Posts tagged ‘KF14’

Happy Earth Day from Kiva Fellows around the Globe!

Compiled by Caree Edson, KF 14, Armenia

One of the unfortunate sight-seeing adventures that you never sign up for when you travel (especially in developing countries) is the unseemly amount of trash cluttering the otherwise beautiful landscapes. In Armenia, it isn’t possible to see the horizon through the smog most days and the streets are covered in cigarette butts and litter. I found no exceptions to this as I inquired from other Kiva Fellows about the dire situation in their countries. Environmental education and reform are simply not a top priority in many countries. But the future of climate change initiatives are not entirely hopeless…

Continue Reading 22 April 2011 at 11:06 3 comments

Expectations

By Caree Edson, KF 14, Armenia

There were incredible stories of resiliency on the Kiva website that moved me to sacrifice my stable income, access to hot water and balanced nutrition, not to mention consistent contact with my friends and family back home for a few short months in pursuit of furthering my knowledge in the field of microfinance. In short, the reason I became a Kiva Fellow was to fulfill Kiva’s mission of “connecting people through lending to alleviate poverty”. I could think of nothing I’d rather be doing with my days than meeting farmers and small business owners on the other side of the world and sharing their stories with all of you. I informed a few borrowers last week that I journeyed all the way from the US to meet them and hear their stories, and I meant every word.

Continue Reading 20 April 2011 at 04:22 4 comments

The Bare Necessities

By Stephanie Sibal, KF14, Cambodia


It oftentimes begins with the aspiration of achieving something bigger: many enterprising Kiva borrowers request loans to start new ventures or expand businesses. Some rely on a Kiva loan to remedy a setback.

However, not all borrowers take out loans with the intention of starting or growing a business. Coming from places where running water, electricity, and sometimes even a roof for their house are considered luxuries, countless borrowers request loans to improve the quality of their lives.

Three months and nearly a dozen trips into rural Cambodian provinces of Kampong Chhnang, Takeo, and Kandal have provided me with opportunities to chat intimately with borrowers who are grateful to lenders for allowing them what the developed world calls “the bare necessities.”

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8 April 2011 at 01:45 6 comments

“The Good Family”

By Caree Edson, KF14, Armenia

It was about noon on a gorgeous Spring day in Goris, Armenia when I showed up at the local SEF branch to meet the employees there. Goris is stunning in its natural beauty. The city center resides at the bottom of a bowl with caves and mountains towering on every side.

The tiny, three-person staff of the SEF branch welcomed me with tea, brownies and chocolate (a custom I plan to take back home with me) and were thrilled for the opportunity to show me around. The only question was how many borrowers I would like to visit. Since the day was getting later, I asked them to pick their two favorite Kiva borrowers and introduce me. With no agenda, other than training on how to take fabulous profile photos, we were off on a four-wheel drive trek around the villages to see two of the area’s farmers.

Continue Reading 3 April 2011 at 12:36 5 comments

Blast from the Past: KF7 turned microfinance professor visits Colombia to do field research

What happens to Kiva Fellows once they finish their placement and get released back into the world? This is a question I have asked myself many times as I look ahead beyond my placement in Colombia–luckily I will be part of KF15 and won’t have to make those decisions for a few months! Many of the current fellows will be heading to grad school in the fall, going back to their old jobs, or looking for new jobs in international development. But how many of us get the chance to continue on in the world of microfinance?


Continue Reading 28 March 2011 at 21:35 4 comments

New Horizons- A Fellow’s First Field Visit

By Caree Edson, KF 14, Armenia

While Kiva works with three microfinance institutions in Armenia, I have, thus far, only had the privilege to spend time with the staff at one. When I was offered an opportunity to do some Borrower Verifications for Nor Horizon (another partner institution), I jumped at the chance. Borrower Verifications, while requiring a lot of time and effort on the part of the fellows, are by far the best part of this journey. They entail going out into the field with credit officers and meeting with clients to ensure the accuracy of the information being uploaded on Kiva’s website. In Armenia this makes for a fantastic way to spend a Friday.

Continue Reading 19 March 2011 at 05:22 4 comments

Celebrating Carnival in the Andes

Compiled by Geeta Uhl, KF14, Peru
Kiva Fellows celebrate Carnival in the Andes- in Ayacucho and Cajamarca, Peru and Oruro, Bolivia. Check out photos and descriptions of the various celebrations and traditions in South America.

Continue Reading 9 March 2011 at 12:42 4 comments

Photos from Carnival de Barranquilla

Forty days before Easter marks a grand occasion in many countries across the world – Carnival. We’re composing this blog during a couple of hours of well-needed downtime from the second largest of them all: Barranquilla, Colombia.

Outside of Carnival season Barranquilla is a relatively ordinary city which doesn’t tend to  attract the throngs of tourists that flock to its beautiful coastal neighbours such as Cartagena and Santa Marta. However, for one long weekend of the year there is no more popular tourist attraction than Barranquilla. Hotels are booked out months in advance and the masses flood to town with just one thing on their mind – partying. As it happens, the locals start ‘preparing’ for Carnival about a month before the actual event with, well, more partying.

UNESCO hailed Barranquilla Carnival as one of the ‘Masterpieces of the oral and intangible heritage of humanity’. Whatever on earth that means, it makes it sound fabulously impressive and so, from what I’ve witnessed so far, I’ll go along with it.

The focus of Carnival during the day are the numerous parades that take place around different parts of the city. These can be up to 5 or 6 hours long and feature a continuous stream of floats, dancers and performers strutting their moves in glorious waves of colour and mesmerizing patterns.

