara, California. Imagine: Santa Barbara beaches saturated with color, mansions with the smell of jasmine twisting through the air, and a pace of life only to be set by the sun. While there, I was working for a de jure artist and took up the ranks as a de facto artist myself. Life was pretty easy, and moving to a developing country and working with microfinance seemed a million miles away. Leaving it all made me wonder why I would forfeit the comfort and normalcy of home for places where it feels like I have to relearn basic parts of life (i.e. restroom, showers, and food).
While volunteering, I was often asked , “Why would you come volunteer in my country?” Each time, I rambled about a desire to foster opportunities in the development of people around the world. But that is just it, how concise can pre-volunteers really be? (more…)
Compiled by Jim Burke, KF16, Nicaragua
This week’s Fellows Blog focuses on adaptability: Adapting microinsurance to poor households in Indonesia, an MFI in Turkey adapts to the needs of women entrepreneurs, a multifaceted borrower in Nepal adapts to market pressures, and a Kiva Fellow adapts to changing expectations. In a continuation of The Stuff Kiva Fellows Like series we hear how different fellows have adapted to their lives abroad by ‘crashing parties’ and ‘going to the Bazaar’. We hear about how practitioners are adapting finance and microinsurance products to their borrowers. Equally nimble we hear from a few borrowers and how they have expertly adapted to market pressures and changing circumstance. Microfinance is a dynamic industry by nature and like DJ or Binu or Maya Enterprise for Micro Finance, ensuring success means staying flexible and welcoming new opportunities born out of challenges. (more…)
Compiled by Jim Burke, KF16, Nicaragua
We are Kiva Fellows. This is the stuff we like. Here is an insider (often critical, or satirical but always true!) view of what it means to be a Kiva Fellow and promote access to financial services around the world. From party crashing to bazaars to street food, these are the things we like and thrive on. Check out Stuff Kiva Fellows Like (SKFL) #1-9!
#10 Street Food
Mariela Cedeño, KF16, Cochabamba, Bolivia
I’m not really sure why, but there is something inherently appealing to a Kiva Fellow’s being about food that is prepared, cooked, and sold on the streets. Perhaps it’s the dubiously hygienic food preparation, the alternative cooking apparatus used to bring food to fire, or it’s ready availability and our relative laziness…wait, no, it’s actually our need to literally ‘taste’ the local culture. In our fits of street food deliriousness we are open and ready to taste all that our surroundings have to offer, however, we often find that the local fare may not quietly find a home in our stomachs. Thankfully, before leaving to our local assignments, our travel nurses reminded us that in times of intestinal woe, Cipro and other like antibiotics will be our best friend. They sometimes are, but because we are well versed in the dangers of overusing antibiotics and are haunted by nightmares of creating giant super bacteria that start kidnapping local women and children, we use them sparingly and wisely. (more…)
Compiled by Kate Bennett, KF16, Peru
Want a fresh look at Kiva clients on-the-ground? This week fellows share stories and mixed-media that bring us directly into the cities, homes and pulperías of borrowers. From the marketplace in Bolivia, to the streets of Guayaquil, to the dumps of Kenya, we learn about the challenges of working in developing countries and the strategies loan officers and Fellows can use to mitigate them. Not to mention we can see the work of Kiva fellows and Kiva Field Partners in Cambodia, Honduras and Bolivia in living color. What’s even better than reading a post by a Kiva Fellow? Seeing what we see in the field for yourself!
By Mariela Cedeño, KF16, Bolivia.
Every time I walk into one of CIDRE’s offices in Bolivia, I always stop and take a look at their street sign. I’m not sure why, it’s a weird habit that reminds me of where I am, who I am working with, and the amazing opportunity that has been afforded to me as a Kiva Fellow. This past week, however, when walking into one of CIDRE’s branch offices I thought to myself, “I see this sign and I know that it means ‘loans available here’, but how do entrepreneurs know that they can get access to tool at CIDRE that could help change their lives?” Microfinace, after all, has as much to do with access to credit as it has to with anything, so I started asking around….how do people find out about CIDRE?
