Posts tagged ‘Kiva Fellows’
By: Abhishesh Adhikari
One of the Kiva partner MFIs that I am helping in Uganda is Micro Credit for Development and Transformation (MCDT.) It is based in Kampala and provides financial services primarily to low-income women who come to Kampala from remote areas of Uganda. Even though the average loan size for a borrower at MCDT is only about $200, it is amazing how impactful the loans have been in helping these women become financially independent.
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?
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.
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 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!
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.
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.
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!
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!).
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.
On our way back to Olgiy, we soaked in the peaceful landscapes of 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 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!
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!
Business owners, an ancient monument and a stolen dinosaur
The following week, we hit the road for two more aimags, Arkhangai and Bayanhongor.
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.
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).
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 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.
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!
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!
Spring may have arrived in Mongolia, but for two Kiva staff who visited me in April, winter gave one last hurrah and dumped the largest snowfall I’ve seen since being here (a whopping 2 inches!).
By: Abhishesh Adhikari
One of the best parts about my Kiva Fellowship has been the opportunity I get to meet and interact with entrepreneurs. During the 4 months that I spent in Kyrgyzstan, I helped Bai Tushum (Kiva’s partner MFI) launch a new Startup Loan Product and met a wide variety of entrepreneurs all across that country. After I got back from Kyrgyzstan in January, I have been working on a new Kiva project called Kiva Zip, trying to expand it here in Chicago.
Kiva Zip is a new initiative to make interest-free, small business loans to entrepreneurs in the United States. This new lending model is based on community relationships whereby entrepreneurs can request interest-free loans (up to $5000 for the first loan) based on endorsements from organizations or prominent individuals in their communities. Lenders can view the profiles of these entrepreneurs on Kiva Zip’s website, and lend $25 or more at a time.
Keith Baillie | KF19 | Philippines
Part I: Construction of a New Community
Following the Sendong typhoon, many Cagayan de Oro residents were displaced. I visited one of the resettlement villages, Xavier Ecoville. Flood victims are still currently living in temporary wooden accommodation built by agencies like Habitat for Humanity.
Among the first facilities constructed are a church and a community hall. There are also a health and family planning center, day care and preschool facilities, and covered basketball and volleyball court. Housing is in low-rise terraces, enabling neighbors to mingle in the street.
Part II: Factors Driving Community Spirit
If I mention that I am visiting or eating somewhere, they always ask “Who’s with you, sir?” I ask myself “What are the factors that drive the strong Filipino sense of community?” Here are some factors that occur to me:
- Strong family bonds. Filipinos typically have large families. Working children are responsible for helping support parents and younger siblings (including their education). Children will frequently work abroad to accomplish this. Such family obligations imprint a model for shared responsibility in the broader community.
Note: However, nowadays many Filipino couples separate and many children are born outside of marriage. Nevertheless, parents or grandparents always take care of the children if the mother cannot.
- Living accommodation. Single Filipinos typically live with their family until they marry and establish their own family home. Young Filipinos studying or working away from home typically live with colleagues in boarding houses, which provides a community atmosphere in place of the family home. Few Filipinos live completely alone, even when elderly.
- Shared religion. (I have worked in Christian areas but suspect the same holds true in Muslim and indigenous areas.) Almost all Filipinos I have met have a strong, active Christian faith. Although most are Catholic, other denominations are integrated in non-sectarian events, like religious festivals/fiestas and office devotionals. One of the first questions Filipinos ask me is “What is your religion?”
- Avoidance of conflict. Filipinos rarely get angry or raise their voices. If I say something critical, a Filipino will ask “Are you mad at me, Sir?” leading me to soften my response. I do not see angry rows or fights even in drinking establishments. When I berated a young girl for pushing in front of me in a grocery line, she just remained silent. And when my motorcycle taxi nearly collided with a motorcyclist who had pulled in front of him, there were no expletives. They both just smiled and chuckled.
- Community service. I met a large group of students who were studying a college course in cleaning neighborhoods and planting mangroves. When they graduate, they will be unpaid volunteers. In the cooperatives I have visited, serving the community (especially the poor) is always stressed in the devotionals and board members provide their time for free.
- Performances and shows. Church, school, college and office events bring people together to practice for dance performances, beauty contests, sports contests, etc.
- Fiestas. Each municipality has an annual fiesta when community members who live away return home. There are family reunions, school reunions, church services, public entertainments, and the roaming meals where people visit a succession of homes to eat.
