Posts filed under ‘Middle East & North Africa (MENA)’

Kiva One: Faces that Impacted the Lives of Kiva Fellows

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.


31 January 2013 at 08:00

Twelve Days of Christmas from Kiva Fellows

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…

Day 1: A Turtle Heading Out to Sea!
Marion Walls | Tujijenge and Barefoot Power | Tanzania

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


  1. Lagman: Noodle dish with beef and pepper
  2. Mante: Dumplings filled with ground beef and onions
  3. Turkish Kebab
  4. Russian style roast duck with apples
  5. Plov: Fried rice mixed with meat and carrots
  6. 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.

Day 11: Eleven Indian Ingredients and Spices
Irene Fung | People’s Forum and Mahashakti Foundation | India


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!

Day 12: Twelve Bright African Futures
Holly Sarkissian | Alidé in Benin and WAGES in Togo


The smiling faces of twelve bright futures for the children of Kiva borrowers in Togo and Benin!




20 December 2012 at 08:00

How the Arab Spring Has Affected Microfinance in the Middle East

” After weeks of headline news about the Arab Spring, we seem to have forgotten the man who started it all: Mohamed Bouazizi, the  [26 year old] Tunisian fruit vendor who set himself on fire after police confiscated his small cart.  It was Mr. Bouazizi, a microentrepreneur, who sparked this revolution in a single act of protest against the same harsh economic realities shared by the majority of citizens across the Arab world.” ~ Elissa McCarter, Vice President of Development Finance, CHF International

Juice vendor in Downtown Amman, Jordan

Juice vendor in Downtown Amman, Jordan


10 December 2012 at 06:00

Why Kiva Lenders Should Fund Consumer Microloans in Jordan

This week, I met a Jordanian widow who is supporting four children and her elderly mother on less than 200 JD ($283) per month. Her income comes from her deceased spouse’s pension. She is applying for a microloan to make ends meet. Do you think this non-entrepreuneur should be granted a microloan?

While you and I may be able to automatically reach for a credit card or withdraw money from a savings account in case of emergencies or unexpected expenses, such luxuries are not available for the majority of the low-income population in Jordan. What is the solution, then, for marginalized communities?

One of the many low-income neighborhoods in Jordan


29 November 2012 at 07:00 2 comments

Jordanian Hospitality and Secrets to the Perfect Cup of Tea

Taline Khansa | KF19 | Jordan

Jordan has been my home for the past five weeks, and in this short time I’ve felt more than welcomed by newly gained friends, Tamweelcom’s staff, borrowers, and strangers alike. Every day holds its share of new faces and places, introducing me to people from diverse professional and socio-economic backgrounds. The one common factor among all is an innate sense of hospitality that always leaves me loving and appreciating the people of Jordan more and more.

Bedouin Tent

Bedouin Tent along the highway connecting Amman to the south of Jordan


5 November 2012 at 07:00

Conversations in a Taxicab

Taline Khansa | KF19 | Jordan

Since arriving in Jordan last Tuesday night for the start of my Kiva Fellowship, I’ve ridden at least a dozen taxicabs which are prominent in Amman’s streets. The daily commute has sparked some very interesting conversations with the drivers who have given me a glimpse into the peoples’ challenges and the country’s current affairs. A 20 minute cab ride to work costs approximately 3 Jordanian Dinars ($4.25 USD) and provides my morning dose of news and chitchat.

Taxi driver in Jorda

Taxi driver in Jordan


4 October 2012 at 07:00 1 comment

Update from the Field: Going the distance in Pakistan and putting Kiva Zip together. Plus, a word on the Olympics.

Compiled by Isabel Balderrama | KF17 + KF18 | Bolivia

It’s once again time for an update from our Fellows in KF-18. This week we have three posts from four fellows, all of whom are busy learning from and making a difference in their respective assignments. From looking for potential Kiva Zip borrowers in Kenya, to crossing a wide swatch of the South Punjab region in order to visit clients, these fellows will do what it takes to get the job done. And best of all, they are willing to share their unique experiences with us all.