When the sun sets and the last of the performers reach the end of the road, the dancing baton is handed to the masses who assume their role with fervent gusto at street parties and open-air nightclubs across the city.

Carnival, while only being a few days long, provides a major boost to Barranquilla’s economy. Prices for food, drink and taxis are inflated but, in the spirit of things, no-one seems to mind. Importantly, Carnival is of great significance to small-scale entrepreneurs such as hat-makers, artisans and food-stall owners. It’s also an important time for Kiva Field Partner FMSD who provide loans to these entrepreneurs so that they can invest in stock to meet the high demand.

Amid a hazy but fantastic blur of dancing, costume, body paint, music, foam, corn flour and the odd Aguila beer, John managed to capture a few photos of this amazing spectacle. Enjoy!

Words by Nick Hamilton, photos by John Gwillim, KF14

Batalla de Flores –  Saturday March 5, 2011

The first, and largest, parade of Carnival kicked off on Saturday afternoon.

Warming up before the parades starts

"Hugo Chávez" and "Simón Bolívar" spend some time together before the parade begins

Foam, water, beer, flour--I was covered in all of them while shooting during the parade route.


The crowds were massive! There was opening seating for free, as well as paid seating in chairs and grandstands. Some of the nicest VIP seating included waitstaff and food, but the seats were up to $250 each.

Parada Floclórica Carlos Franco – Sunday, March 6, 2011

A much smaller parade with a more community feel didn’t include the huge floats from Saturday’s parade, but was still very fun and highlighted some amazing costumes and dancing.


Stay tuned to the Fellows Blog this Wednesday to read about more carnival stories from Latina America!!!

John and Nick at the Batalla de Flores

Nick Hamilton is currently serving with Interactuar in Medellín, Colombia and John Gwillim is in Barranquilla, Colombia with Fundación Mario Santo Domingo (FMSD) as part of KF14.

Interested in learning more about Fundación Mario Santo Domingo?  Visit their page on Kiva here!

7 March 2011 at 06:00 9 comments

Ensuring a manly man’s day

Maybe it's better to leave it to the professionals (Credit for photo goes to Aaro Ylitalo)

February 23rd was man’s day here in Kyrgyzstan. Actually it was Defenders of the Fatherland Day throught the former Soviet Union, but here in Kyrgyzstan that has morphed into man’s day. Many of you might be familiar with International Women’s Day which is coming up on March 8th, but until I got here to Kyrgyzstan I had not heard of its male equivalent. I decided to celebrate the day with a trip to visit an entrepreneurial eagle hunter working to set up a community based tourism project in his rural home town. (more…)

3 March 2011 at 13:00 4 comments

The Rookie (El Novato)

The class hard at work / Todos trabajando

The Rookie

This past week I was invited to receive the same training a CrediComún loan officer receives: a 45-hour-long marathon of information, from the history of the institution to the organizational structure of the branch offices to the details of the bonuses each role is entitled to. I’m not only a rookie here at CrediComún, but I also don’t have much of a finance background, so I welcomed the opportunity.

CrediComún is a young company with 35 branch offices throughout central Mexico and over 350 employees. They primarily loan to groups of women in rural areas, but are gradually adding individual loans to their $12,000,000 portfolio. CrediComún is a dwarf compared to its main competitor Compartamos, with a portfolio in excess of half a billion dollars, and CrediComún’s employees frequently use Compartamos as a measuring stick. In 2010 CrediComún rose to the rank of 12th best MFI in Latin America according to The MIX (Microfinance Information eXchange), and their total portfolio size grew by 96% in 12 months. Compartamos dropped one slot to 9th and their portfolio grew by less than ten percent.

All new employees attend the course, though it’s designed primarily for loan officers. My class consisted of one loan officer, one branch manager, two computer programmers, the new Kiva coordinator and myself. Not only did the six of us cram information into our weary brains for daily exams, but there was also homework, we had to role-play the part of a loan officer encountering difficult clients, and write songs to promote the company.

The loan officer performs the principal tasks of the organization; everything else revolves around them. They find new clients and take care of existing ones, attend the weekly meeting of each group they manage, typically travel several hours each day, solve problems within the groups, and transmit information between the company and the borrowers. They need to be punctual, professional, have wonderful communication skills and be willing to work long hours.

Oddly, three days into the course, I had the highest score. Danny, our instructor asked if I had ever considered being a loan officer. I laughed and replied that I don’t have the right attitude — if a client couldn’t pay, I’d probably loan them my own money. And that would be tough on $500 per month, which is a loan officer’s approximate base pay.

But they also earn bonuses. If they serve more than 120 clients, they can get a monthly bonus of $40; if over 400 clients, the bonus turns into $100. That amount grows or shrinks based on several factors, such as number of new clients, years spent as a loan officer with CrediComún, and percentage of clients who have fallen behind in their payments. As our class stepped through the function to calculate that bonus, we were seeing that maybe being a loan officer is not so bad. $100 base incentive, add 20% for having been there for 2 years, add 10% for adding 20 new clients, tack on up to 0.7% of the amount collected… ka-ching! Then factor in the delinquency rate as follows:

Percentage of Delinquent Loans Adjustment to Bonus
<1% +10%
1-3% -50%
>3% -100%

Given that the average delinquency rate in the institution is in excess of 3%, calculate the bonus for the typical loan officer. Anybody? Anybody?

John and CrediComún's Kiva Coordinator with their coveted certificates / John y la Coordinadora Kiva con sus codiciados certificados

That’s right, class. No bonus at all. Ouch, right? Make sure your clients pay on time!