- Texting. Throughout the day, Filipinos text small talk like “Good morning!” and “Have you had your breakfast?” This is an extension of normal social interaction.
- Maintenance of local bonds while away. Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs) maintain social connections with others from their city or region – for example maids in Hong Kong or workers in the Middle East congregate on particular streets or intersections designated for their home location.
Whatever the reasons, there is no doubt that Filipinos have a strong sense of community – both with other Filipinos and (happily) in welcoming visitors from other cultures.
Afterthought: This may explain why Filipinos so readily ask foreigners for money. When they see financial inequality, it seems only right to share it. However, they don’t seem to resent the rich-poor divide within their own country enough to change it.
By Rachel Davis | KF19 | Denver, Colorado
For the past four months, I have been serving as a Kiva Zip Fellow in Denver, Colorado. As a fellow in the US I was required to work independently without the comfort of a home office or co-workers. The Zip fellowship is in and of itself, very entrepreneurial. First came research, then networking, then meetings, then events, then more networking. I’ve met so many fascinating people and have come to know so many amazing organizations doing crucial work in my own backyard.
The work of one organization in particular has really resonated with me, that of Mi Casa Resource Center. Mi Casa was founded in 1976 and has been providing support to ensure the economic success of Latino families in the Denver Metro area. Mi Casa provides after school programs, business classes, as well as other resources. The program that Kiva Zip has been working with is an entrepreneurial training program taught in both English and Spanish. Students are required to graduate from the program, they then become eligible for a Zip loan.
We have lent to three borrowers endorsed by Mi Casa, all of which are starting their own businesses. One is starting a catering and food cart business, one is opening her own hair studio, and one has launched his own construction company. These borrowers are self-employed entrepreneurs with skills that provide new opportunity for minorities. With the help of Mi Casa and Kiva Zip they have created readily available jobs to people in their communities. Instead of a top down approach to job creation, these borrowers are creating jobs from the bottom up. Jobs with dignity that require specialized skills, jobs that they can be proud of.
A few months ago I had the pleasure of attending one of the classes at Mi Casa. The classes are held in the evening and every week one of the students provides refreshments for everyone. I can’t describe how humbling it was to sit in that room. Every student was attentive and asking questions, participating, eagerly scribbling notes as if the information was about to just slip away and be lost forever. It was quite the departure from what I experienced at my traditional four-year public university. For these people, it was real – at the end of the program they will launch their businesses and it’s sink or swim.
Job creation is such a hot button issue these days and there is no universal solution. But seeing the Zip borrowers in person, seeing their drive and their passion to aim higher is encouraging if nothing else. With the right resources and bit of direction, creating a job for yourself and those around you is within reach. I can say confidently that Kiva Zip is giving entrepreneurs in the United States a chance to follow their dreams and it’s giving people an opportunity to find dignity and acceptance among our lenders. I’m passionate about this work and I am excited to see what the future holds for Kiva Zip and Mi Casa Resource Center.
You can visit Mi Casa’s trustee page at: https://zip.kiva.org/trustees/136
Here is a peek into my daily routine as a Kiva Fellow in Sololá, Guatemala. My schedule usually goes something like this…
8:00AM – Wake-Up
8:15AM – Emails, Updates and Writing for my travel blog
8:45AM – Arrive at ADICLA Office in Sololá, Guatemala
9:00AM – Plan our day of borrower visits, Kiva training and other tasks
10:00AM – Leave office
10:20AM – Morning snack at the central market in Sololá
10:40AM – Begin motorcycle ride into the countryside to visit borrowers
11:30AM – Arrive at first borrower’s home to gather information, take photos and get a participation signature (in this video we filmed a Kiva”Thank You” piece)
12:15PM – Arrive at second borrower’s home (in this video the borrower didn’t arrive, which is a regular occurrence when there are crops to be harvested)
1:30PM – Lunch at one of my favorite spots just outside the town of San Andres. Churrasco, chorizo, black beans, tomato sauce, cheese and a Coca Cola!
2:30PM – Wait at the San Andres ADICLA Office for a borrower group to arrive. Juan Carlos and I exchanged language lessons (Kakchiquel and English).
3:00PM – Group Borrower Meeting
3:45PM – Ride back to Sololá
5:10PM – Upload new borrower profiles
7:00PM – Leave office for the night, change and snack
7:30PM – Get it right. Get it tight.
