Posts tagged ‘culture’

Kiva Fellows: Mixing Business with Pleasure

a job that lets you travel across Mongolia... AND play table tennis while you wait at the airport?!

A job that lets you travel across Mongolia… AND play table tennis while you wait at the airport?!

Here in Mongolia, my top priority with XacBank has been to complete borrower verifications (BVs)—visits to 10 randomly selected Kiva clients to ensure that everything in the field checks out with the information reported to Kiva’s San Francisco headquarters. As it happened, the borrowers in my sample were scattered across the country. Here’s a summary of what my month of April looked like:

  • 1 month spent
  • 4,872 km covered
  • 9 borrowers verified
  • 5 aimags traveled to
  • 7 branch offices visited
  • 10 training sessions delivered
  • 35 loan officers and other staff trained
  • 13 top Kiva borrowers recognized
  • 1 television interview completed
  • 67 client waivers checked
  • 2 runaway borrowers chased down
  • 1 Kiva Coordinator-Extraordinaire
  • 2 beautiful lakes and other sights experienced
  • 4 items delivered via Mongolian messenger service
  • Many kilos of cheese curds (and other nice gifts!) received

I couldn’t help but feel lucky—I knew it would be an eye-opening experience to visit all these different parts of Mongolia. After all, I think most Kiva Fellows are in this as much for the professional experience as for the exposure to new countries and cultures. Why not mix business with pleasure if you can?

Runaway borrowers

I’ve talked before about some of the work that Kiva Fellows do when we visit branch offices during our BVs, but what I didn’t explain was how, in order to successfully complete a BV, the Fellow must meet with every single borrower on the list. If for whatever reason, a borrower is unavaible or nowhere to be found (and that’s happened before!), the sample must be re-drawn and 10 new borrowers must be verified—no matter how close you were to finishing the first set of 10 (and irrespective of how far and long you had to travel to see them). So it’s safe to say that Kiva Fellows sweat it a little when these meetings don’t line up perfectly. And people are often on the move, which can raise some serious logistical challenges sometimes.

Kiva borrower Aibek - what a relief it was when we finally caught up to him!

Kiva borrower Aibek – what a relief it was when we finally caught up to him!

Take Aibek, for instance. Batzul, the Kiva Coordinator at XacBank, booked us flights to go see him in Bayan-Olgiy, the western-most province of Mongolia (flying made sense given that Olgiy, the city centre, is a 3 day drive from UB). She also arranged our accommodations and made plans with the Director to deliver training sessions at the branch office. We were all set to leave on Monday morning, but late in the afternoon of the Friday before, she called me up sounding very serious: ‘Aibek is not in Bayan-Olgiy. He’s in UB right now. I just spoke to the loan officer.’

the plane we took to Bayan-Olgiy

the plane we took to Bayan-Olgiy

The trickiest part was that he was only planning to be in UB for a few days—which meant that by the time we came back from our branch visits in Bayan-Olgiy and Uvs provinces, he would have left already. We couldn’t change our flights, and flying to Bayan-Olgiy a second time was pretty much out of the question. So the best thing to do was to meet in UB during the weekend. We made plans to meet him on Saturday at 10 a.m. in his neighbourhood. We made our way to the east end of the city and waited… No Aibek.

Batzul called the loan officer in Bayan-Olgiy, who then called Aibek, but he wasn’t picking up his phone. We communicated through his wife, who was at home. We waited and waited. No Aibek. We gave up and agreed to try and reschedule.

Our opportunity came that afternoon. Aibek, the loan officer told us, would meet us by the Wrestling Palace at 1 p.m. When we got there we searched in vain for any passers-by who looked like the man in the borrower profile. An hour passed. No Aibek.

But the third time’s a charm, right? On Sunday afternoon I got a call from Batzul—Aibek had been located! We hopped in a taxi and made our way to the west end of the city. We were driven to a desolate, industrial area surrounded by auto body shops, where random vans were parked and people seemed to be waiting around for something. We waited in the safety of the taxi, but when no Aibek appeared, we cautiously stepped out and started asking strangers if they knew of our man. Eventually, one of them pointed us to a van, and lo and behold, Aibek was there!

Bayan-Olgiy

Our first stop in our travels was Bayan-Olgiy. Bayan-Olgiy is a special part of Mongolia: This region is home to the country’s Kazakh minority, giving it a very distinct feel from the moment you arrive. The Kazakhs, who make up some 90% of the population of this province, adhere to Islam (rather than Buddhism, like much of the rest of Mongolia), and the predominant language is Kazakh, not Mongolian (though most people speak both). From my hotel window, I could hear the evening call to prayers.

visiting the main mosque in Olgiy, where 90% of the population practice Islam

visiting the main mosque in Olgiy, where Islam is the main religion

The Kazakhs were first drawn to the high mountain pastures in the region in the mid-1800s, where they let their sheep graze during the summer months. Throughout most of the 20th century, they were an isolated, tight-knit community, and this region is considered even by people in Kazakhstan as the best-preserved example of Kazakh culture. One of the things it’s best known for is the Eagle Festival, which takes place every year in October.