Toward the end of the week, I dropped out of first place into the middle of the pack, but graduated. The big honor: I’m the first non-employee to receive the coveted training certificate. Thanks CrediComún!

John Farmer is a Kiva Fellow working in Mexico City. He is gradually recovering from the training.


El Novato

La semana pasada me invitaron a recibir la capacitacion de coordinadores de CrediComún. Es un maratón de 45 horas, que incluye la historia de la institucion, la estrutura de las sucursales y los detalles de los bonos que reciben los coordinadores. No solo soy novato aqui con CrediComún, pero también me falta experiencia en finanzas, por eso acepté con mucho gusto.

CrediComún es una compañía joven con 35 sucursales en la central de México, con más de 350 empleados. Ortogan préstamos principlamente a grupos de mujeres en áreas rurales, pero poco a poco van agregando préstamos individuales a su cartera de $12,000,000. CrediComún es pequeño al lado de su competidor principal, Compartamos, con una cartera en exceso de 500 millones de dólares. CrediComún suele competir al lado de Compartamos. En 2010, CrediComún alzó al lugar número 12 entre las mejores microfinancieras en América Latina según el Mix Market, y el tamaño de la cartera creció 96% en 12 meses. Compartamos bajó un peldaño a lugar número 9 y su cartera creció menos de 10%.

Todos los nuevos empleados asisten al curso, aunque la función principal es capacitar a los coordinadores. Entre los integrantes de mi clase estuvieron: una coordinadora de crédito, un gerente de sucursal, dos programadores, la Coordinadora de Kiva y un Kiva Fellow. No sólo nos metimos un montón de información en la cabeza para tener éxito en los exámenes, sino también hubo tarea para las noches, teníamos que jugar el papel del coordinador frente a clientes complicados y componer canciones para promover la compañía.

El coordinador de crédito hace los trabajos más fundamentales de la organización; todo depende de él. Ellos buscan los nuevos clientes y atienden a los actuales, asisten las reuniones semanales de cada grupo que les pertenece, viajan horas cada dia, solucionan problemas de los grupos, y transmiten información entre la compañía y los grupos. Necesitan ser puntuales, profesionales, poseer excelente técnicas de comunicación y estar dispuestos a trabajar muchas horas.

Curiosamente, en el tercer día fuí yo quien tenía la nota mas alta de la clase. Danny, el instructor, me preguntó si me interesaría ser coordinador. Me reí y dije que no tengo la actitud de coordinador – si no podría pagar el cliente le daría de mi propio dinero. Sería difícil con el sueldo que ganan, unos $500 por mes.

También ganan incentivos. Si tienen más de 120 clientes, reciben un bono mensual de $40; si más de 400 clientes, ese bono es de $100. El bono crece o disminuye basado en varios factores, por ejemplo: el número de clientes nuevos, años con la compañía, y porcentaje de clientes en mora. Cuando vimos la fórmula para calcular el incentivo, pensabamos que tal vez no sería tan horrible ser coordinador. $100 de incentivo base, otro 20% por haber trabajado 2 años con CrediComún, otro 10% por agregar 20 clientes nuevos, en adición 0.7% del monto colocado… ka-ching! Luego calcula, por favor, el efecto del porcentaje en mora:

Porcentaje en Mora Incremento al Bono
<1% +10%
1-3% -50%
>3% -100%

Dado que la morosidad institucional excede los 3%, calcula el bono para el coordinador. ¿Alguien sabe? ¿Alguien?

Sí, exactamente. No habría nada de bono.

No mantuve el sitio de primer lugar en la clase pero a lo menos me gradué. El gran honor es que soy el primero en recibir el codiciado certificado sin ser empleado de CrediComún. ¡Gracias CrediComún!

John Farmer es un Kiva Fellow ubicado en la Ciudad de México. Poco a poco anda recuperandose de la capacitación.

1 March 2011 at 17:00 5 comments

Knowing and Understanding, Saber y Entender

by Carlos Cruz Montano KF14
One of my local friends came to me one day… “Mr. Montano I need to talk to you”. Later that day he told me he had to send money to his mother and had other expenses but payday which was still a few days away. We agreed on the terms, half with the current month’s pay and the other half with the following month’s pay; both at the end of the month since that’s when he receives his pay. No big deal, I thought.The first paydate came and went – no payment. He had an explanation and reasoning of how we had agreed for him to pay on the 14th of the month – to his credit he did pay back the first half on that day but this simple incident finally made me understand what three directors at different microfinance institutions (MFIs) had been telling me in one way or another, sometimes borrowers simply do not understand the terms of the loan.

Uno de mis amigos llegó un día muy sonriente y me dijo Señor Montano, necesito hablar con usted. Un rato después me explicó que tenía una pequeña emergencia y debía mandar un poco de dinero a su mamá pero todavía faltaban varios días para el fin de mes (que es cuando recibe su sueldo mensual). Después de platicar llegamos a un acuerdo, yo le iba a prestar el dinero; el haría dos pagos en el último día del mes, es cuando recibe su salario. Pasó el último día del mes como si nada, cuando lo volví a ver le pregunte que había pasado. El me salió con una historia que el había acordado pagarme a mitad de mes. Al final si me pagó pero este pequeño incidente finalmente me hizo enteder lo que tres directores de instituciones de microfinanzas (IMFs) me habian comentado: a veces los clientes simplemente no entienden los términos del contrato.