8:15PM – Grocery shopping
8:45PM – Shower and Dinner
9:30PM – Catch up on emails, writing, Kiva Fellow tasks and travel blog work
That’s my day as a Kiva Fellow!
By Kiva Fellows | KF19 | All Over the World
A Happy Holidays to the Kiva family everywhere! May your celebrations be filled with foods and flavor, smiling faces, natural beauty, light and memories… here are some gifts from around the world courtesy of the Kiva Fellows 19th class:
On the Twelve Days of Christmas my Kiva Fellow gave to me…
Watching Green Turtles hatch on a beach near Mafia Island in Tanzania was magical, and heartbreaking, because they looked so vulnerable. They’re tiny little things – no bigger than the palm of my hand – so the 15m of beach is an epic journey but they scramble forward determinedly despite the obstacles. I was thrilled to see this little guy heading out into the world!
Day 2: Two Washington War Memorials
Christina Reif | Kiva Zip (Washington D.C.) | United States
The Korean War Memorial (left): Nestled between juniper bushes which represent the rugged terrain of Korea, 7ft tall statues of soldiers – wary of a suspected ambush – give the visitor a haunting feel of the a soldier’s reality.
The Vietnam Memorial (right): As I stood taking the picture I overheard the veteran say: there were 18 of us and only 9 came back. It was said matter of factly, a story told many times before, a piece of history that never loses its emotional impact.
Day 3: Three Colorado Microbrews
Rachel Davis | Kiva Zip (Denver) | United States
Here are three beers from three Colorado breweries, enjoy!
Day 4: Four Kuki Carolers
Eileen Flannigan | WSDS-Initiate | India
What are these Kuki’s most excited about this holiday? “The caroling bus!” This tradition only happens every two years because of the cost of renting the buses, which each family in the village (200+) contributes to all year. On Christmas Eve the buses tour all the neighboring villages as a symbol of peace, unity and good old fashion fun! At midnight, the elders go home and the youths visit each house in the village to “offer them a song”, which include tribal songs, classic Christmas songs and even Justin Bieber’s “Mistletoe”.
When I asked them what they would like to say to Kiva lenders around the world, they joyfully said they wanted to “offer a song of thanksgiving”. Through giggles and jolly spirits, these Kiva borrowers sing “Joy to the World”, dressed in their holiday best, which is all weaved from their own hands. They graciously wrap me in these special threads and awake my heart with the “Christmas spirit”.
Day 5: Five Gorgeous Costa Rican Birds
Jane Imai | EDESA and FUNDECOCA | Costa Rica
What speaks of Costa Rica more than a bunch of beautiful, tropical birds? Costa Rica boasts a huge biodiversity when it comes to wildlife, including almost 900 species of birds. Here are some of ones I was able to see while I was here:
- Blue macaw (wild, La Fortuna)
- Scarlet macaws (wild, en route to Monteverde)
- Violet sabrewing (wildlife refuge, La Paz Waterfall Gardens)
- Yellow-naped parrots (free roaming pets known as Lola and Paco, San Jose)
- Keel-billed toucan (wildlife refuge, La Paz Waterfall Gardens)
Day 6: Six Delicious Dishes from Kyrgyzstan
Abhishesh Adhikari | Bai Tushum & Partners | Kyrgyzstan
- Lagman: Noodle dish with beef and pepper
- Mante: Dumplings filled with ground beef and onions
- Turkish Kebab
- Russian style roast duck with apples
- Plov: Fried rice mixed with meat and carrots
- Traditional Kyrgyz soup with meat and potatoes
Day 7: Seven Candles for Día de las Velitas
Rose Larsen | Fundación Mario Santo Domingo (FMSD) | Colombia
Día de las Velitas (Day of the Little Candles) is a holiday in Colombia honoring the Immaculate Conception. Every year, on the 8th of December, at 3AM, Colombians light candles and put them in colorful lanterns outside their homes. This day is also the (unofficial) launch of the Christmas season.
Day 8: Eight Filipino Christmas Lights and Festive Faces
Keith Baillie | Roaming Mindanao | Philippines
Christmas preparations start early in the Philippines. Since November, carols are played on the radio and offices and homes have put up Christmas decorations. Groups of children roam around singing carols, hoping for a handout. Here are some pics of Dipolog’s tree lighting festival – with monsters for kids, sculpted and living angels, fireworks and popular bands.
