Posts tagged ‘Anti-Poverty Focus’

Mitumba 101: The Second Hand Clothing Trade in Kenya

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Toi Market. Nairobi’s largest second retail hub. (Photo Credit: Katrina Shakarian)

The Blue Sweater

The founder of non-profit venture capital fund, Jacqueline Novogratz, is the author of “The Blue Sweater: Bridging the Gap Between Rich and Poor in an Interconnected World.”  In the book, she describes a blue sweater, donning “zebras in the foreground and Mt. Kilimanjaro right across the chest,” that she wore often as a child.  Like many of our own childhood artifacts, the sweater was donated to good will once she started high school.

That exact moment is where the story goes global…

“Fast forward 10 years, about 5000 miles.  I had left my career on Wall Street and was working in Kigali, Rwanda with a small group of women to start the countries first micro-finance bank to make small loans to poor women.  When I was jogging through the streets, and low and behold 10 yards in front of me I see a little boy, pip squeak, knobby knees, wearing my sweater.  So, I run up to the child, grab him by the color, turn it over and there is my name,” said Novogratz.

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Novagratz’s sweater is one article of clothing among millions that are circulating the globe as part of the second hand clothing trade (SHCT).  Although the SHCT accounts for approximately 0.5% of global trade in clothing, more than 30% of those imports went to Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) as early as 2005Figures provided by an Oxfam report indicate that used garments, initially collected and sold by western charities, account for nearly 50% of the clothing sector in SSA.

The SHCT is a billion dollar industry that spans the globe.  According to a CNN report, “whilst exact continent-wide figures are hard to come by, global used clothing exports from OECD countries stood at $1.9 billion in 2009, according to 2011 U.N. Comtrade data.”   An estimate in the same article approximates import activity to be worth $3 billion, and the subsequent retail transactions to be worth two-times that amount.

Mitumba 101

In Kenya the second hand clothing trade is known as mitumba.

Used clothing was first imported as duty free charity in response to regional conflicts during the 70s and 80s.   The trade evolved into a commercialized business sector in the early 90s, when market liberalization policies were introduced into the Kenyan economy.  Those policies allowed for the importation of goods, like mass shipments of used clothing, at reduced costs.

Indigenous textile industries across many African economies could not compete with the lower cost and higher quality of used clothing from abroad.   In Kenya specifically, the resulting competition coupled with other factors like the collapse of the Kenyan cotton board, a drought from 1995-1997, lack of locally produced synthetic material and newly arriving cheap Asian imports, led to the closing of Kisumu Cotton Mills, Allied Industries Limited and Heritage Woolen Mills.

However, before you mourn the loss of local textile production, you should know that this is not entirely a sob story.   From the ashes of one industry, another one has emerged quite triumphantly.  Mitumba is a bustling business sector in Kenya.  It has created thousands of jobs where the government and private sector have failed to do so.  Furthermore, the state cashes in on import revenues and so do local city-municipal councils that require all vendors to purchase trading licenses regularly.

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Retail clothing vendor in Toi market. (Photo Credit: Katrina Shakarian)

Mitumba is popular across the entire spectrum of Kenyan society.  The poor could not afford to clothe themselves otherwise, while middle class and affluent Kenyans turn to Mitumba for designer labels and high quality, unique clothing intended for western markets.

Mitumba Supply Chain in Kenya

  • Exporters/Importer: The second hand clothing merchants sort the clothing by condition and category; good/poor quality, women’s/men’s/children’s, shirts/pants, etc. Then, they’re bundled in plastic packaging called bales and shipped to the major East African port city of Mombasa in large containers.   The bales are purchased by the ton.  When they arrive in Kenya, they are stored in warehouses, mostly around the port of entry.
  • Wholesalers: Major wholesalers purchase bales in Mombasa and transport them by truck to Gikomba market in Nairobi, ground zero for the wholesale mitumba trade in Kenya.  Next, medium wholesalers purchase the bales and sell the clothing to retail vendors who travel to Gikomba from all over the country to purchase stock for their businesses.
  •  Retailers: Toi market, an offshoot of Kibera slums, is the largest retail market for used items in Nairobi.  Other vendors fan out to cities and towns across the country.

On the Ground in Gikomba Market

Hop on matatu #7 behind the National Archives in town for the short ride to Gikomba Market, Kenya’s hub for wholesale SHC sales.  This is a thrift shop on steroids.  Gikomba is a labyrinth of rickety wooden stalls, adorned with rows of garments hung like ornaments on a Christmas tree.  Vendors, perched above colorful mounds of clothing, call out to customers, shouting prices from their stalls.  Bales of clothing are hauled through its narrow, muddy corridors on sturdy backs and rickshaws, as customers bob and weave through the chaos looking for quality clothing at the lowest price.

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Bales of clothing waiting to be sold at Gikomba market. (Photo Credit: Katrina Shakarian)

The sound of “camera, camera” fills the air.  Clothing, both retail and wholesale, are sold in rounds by grade.   Each round is called a camera, first camera, second camera and finally, the third.  Once the bales are opened and sorted, the best quality clothes will be the first to go.  Vendors often build relationships with each other in order to get first dibs on “first camera” clothing.

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Ladies T-Shirt from Australia. (Photo Credit: Katrina Shakarian)

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Used clothing bale from Canada. (Photo Credit: Katrina Shakarian)

Francis, from the Kingara section of Nairobi, supervises a store that sells bales of clothing in the market.  Drivers for the business go back and forth to Mombasa at least twice a week, bringing  back about 70 bales of clothing with them each time.  The drive from Nairobi to Mombasa is about 8 hours one way.  According to Francis, a bale of 1st grade clothing can range anywhere from KHS 9000 (about $100) to KHS 14000 (about $200).

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Francis is seated on a bale to the left. He supervises this wholesale bale business in Gikomba market. (Photo Credit: Katrina Shakarian)

Thomas Wahome, 24, and Samuel Mwangi, 28, have both worked in Gikomba market for 3 years.  They rent a stall for KHS 1500 (about $20) a month to sell men’s and women’s jeans.  At their stall, the cheapest pair costs 100 shillings (about $1.50).