even the houses in Bayan-Olgiy look different than the rest of Mongolia

even the houses in Bayan-Olgiy look different than the rest of Mongolia

I think my Kazakh colleagues were as curious about me as I was about them. I immediately started learning some words in their language. Instead of bayarlalaa for ‘thank you,’ they say rahmed. Amansasbaa is the common greeting, whereas in Mongolian it’s sain bain uu (or more casually, you can say salem in Kazakh). And learning to say tansganmaa huanshtaman (it’s nice to meet you) came in pretty handy several times later on!

with a couple of the colleagues who treated me to lunch

with a couple of the colleagues who kindly treated me to lunch

delivering Kiva training to the staff at the Bayan-Olgiy branch

delivering Kiva training to the staff at the Bayan-Olgiy branch

Having finished our work at the branch quickly, our colleagues took us to see the main mosque in town, followed by a hike up a nearby peak to get a beautiful view of Olgiy, the Altai Mountains, and the river that flows from them. Later, the Branch Director and driver took us on a long and bumpy drive to Tolbo Nuur, a freshwater lake about 50km south of the city centre. Though it was still frozen, it was amazing to see a body of water (there aren’t many in Mongolia!).

taking in the landscapes on our way to the lake

taking in the landscapes on our way to the lake

the driver, the Branch Director, and Batzul at Tolbo Nuur

our driver, the Branch Director, and Batzul at Tolbo Nuur

Next stop: A visit to the Branch Director’s extended family living in the countryside! True to Kazakh/Mongolian hospitality, they welcomed us warmly and prepared a massive and delicious feast for us. It’s customary for people in Mongolia to welcome strangers—locals and foreigners alike—into their homes and feed them. It stems from their nomadic history, in which families would help other people who were passing through the area, or receive visitors from different parts of the country (for example, the capital) and exchange news with them. It’s a beautiful aspect of the culture here.

the Kazakh family who welcomed us into their home

the Kazakh family who welcomed us into their home

the feast that they prepared for us (top) and our driver carving up 4 different types of meat (bottom)

the feast that they prepared for us (above) and our driver carving up 4 different types of meat (below)

IMG_7056

a horse and its foal that the family owns

a horse and its foal that the family owns

On our way back to Olgiy, we soaked in the peaceful landscapes of the countryside…

wild swans taking flight

wild swans taking flight

cows grazing by the water

cows grazing in the quiet evening

IMG_7078

the moon rising over the countryside

A picnic at Uvs Nuur

By midweek, we were bidding farewell to our new friends in Bayan-Olgiy and boarding another plane, this time bound for Uvs. We were welcomed at the airport by a small crew, and no sooner did we arrive at the branch than we got down to business. Client waivers, visits to borrowers, loan officer training—check, check, check! Then the branch staff treated us to a warm welcome dinner at a nearby Korean restaurant. We were starting to feel like royalty!

the Kiva borrowers who were recognized by XacBank

the Kiva borrowers who were recognized by XacBank

The following morning, we had certificates and tokens of appreciation to hand out to 5 Kiva borrowers who had repaid their loans on time (or early). It turned out that the Branch Director had invited the local television crew to film the small ceremony! They asked me to say a few words about Kiva, so I was happy to talk about the good work Kiva and XacBank are doing. It aired on the evening news that night. I guess that makes me famous in Mongolia!

Batzul with the Branch Director (left) and two staff members from the Uvs branch

Batzul with the Branch Director (left) and two staff members from the Uvs branch

Next on the agenda was a trip to Uvs Nuur, a saltwater lake that is the largest in Mongolia. Lucky us! We followed a road for part of the trek but veered off after a while to avoid muddy areas where our SUV could get stuck. We zigzagged across an open field and eventually made it to the water’s edge, where Mongolians love to come and take a dip in the summertime. It was a cool but sunny afternoon, and we took in the warm rays as we sat idly by the water’s edge and enjoyed the picnic our colleagues had packed for us. We couldn’t have spent a nicer time in Uvs!

Lake Tolbo

Uvs Lake

Business owners, an ancient monument and a stolen dinosaur

The following week, we hit the road for two more aimags, Arkhangai and Bayanhongor.

driving along a Mongolian superhighway

driving along the Mongolian superhighway from Arkhangai

some stretches of the road where you don't want to get stuck!

some stretches of the road where you don’t want to get stuck!

seems sturdy enough for our SUV, right?

seems sturdy enough for our SUV, right?

There, we had the opportunity to meet some borrowers who told us about their businesses. It’s always rewarding to make the connection between the borrower profiles on Kiva’s website and the people who are actually behind them. It’s also nice to see microcredit working effectively. These lovely ladies passed along their thank you’s to their Kiva lenders… Allow me to introduce them.

Byambahuu, who runs a produce and variety stand at the local market in Tsetserleg - and the recipient of a 9% interest incentive recognition award

Byambahuu is standing in front of her produce and variety stand at the local market in Tsetserleg. She was recognized by XacBank for her efforts to repay her loan on time, getting back 9%  of the amount she paid in interest deposited back into a savings account.