Maayong Pasco! (Bisayan for Merry Christmas!)
Day 9: Nine Jordanian Herbs
Taline Khansa | Tamweelcom | Jordan
One of the most exciting and lively areas in Jordan is the downtown Amman “Balad” region. The streets are filled with a multitude of elements that stimulate the senses from perfumeries making custom concoctions to falafel hole-in-the-wall restaurants. My favorite places are the small shops selling bulk herbs and spices (for super cheap!), some of which I recognize and others I’ve never heard of. The merchants will often allow you to smell or taste the products and may offer some advice on use and preparation techniques.
The nine bulk herbs in this picture are: Two kinds of sage, Melissa, Rosemary, Artemisia, Rose, Guava Leaves, Marjoram, and Hibiscus… Happy Holidays from the Middle East!
Day 10: Ten Bags-a-Brimming With Honduran Coffee
Wesley Schrock | Roaming Fellow | Honduras
Kiva borrower Miguel, a coffee farmer from Trojes in Honduras, stands in front of a wet processing station. In the lower left-hand corner note his ten bags of pulped, fermented, and dried coffee beans ready for roasting.
Having spent close to three months in India, I must say I have not had one bad meal. The food is always flavorful and delicious. While working at Mahashakti, I have been fortunate to have lunch with the staff every day, prepared by the office caretaker, Radha Kanta, or just Rahda for short. Since many of the staff travel from branch to branch at a regular basis, they stay at the office overnight. Radha prepares meals for the traveling staff and me.
One day I learned to make a traditional Odisha dish – Simba Rai – from the following ingredients (pictured from left to right): Garlic, Turmeric, Radha in action, Ginger, Masala paste and powder, Green Chili, Potatoes, Green beans (Simba), Chili powder, Mustard seeds, Tomatoes, Shallots, and we’re ready to eat!
The smiling faces of twelve bright futures for the children of Kiva borrowers in Togo and Benin!
FROM THE KIVA FELLOWS!
It never ceases to amaze me how you can connect with people who are completely different from you. Maybe you don’t speak the same first language. Maybe you grew up on opposite sides of the world, or you were born in different decades. But somehow, despite all your differences—and perhaps against all odds—you find commonalities. And what’s more, sometimes you realize that below the surface, maybe you’re not actually all that different after all.
Kiva’s mission is to connect people through lending. That happens every day through its online lending platform, http://www.kiva.org. But as Kiva Fellows, we have the opportunity to carry out this mission in the field. Sometimes we get to meet with borrowers, but all of us get to connect with the local people where we work and live. We learn about who they are and how they live, and we share a little bit about ourselves as well. And when you find yourself having a good laugh with them, it’s a pretty amazing thing.
So, the three months of my fellowship are drawing to a close. It’s hard not to get sentimental when I think about leaving behind this beautiful country and the warm, generous people who welcomed me into their homes, their families, and their lives. Some took the time to get to know me, others took the time to share their stories, and others still simply made me feel at home, wherever I was. Many went out of their way to make sure I had a fantastic experience here. Pictured in this blog entry are just some of the wonderful Ticos that I met in Costa Rica.
My time here has been full of adventures, sightseeing, and some notable firsts. Among those have been:
First time seeing toucans. They are too cute for words!
First time riding on a moto, or motorbike, ever. (I think I’ve gained some street cred in Uganda).
First time seeing dressage. One weekend, I chanced upon a big street party that was complete with cowboys and horses getting their horse ballet on. I thought that was pretty fortuitous, since I had recently learned what this sport was all about (courtesy of Stephen Colbert).
First time eating rice and beans for 90 days straight. I’m talking about the famous typical Costa Rican dish, gallo pinto, which is pretty much what everyone here eats every day for breakfast—and sometimes lunch and dinner, too. OK, so maybe I didn’t eat it for all 90 days, but I tell you it was pretty darn close. It’s a good thing I like rice and beans!
First time trying sopilote (vulture meat). Ooops, wait! That was chicken and a couple of colleagues trying to trick me.
First time watching the entire Twilight saga. Oh yes I did! (It made for a fun bonding experience, OK?)
But in any new experience, it’s always the people you meet who make all the difference. While I love to travel and see new places, I also love the very different experience of living abroad, because that’s when you really get to know the locals.