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Thomas Wahome and Samuel Mwangi at their stall in Gikomba market. (Photo Credit: Katrina Shakarian)

Paula Bosire, an accounting student at Strathmore University, likes to mix and match her wardrobe.  Some of her clothes are brand new from local chain stores and others are second hand.  She is a frequent visitor to Gikomba, where she goes to find prices even cheaper than Toi’s.   “I shop at Woolworth’s and Mr. Price for statement pieces and come to Gikomba for really good deals and things that are practically new.  Sometimes the difference isn’t much,” she said.  On this day, Paula left Gikomba with stylish scarves and a pair of slacks and jeans that cost KHS 40 (about $0.50) each.

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Paula Bosire shopping for scarves in Gikomba market. (Photo Credit: Katrina Shakarian)

Geoffrey Messo, 24, is a mitumba retailer at Umoja, an estate in Nairobi.  He has been in business for 8 months and visits Gikomba twice a week to purchase new stock.  He retains customers by building relationships with them, getting to know their styles and taking personal requests for items.   According to Geoffrey, starting off as a mitumba retailer is not difficult because it requires very little capital upfront.  However, like any business mitumba is not devoid of challenges.  Sometimes Geoffrey is stuck with clothing that doesn’t sell.

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Geoffrey Messo in Gikomba. (Photo Credit: Katrina Shakarian)

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(Photo Credit: Katrina Shakarian)

Gikomba market generates tons of spinoff employment.  It’s like a city within a city.  Security guards are hired to protect stalls and stock.  There are tailors on site to repair clothing and stalls set up exclusively for ironing.  Shoe cleaners wait at the exit of the market with brushes, soap and water to wash off the mud accumulated from a busy day of shopping, and food vendors are on site to fuel the spending.

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(Photo Credit: Katrina Shakarian)

Naima, is known as ‘mathe’ in the market which means mother in shang, Kenyan slang.  Originally from the coast province, she is the owner of ‘Real Madrid’ restaurant, located at the center of Gikomba’s hustle and bustle.   She’s run her business in the market for 8 years.  In addition to feeding hungry shoppers with typical Kenyan dishes like chapati, samosas and greengrams (lentils), she caters for parties and offices in the Westlands and Hurlingham sections of Nairobi.   “People come from very far to pick clothes for their businesses.  This is a meeting place for them.  They sell, exchange, I let them do whatever they want [here].  They come in the morning, leave their things, I keep them safe while they go to buy.  Then, they come to eat, talk with friends and return home, ”said Naima.

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Naima’s business is more than just a restaurant. It’s a social gathering space for those buying and selling in the market. On a typical day, her establishment is filled with the sound of laughter and friendly banter. (Photo Credit: Katrina Shakarian)

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Since there is no running water, Naima provides plastic gloves for finger food. (Photo Credit: Katrina Shakarian)

A portrait of Gikomba market would not be complete without mentioning that it is also Nairobi’s wholesale fish market.  Hotels, restaurants, businesses and even individual shoppers flock here to purchase fresh and smoked fish from Lakes Victoria and Turkana.

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(Photo Credit: Katrina Shakarian)

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(Photo Credit: Katrina Shakarian)

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Helen is standing to the far left, in front of her fish vending business in Gikomba market. (Photo Credit: Katrina Shakarian)

Geoffrey Messo, the clothing vendor who I met shopping for stock, introduced me to his mother Helen.  She has been selling fish in Gikomba for 10 years.  She sells fresh fish from Lake Victoria.  She receives shipments of fish everyday.  Along with most vendors in the market, she rents a space in communal refrigerators to store her supply.  Her customers, many of whom are restaurant owners, come straight to her in Gikomba.  She also makes home deliveries.

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Fried fish, stew, sukuma wiki and ugali. (Photo Credit: Katrina Shakarian)

If you’re not in the mood for samosas or greengrams at Naima’s ‘Real Madrid,’ stop by the fish section of the market for freshly fried Nile perch, a side of sukuma wiki, kale, and the Kenyan staple ugali, corn flower cooked with water to a dough-like consistency.

On the Ground in Toi Market

Toi market is located at the outskirts of Kibera slums in Nairobi.   According to Citizen TV Kenya, ”the market, which started in 1992 as a food center, where people could stop for a bite to eat, has become a vast emporium of second hand shoes, shirts, bags, pants and dresses. “  Toi market is the primary retail-shopping destination for the average Nairobean.   It’s less hectic, more spacious and secure than Gikomba market, which is located near the city center.

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(Photo Credit: Katrina Shakarian)

Boniface started working in Toi in 2005.  He has lived in the adjacent Kibera slums for 22 years.  He was previously employed in the ‘jua kali’ sector making furniture, but left to go into business for himself.  “  I wanted to be self-employed, to rely on myself and my own business, to live my own life, personally.  The business is cheap to start,” said Boniface.  Unlike most vendors in Toi who rent, Boniface owns his stall.  He purchased it for KHS 25,000 (about $300).

Jackline Arunga, 18, is a newbie in Toi.  She has only worked in the market for 1 year, selling children’s clothes exclusively.  She rents her stall along the roadside for KHS 1500 ($20) a month.  Once a month, she travels to Gikomba market to restock her supply of mitumba.  Jackline’s long term goal is saving money to enroll in university.

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Jackline Arunga at her children’s clothing stall in Toi market. (Photo Credit: Katrina Shakarian)

Brisbane John Ndavi owns a stall in Toi market with his wife.  They have worked here for a decade.  Like for many Kenyans, it is difficult to survive on one income alone.  So, Brisbane has more than one job.  He is a full time security guard at an international embassy in Nairobi.   Brisbane and his wife sell mitumba from a great location on the roadside.   The price of owning or renting along paths, well worn from foot traffic, is double that of stalls off the roadside, deeper inside the market.  Brisbane sited land ownership discrepancies as one challenge to feeling secure in this line of work.  Neighboring Kibera and Toi market are both informal settlements, and who exactly owns the land has been a huge point of contention for decades.   There are constantly rumors about developers seeking to gain ownership and wipe out the market.  According to Brisbane, many vendors work with the fear that one-day, they’ll show up to work and find their structures ransacked and torn down.