Word of Mouth
In talking to one of the veteran loan officers, her first response and a response that has been echoed many times since was simply: word of mouth. For decades now, some of CIDRE’s loan officers have been working in specific neighborhoods, learning about various communities’ productive activities, and offering a way to help those businesses thrive. More than that, they have become trusted community members by getting to know their clients and their families, listening to their hardships, and celebrating in their triumphs. So once one community member becomes a CIDRE client, it is highly likely that they will spread the word….in comes Francisca.
Francisca has been a CIDRE client for sometime, so when her community started thinking of a way to grow their dairy businesses, Francisca suggested CIDRE could help put their plans into action. A few weeks later, 15 had committed to the plan. Together, they each took out a loan to help purchase a refrigerated milk tank from which the group’s daily milk production could be picked up by Bolivia’s largest dairy company, Pil Andina. With this direct connection to Pil, they no longer have to piecemeal irregular sales together through family and neighbors but rather have a steady source of income.
But now you’re thinking, ok, but when those star clients aren’t around to get their neighbors to CIDRE, what happens? Well CIDRE goes to them.
Spreading the Gospel of CIDRE
In Colomi, the small branch office has 3 loan officers, 4,000 inhabitants, and a lot of productive territory to cover. In order to help grow CIDRE’s presence in the small town, loan officers from the central office and a nearby brach traveled to Colomi to spread the gospel of CIDRE. On Colomi’s Dia de Feria (main market day), 6 visiting loan officers set up a small booth in the midst of all the action and got to work.
After setting up CIDRE’s “Loans Available Here” booth, ensuring that enticing cumbias were playing on the car stereo, and stapling copies of Colomi loan officer business cards to CIDRE flyers, we were ready to go.
One by one the loan officers approached market antendees and gave out flyers and cards.
Some were already familiar with credit and asked specific questions regarding interest rates and loans products.
Some looked very confused…
In the end, the loan officers handed out a hundreds of flyers and gave a lot of credit talks. We don’t know how many will become CIDRE clients in the future, but we do know that some promised to at least stop by.
Mariela Cedeño is part of Kiva’s 16th Class of Fellows serving with CIDRE in Bolivia. Cows are her new favorite thing on earth. Please support CIDRE‘s hard-working entrepreneurs by making a loan today and join the Friends of CIDRE/Amigos de CIDRE lending team to stay involved!
Eric Rindal – KF16 – La Paz, Bolivia
Another day, another dollar lost as a volunteer. The first part of my second Fellowship has gone by tremendously fast. I only have two more months left of what will be my seven months as a Kiva Fellow. No longer do I feel like a volunteer, this is now my way of life. At this juncture, after leaving Sierra Leone and entering Bolivia, I ask three questions: Why micro loans; Why small business; and Why poverty.
As a Fellow these questions encapsulate most of what I think about. In short, I want to know why things are the way they are. Always surrounded by questions of how to cultivate economic development, I am finding few answers but am still encouraged. Rather, I see a conglomerate of ideas that help make sense of volunteering within economic development.
By Mariela Cedeño, KF16, Bolivia.
“Banking the unbankable“ has always been my favorite nomenclature attached to the microcredit movement that has gained such strong momentum in recent years. When feeling more long-winded, I like to describe microcredit as a useful poverty alleviation tool (a piece of the pie) by which those that have been traditionally left out of the formal banking sector can access capital to help grow their enterprises. Though it’s difficult to measure exactly how many people in the world are unbanked, my overzealous use of cellular technology has made one statistic stick with me: there are twice as many people in the world with cellphones as there are with access to financial services. But why? Well there are many, many reasons and I [un/fortunately] am not a seasoned economist, however, beckoning my finite knowledge I can say that one marginalizing factor that keeps the poor from access to credit is formal collateral – no collateral, no money. Here’s where CIDRE comes in….
CIDRE is one of Kiva’s Field Partners in Bolivia, and though day-to-day they largely look like a typical bank, they have atypical clients, and those atypical clients and CIDRE’s own roots as a research and rural development think tank are the driving engines behind CIDRE’s push to continue to look for ways to provide loans under alternative collateral models.
One of their pioneer alternative credit projects involved providing loans based on community ownership of forested land. In conjunction with the Department of Forestry, CIDRE developed a forested land appraisal system and began granting loans for agricultural production based on the value of the trees on the community owned land. Interestingly enough, this alternative collateral system also furthered the mission of CIDRE’s Habitat and Environment Division, as the loans came with training regarding the importance of protecting natural resources and lessening the use of agrochemicals. Furthermore, because the trees were being used as collateral and every tree, the value of that tree, and the years of life left for that tree were registered with the Forestry Department, it was imperative that the lenders that chose to cut their trees for profit engage in sustainable forestry to replace the value of the trees.