People asked me why I wanted to come to Costa Rica for my fellowship. In fact, it’s somewhere I’ve wanted to go for a long time. I have always been intrigued by this country that constitutionally abolished its army in 1949, thus diverting resources towards health and education for the general population. I was curious about the nation with a long history of ecotourism that today remains one of the world’s leaders in environmental protection. I wanted to meet the people who lived in the country that was ranked #1 in the 2012 Happy Planet Index.
So here are some things I’ve learned:
Ticos are proud of their country and have a strong sense of national identity. The expression Pura Vida (Pure Life) says it all. It’s something of a national motto here, but it’s more than just words; it’s a way of life. It’s used here in greetings, as an expression of gratitude or satisfaction, and also to describe something or someone who’s generally pretty awesome.
Ticos love to toot their horn. I’m not talking about national pride anymore. I’m talking about the constant beep-beep you will hear as you walk along any road or highway. The pitos (horns) are how Tico drivers communicate, and the beeps can mean very different things. Here’s a little guide to help you decipher the various meanings, should you be traveling to Costa Rica anytime soon:
Beep! Hellooooo there, baby.
Beep! Coming through!
Beep beep! You go first!
Beep! Thanks dude!
Beeeeeeeep! I’m stuck in traffic and mildly annoyed.
Beep! I’m bored and tooting my horn is fun!
Beep! Beep! BEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEP!……………….
Ticos love their coffee. As they rightly should: Costa Rican coffee is really good! Even for someone who’s more of a tea-aholic, two coffee breaks a day will get you hooked in no time. If you search long and hard, though, you will find some tea aficionados, and you might even chance upon a tea store if you’re lucky.
Ticos are incredibly tolerant of rain. I’ve never seen so much rain in my life! It’s true I’ve been here during the rainy season, but I never thought this kind of rain was possible—where a heavy downpour can last 5 hours, or sometimes even two days. But nobody complains. (The cold is another thing, but it’s totally fair game to complain when it’s 12oC and windy, given that buildings are not insulated here.)
Costa Rica is largely rural. Like the diminutive Tico suggests, things here are small-scale. Even the bigger city centres are more like large towns. Many Ticos live in rural areas or have some connection to rural life. For example, quite a few people who work in the city commute some distance from a more rural area, or their family might own a finca (a property in the countryside).
And many Ticos and tourists alike are averse to San José, whose metropolitan area has some 2.3 million people. While it may not be the world’s most attractive city, the Ticos’ dislike for it stems more from the fact that it is a city. I am going to make a bold statement: I like San José. That may be attributed to the great people I met while I was living here, though.
Ticos are quite devout. Costa Rica is fairly homogenous and its population is made up of 70% Catholics and 14% Evangelical Christians. It was interesting trying to explain that my family’s roots are Buddhist, since Buddhism, like many other religions, has had limited exposure in Costa Rica.
It was also interesting being introduced as Canadian to new Ticos. Their eyes always said the same thing: You can’t fool me. A further explanation of my parents’ Japanese origins brought a sort of relief to their faces and often facilitated the conversation that ensued. I was, without a doubt, something of an anomaly to them, although that humoured me more than anything.
The word china means many things in Costa Rica, as it does in other Spanish speaking countries. Hmm… seems like not a lot of thought has gone into the nuances of its meanings. For example:
- China = the country
- china = the language
- china = a Chinese person
- china = any other Asian-looking person
In addition, there is a type of flower called china and porcelain plates are also called china. To add some variety, I tried to make up my own word, chinesa, to describe the language, but I was corrected. Por favor. It’s china.
That being said, China (the country) has become Costa Rica’s most important ally after the US, as evidenced by the generous gift they sent last year. (A symbol of its former relationship with Taiwan can also be found firmly planted in northern Costa Rica.) So maybe it’s good that, as long as they’re going to use one generic word to capture all these meanings, that the word be china.
Ticos work hard to get ahead, but that’s not always easy. They could use a break. That’s why lending through Kiva’s partners like EDESA and FUNDECOCA can go a long way. (Stay tuned for FUNDECOCA on www.kiva.org—they’re a new partner so their partner page is forthcoming!)
These MFIs are doing a great job of providing opportunities to people in rural areas, where the poverty is often striking, but urban poverty is rampant as well, and sometimes microfinance can overlook this. One of my colleagues pointed out that a person is probably better off being poor in a rural area of Costa Rica, because at least then they can still produce their own food. In the city, on the other hand, if you don’t have money you can’t survive.