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Brisbane John Ndavi and his wife at their stall in Toi market. (Photo Credit: Katrina Shakarian)

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(Photo Credit: Katrina Shakarian)

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Second hand shoes are cleaned, polished and presented like new. (Photo Credit: Katrina Shakarian)

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(Photo Credit: Katrina Shakarian)

Toi market is not just a hub for clothing.  It is a central location for all kinds of used items.  On any given day, it’s common to see customers, both affluent and poor, Kenyan and expatriate, combing through books, toys, electronics, utensils, accessories, furniture and other items.  According to The Standard, Verah Aboga is one of the businesspersons who sells second-hand kitchenware.   Aboga, who operates from Kitengela on the outskirts of Nairobi, sells the items on order to her customers in the city.  Aboga noted that second-hand utensils are becoming popular because the market has been infiltrated by low-quality items. “Most of the sufurias (cooking pots) sold in the Kenyan market are very light and are not even made of stainless steel. This is what is making people switch to second-hand utensils, especially those who mind about quality,” she said.

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Toi market houses all kind of used items, not just clothing. (Photo Credit: Katrina Shakarian)

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Toi market houses all kind of used items, not just clothing. (Photo Credit: Katrina Shakarian)

Challenges to Mitumba

Market liberalization, coupled with the low purchasing power of the vast majority of Kenyans, has made the country fertile ground for the SHCT.  It’s wildly popular across the entire societal spectrum.  Nonetheless, there are several factors that could threaten the industry’s future in Kenya.

1) Cheap textiles from Asia are flooding the market.  Although the competition from this onslaught is real, many Kenyans remain loyal to mitumba for its higher quality.

 
2) In 2012, the government raised import duties on SHC shipments.  According to an article originally published in the Daily Nation, “While a container of mitumba used to attract duty of between Sh900,000 and Sh1.1 million before the new taxes were implemented early this year, the new rate is now Sh1.8 million, an increase of more than Sh800,000, they said.”

3) Local textile firms, that hope to stage a comeback, are lobbying the government to impose a levy on SHC shipments.  They’d like the additional revenue to go towards a fund subsidizing cotton cultivation.

Although government policies and the ever-shifting tide of international trade may ultimately have it in for mitumba, the view from the ground doesn’t hint at a demise any time soon.  At an average of 90% off western retail prices, how can you go wrong?  Shop on Kenya!

17 July 2013 at 06:32 7 comments

A tough day in the office? Microfinance at an inspirational organisation

Alice Reeves – Timor-Leste

East Timor, Timor-Leste, Timor-Lorosaé…

Literal meaning is important here, and names are not chosen frivolously.  Leste means ‘east’ in Portuguese.  In the local language, Tetum, Lorosaé means ‘east’ – literally ‘sunrise’.  For those of you familiar with Bahasa, the main language of Indonesia, the word Timor can be translated as, well, ‘east’.

Just keep heading towards the rising sun, one day you will eventually arrive at the shores of this rocky, dusty, mountainous island just off the northern coast of Australia, at the very tail end of the Indonesian archipelago.  It’s definitely a long way east.

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7 November 2012 at 15:00

Expectations, (harsh) realities, engagement and innovation

Diana Biggs | KF 18 | Burkina Faso

I’d like to think the title of this post sums up my experience in Burkina Faso – perhaps even both professional and personally. I’ll focus on the former here and try to take you through my journey.

Expectations: As a Kiva Fellow, it’s likely you’re a Type A (if on the quirky end), dedicated, well-traveled, highly educated young person, perhaps an experienced professional looking to Pivot (see Patrick’s post for more on that) or mid-studies in a Masters program. Whilst maintaining the flexible state of mind necessary for the field – many in our class were paired with new Field Partners, some in countries where Kiva staff had yet to visit – there are naturally certain expectations or goals set for this commitment. For me, having done research and proposals from a London office, I wanted to see how microfinance programs were actually implemented on the ground.

Ouagadougou street

Walking to work in my first week in Ouaga…

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9 October 2012 at 08:00

Innovative Teenagers: Feeling Insignificant in Africa

Olivia Hanrahan-Soar | KF18 | Johannesburg, South Africa

I recently ran a quick survey of my fellow Fellows to find out what we were all doing at the age of 17. We generally consider ourselves a pretty ambitious, well-travelled, well-read bunch; these days, at least. Responses I got spanned the following:

‘I was sneaking into bars in Costa Rica, where I was studying abroad. Upon my return, I was plotting my next escape from my boring hometown.’
‘Slowly slowly subbing all the liquor in my parents’ cabinet for water’
‘I was at Miss Porter’s School for Girls, sneaking off in day students’ cars to smoke cigarettes and ride with the top down in a convertible.’
‘I used to sneak out of school and go to London at weekends to smoke furiously and go clubbing at the Ministry of Sound, the Fridge or alarming Nigerian places’.
‘Bartending in a bar just in front of the beach’
‘Working as a pool boy and smoking BTs in Post Park, and driving around listening to Green Day and Weezer’s début albums’
‘I was the ultimate Canadian groupie and spent half the year on exchange in the South of France, where my host mom worked doggedly to transition me from skater chick to tight trousers and high heels. I never looked back’
‘Getting my first job as a dishwasher in the UK and then a bakery (Greggs!), and discovering how attractive I find Japanese girls’
‘I’d just moved to Amsterdam to start my undergrad, and was discovering the freedoms of passing out at strangers’ apartments, drinking beer from the pitcher and knowing no boundaries. I have never looked back.’
‘Pretending to be 20 so I could date South African bartenders’.

(You may be noticing a theme here)

Kiva Fellows 18th class: now grown up

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1 October 2012 at 08:00

Cause the money’s all been spent…

Diana Biggs | KF 18 | Burkina Faso

The words of Arcade Fire’s song Lenin, “cause the money’s all been spent” took on a new meaning as I sat writing this blog. Savings has been on my mind a lot over the past two months of my fellowship — most prominently, in the context of the field and the role that microfinance plays in both teaching and facilitating savings for the poor.