Continue Reading 6 August 2012 at 08:00 2 comments

Update from the Field: Nomadic lifestyles, road trips + cultural perspectives

Compiled by Isabel Balderrama | KF17 | Ecuador

Welcome to this week’s Update from the Field! In the past few days we’ve had blog posts come to us from all corners of the world. From hearing about the prevailing Nomadic lifestyles of the people of Mongolia, to Kenya, where we journey along on an adventure-filled trip to meet a Kiva borrower in person. After touching down on Palestine and meeting a group of women that have successfully formed a cooperative, we are whisked away to the islands of Samoa where we are treated to two excellent videos illustrating life in this mysterious-to-some archipelago. From there, we come back to the Asian continent where we find two fellows located in two very culturally dissimilar countries, Ukraine and Indonesia, comparing and contrasting their experiences with borrower privacy. Hope you enjoy this week’s trip around the globe courtesy of this ever-audacious group of Kiva Fellows!

Continue Reading 28 May 2012 at 09:00 4 comments

The Women’s Cooperative of Deir Bzei, Palestine

Philip Issa | KF17 | Palestine

I’m excited to introduce you to the Deir Bzei Women’s Cooperative. They’ve leveraged microfinance to finance initiatives that support their members and benefit the women and children of their community.

Continue Reading 22 May 2012 at 14:24 5 comments

Lost in Translation

Compiled by Philip Issa | KF17 | Palestine

We’ve all had these moments: Trying to impress a native speaker with our ability to speak their language, we compose an elegant sentence in our minds, open our mouths, and… proceed to swallow our feet whole. Indeed, we Kiva Fellows have had no shortage of these moments – we’ve twisted and tortured whole phrases so that they come out no better suited than to embarrass and offend.

So here are a few stories of us Fellows shattering our carefully constructed, professional identities with a spectacular “whoops!”

Continue Reading 16 May 2012 at 09:00 5 comments

Update from the Field: Kiva’s new coffee partner and female empowerment in the Middle East

Compiled by Isabel Balderrama | KF17 | Ecuador

Having been in the field for a little over three months now, KF-17 fellows’ posts begin taking a retrospective look at what has been accomplished over the past few months while working with their different MFIs worldwide. From having played a role in getting a new kind of Kiva partnership up and running to working with two MFIs dedicated to helping women get ahead in male dominated Palestine, it is clear that this is the time for a Kiva Fellow to reflect on his or her accomplishments, as well as those of the MFIs they have been involved with. Read this week’s posts to find out more about the exciting experiences that two of KF-17′s members have had during the lenght of their fellowship.

Continue Reading 14 May 2012 at 09:00 3 comments

Empowering Women in Palestine

Philip Issa | KF17 | Palestine

A couple of years ago, Mohammed Al-Shawaf, a Kiva Fellow serving in Palestine previous to me, wrote a thoughtful post on the complexities of implementing a women’s empowerment agenda through microfinance. Having served my placement at the same MFIs as him, I’ve had the opportunity to learn more about FATEN and Ryada’s women empowerment initiatives and implementations. The two institutions are far apart in their models, with each carrying associated benefits and disadvantages. I also had the opportunity to meet with a women’s savings and lending cooperative supported by a non-Kiva MFI, showcasing an alternative approach to women empowerment here in Palestine – through cooperatives rather than individual lending.

Continue Reading 11 May 2012 at 08:00 2 comments

Sweet Deliciousness

Compiled by Michael Slattery | KF17 | Togo

Despite the often upbeat tone of fellows’ posting on the blog, I’ll be the first to admit that the position entails some universal hardships.  There is the occasional social isolation that leaves you Saturday night at home with a book and bottle of the local plonk, despite apparently leading a life of swinging exoticism and sun-drenched adventure.  There’s is a lot of driving around, waiting, driving some more, and then getting told some tall tales by people who look at you like you’re definitely one of those foreign imbeciles that regularly swallows half-truths and thoroughly enjoys the taste.

Kiva Fellow Carrie Nguyen, Peru, delivers on delicious: ceviche made of jungle fish, marinated in lime juice and sliced onions, served with yucca and chifles (banana chips). Cost, around ten soles, or USD $3.50

I’ve also come home and spent a good hour picking black soot out of my ears and my nose, then showered and found the water around my feet an unhealthy, industrial smelling, swirl of charcoal.  (I also associate the smell of burning plastic with Africa, most often first thing in the morning, as dutiful sweepers light fire to the last day’s fallen leaves and dropped plastic bags.)