Oyunchimeg has a dairy stand at the local market in Tsetserleg, where she sells cheese curds and other milk products. She makes some of these products herself, while the rest she purchases from nomadic herders in the countryside.

Oyunchimeg has a dairy stand at the local market in Tsetserleg, where she sells cheese curds and other milk products. She makes some of these products herself, while the rest she purchases from nomadic herders in the countryside.

Munhdelger sells a variety of housewares and other goods at the outdoor section of the local market in Tsetserleg.

Munhdelger sells a variety of housewares and other useful household goods at the outdoor section of the local market in Tsetserleg.

Gerelmandah is a tailor who takes custom orders to make beautiful traditional Mongolian clothing, such as deels (below). It's a trade that was passed on to her by her mother, and one which she is now passing on to her own daughter.

Gerelmandah is a tailor in Bayanhongor who takes custom orders to make beautiful traditional Mongolian clothing, such as deels (below). It’s a trade that was passed on to her by her mother, and one which she is now passing on to her own daughter.

IMG_7756

While visiting these aimags, we also learned about some of Mongolia’s rich natural history. Not far from Tsetserleg, Arkhangai’s city centre, is Taikhar Chuluu, a large rock formation that juts out in the middle of a wide plain. Legend has it that a snake emerged from the earth one day, many moons ago, and a hero named Bökebilig forced it back and sealed off its cave with this rock. The rock has been revered by various civilizations since ancient times, as evidenced by the Mongolian, Tibetan, and Turkic inscriptions which can be found on it (the latter which dates back to the 6th century AD, although sadly, most of the inscriptions have been overwritten by modern-day graffiti).

one has to wonder how this got here... if not for the legend

one would have to wonder how this got here… if not for the legend

And did you know that it’s possible to smuggle a dinosaur out of a country? Luckily, the one that was taken from Mongolia is now on its way home. Bayanhongor, which is part of the Gobi Desert region, is home to some of the incredible dinosaur fossils that have been unearthed since the 1920s. These include many dinosaur eggs and several Velociraptors (which of course you’ll remember from Jurassic Park!). One of the most famous discoveries is of a Velociraptor and a Protoceratops that were locked in battle and frozen in time 80 million years ago. You can also see exhibits such as a nest of newborn baby dinosaurs, and a mother protecting her young at the Natural History Museum in UB—that is, when they’re not out touring the world!

the dry and dusty desert climate of Bayanhongor is also evident in the main city centre

the dry and dusty desert climate of Bayanhongor is also evident in the main city centre

The Mongolian Messenger

I witnessed another curiosity during these BV travels. In a country where there are effectively no street names or real addresses, I’ve been intrigued by how mail gets delivered around here. You may know that the Mongolian Empire had a highly developed mail system at the height of its rule. People have assured me that when they receive mail—that is, anything that cannot be taped to their doors—they are given notices to go pick it up at the nearest postal outlet. Sounds reasonable, right?

But the truth is, Mongolians today have instituted an informal delivery system that would surely do Chinggis Khan proud. My edification began as Batzul and I waited in line at the check-in counter in the UB airport to fly to Bayan-Olgiy. A man was hovering nearby, and finally he approached Batzul. They exchanged a few words in Mongolian; he passed her an envelope, and she took down a phone number. I observed the whole interaction somewhat suspiciously.

‘What was that all about?’ I asked after the man had gone.

‘Oh, he just wants me to deliver something in Olgiy,’ she replied casually. And to my confused stare, she added, ‘It’s the Mongolian Messenger service.’

As if that explained everything! My jaw must have dropped. I started sputtering… What? How? Who?? I was full of questions!

These questions were somewhat cleared up when we arrived in Olgiy. As we stopped for lunch with our branch colleague, Batzul got on the phone and a short while later, a lady walked into the restaurant. Just a few words were exchanged before the envelope was handed over and the lady walked back out. I watched in fascination. ‘How did you know she was the right lady?’ I exclaimed.

‘Because I just talked to her on the phone,’ Batzul answered matter-of-factly.

‘But don’t you need to see her ID or something?’ I persisted.

‘No.’ We resumed eating.

This happened again and again until I finally started to believe in the system. Coming back to UB this time, we walked out of the baggage-claim area of the airport and Batzul delivered another envelope straight into the outstretched hands of a stranger. She knew him by the black shirt he was wearing, she assured me. On the way into the city, our driver stopped along the road from the airport, not once but twice, at seemingly random intersections where our little Messenger hopped out, delivered her goods to waiting recipients, and hopped back into the car. I was blown away.

a typical plane which carries private messages across Mongolia... and a typical messenger who delivers the service

a typical plane which carries private messages across Mongolia… and an example of a messenger who delivers the service

The Kiva Coordinator-Extraordinaire

Speaking of this Messenger, delivering envelopes isn’t Batzul’s only talent. For the past four months, I’ve had the pleasure of working with her, and for good reason: She is a truly exemplary Kiva Coordinator. We’ve worked closely together, particularly during all of our branch visits for the BVs, and I must say we’ve made a great team. We get our work done quickly and efficiently, and even have time left to have some fun (as you now know).

