Posts tagged ‘Charity’
By Dave Weber, KF16 Cambodia
CREDIT does more than administer loans and savings products to help alleviate poverty. An initiative of theirs called VSU distributes gifts to their poorest clients. Read on and watch a video of the gift distribution.
My landlord recently explained to me that when she moved to the United States in 1980 after the fall of the Khmer Rouge, she got a job assembling hi-tech equipment like computer motherboards. She was intimidated by the difficult work at first. The workers had to be surgically precise and use extremely small materials, but she looked at her colleagues and said to herself “They have two eyes and two arms, just like me. Anything they can do, I can do.” She took the challenge head-on and was a productive, successful employee for many years before returning to Cambodia in the early 1990’s.
By Abby Gray, KF6 Togo and KF7 Senegal
Meet Jacques. He’s the Kiva Coordinator at WAGES, a microfinance institution (MFI) based in Togo, West Africa. Every day, a loan officer hand-delivers a stack of borrower information forms and a USB chip full of photos. Jacques has trained the officers how to fill out the forms, use digital cameras, and get borrowers to smile and display their merchandise proudly for pictures.
Jacques formats the pictures, writes the information into paragraphs, and uploads everything to Kiva’s website. Then, during the loan cycle, he reports repayments manually and visits borrowers to collect a progress update and take yet another picture.
The work is inefficient, tedious, and time-consuming.
But it’s worth it. (more…)
Wrapping up my six month fellowship with Kiva, I’m not sure how to express that thought any more artfully. On balance I’ve been inspired by the people I’ve met who, with only meager means, must spend long days at arduous tasks in order to support their families. But I’ve also had to confront the reality that a life in poverty often means making hard choices every day. The temptation to judge these decisions can be tempting until you realize that in many cases people have few good options on the table.
In Tajikistan I spent many days in the bazaars and was initially surprised at the number of school-aged children pushing carts or making change. Why are they not in school working toward a university education and a good job? The easiest answer is that there are no good jobs in Tajikistan. In a past blog post, I explained the challenges faced by Tajiks seeking to pursue an education or more viable jobs.
One day Sulton Kurbonov stopped at the MicroInvest office to make a loan payment and I had a chance to meet with this soft-spoken father of seven. He explained that he had taken out a loan to purchase a color television set and my initial reaction was one of disdain. You’re struggling to make ends meet yet you’re taking out loans to buy a television?
After some reflection I realized what a patronizing attitude I had taken. Here’s a man who has lived honestly and worked hard for more than 30 years for little reward other than the sustenance of his family. Is he entitled to allocate some of his income for entertainment? And is he really much different than those of us who finance a car we couldn’t afford to buy in cash?
Having been overseas for six months, I missed out on many of the lesser news stories happening in the US. This was actually a welcome circumstance. After being in the US less than a week I happened across an article on the “Octomom.” The what? I was quite surprised at the level of vitriol directed at this new mother for doing nothing other than reproducing. But after being bombarded with endless details on her, it became apparent that the crux of the issue was that this woman was receiving public assistance.
I thought back to my experience with Sulton. I judged him because his loan was provided in part because of my efforts. Maybe a little tiny piece of me felt like I somehow owned him or at least his decisions. And perhaps I thought that his poverty was a reflection of his capabilities. That may or may not be true, but the essence of human dignity is the ability to make choices – good or bad. Immanuel Kant said, “morality, and humanity as capable of it, is that which alone has dignity.”
The greatest thing I see in Kiva and its lenders is the ceding of decisions to the borrower. Making a loan in essence conveys a trust in the borrower and preserves the dignity of the relationship. But it also means that borrowers may make decisions at odds with your own thinking.
A recent borrower in the Philippines took a loan to raise fighting cocks. This is a very popular and legal activity which provides an income for many families throughout the country. While many lenders may not want to fund such a loan (and exercise their own free will through such a choice), is it appropriate to deny this borrower access to Kiva since we may not agree with how she chooses to legally pursue her livelihood?