Recently, I had the opportunity to get to know a lady here in a similar situation. While she had a job in the city that gave her enough income to support her family, she was in a position where she could not access credit from the regular banks. As such, her daughters would never have the chance to pursue a better education so that they might someday be able to get ahead. As we chatted, I realized that rarely had I met someone so wise and open-minded. She had a lively curiosity, and she had come to grips with her situation in life with laughter and a positive attitude. She left me with a feeling of admiration mixed with heartache.
Over the past 10 years, I’ve had the fortune to live and work in 7 different countries, and travel to countless others. Throughout those experiences, I’ve met friends who come from over 70 countries, and I’ve come to understand so much about the world thanks to them. Ticos, I’ve learned, are totally pura vida. And hopefully, they’ve learned something about me, too, so that the next time they meet someone really different from them, the differences won’t be as striking as the similarities are.
Laura Sellmansberger | KF19 | Uganda
Roughly 1.6 billion people in the world do not have access to reliable electricity. Lack of power is a complex issue that results in countless other problems, and it is both a cause and an effect of unremitting poverty. Without light, children are unable to do their homework and study. Midwives must perform deliveries in the dark. Children, especially girls, often spend hours a day collecting firewood to be used for light and heat instead of going to school. Mothers are forced to cook with kerosene, which is expensive, toxic to the lungs, and a major cause of fires in the home.
Solar Sister, Kiva’s newest partner in Uganda, is a social enterprise committed to tackling energy poverty as well as creating economic opportunity for women. Using an Avon-style distribution system, Solar Sister sells solar lamps through local women in remote parts of Uganda. These entrepreneurs are provided with training and marketing support, and use their own networks of friends and family to distribute solar lighting products throughout their villages, providing their communities with clean energy, empowering themselves, and providing their families with additional income.
A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to accompany Solar Sister on a trip to the villages of Central Uganda, where we met two Solar Sister Entrepreneurs and their customers.
Meet Florence, Solar Sister Entrepreneur
Florence is 38 years old. She has four children under her care (two biological children and two whom she adopted after their own mother passed away). She runs a small computer center in the town of Buwama where she teaches computer literacy courses and also provides typing services. Since becoming a Solar Sister Entrepreneur, she has enjoyed brining light to others in her community.
Meet Agnes, Florence’s Customer
As a small-holder farmer, Agnes grows vegetables and raises cows. She is also community nurse and runs a small health clinic in her home. Her biggest challenge as a nurse has been lack of light. Without electricity, she is unable to work after dark – even though health emergencies do not become any less common after nightfall.
Agnes purchased a simple solar light system from Florence and now has light in a few rooms in her house. Since she installed the lights, she has been able to begin seeing patients at night.
Agnes understands the dangers of kerosene more than most people. A few years ago, her teenage daughter was studying in bed by the light of a kerosene lantern. Her mosquito net caught fire, causing severe burns to most of her body. She feels very lucky that her daughter survived, and she is glad that her children can now read at night without having to worry about potential accidents.
Meet Jane-Francis, Solar Sister Entrepreneur
Jane-Francis is 48 years old. She has eight children. She primarily earns the income with which she supports her family through farming. Jane-Francis became a Solar Sister in order to earn extra money that she puts towards school fees for her children.
Meet Jane, Jane-Francis’ customer
Jane is a mother and smallholder farmer. She is also a village nurse. Since purchasing a lamp from Jane-Francis, she has been able to continue seeing patients after dark. She also says that having light at night helps her stay awake for her favorite radio show, which she likes to listen to on her battery-powered radio every evening at 10:00 pm. She is currently saving money to buy another lamp for her home.
Lend to a Solar Sister Entrepreneur today on Kiva.org, and help her not only to increase her own income, but also to bring light, hope and opportunity to her community.
Abhishesh Adhikari | KF19 | Kyrgyzstan
One of the most exciting things about Kyrgyzstan is the potential for the growth of entrepreneurship. Over the last few months, I had the opportunity to travel all across this country and meet a wide variety of borrowers and potential entrepreneurs. From young college students in Bishkek to farmers in the remote regions around Naryn, shopkeepers in violence affected areas of Osh to livestock owners in Batken. Just twenty years after the fall of the Soviet Union, there seems to be a lot of enthusiasm here for starting up small businesses.