But it’s not just that. Batzul is an impressive young professional all on her own. She is always on the ball with her Kiva work and manages several other projects on top of that. But the best part about her is that she takes immense pride in her job as a Kiva Coordinator, and also in the fact that her work is impacting the lives of many Mongolians. Whether we are running a training session together, or visiting a borrower, she’s been far more than just a translator. She elaborates by adding anecdotes and lessons from her own stock of experiences, including her interactions with branches, loan officers, and clients, thus adding colour and depth to the messages we deliver. She makes my job as a Kiva Fellow easy!

Batzul, the Kiva Coordinator-Extraordinaire (left) and the lucky Kiva Fellow who works with her

Batzul, the Kiva Coordinator-Extraordinaire (left) and the lucky Kiva Fellow who works with her

Just as I had thought, the opportunity to see so many different parts of Mongolia for my BVs was fun, rewarding, and incredibly enriching. And I have Batzul, the Kiva borrowers, XacBank, and all the incredible people at the branch offices we met to thank for that—so from the bottom of my heart, thank you everyone for a truly amazing experience!

2 June 2013 at 10:30 1 comment

Of Baby Animals and Borrowers in Selenge

Spring has arrived in Mongolia! That means warmer weather (afternoons creeping closer and closer to the double digits)… and, of course, baby animals!

I had the opportunity to travel to Selenge aimag (province) last week with XacBank, one of Kiva’s partners in Mongolia. (more…)

13 April 2013 at 04:33

Mongolia Through the Senses

driving in the countryside

It’s been just over two weeks since I arrived in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia’s capital, and there’s been much to take in. I’ve never been anywhere quite so foreign to me, where nothing about the culture, the food, the people, or the language is familiar. Chances are, these things aren’t familiar for many of this blog’s readers either. So for my first post from Mongolia, I’ve decided to take you through my new world through the senses, so you can get an idea of what it’s been like walking around in my shoes (or rather, my heavy winter boots).

The sights

I’ve been walking to work to my three microfinance partners in Ulaanbaatar (UB). Once in a while when I glance up, I’ll catch a glimpse of the beautiful mountains looming just beyond the borders of the city. UB, a sprawling city of 1.2 million, is nestled in the Khan Khentii mountain range. The mountains are covered in snow, although snowfalls are occasional and light throughout the country’s long and chilly winter. Despite the cold, one of the things I’ve loved so far here is how sunny it’s been: Mongolia averages 260 days of sun every year.

walking down Seoul Avenue with Sky Tower ahead

walking down Seoul Avenue with the Blue Sky Tower ahead

UB is a place where old meets new. For example, the Choijin Lama monastery (now museum), built at the turn of the last century, is just a stone’s throw away from the modern Blue Sky Tower. On a visit to the Gandan Monastery one day, one monk interrupted his prayers to answer a call on his cell phone. Throughout the city, old Soviet-style buildings are increasingly becoming flanked by new houses, condominiums, offices, and hotels. Some buildings can be deceiving, though: One apartment I saw had been built only a few short months ago, but resembled a dusty relic from the Cold War era.

inside Gandan Monastery

inside Gandan Monastery

In Mongolia, or at least its capital, status matters. Walking across Sukhbaatar Square in the centre of the city, I see multiple women sporting their Luis Vuitton bags. A glance to the east of the Square will reveal an Emporio Armani and a Burberry store. As I cross the street, I try to avoid colliding with a Hummer or a Lexus SUV.

walking across Sukhbaatar Square toward Parliament House

walking across Sukhbaatar Square toward Parliament House

But perhaps the most striking image for foreigners arriving in the city is the ger districts. Gers are felt-lined tents traditionally inhabited by Mongolian herders in the countryside, but today they are a common sight in the city as well. While gers may have a surprising amount of furniture and modern appliances inside, they also lack basic infrastructure such as running water and sanitation.

outside of a ger

outside of a ger

inside a ger used by vacationers in the countryside

inside a ger used by vacationers in the countryside

The smells

The coal stoves used to heat gers are one of the main contributing factors to UB’s notoriety as one of the world’s most polluted cities. The coal power plants that fuel the city are also a culprit. As I walk through the city, I’m reminded of the scent of campfire, and a whiff of it usually follows me indoors as well. The air is the heaviest in the mornings, although by midday it generally clears up.

The smokiness has also come from cigarettes, although that’s set to change now. Until March 1st, smoking was permitted in public places, including restaurants and bars. It’s something I wasn’t accustomed to, so it was a bit of an adjustment. Starting this month, however, a new smoking law took effect. Smoking is now banned in all public places, including outdoors, with private homes or specially designated ‘smoking centres’ being the only acceptable places to light up. It will be interesting to see how people respond to being made to stop their habit cold turkey—or whether the law will be enforced.

Mongolians often escape to the countryside on weekends to enjoy the pristine air

Mongolians often escape to the countryside on weekends to enjoy the pristine air

The tastes

Speaking of smells, the scent of cooking mutton is one that has quickly become familiar in restaurants and apartment buildings alike. There are an estimated 14 million sheep in Mongolia. It’s an impressive sheep-to-human ratio, given the country’s population of about 2.8 million.