Though in its inception the alternative forestry collateral model worked well, it seems to have somewhat eroded over the years due to evolving loan use. The initial purpose of the forestry collateral loans was for agricultural production, however, as the program expanded lenders began using these loans for lumber ventures as well. Infighting began over how the communal land was divided for the sale of lumber, individual lenders were dissatisfied with trees located on their plot, equipment couldn’t access certain areas, and those with ‘skinny’ trees were not being paid enough to repay their loans and replant. CIDRE continues to work with these borrowers to alleviate the issues that have arisen in hopes of circling back to where things started.
Nevertheless, as CIDRE’s focus has always been on production, we have finally arrived at the type of collateral to which this post owes its name, my recent nearest and dearest friend, the cow.
CIDRE’s lenders are primarily located in the rural areas of Bolivia, as such the vast majority of CIDRE’s loans fund dairy and/or agriculture businesses. In order to ensure that these lenders can access the kind of capital necessary to start or grow their businesses, CIDRE has created an internal policy by which cows become the collateral guarantee. Each cow owned by the lender is assigned a value (according to their breed, size, state, and milk production) and 80% of the cow’s value is then given as a collateral guarantee against which lenders can draw loans. The loans are almost always used to reinvest in their dairy business: to purchase more cattle (most often when a cow is pregnant, nursing, or has fallen to mastitis), for feed, to invest in ‘stock’ for their communal dairy cooperatives, milking machines, to rent land for the cows to pasture, or to buy refrigerated milk holding tanks. By all accounts these cows are in fact the most precious thing that a dairy farmer owns as they are a single source of income, sustenance, and now collateral, so it seems fitting that CIDRE has so readily acknowledged the value of their most popular clients’ trade.
As I sit around the office or head out to make field visits it seems strange that the cowllateral guarantee has become such commonplace in this organization’s day-to-day work, in fact, it’s become a regular part of my own microfinance vernacular. Just as impressive, is the wealth of ‘cow-knowledge’ that the loan officers acquire throughout their tenure with CIDRE — equipped to answer questions and analyze information regarding cows, the dairy business, and the way that community groups operate. To not hog all the cow-knowledge, here are some gems that I’ve acquired in my time with CIDRE:
- Dutch, Jersey, Holstein, and recently Creole cows populate Cochabamba’s dairy farms.
- Cows eat all the time, literally all day. Their feed consists of a balanced mix of Chacla (chopped up corn plants) , minerals, oats, pasture, alfalfa, and soya bean shells. A truck load of feed which will last 6-8 months can run up to $8,000 U.S.
- Due to pachamama (mother eart)h, her pastures, and the way that cows are raised, Cochabamba produces the best quality milk of any department in the country. This could be biased information, but I have tried the milk and cheese that comes from these bovines, and it’s pretty spectacular.
- Last, but not least, this is what a cow milking professional looks like:
Mariela Cedeño is part of Kiva Fellows 16th Class, serving with CIDRE in Cochabamba, Bolivia. Cows have become her new favorite thing on earth. Please support CIDRE‘s hard-working entrepreneurs by making a loan today and join the Friends of CIDRE/Amigos de CIDRE lending team to stay involved!
By Nila Uthayakumar, KF14, Uganda,
With the help of several other Fellows in the field
I’ve met all kinds of borrowers. From age 16 to 76; from orphans to a former beauty queen; from potato sellers to auto parts saleswomen to motorcycle transportation tycoons. I’ve met them in urban slums, in villages, in homes, on porches, in churches, in community centers, and outside in grassy fields. I’ve listened to their stories, I’ve photographed and filmed them, I’ve played with their children, and I’ve been welcomed into their homes. Two months into my Kiva fellowship, and I am more motivated and inspired than ever. My name is Nila and I live and work in Kampala, Uganda.