This topic brings a lot of difficult questions: With such extremely small amounts of money available, how does one manage to put anything aside? And yet, without this, what happens when you child falls ill with malaria? How does one get together a sum large enough to pay their school fees? How do you put a roof over your head when your hut has been washed away in a flood? If the money stays in your pocket, the little costs of the day-to-day could quickly add up until “the money’s all been spent”…

A group of women count their savings for a payment in Burkina Faso

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18 September 2012 at 08:00 6 comments

Is Microfinance a boon or bane..? My learnings from the field

With mixed emotions not knowing what to expect from the fellowship I headed to India… A sense of excitement for being a part of the launch, a sense of happiness for being able to be with my family after a long time and a disappointment for not having as much excitement as others who are traveling to new countries. But eight weeks in to the fellowship has completely changed this.

I always wondered how far microcredit actually helped alleviate the lives of the poor especially after the SKS Microfinance crisis in Andhra Pradesh. There has been a lot of criticism that this industry was full of profit motivated rather than socially focused players. So, I always wanted to understand what would make micro finance perform stronger socially.The reason I say my fellowship was rewarding is because I had all these questions answered through my eyes and ears in the process of being Kiva’s Eyes and Ears on field.

Two weeks back I was juggling between profile posting, field visits, group photos, and field staff training. Amidst this time crunch phase, a visit to the local weekly market came as liberation. It was so colorful and vibrant may be because 40% of the vendors were women selling vegetables, bangles, local snacks, cooking utensils   etc…

Bangles of all sizes and colors that must be worn to complete your Indian attire…
Locally popular snacks pakora(onions and batter of gram flour mixed and fried in oil) and wada(lentil doughnut)

The aromas(including of stinking dry fish), haggling noises and  people around did not irritate me somehow.Seemed like a perfect recipe for a break. Every 2 shops that we passed by, the branch manager would introduce me to some woman  telling me that she is their client and started/grew their business with a financial support from them.

Dry fish and Red chilli added a different flavor to the market…

It is when I met people like Lalitha and Bijaya Lakshmi that I started wondering about their livelihood in the absence of microfinance. Would they have had help from traditional banks?

Lalitha going back home happily after her day’s sale

Could Lalitha have started a vegetable business without the intervention of Mahashakti; one of Kiva’s      Indian partners with a strong social focus…? Lalitha was selling vegetables in the market. She started selling vegetables with the help of a micro loan to supplement her husband’s income who works as a daily labor in the paddy fields. The additional income has actually helped them move from a mud house to a concrete house. In the photo she holds some drumsticks(moringa) which she saved from her merchandise to cook for her daughter who loves the curry.

As I walked through the stretch of canvas of colors and aromas , I met several other women who were happy to have received a loan and felt empowered through their business.

Me all smiles with Bijayalakshmi spreading her energy around…

Or would Bijayalakshmi and her husband have been able to sustain their livelihood  without financial support in the form of microcredit..? I went to meet her as we were going to post her loan on Kiva. She spends almost 10hrs a day making local snacks and her husband sells them the next day. They are both in their fifties and have no sons to take care of them in their old age as any other parent who has crossed 50s would have been in India. When I asked her about being on internet, she answered with her infectious smile and energy “I am happy to let people know how hard we are working. This may motivate others to work hard and create opportunities for themselves”.  I had nothing to say but be amazed.

But all microfinance clients do not have a success story to share. If it were so, we would not have had those suicides in Andhra Pradesh and MFI industry in India would not be in such a crisis today. So, I thought to myself may be all of microfinance is not good or all of it is not bad. I was reminded of the “half glass” paradox.

Back in my room in the evening I was wondering how MFIs should evolve their model to not let the critics undervalue microfinance by half its potential. It finally dawns on me that MFIs should look for holistic solutions to poverty and provide innovative services by understanding the needs of the customers like any other industry and not just focus on micro credit.

I learnt from my interactions here that more than 40% of a household annual income is spent for health and it plays a major role in repaying the loan. So, health should be one major area of focus for the MFIs. Some of the MFIs in India like one of Kiva’s Indian partners Mahashakti have now started providing health based initiatives like micro insurance, credit support for safe drinking water, water and sanitation loans etc… As one of Mahashakti’s management staff puts it  “Providing basic needs first and then lending builds a stronger bond and trust between the MFIs and the borrowers.” I think this trusted relation is essential for any MFI’s sustained impact and survival in their strive for the creation of economic independence.

These client focused initiatives are implemented only by 5% of all MFIs in India and need to be more wide spread. It is very encouraging to see this shift in the MFI model in India though and hope to see many more moving in this direction.It is good to see Kiva also increase its focus beyond traditional microfinance and work with such partners.

22 August 2012 at 11:19

What I Left Behind and What I Took With Me

By Muskan Chopra KF18 Kenya

Sitting in the Virgin Atlantic flight to London after 10 weeks in the field, I knew of one thing with absolute certainty – Kenya will rightfully own a piece of me forever.

Never have I found myself in a new country, expecting it to change me. But Kenya surpassed all unreasonable expectations. Seeing such diversity of nature, living in local communities, soaking in the culture, meeting small people with big dreams… I transformed myself.

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20 August 2012 at 10:00 8 comments

Empowering Women through… Videography?

Julie Kriegshaber | KF18 | Uganda

There is good reason why past Kiva Fellows at BRAC Uganda have been impressed with BRAC’s Empowerment and Livelihood for Adolescents (ELA) program.

I am not going to rehash what has been already been thoroughly covered – instead, I want to highlight a small group within the ELA program that is doing amazing work.

Visiting the “PV girls” of BRAC Uganda’s ELA program!

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14 August 2012 at 08:00 3 comments

Savings Accounts make me way too excited!

Team Building Exercises

Obviously, as a Kiva Fellow, I’m always excited to hear about how our field partners offer savings to their clients.  While I was unaware of the agenda of this last weekend’s UGAFODE-wide training, I was pleasantly surprised to be a part of personal Savings Account utilization and client mobilization!  The whole weekend was not only necessary but also fun and interesting.  While the first day focused on team building with trust games and group coordination exercises, the second day was designated to Savings Account mobilization.

This savings aspect of UGAFODE has only recently been a possibility and after much hard work and restructuring of the organization.  This field partner only became a Micro Deposit Taking Institution (MDI) on September 23, 2011, but they are moving quickly to utilize this capacity in the products they offer to their clients.