Mongolian soup with mutton and mutton dumplings

Mongolian soup with mutton and mutton dumplings

a typical Mongolian lunch - with a more generous salad portion than usual

a typical Mongolian lunch – with a more generous salad portion than usual

Needless to say, mutton is a staple in the Mongolian diet, and a meal without meat is generally unthinkable here. At most restaurants, veggies are an afterthought—they often come in the form of a small carrot or cabbage salad. But produce is available in supermarkets, and thank goodness I’ve discovered Merkuri market. It not only features a separate section where veggies are piled high, it is also known for its wide variety of imported foreign foods.

Merkuri market, with its eclectic mix of imported foods

Merkuri market, with its eclectic mix of imported foods

the produce section at Merkuri market

the vegetable section at Merkuri market

As tasty as buuz and khuushuur have been, the culinary experience hasn’t been limited to local foods. In particular, Korean and Japanese restaurants are quite popular, and I’ve even sampled good Sri Lankan cuisine since I’ve been here.

khuushuur - Mongolian fried dumpling with mutton inside

khuushuur – Mongolian fried dumpling with mutton inside

The sounds

So, what does one hear when walking around UB? It turns out that Mongolian drivers are just as communicative as their counterparts in Costa Rica, if not more so. (I’m listening to a chorus of angry beeeeps as I write.) Apparently there’s a law against using car horns in residential areas, but good luck with that! Mongolia’s capital is very much alive; the traffic is heavy, and the drivers impatient.

Traffic is a little crazy in UB. Cars and pedestrians alike behave like water: They follow the path of least resistance. Lanes don’t matter; cars squeeze into whatever space they can fill. Double turning lanes form spontaneously as cars race to get ahead of each other. At intersections, the traffic is like a leaky faucet, continuing to flow long after the light has changed. In response, pedestrians cross where and when they can. I refused to at first, and found myself standing alone at the red light with a little girl. (OK, so I’m a wimp.)

traffic is a bit crazy in UB, but the drivers are very skilled

traffic is a bit crazy in UB, but the drivers are very skilled

The other striking sound to me is the Mongolian language. I’ve been picking up a few phrases here and there, but so far I’ve been largely immune to the conversations around me. And saying mit ku (I don’t know) to someone who tries to speak to me only adds to the confusion, since most people here mistake me for being a local. As for signs, the majority of them are written in Cyrillic, which I can’t yet decipher. Luckily, there are just enough people who speak English here to make life a little easier, and there’s no shortage of friendly and helpful people.

most signs are written in the Cyrillic alphabet, although occasionally the old Mongolian script is used

most signs are written in the Cyrillic alphabet, although occasionally the old Mongolian script is used

Mongolians tend to take an active interest in foreigners, which has helped me feel really welcome here. Many Mongolians speak a second or a third language, even if it’s not English (Russian is common). And the people that I’ve met so far have been wonderful. Ladies I barely know will take me by the arm and help me cross the street—and I’m pretty sure they’re not just using me as a shield against those massive Hummers.

That sweet numb feeling

So finally, how does one feel physically when arriving in UB in the middle of February? Not much, I can tell you, because I’ve gone numb from head to toe.

Icy. Frosty. Glacial. Call it what you will.

Icy. Frosty. Glacial. Call it what you will.

It’s not actually that bad. OK, so it was in the beginning. My first full day here, the temperature was -35oC and that wasn’t easy. Weather forecasts generally describe the days as ‘Cold. Frigid.’ which I think is a very fair description. But you get used to it, and with the right combination of thermal underwear and layering, you can conquer the cold.

snow football (above) and snow football (below) - two ways to make the most of a Mongolian winter

snow football (above) and snow sumo (below): two ways to make the most of a Mongolian winter

IMG_5927

UB has the dubious honour of being the coldest capital in the world, and average temperatures stay below freezing for a good six months of the year. But that’s funny, because I lived in Ottawa, Canada before starting my fellowships with Kiva and I could have sworn that IT was the coldest capital in the world. Some days are not that different here from what they are back home.

But timing has something to do with it as well. It seems I may have caught the tail end of winter this year. Tsagaan Sar, Mongolia’s Lunar New Year, was celebrated on February 11th and marks the beginning of spring. And although spring weather is known to be highly variable, it’s hard not to feel uplifted when the sun is shining and the temperature is soaring all the way up to -1oC. Sometimes cold weather can be immiserating, but my experiences in Mongolia so far couldn’t be further from that.

7 March 2013 at 01:28 1 comment

How to Make it in Kampala

Julie Kriegshaber  KF 18  Uganda

Ahh, Kampala. So charming, so dusty, so chaotic.

Due to a bit of poor planning on my part, I had about 32 hours between landing in Kampala and starting my Fellowship, so my first week here was a bit of a blur.  Somewhere within the disorder of my first days, I met two Ugandans with inspiring stories that stuck out to me, and I want to share their stories here.

Walter

Destreet

 

 

 

 

 

So, meet Walter and Destreet.  They don’t know each other and their only common link (aside from meeting me!) is that they both had a vision and decided to make it a reality.  Oh, and they are both young – Walter is 25 and Destreet is only 24!