This is one of the more difficult questions we face when we engage in charity of any sort. Do we give with the expectation of control? Or do we give with the acknowledgment that we are empowering others?
Today was my first day of work at IMCEC, a Senegalese MFI based in Dakar. I’m working out of their offices in Thies, a smaller, hotter, dustier, and boringer city about an hour and a half from Dakar. IMCEC currently manages the Kiva partnership in a very decentralized way, and is having a lot of trouble meeting their $80,000 a month fundraising limit – in January they only posted $7,500-worth of loans on the Kiva site. What a waste of free capital!
Happily, they just hired a woman to manage the Kiva process. It’ll be my job to train her and to help IMCEC set up a system that takes advantage of the interest-free capital provided by Kiva in the most efficient way possible. What a fun challenge!
In the meantime, I’m living with one of the IMCEC employees, Marie. After work today, I decided to go for a walk and explore the neighborhood a little bit.
It’s easy to forget that you’re white when you walk around with your African friends and coworkers. This is not the case, however, when you walk around alone.
Every male between the ages of 8 and 28 feels it is necessary to yell things at me that I don’t understand. It’s even more frustrating because some of them are legitimately nice, and if I don’t respond, it’s ME who is being rude. So, I do my best to choose between complete ignorance, a slight smile, or a polite “Bon soir.”
During the short two-minute walk from my house to the little soda shop, one guy earned a response by addressing me with a polite, “Bon soir, mademoiselle.”
“How nice,” I thought.
“Bon soir,” I said.
“Mademoiselle, ou madame?” he asked, as we passed each other (i.e., am I married?).
Sigh. I turned my head behind me to look him directly in the eyes and said, “Madame.”
Then we both laughed, and I felt ok about life. As I turned onto the main road, a little girl started walking next to me, maybe 9 years old. I said hi, asked her what her name was (Maimouna), and kept walking. At the store, she stood next to me the whole time. She was very polite, not asking for anything, and I think not expecting anything. I chose a Sprite for myself, two for my homestay family, and an extra one.
Now, after being in Africa for four months, I am tired of constantly being torn about whether to give or not to give. I’ve seen various philosophies that my friends and acquaintances have adopted. Some give constantly, always buying gifts of food or alcohol or n’importe quoi, and, surprisingly, earning the genuine love and respect of people around them. Some never give, complaining about the annoyance kids who “guard” their cars while they are in the parking lot and then ask for a bit of money afterwards. My Togolese friends used to give regularly to the people begging on the sides of the road, literally throwing change at them as we passed.
The other day I was in a pick-up truck in the absolute middle of nowhere with a Senegalese friend. We passed two women and two children on the side of the road. I have to admit – I didn’t even see them there. My friend did, however, and he stopped the car. “Can we take them?” he asked me in French.
“Of course,” I said.
We drove them to the nearest town, which is where we were going anyway. It was far – maybe half an hour or more. As they got out of the car, the sun was setting. If we hadn’t helped them, I have no idea how they ever would have gotten where they needed to go.
As the last woman got out of the car, she said something in Wolof, the local language.
“What did she say?” I asked, as we started on our way.
“She said that we will never know what we just did for them,” my friend told me.
Back to the soda shop. I considered all the reasons not to give my little friend a soda – I don’t want her to think that every time she sees a white person, she might get something from them. That is a real, real concern for me. I also don’t want to make myself feel good just because I do something that involves literally no sacrifice and that I am able to do just because of where I happen to have been born.
So, I can’t give Abozu my camera. But sometimes you just want to buy a little girl a soda. So I handed Maimouna the Sprite and told her to study hard in school.
I haven’t figured out my life philosophy on giving or not giving. But there are lines we all have to draw, and when you’re drawing those lines, it doesn’t hurt to remember that you might never know what you are really doing for someone else.