Not to be outdone, Kiva Fellow Jen Truong, Cambodia, sticks up for the homeland with some fresh crab stir-fried with Kampot peppers straight from the garden, for three happy diners (or one author). Price USD $ 7.50

Fortunately, there’s food.  Blessed food.  Balm to the solitary and bruised soul; and even if the full stomach isn’t spiritual salvation, it is a way to warm the heart, as many a romanticized grandmother may have advised uncomprehending grand-daughters.  Kiva Fellow Chris Paci has pointed out that I can eat a lot of food in a given day, which is more or less true, so I thought to spread the love and identify who among my colleagues are the true foodies.

Straight from the Bosphorous to your chest–err, hips–Kiva Fellow Kim Strathearn, Turkey, gives us Sekerpare, semolina sponge cakes soaked in syrup and hazelnut, presented with chopped pistachios and a sprig of mint. The author says, send him to Turkey, Kiva, and let him rot his teeth.

Kiva Fellow Jamie Greenthal, the Philippines, says, take that land lubbers: fresh sea scallops shucked and served raw on the half-shell, pulled from the Philippine sea, on Calituban Island. Price, free. Because Jamie is a pirate. Arrrgh! And takes what he wants! (Actually, the scallops were a welcome gift from borrowers in recognition of his arrival, but hey, who said stories had to be true? Estimated price in a restaurant, USD $5 to 7).

Kiva Fellow David Gorgani, the Dominican Republic, shows us how island living really works. Please support his application for Survivor: Paul Bocuse’s Kitchen.

End result of the Young Man and the Sea: fresh fried fish with tostones (fried plantains). Price USD $8-10 depending on the size of the fish.

Intermezzo: time for a cold one to wash down the previous delicious meals. Kiva Fellow Jen Truong, Cambodia, refreshes us with sugar cane and orange juice. Price USD $0.50.

Kiva Fellow Devon Fisher, Kenya, brings us some coastal Swahili delight from Mombasa: fresh fried fish. Say it all together: samaki hii ni utamu sana! (Kiswahili for this fish is delicious!) Price, delicious.

Kiva Fellow Micaela Browning, Mozambique, keeps the fish theme alive with xima (a paste made with casava flour) and little delicious fishes. Price, delicious. (Micaela, by the bye, pays her student fees by hand modeling).

Kiva Fellow Jen Truong, Cambodia, does the delicious hat trick and three-peat all at once: fried fish, fried chicken served in unusual but delicious fashion, and stir-fried morning glory with a side mango salad. Price, USD $10 for all three.

Kiva Fellow Adria Orr, Samoa, destroys the seafood delicious fest with the ultimate in deliciousness: the roast suckling pig…for the office lunch “feast” to welcome new loan officers into the fold. Price, pirate discount. Island love is high.

Kiva Fellow Ryan Cummings, Liberia, gets us back to rice country with his typical lunch at the office: served with a piece of chicken and eggplant. Simple yet elegant delicious. And not a roast suckling pig.

Kiva Fellow Philip Issa, Palestine, paves the way to increased rice delicious sophistication: Eggplant Msaq’a (مسقعة باذنجان), which is eggplant and beef in a tomato sauce, garnished with pine nuts. Not featured is the accompanying yogurt.

Getting in his ten cents of deliciousness, the author shows today`s lunch: a hither never seen before dry fufu desi (sauce) made of fried fish and some kind of vegetable. Price 800 FCFA or USD $1.60.  Savour the deliciousness in life.

As ever, my thanks and recognition to the other fellows.

Michael Slattery (KF17) is serving as a Kiva Fellow with WAGES in Lomé, Togo. He’s pretty sure that one day he will have a coronary bypass and a large stock holding in an antacid producer.   Find a borrower in Togo and lend today!

4 May 2012 at 12:08 2 comments

The ABCs of West Bank Agriculture

Philip Issa | KF17 | Palestine
(Update: Photo links fixed)

Now that Spring time is in full bloom here in Palestine, the truths about a pair misconceptions I held before arriving have become unavoidable. First, that the ecology here is actually quite conducive to agriculture, and second, that most of the West Bank is in fact not under the jurisdiction of Palestinians.

I had originally intended to write only about my surprise about how green the land can be in Spring, but I believe that such a post would be dishonest. It would be misleading on a microfinance blog to show images of agricultural land and let readers think that they could lend to farmers to help them improve their lot. Such loans are common and fruitful in other Kiva countries, but, as I will explain below, they are much less likely to be effective here.