Continue Reading 1 March 2011 at 11:49 5 comments

Microfinance Marketing 101: The Loan Officer

By Stephanie Sibal, KF14, Cambodia

In the last few weeks, while hopped up on caffeine from too many cups of instant coffee, when I was approached and asked to create a marketing plan for MAXIMA, the microfinance institution (MFI) hosting my Kiva Fellowship in Cambodia, I overeagerly agreed.

Prior to my fellowship, I spent some time working in public relations, so the task of creating a marketing plan wasn’t completely new to me. In order to get started, I needed to figure out how MAXIMA markets to its borrowers in the first place. I knew the first place to start was the ever-important loan officer.

“Today, we’re advertising.”
Loan officers have an unbelievably difficult and labor-intensive job. They have a long list of responsibilities: traveling long distances to meet with new or existing clients, disbursing a microloan, and collecting repayments. (Previous Kiva Fellows have written about the jobs of loan officers, in Vietnam and Ecuador)

Last week, I asked to tag along to with Vanna, one of MAXIMA’s loan officers, and found out exactly how crucial loan officers like him are to MAXIMA’s marketing program.

In short, he and other loan officers like him ARE the marketing program.

Vanna the loan officer, visiting a borrower and her grandchildren

 

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27 February 2011 at 19:13 5 comments

Kiva Field Partners: More than just microfinance

Kiva’s mission, to connect people, through lending, for the sake of alleviating poverty, is implemented in the field by partnering with microfinance institutions around the world.  All of Kiva’s Field Partners have a strong mission to alleviate poverty and expertise in doing so through the use of microcredit–they are the legs of Kiva that get the money loaned into the hands of the entrepreneurs.  Yet, in many cases the projects and mission of our Field Partners expand beyond microfinance–they are dedicated to enriching the lives of their clients in many ways.  A few examples from Kiva Field Partners across the world:

  • The Christian Rural Aid Network (CRAN) runs the Child Education Support Scheme, a child aid and development program that provides access to quality, basic education for needy children living in deprived rural communities in Ghana.  CRAN also runs a program called Energy in Common that provides lighting for remote villages in Ghana, using the concepts of microfinance: it loans the equipment to villagers, who then pay back in installments.
  • Fundacion Paraguaya runs a self-sufficient agricultural highschool; they focus on producing and selling organic vegetables, but also have cows and a small dairy plant.  The school also own a small hotel that is rented mainly for private functions, work meetings, and seminars. All students work and live on-campus: the freshmen do most of the basic work,  the juniors train the freshman and also working on specialized tasks, while the seniors serve as experts and supervisors. Depending on what each student chooses they can graduate with a single or dual-degree in agriculture and/or hotel management.
  • FINCA Peru provides its members with training sessions on women’s rights and gender issues education. FINCA is part of the Women’s Empowerment Mainstreaming and Networking network (WEMAN), which aims to empower and improve vulnerable women’s lives, their families, and communities. Training is offered during weekly or biweekly bank meetings through dynamic and interactive programs that incorporate analysis, reflection and mutual learning to allow women to share their own experiences and change their attitudes and perceptions.

Here in Colombia Fundación Mario Santo Domingo’s (FMSD) work is focused not solely on microfinance, but the social development of Colombia as whole, as described by their mission statement:

To promote the common good and bring about social development on a national level through support for educational, cultural, charitable and health-related activities and programs, scientific and technological research, the creation of jobs and income, and all other activities that contribute to improving the quality of life of the general population, especially within the poorest communities.

FMSD has built a clinic, a ecological institute on Barú Island, and high schools for communities that likely would not have received any other form of help.  The hold numerous workshops each week ranging for business seminars to programs designed to improve the communication of families within their homes.  They have programs that offer street children better opportunities for their future, as well as programs designed to strengthen and maintain Colombian culture, such the events and costumes used as part of Barranquilla’s world famous carnival that will take place in 9 days.

Villas de San Pablo, Barranquilla, Colombia

One of FMSD’s largest and most ambitious projects is called Dreams and Opportunities, which is a program designed to construct strong communities with better housing options for poor families in Colombia.  They have constructed over 14000 homes to daye, and in 2008 plans began for two large communities on the northern coast:  Villas de San Pablo in Barranquilla and Ciudad del Bicentenario in Cartagena will housing 20,000 and 25,000 families respectively within the next decade.  The homes receive approximately a 40% subsidy from the local and national government and require only 10% down for a family to move in; they are able to take out a 7-10 year loan at low interest rate that they would never be able to receive from a commercial lending source.  FMSD does not only focus on building homes, but also a community surrounding them–playgrounds, parks, computer centers, and community areas are planned into the design from the beginning.

New, fully furnished home for the Alvarez family

Last Friday I had to opportunity to visit Villas de San Pablo for the dedication of a free house from FMSD for a family in need.  The Alverez family used to live in very poor conditions and experienced a tragedy where they lost 4 of their 8 children in a fire in their previous home.  FMSD worked with the national government and local Catholic church to provide a new, furnished home for the family.  The family will now have an opportunity to start over in a new, safer home thanks in part to FMSD.

Belarmino "Oscar" Alvarez meets with Beatriz Uribe, Minister of Housing and Environment (equivalent to the Secretary of Housing and Urban Development in the US government) during the presentation of their new home.

Projects such as Villas de San Pablo allow organizations like FMSD to assist people in many aspects of their lives, as well as tie back to their microfinance mission;  loan officers are constantly reaching out to new residents to see if they would benefit from a loan to start or improve their current business.

Kiva’s Field Partners are doing much more than just providing loans, they are helping transform their communities and change people’s lives.