(more…)

10 July 2012 at 08:00 11 comments

Fellows’ First Days in the Field

by Luan Nio | KF18 | Nicaragua

We think we are all well-travelled, educated and smart, with great interpersonal skills and able to handle difficult situations. But what does actually happen at a Kiva Fellow’s first day in the office?
Most of us have not worked in microfinance before, have never visited their destination country and sometimes don’t speak the local language as well as they might think.

Here are impressions from around the globe during our first day with our assigned Kiva field partner.

(more…)

30 June 2012 at 11:03 4 comments

Same Same but Different

Allison Moomey | KF 16 & KF17 | Bénin

One of my favorite aspects of Kiva is the autonomy it gives to partners. While Kiva has strict due diligence standards, the microfinance institution (MFI) partners are the ones who decide what products to offer, what social performance steps to take, and how to execute their plans. This results in a wide range of partners, each with its own unique culture and take on how to best serve the microfinance market in their respective areas of operation.

Having started my second Kiva fellowship a month ago, it has been fascinating to compare and contrast the work culture at each MFI. During KF16, I served as a fellow at Micro Start in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso. I am currently in Cotonou, Bénin working with Finadev. Although the countries share a border, the people, language, and culture are very unique.

Continue Reading 28 February 2012 at 09:06 11 comments

If It Is Thursday, It Must Be Sakarya + What is Bohça?

By Kim Strathearn, KF16, Turkey

If It Is Thursday, It Must Be Sakarya and either Aylin or Asu from the Istanbul office will make the 2 ½ hour drive each way to visit potential loan clients and conduct the final interview for loan approvals. Since the office covers a large area, sometimes they both go. It depends on how many loan application approval visits they have to make and how far spread out the clients are. Click on Ayse, Mine, and Hayriye’s profiles to see some Kiva entrepreneurs from the Sakarya region.

Maya’s Sakarya branch office is located in Adapazarı and was established in 2005. Adapazari is the capital of the Sakarya province and this branch also provides services to clients in the neighboring province of Düzce. Maya Istanbul office has been providing loans to women entrepreneurs in Düzce since 2004 but assigned the area to the Sakayra office because it is easier to serve from Adapazari than from Istanbul.

Continue Reading 3 November 2011 at 05:00 10 comments

The Cultural Complexities of Poverty Alleviation

By Allison Moomey, KF 16, Burkina Faso

About 3 weeks ago I arrived in Burkina Faso, ready and excited to work with Micro Start, Kiva’s first partner in the west African country. Micro Start has an amazing mission “to improve families’ living conditions in general, and that of women in particular, by facilitating access to financial and non-financial services” and a conscientious staff who start working at 7:30am to carry it out. This is Micro Start’s Kiva Coordinator (KC) and I at the office during one my first days:

Continue Reading 15 September 2011 at 10:20 3 comments

Video Blog: For the Love of Fiestas

By Megan Bond, KF15, Ecuador

Music, parades, disguises, fabulous street vendors, dancing in the streets, dancing in the fields, dancing wherever you feel like it – the Ecuadorians I’ve met love a good party and there’s nothing like a traditional fiesta to generate the right mood for all of the above. Fiestas have been a great opportunity for me to join in and have fun with the locals. Villages and towns all over have their own festivals days and there are certain times a year when the entire country is celebrating.

Continue Reading 12 August 2011 at 08:00 2 comments

Long Distance Relationships: Remittances in the Philippines

By Allie Cook, KF15, Philippines

There are currently an estimated 10 million Filipinos currently working abroad, about one-tenth of the population. They are called Overseas Filipino Workers or OFWs. OFWs generally see their families, including children, once a year. ASKI, the microfinance institution (MFI) where I am currently based, is working on an innovative initiative to support OFWs.

Continue Reading 21 June 2011 at 20:00 7 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

Update from the Field: Farewells, Mistaken Identities + Micro-Microfinance

Compiled by Alexis Ditkowsky, KF14, South Africa

We’ve officially hit the point in the Kiva Fellows cycle where the current batch says goodbye just as the latest group is getting their bearings at Kiva HQ. Fortunately, there are a number of posts this week to help us through the transition and cheer us up. If you’re interested in a comprehensive image gallery of the hot designs for share taxis in Rwanda, we’ve got you covered. We’ve also got stories about micro-micro-businesses in Sierra Leone, visiting research fellows in West Timor, and the intersection of medicine and microfinance in Bolivia. Plus, take long trips to the field in Armenia and Peru, and catch up on the impact of microloans in South Africa.

Sierra Leone Poda-Poda

Continue Reading 2 May 2011 at 00:38 4 comments

Sala Kahle: Saying Goodbye to KwaZulu-Natal

By Alexis Ditkowsky, KF14, South Africa

Like most Fellows from Kiva’s 14th class, I am busily tying up the loose ends of my Fellowship. As much as I enjoyed my trips to the rural areas surrounding Richards Bay (although I wasn’t a huge fan of Richards Bay itself), I can’t say that I mind my current locale: the beach at Kommetjie, about an hour south of Cape Town. My Fellowship required a sustained burst of manic energy and proved to be an extraordinary mixed bag that was both incredibly challenging and rewarding. While I’m ready for a little R&R, I wouldn’t take back any part of the past three months, except perhaps for the multitude of yappy dogs that started barking at 5:30am each morning and harassed me on all of my walks. I definitely could have done without them!