Now, back to the training we received on Savings Mobilization.  I was impressed that the first half of the training was dedicated to training all ~135 employees in personal savings practices and recommendations.  The reason being, “How can you tell a client to save when you yourself don’t know how?”  Although, some of the tips were quite basic they were good reminders of how and why we save.

All employees from Credit Officers to Senior Management in Training!

Next, we split into groups to discuss the different forms of savings that clients utilize and why they do this.  I knew that micro business clients use often unorthodox forms of savings, but this really opened my eyes to other barriers that institutions have to encourage and educate people toward savings.  Although, saving in a bank is not always the best option, many times it is a far better option then the alternative.  In Uganda, with an economic history of bank closures and untrustworthy institutions, many people are hesitant to trust their money with an organization.  One of the facilitators shared a story that he had a group of woman that he was helping open savings accounts for.  When he filled out the paper work and took their cumulatively substantial amount of $6,000 he brought back passbooks (small ledgers recording account activity) that were worth $0.25.  The women were confused and angry that they gave him all that money and they only got a cheap book to replace it.

I have learned that this is the kind of context that many of the rural branches of UGAFODE deal with on a daily basis. When improving the financial literacy of low-income clients it is not telling them that saving is a good habit, but rather how will they directly benefit from savings. The credit officers’ job is to not only to disburse loans and savings accounts, but to educate clients on the benefits of savings.  What they call customer sensitization was heavily emphasized in training, to not only explain the benefits, but also the step-by-step deposit and withdrawal terms of any given account.

Don, a credit officer with UGAFODE talks business with a new Kiva client, James. Let’s get these people some savings accounts!

I was somewhat unaware of the marketing aspect of savings accounts, but now totally understand that savings accounts not only benefit the borrower with safe and secure savings but also with interest.  And while this is a great social mission for UGAFODE, it makes sense for them to increase their clients’ savings portfolio, so that they have access to this cheaper form of capital that they can then lend to other borrowers.

I love these win-win situations for all parties involved!  Now, I’m currently compiling a report to propose to UGAFODE to give back to their Kiva borrowers by opening a fixed deposit savings account for 3-6 months that would be given to Kiva clients who make all their repayments on time.  Therefore, only clients with good repayment histories would receive a reward by a portion of the interest charged by UGAFODE deposited into this account at the loan-end date. The fixed term of 3-6 months would inherently teach clients the benefits of savings and hopefully encourage continued utilization.

Please share with me any ideas or recommendations for this!

Jon is a second-term Kiva fellow volunteering in Kampala, Uganda with UGAFODE. From the desolate plains of Mongolia to the lush jungle and mountains of Uganda, Jon has been experiencing much of the amazing world of Micofinance. If you like what he has said about UGAFODE, make a loan to any of their clients here

11 August 2012 at 09:00 4 comments

Selling stoves in Burkina Faso, a humble field guide

Diana Biggs | KF 18 | Burkina Faso

Last week I was lucky enough to join my Entrepreneurs du Monde (EdM) colleagues on a field mission in the Ioba province of Burkina Faso, a rural area that borders Ghana. There, in the town of Dano, is a small EdM office manned by Benoit Some, who covers EdM’s Burkina Faso social enterprise arm, Nafa Naana, in the area.

The small, roadside office doubles as a storage hub and retail outlet for energy-efficient and gas cookstoves (as described in my last blog post).

EdM's Dano office

Cookstove display outside the EdM branch in Dano.

Here, this March, four rural shopkeepers were given training in the Nafa Naana model — the product offering, environmental protection, stock management, cash management and sales techniques. Then in April, EdM set them up for the sale of the cookstoves, providing them with simple management tools, such as receipts and sales lists, posters and an informational leaflet to show interested customers. The organization also installed grills produced by local iron workers to lock up the cookstoves and organized four promotional events in the area to drum up interest. Then of course there were the actual cookstoves, which are supplied to the shopkeepers with interest-free advances.

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7 August 2012 at 08:00 4 comments

Pakistan: Remarkable women in remarkable places

By Anya Raza | KF18 | Pakistan

Racing against the onset of monsoon season and the holy month of fasting, Ramadan, my female colleague Shazia and I challenged ourselves to travel 1,500 km across South Punjab to meet with seven borrowers in three days.

The mission was to complete an audit of sorts, known as a “borrower verification.”

What may seem like an awkward, laborious task is in fact most fellows’ favourite part of their fellowship — the chance to travel and meet borrowers in the flesh.

To meet Rani, we had to park our car under the sole tree on that lane and continue by foot into a tiny village divided by railroad tracks. Overseeing a bustling home with children, goats and neighbors casually popping in and out continuously, Rani shared with me the ambitious story of her seamstress/farming endeavors made possible through Kiva loans over the past five years.

“It takes two hands to applaud,” Rani emphasized, highlighting her need to supplement her husband’s income as a mason.

A candid family moment with Rani.

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3 August 2012 at 08:00 12 comments

Explaining Kiva Zip from a Whitewater Raft

By Muskan Chopra KF18 Kenya

I lived the life of a Kiva Zip borrower for a day as I rafted down the Nile in Uganda. It all started last weekend when the brave expats of Nairobi and Kampala decided to meet in Jinja. Jinja is a quaint city in Uganda serving the best Rolex, and is also the place where the Nile originates. With every natural wonder of the world comes some adventure – a full day Grade 5 rafting trip at the Source.

As a first-timer to extreme action sports in the water, I decided to tune in to every emotion – the anticipation of a class 5 rapid, the heightened fear every time a swirl of rough water came in to sight, the alertness to what the guide was saying, the effort with which I rowed when it felt like the water was taking over, and the huge sigh of relief when you realize you came out on the other side with all your body parts intact.

Looking back, I couldn’t help but wonder – what could I relate this experience to? What does this cycle of emotions remind me of? I instantly drew a connection with Kiva Zip – a revolutionary microfinance model testing the possibility of lenders giving loans directly to borrowers at 0% interest, as long as the borrower has a trustee that Kiva has vetted.