Interested in learning more about Fundación Mario Santo Domingo?  Visit their page on Kiva here!

John Gwillim is a Kiva Fellow currently serving with Fundación Mario Santo Domingo (FMSD) in Barranquilla, Colombia.

24 February 2011 at 13:00 6 comments

A Month in Armenia

As I look back, I can’t believe it’s been a month already since I left my home in Colorado to serve as a Kiva Fellow in Armenia. It has felt much longer with incredible experiences, both positive and negative, that will surely shape my future in ways that I have yet to discover.

Where in the world is Yerevan, Armenia?

When I told people that I would be going to Armenia as a Kiva Fellow, the first response was always “WHERE IS THAT?” Most mixing it up with Romania or to my Spanish speaking students back home- “Alemania”( Germany). I could understand their difficulty – as it is such a small country that it is abbreviated “Arm.” on many maps.

I was anxious and enthusiastic as I boarded a plane after training at Kiva headquarters in San Francisco, and set out to learn all I could about this tiny country in my 3 ½ months as a fellow with SEF International in Yerevan. This excitement was only mildly lessened by the 27 hour flight + 8 hour layover in London on the way.

I had the good fortune to overlap in time with the previous fellow working with SEF- Abhishek. He was invaluable to me as he helped with everything from setting up a cell phone on my first day, showing me around the city, and introducing me to all of his wonderful friends, who quickly accepted me into their group as their newest family member.

Of course, in any new place, one discovers many trials and reasons to be grateful for what we have access to in our home countries. For example, I quickly discovered after moving to an apartment on the 11th floor why most Armenians try to live below the 6th floor. Consistent access to water is something that just doesn’t happen on the floors above this level. Pumps are inefficient in these old Soviet structures and water doesn’t always reach those of us living at higher levels. There is also a limited supply and once the water is gone, there’s nothing that can be done. To solve this issue, many people have storage tanks in their apartments and if mine wasn’t always leaking, I would have better access to water throughout the day. Electricity and gas are quite expensive and highly unreliable as well. This takes some planning, but does not deter from the awesome experience of living in Yerevan.

During my first few weeks, the wonderful and welcoming staff at SEF were very busy catching up on figures from the end of the previous year and were off to a slow start as the holidays lasted well into the second week of January. (Christmas is celebrated on January 6th here ). I learned that it is customary for borrowers to repay any loans they can and start the year off with no debt- an excellent custom, I think-and so we saw a few early repayments on loans that were not due in full for another year. SEF offers Kiva borrowers the opportunity to take either small business loans to improve their shops with inventory, air conditioning, ovens, and more, or to gain access to agricultural loans. SEF serves 6 regions in Armenia and offers a unique 36-month term on agricultural loans which allows farmers to weather the difficult seasons and take advantage of the profitable seasons before repaying. I understood quickly how organized and efficient SEF’s office and staff are. They are a growing institution and each member holds a significant workload and responsibility, but they all made time to greet me and welcome me to the team- conveying all the while how important they feel their partnership with Kiva is. Borrowers were slowly trickling back into the office to get new loans and we enjoyed some down time so I took the opportunity to get to know the city.

Walking the streets of Yerevan- with infrastructure that is obviously influenced by both Europe and Russia- you can find anything you desire from fashion, a variety of restaurants, coffee shops and beautiful parks with mini-amusement park rides. The capitol, however, does not reflect the rest of the country by any means.

With an average annual income of around $5000 per year, and a struggling economy, Armenia has suffered the loss of a quarter of its population since independence in 1991 in an exodus for better economic situations elsewhere. Armenians hold fiercely onto their national identity and make consistent efforts to unite the 3 million Armenians actually living inside these borders with the 8 million Armenian diaspora who are spread all over the world. Armenia has been conquered and carved up so many times that each generation has had to start anew. Once part of the Persian empire, then the Ottoman empire, then the Soviet Union, dealing with genocide, wars, restricted religious freedoms, and trouble along two borders, Armenians know how to handle adversity with patience and resiliency.

It is this spirit of resiliency that I most admire at the moment. I was involved in a very bad car accident this past weekend while riding home in a taxi. Three cars collided and we are still unclear as to how many people didn’t make it. One person passed away for sure and the car was on fire when I left the scene. I was lucky to walk away with only a dislocated hand and two sprained ankles.

Aside from being shaken up, I am doing fine now thanks to my incredible new friends that have dedicated each day to bringing me food, flowers, candy, cake, cheering me up, and mostly making me feel cared for and taken care of in the same way I would be at home. My Kiva Coordinator at SEF, Rouzan, immediately dropped everything at work to pick me up and took me to the best doctor in town to get x-rays done and make sure I was ok. I don’t know what I would do without the amazing people that I have been blessed to meet in the past three weeks and am in awe of the caring nature and warmth of the Armenian people.The doctors were kind and patient and a woman even stayed with us for four hours to translate at the hospital even though it was very late and she didn’t even work there.

I have also been grateful to the staff at Kiva and my fellow Kiva Fellows around the globe for their emails, phone calls and tremendous support. Working in developing countries involves many risks. Kiva Fellows have taken time off of work and left their lives of comfort knowing the risks involved to learn first-hand what a difference microfinance can make on the ground to those that need it.  While it is not always glamorous, or 100% safe, it certainly entails excitement and opportunities for growth and this is truly a wonderful network to be a part of.