Continue Reading 6 April 2012 at 08:00 7 comments

Update From The Field: Client Visits In Bethlehem, A New Partnership In Cameroon + A Peek Into A Loan Officer’s World

Compiled by Allison Moomey | KF16 & KF17 | Bénin 

KF17 fellows have now made their way into the field, which means new workplaces, new countries, and new cultures for us all. Even more importantly it means fascinating new blog posts from every corner of the globe for you. Check out this week’s posts and join fellows as they observe microfinance in action Palestine, share about a great new partner in Cameroon, visit a village bank in Peru, and adjust to life in Togo. Then continue reading to learn about a cricket-raising business in Indonesia, microsavings in Mozambique, Senegalese politics, an apartment search in Mongolia, and a loan officer training in the Philippines.

Continue Reading 27 February 2012 at 02:56 5 comments

Update from the Field: Adapting for Borrowers by Borrowers, Microinsurance +SKFL

Compiled by Jim Burke, KF16, Nicaragua

A Warm Welcome! Manana offers the best from her garden. By DJ Forza, Georgia

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…)

28 November 2011 at 01:01 5 comments

Stuff Kiva Fellows Like #10-17

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…)

25 November 2011 at 16:00 6 comments

Video Blog: “Why We Kiva” – Kiva Fellows Around the World

Compiled by Mariela Cedeño, KF16, Bolivia.


Wondering why Kiva Fellows jump at the opportunity to be thrown half way around the world to work with Kiva’s many local Field Parnters? Well, this little video should give you a small glimpse of “Why We Kiva”.



Mariela Cedeño is part of Kiva Fellows 16th Class, serving with CIDRE in Cochabamba, Bolivia. Cows have become her new favorite thing on earth…Llamas are also moving up the list. 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!

30 October 2011 at 00:01 4 comments

Stuff Kiva Fellows Like

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 alpaca fur to FSSs to ziplock bags, these are the things we like and thrive on.

#1 Being the first foreign person that somebody has ever seen in their life

Dave Weber, KF16, CambodiaSDC18999

Few life experiences will measure up to the one where a Kiva Fellow is   told that he or she is ‘the first foreigner that somebody has ever seen  in their life’ (TFFPTSHESITL).  This experience often comes  with having ones hair and skin touched, which people in our home countries don’t find nearly as interesting.  KFs know that their image will forever be bored into the mind of the Latino/African/Asian/MidEastern borrower since we assume they ‘never forget their first one.’
A Kiva Fellow will react to being TFFPTSHESITL in several ways.  They will utilize social media  to get the word out to 500 people in their friend list and possibly even engage the Stories from the Field blog to get the message out to potentially hundreds of thousands.  It will also be the first story they tell supporters and people back home.  Kiva Fellows will also often use the phrase, “I’m pretty sure I was the first foreign person to ever go there” when referring to locations, even if they’re talking about Machu Picchu or Angkor Wat or the running of the bulls or the Washington Monument.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to spend my holiday evening at a Cambodian air conditioned movie theater which I’m certain no foreign person has been to before and I will be TFFPTSHESITL to at least half of the moviegoers there to engage in the revelry entitled Cowboys vs. Aliens.   (more…)

7 October 2011 at 15:11 20 comments

“What do I do here in Lebanon?” you ask

“What do I do here in Lebanon?” people ask me all the time. I usually struggle a bit; I take a deep breath and I start explaining what micro-credit and micro-finance is. I tend to throw in words like: “lack of access to the banking system”, “Mohamed Yunus” and “giving the poor financial stability”. But even after a little bit of explaining, I still don’t know if I’m getting the point across. And I often find that when I say “loan” people immediately ask “How can I get one for my business?” So, I turned to Al Majmoua to see how local Microfinance Institution (MFI) in Lebanon is addressing this on a daily basis?

Continue Reading 3 August 2011 at 10:00 3 comments

Ramadan Kareem from the Middle East!

By Amy Kyleen Lute – KF15, Jordan

Today, August 1st, is the first day of Ramadan! For the next month, Muslims across the world will be fasting – letting nothing pass through their lips – from sunrise to sunset.  Though I’ve spent a decent amount of time in the Arab world, this is my first experience of Ramadan living in a Muslim country.