Let me explain the correlation from the eyes of a Grade 5 rafter…

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25 July 2012 at 05:00 6 comments

Now you’re cooking with gas…

Diana Biggs | KF 18 | Burkina Faso

As mentioned in my previous posts, the Field Partner I’m working with, Entrepreneurs du Monde (EdM), is not a microfinance institution in itself – however, the use of microfinance is key to its mission, as it allows EdM to distribute their socially focused projects in a way that can become financially sustainable.

The focus of Kiva’s partnership is EdM’s cookstove project, newly named “Nafa Naana” which can be understood both in Moré and Dioula – the two local languages most spoken in Burkina Faso – roughly translating to “the benefit has come,” “that which you easily win” or “the facility is there.” (Read about it on EdM’s West Africa Blog – and , if you’re really keen, starting picking up some Moré!).  Nafa Naana’s mission is to make environmentally-friendly energy products – such as gas and energy efficient stoves – available in Burkina Faso, even to the poorest and most remote households.

Projet Nafa Naana

Nafa Naana team with the improved cookstoves

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20 July 2012 at 08:09 6 comments

Kiva = 1, Trough of Disillusionment = 0

By Muskan Chopra | KF18 | Kenya

During our week of training in San Francisco, we were warned about the ‘trough of disillusionment’, where all will not be smooth in the field. Whether we were going to Kenya, Cambodia, Armenia or Peru, we will wake up to tough days where hot water decides to take a holiday or mosquitos find a way through the bed nets.

I often thought to myself – shouldn’t we instead be worrying about our borrowers’ ‘trough of disillusionment’? What’s a day of cold water baths and mosquito bites when thousands of people in the bottom of the pyramid don’t have access to water at all or can’t even afford malaria pills?

Three weeks of meeting these people has taught me that micro-borrowers don’t know what disillusionment is. They only know of hope and optimism, constantly planning for brighter futures.

How can they not when over 22,000 Kiva lenders made a loan to a borrower just this week.

Welcome to the world of Josphat – school principal, teacher and aspiring entrepreneur…

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11 July 2012 at 06:00 10 comments

A Mexican Tale of Women and Sheep

Emmanuel M. von Arx | KF 16+17 | Mexico

Who would have thought that my second Kiva Fellowship would teach me just as much about microfinance as about the rearing of sheep? Seriously, ask me anything you want: How do you best hold a lamb? How do you wrestle with a grown-up mutton? How do you treat sheep for worms? Where and how often do you set them a vaccine? How do you determine a sheep’s age? Why does a sheep bite normally neither hurt nor bleed? For what reason does a sheep have four stomach compartments? And how do you compel a lamb’s reluctant mother to accept her kid after birth? I owe this knowledge to UNAM-educated veterinarian Linda Velázquez Rosas, who made a sheep-expert not just out of me, but also out of 200 amateur sheep-owners in and around the little town of San Felipe del Progreso, two hours west of Mexico City. This training was made possible by Vision Fund Mexico (also known as Fundación Realidad or FRAC), a Kiva field partner that excels both at financial and non-financial services (in a previous blog post I documented an artisan fair in Mexico City that was co-organized by FRAC).

Continue Reading 6 July 2012 at 08:00 6 comments

Bonne Arrivée: Welcome to Ouagadougou

By Diana Biggs | KF18 | Burkina Faso

One week ago today, I touched down in my new home of Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso. The greetings of “Bonne Arrivée!” I received at the airport are now echoed each morning as I arrive at my field partner’s office and each evening as I return home and  am greeted by my night guardian, Adama.

The road to work

A quieter street in Ouaga…

Continue Reading 3 July 2012 at 08:55 10 comments

Beyond Financial Services: Mexico’s Greatest Artisan Fair

Emmanuel M. von Arx | KF 16+17 | Mexico

Shortly after arriving at my first Mexican microfinance organization, FRAC (or Fundación Realidad, soon to be called Vision Fund Mexico), I had the joyful task of presenting in the name of Kiva two Social Performance Badges to its enthusiastic staff: one for Vision Fund Mexico’s strong and persistent focus on poor people, and one for the organization’s success in empowering families and communities. The description of the Family and Community Empowerment Badge on Kiva’s homepage immediately piqued my interest: it states that recipients of this badge “implement innovative business practices and offer services in addition to their financial products to meet the needs of the people they serve.” Innovative business practices and additional services beyond financial products? At FRAC? I began to ask members of FRAC’s staff and was soon pointed to some great examples of non-financial services that Vision Fund Mexico has provided in past months and year: they include support in product marketing and distribution given to beekeepers and artisan villages, over 380 free financial literary workshops for well over 4,000 borrowers, and free expert veterinarian training and medical services provided to hundreds of borrowers who are raising cows and sheep in their backyard. While I hope that some of these topics will be addressed by future guest blog posts of FRAC staff members (continuing the series that was started by Rosa’s gorgeous post on her recent field visit), I will report here on FRAC’s selfless contribution to Mexico’s largest artisan fair, the Expo FONAES. In many ways, this is just another example to David Gorgani’s great piece on the wide range of non-financial services that Kiva field partner organizations provide.

Continue Reading 22 June 2012 at 08:00 4 comments

Recycling for Life and Family in the Mexican Countryside

Emmanuel M. von Arx | KF 16+17 | Mexico

I have a confession to make: I love to browse Kiva borrower profiles – even occasionally without any actual intention to make a loan. I believe that reading the stories of borrowers from all over the world and knowing their dreams tells me more about a country and the mentality of its people than even the best of all travel guidebooks. And knowing some of the challenges they are facing in their lives and how they are surmounting them, being aware of the long hours they work every day and their dedication to their families – all this inspires me deeply and on a very personal level: if people can thrive under difficult circumstances thanks to incredibly hard work and a dream, then I should and will be able to do something meaningful and lasting with my own life as well! My Kiva lender profile reads: “I loan because… Kiva borrowers never cease to inspire me with their courage, talent, and dedication!”

That strong sense of inspiration that speaks to me out of every Kiva borrower’s history has been multiplied during my time in the field as a Kiva Fellow in the course of many personal meetings with borrowers. I have met literally dozens of borrowers who have left an indelible mark in my heart and mind. But recently I have met a borrower who is so extraordinary and unusual that even I – one of the more seasoned Kiva Fellows – was blown away. Her name is Ma de los Angeles and this blog entry tells the story of her work and her success.