Continue Reading 1 May 2011 at 12:20 5 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 Kiva.org’s first batch of “Green Loans”. The upbeat mood also extended to anniversary parties at MFIs in Jordan and Armenia, enthusiastic endorsements to travel to Colombia, and reporting on a great opportunity for Kiva clients in Mongolia. Fellows also visited with borrowers in the Philippines, South Africa, and Armenia, and took us on a typical commute in Mexico City. All in all, a very busy week as members of KF14 wind down their time in the field.

Continue Reading 25 April 2011 at 02:45 4 comments

Spazas + Tuck Shops: Corner Stores in South Africa

By Alexis Ditkowsky, KF14, South Africa

South Africa enjoys an abundance of corner stores and they’re one of the most common businesses funded by Women’s Development Businesses (WDB) in southern KwaZulu-Natal. Corner stores run the gamut from selling a few things out of a home to setting up a small shelter by the side of the road to building a more sturdy structure to leasing a space in a building. They’re a very important source of goods in rural communities since it can be expensive and time-consuming to make a trip to town every time you need something.

Continue Reading 18 April 2011 at 02:52 4 comments

Update from the Field: Trash, Delicious Treats + Community Outreach

Compiled by Alexis Ditkowsky, KF14, South Africa

Let’s take a moment to vicariously consume baked goods in Colombia, coffee in Nicaragua, tomatoes in Ukraine, and a traditional meal in Nepal. Once you’re sated, you can read about the dismal state of trash collection in Guatemala, the lives of borrowers in Bolivia, what “mobile” savings really means in Indonesia, and how Kiva’s partner MFIs all around the world are providing life-enhancing services and engaging with the community in meaningful ways.

Continue Reading 18 April 2011 at 00:40 4 comments

Update from the Field: Cute Pigs, New Toilets + Everything is Relative

Compiled by Alexis Ditkowsky, KF14, South Africa

It’s hard to believe but the current batch of Kiva Fellows has been in the field for over two months and most of us have only a few weeks left to go. We’re getting swept up in completing deliverables, making the most of our final month in country, and starting to plot our lives after Kiva. (Travel plans = fun. Applying for “real” jobs = less fun.) Fortunately, starting May 7, a brand new assortment of Fellows will be coming your way and a few KF14 veterans will be sticking around to show them the ropes. So stay tuned for more trips to the field, insights into local culture, contemplations about next steps, and stories of microfinance in action.

Continue Reading 11 April 2011 at 00:45 6 comments

Update from the Field: April Fools, Terrible Coffee + Getting Attached

Compiled by Alexis Ditkowsky, KF14, South Africa

We hope you enjoyed our April Fools post on Friday! While we were entertaining ourselves pulling it all together, we also found the time to attend to some serious matters: coffee in Colombia is no joke (in a bad way), some borrowers are easier to locate than others, and oftentimes Fellows must say goodbye to people and places before they’re ready to. We also learned about the “No Pago” movement in Nicaragua, the elections in Peru, what daily life is like for a Fellow in Bolivia, and how to sensibly and respectfully collect past-due payments in Ghana. Somehow there was even time to host a previous Fellow and a documentary film student in Colombia and to visit borrowers, eat chocolate, and stop for the view in Armenia.

Continue Reading 4 April 2011 at 00:46 8 comments

Performing meaningful work for Kiva while learning a new culture

Clara Vreeken, KF 14, Bolivia

Clara volunteers as Kiva Fellow in Bolivia. She works for three micro finance institutions. She verifies borrowers’ data, implements changes and informs the lenders about Kiva’s entrepreneurs. In this blog she elaborates on her tasks as a Kiva Fellow.

Continue Reading 29 March 2011 at 10:24 2 comments

Update from the Field: Social Quirks, Justin Bieber + Lots of Carbs

Compiled by Alexis Ditkowsky, KF14, South Africa

While it may have been a slower “official” news week than usual, I can assure you that the Fellows are keeping busy. One Fellow spent hours searching fruitlessly for borrowers in the jungle, another has been suffering from serious gastrointestinal issues (aren’t you glad he didn’t post about that?), and the rest of us have been plotting something very special for the end of the week. In the meantime, you can catch up on social quirks in Rwanda, transportation in West Timor, the importance of corn in Guatemala, and the latest from Mongolia all while taking a look at photos from South Africa. Enjoy!

Continue Reading 28 March 2011 at 03:58 6 comments

Hear that?? It’s Kupang Bemo Rap!!