Ramadan, for people here, means many things.  For some it is a welcomed change of routine, more time with family and an opportunity to be continually reminded of their dependence on God. For most it is not an option. (It is actually illegal – though not thoroughly enforced – for shops to allow patrons to eat publicly during the day.) I’m not sure there is anything more foreign to Westerners accustomed to secular society than an entire population – the nerds, the bros, the liberals, the loyalists, the wealthy, the poor, the players, the educated, the spiritually indifferent – to participate in a religious custom; for religious adherence to be the norm. Though for some participants, I suspect, it doesn’t necessarily have as much of a religious impetus as we might assume given our secular and cultural bias. Here, actively participating in Ramadan may not engender theological discussions or denote particular piety, it may come out of a simpler, more community-oriented mindset that, as Muslims, during Ramadan, this is how we act.

For Kiva borrowers, life is altered in similar ways as the rest of the society.  Their loan repayments are still due, though many of their businesses are closed or, more likely, operate on restricted hours – beginning later in the day and closing earlier in the afternoon with some, depending on the type of business, reopening late into the night to try to capture some additional action surrounding iftar, the breaking of the fast after sundown.  Profits for small businesses and shops vary: for some business suffers from the decrease in out-of-home activities and for others Ramadan is a highly profitable month due to the nightly celebrations of family and food. During my work with KIEDF, an Israeli microfinance institution serving mostly Arab, Muslim clients, they explained that many borrowers will make two payments the month before Ramadan so they don’t have to pay during the Holy Month. It is also normal for microfinance institutions to be more lenient about early and late payments this month. For clients of Tamweelcom, another Kiva Field Partner in Jordan, clients have additional incentive to pursue good standing with their MFI. As part of their social mission, nearly 170 high-achieving clients were selected to celebrate the beginning of Ramadan with an all-expenses-paid trip to do Umrah, a pilgrimage to Mecca similar to Hajj except that it can be done at any point throughout the year.

For me, besides making it more difficult to find a taxi and virtually impossible to eat out or in public during the day, Ramadan is going to be a fascinating window into the lives of a few of the hundreds of Muslim Kiva borrowers in Jordan. I have many field visits scheduled in these next couple of weeks, which I anticipate will be somewhat hindered but simultaneously enhanced by customs of the Holy Month. My experience and understanding of the Jordanian people, Kiva borrowers and friends who are partaking in this dramatic routine-altering tradition wouldn’t be complete if I didn’t participate – even if only for a day – in solidarity with my current community. Thus far I have only been refraining – not really by choice – from things that are hard to open and difficult to eat as I recently fractured both of my wrists and now have huge casts on both arms limiting my digital mobility! I suspect this new intention, while potentially including similar frustrations, will shift my ever-changing perspective. I am excited to separate and combine sacrifice with celebration in communion with so many others doing the same.

1 August 2011 at 10:11 2 comments

Update from the Field: Externalities, New Faces + Loans that Change Lives

Microfinance is about change- positive change for borrowers, their local economies, and the future of the developing world. This week our Fellows share stories of change across the globe: a brighter outcome for the children of Kiva borrowers in Sierra Leone; transformed businesses and microenterprises in Chile; and a lifestyle of adapting to change, for better or worse, in Lebanon, where resolute entrepreneurs still pay their loans on time.

It’s true what they say- these really are Loans that Change Lives.

Continue Reading 18 July 2011 at 03:08 5 comments

Adapting to Change: Lessons from Lebanon

“What can we do, but wait and see” a borrower told me a couple of days after the highly anticipated speech by Hezbollah’s leader, Hassan Nasrallah. Adapting to new environments can be tough, but adapting to ever-changing uncertainty is even tougher and it’s a skill that the people of Lebanon have mastered.

Continue Reading 13 July 2011 at 10:00 3 comments

Update from the Field: New Partners, Country-Specific Microfinance + Stories of a Kiva Fellowship

Compiled by Kathrin Gerner, KF15, Togo

This week, fellows located on three different continents were busy writing blogs to share their experiences. Learn what it takes to become a new Kiva partner in Ecuador, experience family-style microfinance in Lebanon, find out about a unique pig loan product in Indonesia, and get the inside scoop about being a Kiva fellow in Senegal.