I know that each day will bring me closer to full health and mobility and am grateful for the opportunity to continue my fellowship with the fantastic, caring people at SEF. Business at SEF is picking up and new loans are coming in. If you would like to make a difference in the lives of their borrowers please consider lending today. We are hoping to surpass the 100 member mark on our lending team Team Armenia, and are very close. Join today and help us to get the word out to family and friends.

Caree Edson is a Kiva Fellow (KF14) serving in Yerevan, Armenia with SEF International.  She is becoming quite adept at using just her left hand for everything she needs.  To find out more about becoming a fellow click here.

16 February 2011 at 04:45 10 comments

A Post about Nothing

What’s up with blog posts? Why do they always have to be about something?  A post should be just like life. You know, nothing happens — you get up, you eat, you go shopping.

I asked myself, “John, what did you do today in Mexico City?”

My reply: “I got up and went to work.”

There’s a post!

You’re still with me? Impressive! Then on to the details, or rather, the non-details, of a day in the life of a regular everyday normal Kiva Fellow.

One thing I really like about Mexico is the food. Grasshoppers go very well with mescal!

I met up with CrediComún’s Kiva Coordinator (my KC) at the Observatorio metro station and we hopped the bus to Toluca. This smog-capped industrial city of about a million people is historically famous for producing chorizo, or Mexican sausage. It’s also surrounded by mountains — it’s beautifugly! The bus was plodding along a crowded frontage road next to a busy highway. We got off, walked under a bridge, passed a few rows of shops and found our CrediComún subsidiary.

After chatting for an hour, four of us (including two branch office managers) got into a car and drove off to visit some Kiva Entrepreneurs. First, a young woman with three small children. All have striking ojos chinos, or Asian eyes, a very photogenic family. The two year-old was sitting on a bucket on a chair eating pasta soup. I started my interview with her, asking about the soup. She was incredibly bright and cute and not shy at all. We moved on to talking about shoes — hers came from the shoes her mother sells out of their home. The line of credit her mother receives (yes, I had moved on from interviewing the little girl to the mother around this point) allow her to earn a decent living while being with her children. Before, she borrowed from another microlender. For a six-month loan, she paid 100% interest. Not 100% annualized, but over the six months she pays back twice as much as she borrowed. That’s around a 300% APR! With CrediComún she pays about 15% interest on a four-month loan, or around 70% APR. We did not want her to be late for her appointment to have her children vaccinated, so we didn’t stay too long.

Next we visited a woman in her fifties who sews out of her home and her mother’s home across the alley. The cameras were obviously making her nervous as she told us about how the loans had helped her situation. Then her eyes teared up as she spoke about her daughter who had left her baby with her a few years ago. The four-year old was crawling all over his grandmother throughout the interview. The cameras went off and we prepared to leave, and she showed us the jeans and industrial towels she makes. She waxed enthusiastic as she talked about the order for 30,000 towels she received from a nearby factory, and how she contracts another woman to help out and may be hiring others soon. If only we’d filmed that part!

The final visit was to a poor-looking house on a dead-end lane with what used to be a truck sitting out front. Chickens were clucking and a hateful dog on a short tether was barking and struggling violently to get at us. A preteen girl gave him a kick as we were invited into the house.

This client sells plates and cups and so forth out of her home. She didn’t want us to videotape the interview out of fear for her children. I explained that we would not upload photos of anyone but her, and never give her full name or her location, and that there already is a photo of her on Kiva’s site and that she had agreed to have it posted. She didn’t budge, and we proceeded with the interview. Her twelve-year old daughter had just begun sixth grade. The girl talked about how she wanted to be a doctor and planned to finish high school. I let her know she’d probably have to study a bit longer than that.

The dog barked the whole time, so it was just as well we didn’t record the interview. We had two great videos already and dozens of photos.

Next the four of us went to eat pozole (a hominy-based soup, as in “No pozole for you!”) at a successful-looking restaurant. One of the branch office managers told me that the owner is another CrediComún borrower, but because she has become so successful, the amounts she can borrow are too high to qualify as a Kiva borrower. At lunch we reviewed our amazing collection of videos and photos.

My KC and I walked back to the highway, were soon on the bus and I threw my backpack in the rack above our heads. Because she’s one of those people who have a lot to say, the time went by quickly. I told her about my late night of shooting pool and drinking mescal and eating chapulines (crunchy grasshoppers served with sliced oranges).

We looked out at the beautiful mountains and pine forests, and before I knew it we were on the subway heading back to the office. I realized something was wrong with my backpack – my flipcam was not there. Nor was my camera. We returned to the bus station to see if perhaps they had fallen out, and an hour later, the infinitesimal hope I held had gone to zero. After years of never having been a victim in Latin America (true, I’ve been overcharged!), I had finally been robbed. And the worst part by far, was the loss of all that precious data.

I felt like a jerk (in fact, the jerk store called and they are not running out of me!) because of the sheer carelessness on my part. Not only were those images perfect and meant so much to me and would have made this post so much better, but could the data in the wrong hands put those families at risk? Fortunately none gave their full names or neighborhoods and we didn’t take any outdoor shots, but the truth is, yes, it could.

So there it is. There’s a post. Just a bunch of people doing their day-to-day routines.

You can help by making a loan to a CrediComún client, joining Friends of CrediComún, or spreading the word about Kiva.

John Farmer is a Kiva Fellow working in Mexico City. He has watched way too many Seinfeld reruns in the past.