What I have understood from these borrowers is that poverty takes many shapes and forms. Poverty can mean desperation and destitution, and it can also mean having to make impossible choices between paying medical bills or school fees. It can mean not having enough food to eat today, or not having a secure enough future to be able to retire. The microloans I have seen in action place into the hands of borrowers the power to shape their own lives. The recipients of these loans are among the most dignified people I have ever met, and when given the chance, these individuals make tremendous improvements in their lives. (more…)
Clara Vreeken, KF 14, Bolivia
Clara volunteered as Kiva Fellow in Bolivia. She worked for the micro finance institutions IMPRO, Pro Mujer and Emprender. In this blog she elaborates on health issues in Bolivia – Bolivians prefer to drink herbal tea and listen to witch doctors instead of seeing a doctor – and she says goodbye as the end of her Kiva Fellowship has arrived.
Compiled by Alexis Ditkowsky
Kiva Fellows observed Earth Day by sharing projects initiated by their partner microfinance institutions and host countries and by celebrating Kiva.org’s first batch of “Green Loans”. The upbeat mood also extended to anniversary parties at MFIs in Jordan and Armenia, enthusiastic endorsements to travel to Colombia, and reporting on a great opportunity for Kiva clients in Mongolia. Fellows also visited with borrowers in the Philippines, South Africa, and Armenia, and took us on a typical commute in Mexico City. All in all, a very busy week as members of KF14 wind down their time in the field.
Compiled by Caree Edson, KF 14, Armenia
One of the unfortunate sight-seeing adventures that you never sign up for when you travel (especially in developing countries) is the unseemly amount of trash cluttering the otherwise beautiful landscapes. In Armenia, it isn’t possible to see the horizon through the smog most days and the streets are covered in cigarette butts and litter. I found no exceptions to this as I inquired from other Kiva Fellows about the dire situation in their countries. Environmental education and reform are simply not a top priority in many countries. But the future of climate change initiatives are not entirely hopeless…
Compiled by Alexis Ditkowsky, KF14, South Africa
Let’s take a moment to vicariously consume baked goods in Colombia, coffee in Nicaragua, tomatoes in Ukraine, and a traditional meal in Nepal. Once you’re sated, you can read about the dismal state of trash collection in Guatemala, the lives of borrowers in Bolivia, what “mobile” savings really means in Indonesia, and how Kiva’s partner MFIs all around the world are providing life-enhancing services and engaging with the community in meaningful ways.
Clara Vreeken, KF 14, Bolivia
Clara volunteers as Kiva Fellow in Bolivia. She works for the micro finance institutions IMPRO, Pro Mujer and Emprender. She visited a lot of borrowers, of whom many women.
Francisca has to fight hard taking care for her large family and has a heart of gold by inviting me at her home. Rosa was beaten by her ex husband and became stronger by having her own shoe business. Not only women have hard times surviving in Bolivia, also men suffer. Read the story of Carlos the taxi driver who almost died. And what happens with women who do not show up on repayment meetings?
Compiled by Alexis Ditkowsky, KF14, South Africa
We hope you enjoyed our April Fools post on Friday! While we were entertaining ourselves pulling it all together, we also found the time to attend to some serious matters: coffee in Colombia is no joke (in a bad way), some borrowers are easier to locate than others, and oftentimes Fellows must say goodbye to people and places before they’re ready to. We also learned about the “No Pago” movement in Nicaragua, the elections in Peru, what daily life is like for a Fellow in Bolivia, and how to sensibly and respectfully collect past-due payments in Ghana. Somehow there was even time to host a previous Fellow and a documentary film student in Colombia and to visit borrowers, eat chocolate, and stop for the view in Armenia.
Clara Vreeken, KF 14, Bolivia
Clara volunteers as Kiva Fellow in Bolivia. She works for three micro finance institutions. She verifies borrowers’ data, implements changes and informs the lenders about Kiva’s entrepreneurs. In this blog she elaborates on her tasks as a Kiva Fellow.
Compiled by Alexis Ditkowsky, KF14, South Africa
For many Fellows, this week was about getting back to basics: the borrowers. In between fun facts about Kiva Fellowships, doing database detective work, and reflecting on the internal dynamics of Kiva’s partner microfinance institutions, Fellows found themselves in the field again and again, much to their delight and often to the delight of borrowers. From Latin America to Africa to the Caucasus to Southeast Asia to Eastern Europe, meet Kiva clients, learn about their businesses, and check out all of the great photos.