Continue Reading 20 June 2011 at 02:00 6 comments

Micro-finance Family Style

By Heba Gamal - KF15, Lebanon

“It is when you give of yourself that you truly give.” – Gibran Khalil Gibran, The Prophet

Having grown up in Egypt, I know that family is an important part of daily life in the Middle East. So, when it came to my Kiva Fellowship – I knew that in Lebanon I was going to be well-fed, watched over and taken care of. What I didn’t know is how this family-style love I was too familiar with was going to translate into the workings of micro-finance in Lebanon.

Al Majmoua's Headquarters in Beirut, Lebanon

When I arrived at Al Majmoua‘s Headquarters in the heart of Beirut, I was met by the head of Human Resources and Business Development, Alia. After a thorough 2-hour overview and introduction to Al Majmoua; one of my first questions to Alia was how long she’s been with the organization (followed, of course, by where the best place for lunch around was). The answer was: “10 years!” The idea of someone being in one organization for that long caught me by surprise, but it wasn’t until I started meeting other Al Majmoua team members that I started realizing that there’s something that keeps people here this long. Dr. Youssef, Al Majmoua’s executive director, has been with the organization for more than 11 years. Nadine, Al Majmoua’s Kiva Coordinator and Research & Development Assistant has been with the organization for more than 9 years. She’s done everything from being a Loan Analyst to Internal Auditing to HR and now Kiva. Nadine even left Al Majmoua for a year, but quickly found herself back at Al Majmoua.

This sense of familial love and belonging isn’t just apparent by the number of years people have been here; it’s in their attitude! In a country such as Lebanon, where sectarianism has had a long and tragic impact on the people and the country – it’s refreshing and inspiring to watch a network of ~170 employees all over Lebanon maintaining a family style work environment.

On my first field visit at the Beirut Branch, the Branch Supervisor, Diala, sat me down for a thorough introduction of the branch operations and procedure. During our conversation she said something that stuck with me: “Everyone at Al Majmoua behaves as if this is their home.” Later that day, I was introduced to Ismail, an Al Majmoua Loan Analyst. He was going to be my guide for the day. The plan was to go meet 2 new borrowers and check on a couple of existing Kiva borrowers.

Ismail's "Motto"

I had been carefully asked and semi-warned the day before by Nadine that I will be joining Ismail on his scooter or as the Lebanese call it “Motto”. Ismail was zooming through the Palestinian refugee camps and neighborhoods only like a local from the area would. Micro-finance is highly dependent on social relationships and reputation within the community. Ismail is a local; when he walks the streets of Beirut’s suburbs and refugee camps people know him as their neighbor. During our field visits, we ran into his father-in-law and cousin separately.

When Al Majmoua first started in the late 1990′s half of its staff was made up of former borrowers. Now with ~170 employees and 14 branches across Lebanon, Al Majmoua still tires to keep the family connections strong. Today, roughly 30% of the loan analysts are former Al Majmoua borrowers themselves or  are friends and/or relatives of current borrowers. Utilizing SMS technology, Al Majmoua’s HR team sends out job vacancy ads to their pool of borrowers to get referrals and applicants. This sense of “community first” extends to the interactions between borrowers themselves and how they view Al Majmoua.

Father & Son Al Majmoua Borrowers - Beirut, Lebanon

In “relationship-driven cultures”, like Lebanon, personal relationships are built on the basis of social interactions especially within the family and community.  My first stop with Ismail was a new female borrower, Nadia; she heard about Al Majmoua through her  sister-in-law who is on her 3rd loan cycle. Next we stopped to check up on longtime Al Majmoua borrower Mohamed and his son, Salah, a recent Al Majmoua borrower as well. During our visit, borrowers greeted Ismail and I like family. Often inviting us into their homes or businesses for an afternoon drink or snack. They often asked Ismail if he had received a call from a friend or a relative that they had recommended Al Majmoua to. Word-of-Mouth seems to be the organization’s strongest and most effective marketing tool.

Besides being well-fed and taken care of  as part of the family, I’m thrilled to be a temporary family member of an organization that stays true to itself and its community!