Continue Reading 1 June 2012 at 08:00 6 comments

20 Years in 2012: A Celebration of Serving the Filipino Poor

The new year is already in full swing and resolutions are being met or failed as we speak. This New Year’s celebrations, for me, was a little different as I got to spend a full week with Center for Community Transformation staff as they celebrated 20 years of growth and successful service to the poor in the Philippines. President Ruth Callanta spent time reflecting on the past but also casting vision for the future as CCT hopes to transform more communities in the Philippines and reach more marginalized people groups.

Continue Reading 22 January 2012 at 04:51 2 comments

A Fellowship in Photos (Part 1)

My first placement in Ecuador was my first time in the country. Turns out that Ecuador is every bit as incredible as the guide books say, and more. I was continously struck by the warmth and openness of the Ecuadorian people (and their passion for politics!), the beauty of the mountains, jungle, and countryside, the richness of Ecuadorian food, the strength of the Kiva borrowers I met there, and my persisting inability to salsa as well as my coworkers. These are a few of my favorite photos of my time there. Stay tuned for my next post, of my favorite photos from my placement in Perú!

Continue Reading 28 December 2011 at 04:00 1 comment

Mr. Cool: Layla’s Story (Video Blog)

By Laurie Young, KF16

Awhile ago I attended a Kiva loan disbursement for VisionFund Indonesia with my Kiva Coordinator, Valentine. She and I were both intrigued by a product called Mr. Cool that Layla, the leader of the group, has a business turning into ice cream pops. Often times the borrowers we met during field visits were quiet and reserved. However, Layla was extremely excited to have us in her home and show us all about her business making Mr. Cool pops. She was the most outgoing and charismatic borrower I met during my time in Jakarta and, because of this, I wanted to share our visit with you.

Continue Reading 21 December 2011 at 20:00 1 comment

And the Winner Is…………

By Jill Hall, KF16, Philippines

“And the winner is……..ppprrrrrmmmmmmm” (drum roll). Now, if you are anything like me, the image in your head is of some famous actress or actor fumbling with a large envelope, complaining about how is it hard to open. Luckily, for this post, we are going skip the envelope and talk about a winner who is a little closer to home for this Kiva Fellow. The winner I am talking about is CCT’s very own, Andresa Javines, who is Citi Bank’s “Entrepreneur of the Year” (MOTY) for Mindanao, Philippines.

Continue Reading 14 December 2011 at 07:00 3 comments

Mali in Color (Part 1): Impressions of Kiva Borrowers

By Kathrin Gerner, KF16, Rwanda

When I boarded a plane to Mali last week, I was not exactly enthusiastic. One reason may have been the unpleasant 2 AM take-off from Kigali, another the recent Al-Qaida kidnappings in the North, which meant that all relevant tourist spots were off limits. And six months into my career as a Kiva fellow, a routine task such as a borrower visit was not enough to get me excited.

I was in for a surprise.

The borrowers of Kiva’s Malian field partner Soro Yiriwaso and their incredible hospitality, made my trip unforgettable. I came to check borrowers’ identities and look at loan papers. I left with a mountain of presents, a full stomach and a serious caffeine high after the countless cups of sweat tea offered to me everywhere I went.

But I was most excited about finally being in a country where people love to be photographed. Below are my favorite shots from my meetings with Malian borrowers.

Continue Reading 12 December 2011 at 03:00 6 comments

Malaria Dreams: The True Kiva Fellowship Experience

By Tejal Desai, KF16, Sierra Leone

As my Kiva fellowship winds down, I reflect on the memorable journey I’ve been privileged to experience through the Kiva Fellows Program as a member of its 16th class. Through personal revelations and humbling lessons in adaptation, microfinance work, cultural differences (and a unique incidence of malaria), I’ve grown attached to beautiful Sierra Leone. Throughout the fellowship, I’ve found my journey paralleling that of a character in a humorous novel, Malaria Dreams by Stuart Stevens, in which a man travels through the Central African Republic in one mission in mind: to find a friend’s Land Rover and drive it back to Europe — only to find that his 3-month journey has a lot more in store for him than he anticipated, and nothing goes exactly as planned. My fellowship similarly followed suit with its own surprises, bumps in the road, and memorable moments.

Continue Reading 1 December 2011 at 16:00 6 comments

The Ladder of Autonomy

By Allison Moomey, KF16, Burkina Faso

The longer I’m with my partner microfinance institution, Micro Start, the more impressed I am with them.  Not only are they wonderful, hard-working people who get things done, but they also have a long-term, sustainable, and empowering vision.  I recently completed a credit and savings product survey, and one of the questions for each product is “what is the goal of this product?”  The answer always involved the word autonome, or autonomous.  Each product is working to eventually move the client to financial stability and independence.

A loan officer with one of Micro Start's solidarity groups, one rung up on the ladder of autonomy.

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1 December 2011 at 06:00 3 comments

Second Chances (Part 1)

There’s a certain amount of introspective review that happens near the end of a Kiva Fellow’s time in the field, as previous Fellows have written about self-discoveries in spirituality, competitiveness, and self-acceptance. We’ve all gained a better worldview, certainly. Witnessing extreme poverty, adjusting to life in a developing nation and participating in the small technological miracle of connecting Kiva Lenders and Borrowers can lead to some genuine soul-searching. I’ve learned an important life lesson and, at the risk of public humiliation; but ultimately hoping to a) cement this lesson to my own heart and b) encourage future Fellows, I’ll admit that due to my own ignorance and fear, I nearly missed out on one of the greatest experiences of my life.

Continue Reading 24 November 2011 at 05:15 14 comments

To Kiva Fellow or not to Kiva Fellow. Eso e’ la pregunta.

By Robert Gradoville, KF16, Peru

Should I become a Kiva Fellow? I imagine a lot of the Stories From The Field blog followers have considered applying to the Fellowship, or have wondered what the comparison is between the Kiva Fellows Program to similar volunteer or development programs abroad. This may include the Peace Corps, overseas research grants, overseas workshops on topics in development, Fulbright Fellowships, Rotary Scholarships, and possibly service-learning trips if you are currently students. The list goes on and on. And it can seem like a big and slightly mystifying list for anyone who just wants to make a decision and DO SOMETHING!