15 February 2011 at 15:00 4 comments

Mangoes and Motos: Visits to the field in Cambodia

By Stephanie Sibal, KF14, Cambodia

My first couple of weeks serving as a Kiva Fellow in Cambodia were in many ways, a true shock to my system. The country’s capital, Phnom Penh, is a dizzy blur of lights, motorbikes, colonial-inspired architecture, and savory street food aromas that take some getting used to. However, nothing snaps a Kiva Fellow out of homesickness faster than a visit (or two) to the field. While working with CREDIT, one of Kiva’s oldest partners in Cambodia, I had the pleasure of leaving the busy city life two visit two borrowers in rural provinces.

(more…)

9 February 2011 at 21:56 7 comments

Community Vigilantism Keeps Toto Tranquil

By Gustavo Visalli, KF14, Guatemala

“Esto no es Guate, ni Xela. Aquí las calles son seguras. (This is not like Guatemala City, or even Xela. The streets here are safe).”  My wonderful host in the village of Cojxac is reassuring me of the safety of the streets at night. It is my first month as a Kiva Fellow in the region of Totonicapán (aka Toto), Guatemala.  I secretly doubt my host’s words as I nod, since the ominous streets outside seem like the perfect place for a good old fashioned mugging. These prejudicial thoughts first came up as my chicken bus screeched into town. I then planned to spend many long nights safe at home re-reading my copy of The Hobbit. Ah, the crazy nightlife of a Kiva Fellow.

However, my host continued to explain that the community has a strong presence in the region. A thief, he recounted, recently stole an old woman’s bag on the main road. Alert neighbors blew their whistles and the thief was quickly apprehended. They shaved his head, displayed him to the town and warned him that he had 12 hours to gather his belongings and leave, never to return.

Vigilantism in Guatemala
Banners reading “Vecinos Organizados Contra la Delincuencia (Neighbors Organized Against Delinquency)” hang across the main road. My first thoughts were that this community had an unusually enthusiastic public concern regarding loan delinquency, but I soon learned otherwise. Delinquency = crime, not loan delinquency, in this case.

A lack of police presence sparked this community vigilantism. Of course, the question arises: How far can or should these community groups take this street justice? Is the victim of vigilantism always guilty of a crime? These are questions beyond the scope of this post. However we look at it, the intensely tight knit community identity fascinates me. This small scale organization has minimized criminal activity in the streets, and this group mentality is widespread throughout the region. Can most of us say the same for the communities in which we live?

Asociación ASDIR, a Kiva field partner in the region, is built upon this cohesion. Rural communal banks of 4-20 members are regular ASDIR borrowers. Utilizing the strength and financial security of cooperating group members, these entrepreneurs join together for loans which support their various developing working projects. Las Mujeres Emprendedoras Santa Ana (The Enterprising Women’s Group of Santa Ana) is a wonderful example.

If a neighborhood can come together to protect one another from criminals, it can certainly develop strong projects which help develop the community as a whole. ASDIR and Kiva help make this happen.  With such a strong community identity, working together out of poverty is a goal that Kiva, ASDIR, and Kiva lenders are happy to support (want to lend?). Toto is a community built on respect for your fellow compañero, and I look forward to becoming a part of it in the coming months.

Gustavo is a Kiva Fellow working with Asociación ASDIR in Nimasac, Guatemala. He has become an expert in a new extreme sport: highway shoulder hiking, and is excited to live and work in the Guatemala highlands.

9 February 2011 at 08:00 12 comments

Super Bowl Around the World

The Neilsen ratings haven’t been released for Super Bowl XLV yet, but from the early reports it may have been a record viewership in the United States with well over 100 million people tuning in.  As a big American football fan I thought it would be fun to gather some stories about the interest (or lack thereof) in the Super Bowl from Kiva Fellows posted around the world.  Here’s what we found!

Colombia

I purposely scheduled a two hour trip from Barranquilla to see some of Fundación Mario Santo Domingo’s projects in Cartagena this weekend as it is the epicenter of tourism in Colombia and I knew I would be able to find a few travelers to watch the game with.  I spent two days asking for “sports bar recommendations” to watch “fútbol americano” and came up with quite a few places to watch English Premier League games, but nothing for the NFL.  I gathered a group of Americans, Australians, and English and headed off to the most American place we could find: Hard Rock Cafe Cartagena.  Upon walking in the door we saw a promotion for a free drink if you wear a jersey supporting you favorite team and upon further inspection I saw some black and gold balloons along with 4 Steelers shirts.

The crowd was leaning towards the Packers, lead by my group and some a table from Mexico and the Dominican Republic.  The Steelers put up a good fight in the cheering section led by a Colombian woman from Bogotá that has been living in the US for the past 16 years.  We even had a Hard Rock Cafe “cheerleading” team and the ability to buy some tasty hot wings.  The biggest disappointment I gather from most fans; no US commercials, as the game was broadcast by the local ESPN  outlet and we had local commercials.  Overall, I think I got about as close as I could have to watching the game in the US from South America.

Hard Rock Cafe Cartagena, Colombia

I also decided to check the local newspaper, El Universal, this morning for any Super Bowl related articles; on the back page of section 1 I was pleasantly surprised.

El Universal, Section 1, Page 8

But, fútbol, or soccer for the Americas, still is king here after looking at the front page:

EL Universal, Page 1

John Gwillim, KF 14, Colombia

Ghana

According to American media, there is growing excitement in Ghana about the first Ghanaian to make it to the Superbowl. The Kansas City Star reports that Charlie Peprah of the Green Bay Packers has become “somewhat of a hero for the 23 million people there.” http://tinyurl.com/4k3qfu6

However, when I asked around, no one seems to have even heard of him. In fact, most people don’t know what American Football is. Looks like the Beautiful Game still reigns supreme here.