14 June 2011 at 14:00 9 comments

Updates from the Field: Mosquito Nets, Rock Climbing + Clearing the Air

Compiled by Kate Bennett, KF15, Ecuador

The former Prosecutor's office, burnt out in April 2010's political upheaval in Kyrgyzstan

Kiva’s Field Partners are spread far and wide, from Nicaragua to Nepal, Afghanistan to America. As we lend $25 to a borrower in a distant land, we try to imagine what his or her life is like. This is one of Kiva’s greatest successes, in fact: it gives us a glimpse into the life of another person in a country we’re unfamiliar with. But no amount of transparency on the Kiva website, nor pouring over newspapers or guidebooks, can ever really illustrate the human condition in a foreign country. Misinterpretations, factual inaccuracies, and complete delusions abound. And we Fellows are just as hapless of victims as anyone else. This week in the field three Fellows clear up some common misconceptions and share some real life insights on the day-to-day in an oft-misrepresented country or culture.

Kyrgyzstan – Five Reasons Why I Am Not As Brave As You Might Think
Country: Kyrgyzstan / Fellow: Miranda Phua (KF15)

From talking dogs to civic engagement, Miranda walks us through life in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan- and it’s not what the travel websites have led us to believe.

Hijabs Included: Strong Women Working for Microfinance in Jordan
Country: Jordan / Fellow: Amy Kyleen Lute (KF15)
Amy Kyleen introduces us to two of the many strong women in Jordan and shows us that Hijabs or no, women are fending for themselves just fine.

Mosquito Nets: Subjective Risk.
Country: Sierra Leone / Fellow: Eric Rindal (KF15)
Eric “lifts his mosquito net” and realizes that life- and poverty- in Sierra Leone is much more than living with hunger.

*      *       *

Updates from the past month:
Instability, Trust, + A New Home
Unsung Heroes, Community Alliances + and Mission Statements Made Reality
Personal Connections, Supply and Demand + A Culinary Excursion
Farewells, Mistaken Identities + Micro-Microfinance
Earth Day, Celebrations + Exceeding Expectations 

*      *       *

Plus more pictures from the past week:

Kyrgyzstan (Miranda Phau)

Sierra Leone (Eric Rindal)

Jordan (Amy Kyleen Lute)

13 June 2011 at 04:00 8 comments

Hijabs Included: Strong Women Working for Microfinance in Jordan

By Amy Kyleen Lute – KF15, Jordan

“I just don’t like how they treat women over there,” said the large man who sat next to me on the airplane on my return home after Kiva Fellows training in San Francisco and before leaving for my field placement in Amman, Jordan.  His sentiment is a common one expressed by Americans when speaking about the Middle East. Sometimes I nod and don’t get into it, other times I say something along the lines of, “That hasn’t been my experience but from talking to other women who have spent time in the Middle East, it really differs by person.”

Although there are certainly issues, as there are in the United States and many parts of the world, surrounding women and their place in country, companies, relationships, and family, I prefer to tell stories that provide an alternate perspective to the continuous media coverage of Arab, and more specifically Muslim, women’s oppression and abuse in the region.

Every Sunday through Thursday (the regular work week in the Arab world since Friday is the celebrated holy day), I come to work in a taxi to the office of National Microfinance Bank, a Kiva Field Partner in Jordan, located on the outskirts of Amman. After I walk in and greet the receptionist – “Sabah al khair” – I go to my desk situated in a room with two other women, Maha and Tamara.

Maha is responsible for Kiva procedures at the bank: making sure the loan officers give her appropriate, clear pictures and truthful, interesting information about the clients that are to be posted in Kiva’s website (to view the products of her labor go to: She also is in charge of the bank’s call center, fielding comments from clients all over the country.  Efficient and gleeful, she is great at what she does.  (Keep in mind I am slightly biased; her family had me over for “wara’ dual’i” – stuffed grape leaves – and they were amazing!)

If you a veteran Kiva lender, you may have stumbled across (as my mom and I did when deciding who to lend to for her Mother’s Day present, a Kiva gift certificate: a Kiva borrower, usually a woman, who has chosen not to be pictured citing cultural preferences. Maha and I have been trying to think of other ways to connect the women borrowers to the Kiva community. After I suggested a potential sound bite, she laughed and said, “The loan officers will think I am crazy!” Explaining in more detail she told me these women usually fall into different categories. Some just don’t like to have their picture taken (maybe they haven’t gone to the salon recently), some don’t want to have it taken for religious reasons and some women’s families do not agree with them having their pictures taken. Maha on the other hand, “loves getting her picture taken,” she says, verified by her Facebook, glamour shot.