This post will compare and contrast “what it’s like” to be a Kiva Fellow to the myriad other programs out there.

Continue Reading 20 November 2011 at 20:06 4 comments

Multi-faceted Borrowers Part 1

By Abhinab Basnyat, KF 16, Nepal

I had always been fascinated by the textbook stories in micro-finance: loans to buy cattle or to start a small tea-shop that supported income generating activities and had a tangible impact on people’s lives. When I met Kiva borrowers, Narayan Devi and Binu, and heard their stories I suddenly had the visceral confirmation that had been amiss in textbooks. Yes, micro-finance loans played an influential role to uplift livelihoods. But more importantly, it was the borrowers’ multi-faceted entrepreneurship that magnified the impact of micro-finance.

A Kiva loan helped Naryan Devi, a mother of two, buy supplies for her store, which she runs with her husband. Her small shop while profitable to repay her loans is not enough to sustain her family and send her children to school. Narayan Devi is a multi-faceted entrepreneur who is always looking to learn new skills and apply her business acumen to new opportunities.

Narayan Devi at store with her husband

Two years ago Narayan Devi took a training on making a traditional Nepal sweet – pustakari  that is made up of khoa (a cheese like milk based product), peanut powder, sugar.

Narayan Devi making pustakari

She spent her spare time during the past six months experimenting and perfecting the sweet making process. For the last two months she has been producing batches enough to sell in her shop and the surrounding area. Sale of pustakaris have supplemented Narayan Devi’s income.

Packaged pustakari for sale

Unfortunately, some of the major sweet producers in the the Nepali were recently found to be producing sub-standard pustakaris. This resulted in an overall drop in demand for these sweets. In response, farmers in the upstream market have stopped converting their milk to khoa – an essential ingredient in the sweet making process. Since, Narayan Devi caters to her local market people still trust and purchase her sweets; however, she is facing difficulty in procuring the raw materials. Narayan Devi is hopeful that her small home enterprise will not be shuttered, and consumers will continue to love the traditional Nepali sweet.

As a multi-faceted entrepreneur, along with her shop and sweet making enterprise, Narayan Devi is an experienced carpet weaver. She learned this craft as a kid working during the school holidays, and occasionally takes on weaving projects for extra income.

Abhinab Basnyat is currently serving as a  Kiva Fellow in Nepal with BPW-Patan. To learn more about BPW-Patan go to their Field Partner Page on the Kiva website. Check out the BPW Patan Lending Team and consider making a loan to a woman entrepreneur from Nepal.

18 November 2011 at 08:00 1 comment

Study Now, Pay Now: Funding Higher Education in the Philippines

by: Jill Hall, KF16, Philippines

The higher education loan was an exciting idea because it had the potential to provide access to financial backing to those who wanted to pursue further education but were often limited by the lack of availability of funding in their country. The higher education loans hold much potential but it also introduces a whole other set of potentially troubling issues.
It was a pleasure to sit down with Maricar Santiago, CCT with the Visions of Hope division, to discuss the the details of the “Study Now, Pay Now” education loan product.

Continue Reading 12 November 2011 at 18:08 5 comments

Artisan Borrowers of BPW-Patan, Nepal

By Abhinab Basnyat, KF 16, Nepal

Kids playing on swings in Thecho village

Thecho village lies just six kilometers outside of Patan, a sub-municipality and headquarters of Lalitpur district. Thecho still has the charm of a village, albeit a rapidly changing one.

Corn being dried for planting next year

A main road under construction in Thecho

Thecho has a high concentration of the Newari artisan community. Laxmi, and Hera Devi are two female borrowers of BPW-Patan, who have been funded through Kiva in the past to support their woodcraft and artisan businesses.

Thecho artisans craft the bronze/copper deity statues that adorn households all over the world. Hera Devi, a mother of two, is involved in the very first step. She makes the white porcelain cast that etches the contours of the deity. She then layers it in wax to create a replica. Depending on the requested designs she will etch engravings. She has to be extremely careful as too much pressure will break the wax and she will have to start over. Once the design is complete the wax replica is handed off to someone else in the village to cast mud and cook it, then a metal smith will pour hot copper or bronze to create the metal statues that tourists often see all over Kathmandu valley.

Porcelain, wax, and metal materials used for deity cast

Besides metal and wooden crafts, Hera Devi has been busy making makhmali (globe amaranth) garlands with her mother for Tihar / Diwali (festival of lights). Tihar extends over five days, and on the last day – Bhai Tika, siblings exchange blessings and the makmali flower garlands. The makhmali flower signifies longevity since it colors do not fade.

Hera Devi weaving garlands with her mother

Hera Devi with her garlands

This is a seasonal undertaking for Hera Devi and she can prepare about twenty garlands in a day. She plants the flowers in her garden several months in advance to prepare for the festival demand. Once winter starts, she plans to sew sweaters as well.

Like Hera Devi, Kiva loans have helped support Laxmi’s wood engraving and craft business. She works with her husband, Cheri Babu, who has been making etching and engravings on wood for over twenty years.

Wooden stumps before carving

Laxmi carving wooden stumps

They are currently creating a mast that will support a pati. Patis are public shelters like bus stands with an open face and a roof. These traditional rest-stops provided walkers a place to rest or even spend the night as they traveled. As patis have declined in use, these traditional masts have been more popular in stores and houses as they are aesthetically more appealing than concrete pillars.

Completed carved masts

Lenders all over the world have provided micro-loans to women like Hera Devi and Laxmi through Kiva and its partner BPW-Patan. Each loan has helped kick-start and maintain borrowers’ micro-enterprises. In doing so, they have provided critical support that has helped preserve Nepali artisan culture and heritage.
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Abhinab Basnyat is currently serving as a  Kiva Fellow in Nepal with BPW-Patan. To learn more about BPW-Patan go to their Field Partner Page on the Kiva website. Check out the BPW Patan Lending Team and consider making a loan to a woman entrepreneur from Nepal.

9 November 2011 at 08:00 1 comment

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