Football at Moree Beach, Ghana

Mei-ing Cheok, KF14, Ghana

Bolivia

In Bolivia American football is not very popular, however soccer is! When telling that I’m from the Netherlands, they often mention the loss in the World Cup final against Spain. Argh! When the Bolivian national team plays in La Paz they often win. Other teams call playing in La Paz the ‘suicide match’, because of the altitude: playing at a height of 3.660 meters (around 12.000 feet) is quite a challenge! However, last match in the South American Champions League between the number one team of Chile and the Bolivar team of Bolivia was won by Chile…

Fútbol (soccer) in La Paz

Klaartje Visser, KF14, Bolivia

 

Rwanda

When the Super Bowl airs at 4AM local time, I decided to do as the locals: sleep.  Sleep over football seems to be the consensus from here.

Adam asleep under a mosquito net in Rwanda

Adam Cohn, KF 14, Rwanda

Jordan

While many of my friends and family back home are filled with excitement for the Superbowl, I can’t say people are filling the streets out of excitement for the Super Bowl here in Jordan. Right in our neighbors’ backyards, both steeling and packing have occurred, but there is no clear winner yet and the fans on each side are hedging their bets. A search for “Sports Bar” in Amman, Jordan, on Google Maps found just 3 results. Two out of the three are in the Marriott.

Google Maps search for "Sports Bar" Amman, Jordan

Alex Silversmith, KF14, Jordan

Mexico

Within two blocks of my apartment there were dozens of bars showing the game. I watched the first half in an Irish pub and the second half in an English pub. No American pubs apparently. Almost all of the crowd were Mexicans, though a lot had lived in the US at some point. The crowds were evenly divided between cheese heads and asaderos. Channel 7 (Mexico City) even had a reporter on the field at the stadium in Dallas.

The game as seen from Mexico City

John Farmer, KF 14, Mexico

Armenia

Kickoff time here in Yerevan, Armenia was around 4:30am Monday morning.  The streets were pretty quiet and very cold.  I decided to stay comfortable under my covers and watch the results from my laptop.

While international football (soccer) is quite popular here, American football is not. The most popular sports are wrestling and weightlifting.  I hear that the Armenian soccer team is not great and no one seems to know when the team will play next or where I can purchase tickets.

Best place to watch the Super Bowl in Armenia; in bed at 4:30 AM!

Caree Edson, KF14, Armenia

Peru

So even though the Steelers lost I had a fabulous Superbowl in Lima. I thought about bringing my terrible towel to Lima, but since it is quite valuable to me I didn’t want to chance losing it during the next three months!  I watched the game in my hostel with a bunch of folks who didn’t care at all about the game, but I didn’t mind. I even explained the rules of the game in Spanish to a Chilean, Australian and two Germans. I thought we had it. Sigh. Next year!

Steelers fan Noreen makes her own shirt while in Lima, Peru to show her team pride

Noreen Giga, KF 14, Peru

Sierra Leone

Sierra Leone was not crawling with football fans….no one seems to know or really care about the game.  Despite the odds, KF14 member David was able to catch the end of the game in Freetown.

David McNeill, KF 14, Sierra Leone

Guatemala

Guatemalans in Quetzaltenango do not get too excited about the Superbowl, but every bar is happy to accommodate ex-pats, tourists, and volunteers from the U.S. who are in town for the game. Gustavo of KF14 celebrated the event with a large portion of Pearce Corps Guatemala, many of whom are currently displaced from their placements in the area of Coban, Guatemala. Coban is currently in a state of siege and all volunteers in the area were forced to leave indefinitely. Despite the setback, spirits were high and high fives were plentiful.

Gustavo Visalli, KF14, Guatemala

South Africa

South Africans care about three sports: soccer, rugby, and cricket. There were no signs of the Super Bowl in Richards Bay, South Africa, except for late last night in EB’s room. (She was rooting for the Packers.)

South African sports equipment selection; not an American football in sight

EB showcases her Green Bay pride from South Africa

EB Moore, KF 13, and Alexis Ditkowsky, KF14, South Africa

John Gwillim is a Kiva Fellow currently serving with Fundación Mario Santo Domingo in Barranquilla, Colombia.

7 February 2011 at 12:46 3 comments

$3,000 Rent Anyone? Renta de 3,000 dólares? No, Gracias!

by Carlos Cruz Montaño, KF14, Liberia
Upon arriving to Liberia I started looking for a place to live, was just looking for a furnished apartment with nothing out of the ordinary… walked into a new building that was almost finished. The apartments included things like power 24/7, water, water heaters, bedroom set, TV, and a kitchen with gas stove, fridge and some cabinets… nothing out of the ordinary, right? Then I asked about the rent… how much? Three thousand dollars???

Despues de llegar a Liberia me dediqué a buscar un departamento, algo simple y sin lujos. Entré a un edificio que estaban renovando, los departamento tenían todo nuevo e incluían lo básico, electricidad, agua, calentador de agua, cama, closet, y la cocina tenia una estufa de gas, refrigerador y algunos gabinetes. Al parecer nada fuera de lo común… y la renta al mes es cuanto? Tres mil dólares???

Continue Reading 28 January 2011 at 20:00 11 comments

Drawings from Training and Greetings from Boston

By Alexis Ditkowsky, KF14, South Africa

You’ll be hearing a lot from the 14th batch of Kiva Fellows (KF14) in the next few months but I just wanted to take a moment to introduce myself while my Internet is fast and my motivation to go outside is low (it’s well below freezing in Boston).

Continue Reading 18 January 2011 at 08:42 14 comments


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