The other woman I share the office with is Tamara. Having gone to the US for high school and university, Tamara knows quite well the ways of the West. In charge of marketing for the bank, she was quiet my few days here until we went to the field with a few other employees earlier this week. On our way – imagine 5 people stuffed in a car driving all around Jordan to branch offices in Mufraq and Irbid eating falafel sandwiches – Tamara almost immediately got into a discussion with one of the men about the situation of women in Jordan, their choice to veil, and their authority in relationships.  As I frantically tried to keep up with the Arabic, especially given the sensitive subject matter, she occasionally threw me a phrase or sentence in English to summarize. Though the two were disagreeing strongly with each other, Tamara felt no need to be act subdued or cover her opinions. Her ability to articulate and deliver her ideas to, at least one, non-receptive audience member (The other man in the car had very different beliefs than the one who was arguing with her) was impressive. That strength and enthusiasm only continued to grow in my eyes throughout the day as she took me aside during one of the meetings with the branch managers to discuss my thoughts on employee services, branding and marketing strategies, and a new idea she has to create an online market for goods made by NMB clients.  Clearly very invested and talented, she contributes in her honesty and skill to the workings and success of the bank.

As just two examples (of, admittedly, not the most average Jordanian women), it is very clear to me in my limited time spent at NMB that women are valued in their work and their persons. Whether it is in briefing a male branch manager of a conservative area on a new program the bank is implemented and dealing with his discontent surrounding the new policy, or in maintaining relationships with the rest of the office staff including all levels of management and service, these women have skill and creativity, responsibility and dedication.  They are valued for their contributions and personalities in this professional community.

As I was setting up my meeting with the Risk Manager of the bank for Sunday morning to discuss progress and future plans, he looked at Maha and me and said, “Our first priority is to make sure Maha is happy. This is the most important thing.” The three of us laughed and he left with a smile on his face.

Maha, Tamara and I went to the climbing gym this weekend. Talk about strong!

Making Our Way Up the Wall!

For more information on National Microfinance Bank please visit:

8 June 2011 at 01:12 4 comments

Update from the Field: Earth Day, Celebrations + Exceeding Expectations

Compiled by Alexis Ditkowsky

Kiva Fellows observed Earth Day by sharing projects initiated by their partner microfinance institutions and host countries and by celebrating’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.

Continue Reading 25 April 2011 at 02:45 4 comments

Happy Earth Day from Kiva Fellows around the Globe!

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…

Continue Reading 22 April 2011 at 11:06 3 comments

Celebrate Good Times, Come On!

 Celebrate Good Times, Come On!

Here at a growing microfinance bank in Jordan, it’s now always about looking forward. Sometimes, it’s about looking back. Tamweelcom started in 1999. In only twelve years, Tamweelcom has gone from a few hundred clients to over 57,000 currently active clients. If you’re a bank, how do you celebrate your longest-standing borrowers and show newer borrowers that they are valued customers?

A party with a big cake and gifts is one way to do it. I tagged along with Tamweelcom staff to visit two branches where the celebrations took place.

All Locally Sourced: The celebratory cake was prepared by a local baker.

Cake > Staff: The cake takes up half the counter. Dana, one of the staff from headquarters who visited the field offices that day, is a member of the Customer Service Center, which fields client calls, complaints, and questions.

Teamwork: Loan officers work together to divvy up the cake and practice their balancing abilities. Loan officers are often from the same communities as the borrowers.

 All Eyes On Deck: Borrowers eye the cake as it’s being served. Over 98% of Tamweelcom’s borrowers are women and many brought their kids to the celebration. 

Pashmina Time: Borrowers for more than 4 years received Pashmina scarves. Borrowers for more than 10 years, almost since the banks inception, received watches as a sign of gratitude from the bank for their long history and the strong example they set for the newer borrowers. Many of these borrowers began with a small loan ($200-600) for a project from home and have since graduated to loans tailored to small businesses (up to $14,000).  

It’s a Work Day After All: Despite all the festivities, work carries on. Hundreds of clients visit the branch offices each day to make repayments or take out loans. Tamweelcom just established a partnership with Zain, Jordan’s biggest telecom company. Clients can now make loan repayments using their mobile phone.

To make a loan so that future borrowers may have something to celebrate, click here.

Alex Silversmith is a Kiva Fellow working in Jordan.

19 April 2011 at 11:02 1 comment

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