By Lisa Skowron, KF14, Indonesia

My experience with public transport in Kupang, West Timor, Indonesia! Also, please vote for your favorite Kupang Bemo at the end of the post! :)

Continue Reading 24 March 2011 at 07:00 10 comments

Update from the Field: Fun Facts, Field Visits + Back to Basics

Compiled by Alexis Ditkowsky, KF14, South Africa

For many Fellows, this week was about getting back to basics: the borrowers. In between fun facts about Kiva Fellowships, doing database detective work, and reflecting on the internal dynamics of Kiva’s partner microfinance institutions, Fellows found themselves in the field again and again, much to their delight and often to the delight of borrowers. From Latin America to Africa to the Caucasus to Southeast Asia to Eastern Europe, meet Kiva clients, learn about their businesses, and check out all of the great photos.

Continue Reading 21 March 2011 at 01:53 9 comments

Update from the Field: Carnival, Collaboration + Cheese-Making

Compiled by Alexis Ditkowsky, KF14, South Africa

This past week was all about collaboration: Fellows coordinating across continents to profile entrepreneurs and organizations who believe International Women’s Day should be every day and community members coming together to celebrate Carnival in all of its elaborate glory. We learned about public health in Peru, making cheese and cigars in Nicaragua, the impact of climate change in Bolivia, and the challenges faced by a microcredit saleswoman in Guatemala. Life as a Kiva Fellow is busy as always!

Continue Reading 14 March 2011 at 00:45 8 comments

Update from the Field: Man’s Day, Singing Fellows + Learning How to Count

Compiled by Alexis Ditkowsky, KF14, South Africa

The Fellows will be covering International Women’s Day later this week but let’s take a moment to acknowledge its lesser-known cousin in Kyrgyzstan, “Man’s Day”. And while you’re appreciating culture and history in far-off places, take a trip to Peru and West Timor through photos, visit borrowers in Uganda and Rwanda through video, learn a little something about communicating in South Africa, and catch up on the latest from Liberia, Ghana, and Mexico (home to the “Singing Fellow”).

Continue Reading 7 March 2011 at 00:16 7 comments

Five things you may not know about Rwanda

By Michelle Curtis, KF13, Rwanda

Here are five things I would never have known if Kiva hadn’t provided me with the opportunity of living and working in Rwanda…..

Continue Reading 4 March 2011 at 08:00 7 comments

The Meaning of “Now” in South Africa

By Alexis Ditkowsky, KF14, South Africa

In addition to the popular phrases “howzit?” (short for “how’s it going?”), “pleasure” (in place of “you’re welcome”), and “ach, shame” (which can emphasize just about anything from appreciation for an adorably cute dog to disappointment over your cricket team losing to acting as a general conversation filler), you’ll hear a lot of “just now” while traveling or living in South Africa.

Continue Reading 1 March 2011 at 10:21 81 comments

A Look Under the Hood (Fine-tuning an MFI for 2011)

By Eric Burdullis, KF12, Cuzco, Peru

Last weekend, I had the chance to attend Asociación Arariwa´s year end planning retreat out in the Sacred Valley in Urubamba, Peru. More than just spending the weekend having fun with my co-workers at the institution, I was excited to finally see what a microfinance institution (MFI) really is about. On one hand as a Kiva Fellow, I get a very in depth look at how my MFI works, but on the other hand, Kiva is still perceived as a funding source for the MFI so they are constantly “putting their best foot forward”. Arariwa´s 2011 strategic planning retreat was a way for me to see, internally, what microfinance meant to this MFI in Cuzco.

Continue Reading 14 December 2010 at 08:00

Rwanda: Where the women are kind, the men are generous and everyone is just so nice

By Michelle Curtis, KF13, Rwanda

“Someone told me she loves me, just then…she told me that she loves me and I am so happy.” When an overjoyed stranger took his mobile from his ear and turned to find the first person to share his wonderful news with…there I was. Someone loved him and he had to let it out to the world. I gave him my congratulations, shook his hand and landed an encouraging pat on his back. He was beaming. So was I.

Continue Reading 18 November 2010 at 10:00 8 comments

Kiva, Google Earth, and the Big Wide World

Ok so hear me out on this concept – I think it’s a good one.

In my eyes one of THE greatest things to come out of the last fifty years is the ability to travel. The ability to see, to experience, to understand different cultures, and get a taste of what it’s like to live in a country vastly different to your own.

So what about Google Earth?

Continue Reading 21 May 2010 at 14:57 5 comments

Liberian Highway Exorcism

I was in a 3-hour bush taxi (8 people crammed into a Hyundai) from Monrovia to Gbarnga, Charles Taylor’s former stronghold, when we hit a traffic roadblock.  Curious to know what could cause a complete stoppage of traffic, I walked to the front of the line of cars to find a group of people doing an exorcism of the evil spirits that have caused so many accidents at this exact spot. It was fascinating to watch, mainly because of the apparent fusion of Christianity, Islam, and “local vodoo” (for lack of a better descriptor). Here’s a quick glimpse of the full event that lasted for over an hour. Make sure your volume is up to hear the inclusion of all the higher powers…

31 August 2009 at 07:00 5 comments

Older Posts


Get Involved!

Learn more about this blog and about Kiva Fellows

Visit Kiva.org

Apply to be a Kiva Fellow

Enter your email address to receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 1,336 other followers

Archives

Drawing from the Field

Kiva Blog Policy


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,336 other followers