Looking at the demographics and the challenges involved, I would categorize Kyrgyz entrepreneurs into two major categories. First, there are the young college students and graduates from around Bishkek and other major cities who are interested in starting service-oriented businesses. Second, there are entrepreneurs from the more remote regions who want to start new farms and livestock businesses.
Keith Baillie | KF19 | Philippines
I recently voyaged to Siquijor Island to visit the Larena Office of my Kiva partner, Paglaum Multi-Purpose Cooperative (PMPC). I was accompanied by Lysette, the partner’s Kiva Coordinator:
Laura Sellmansberger | KF19 | Uganda
Uganda offers its visitors a wide variety of foods to sample, but many would agree that the most delicious of these is the rolex. What is a rolex, you ask? I have heard many people describe the Ugandan rolex as something similar to the “breakfast burrito,” a peculiar food item that can be found at a number of American fast food chains. For purposes of basic mental imagery, this description may not be too far off; however, I personally believe that this comparison fails to give the rolex the credit that it deserves. That’s why I have decided to dedicate an entire blog post to this uniquely Ugandan culinary delight.
A rolex costs 1,500 Ugandan Shillings ($0.60) and is available on almost every street corner in Kampala. The name “rolex” has nothing to do with the luxury Swiss watch company, but rather relates to the ingredients of this scrumptious delicacy and the way it is made: roll + eggs = rolex.
The rolex first appeared about a decade ago in the Kampala suburb of Wandegaya near Makerere University, Kampala’s oldest institution of higher education. After appearing in Wandegaya, the late-night student snack took the region by storm and has since become a staple street food throughout all of Central Uganda.
Here I will outline the basic steps in the creation of a rolex.
1. First, the chapati is made. Chapati is a tortilla-like flatbread made from flour, water and salt. Chapati was first brought to Uganda by Indian migrant workers in the early 1900s. The dough is rolled thin, placed on a circular frying pan, and cooked until it has reached a solid yet soft consistency.
2. Next, the omelette is mixed. Two eggs are blended together with pieces of fresh tomato, cabbage, onions, bell peppers and salt.
3. On the same pan where the chapati was cooked, the omelette is fried.
4. The omelette is placed on the chapati and is topped with cold tomato slices and salt. The chapati is then rolled into a burrito-like form.
And that’s how a Ugandan rolex is made. I can’t think of a more delicious way to spend $0.60. Bon appétit!
Laura Sellmansberger is a member of the 19th class of Kiva Fellows, working at Grameen Foundation AppLab as well as two other nontraditional Kiva partners.
By Eileen Flannigan | KF19 | India
Eileen and Irene are both fellows in India. Eileen is living in Imphal, Manipur and Irene is in Bhubaneswar, Odisha. While in conversations with one another, we have been struck by how different the cities are. We’ve compiled these observations to share with you our experiences of the rich and diverse culture of India. Eileen’s profiled in Part 2 below, while Irene is featured in Part 1.
Top 3 things that you notice while roaming your neighborhood?
To some degree, Imphal looks like most Indian cities; colorful clothes laid out on riverbeds, vibrant vegetable vendors, cows grazing in busy streets, sidewalk barbers and active “hotels” (i.e. shops) of meat, rice, and tea. However, on closer investigation, my curiosity led me to these:
- Rickshaw drivers in disguise. I was perplexed why most of the rickshaw drivers were covered from head-to-toe with only eyes showing, even on very hot days. I learned that these educated young men were forced to take this job because of the high unemployment in this region. It’s considered an act of shame for themselves and their families if their identity was known.
- Men with large guns. Sadly, this has been a hotbed for militancy for decades. At any given moment, I’ll see men in combat uniforms jammed into the back of a vehicle or a crew taking a break at a paan shop or a tank slowly cruising down the street with the watchman’s bust out the top.
- Kids in uniform. I live right across the street from a primary school and my favorite morning ritual is to watch them all gather with the last bit of wild exuberance before the subdued day ahead. Children arrive scrunched with siblings on bikes, rickshaws, or father’s shoulders. Sisters eagerly tie younger one’s bows, friends connected by sweet hand holding and boys arm and arm while imitating their favorite cricket bowler.
When you want the “comforts of home” experience, what do you do?
I live with a family that has two young boys, so I’ve taught them some American card games like Go Fish, Slap Jack and Crazy Eights. On chilly nights we obsessively play with gusto, which always makes me happily nostalgic.
Although, when I’m really longing for home, I head to the best hotel in town to have a cappuccino and baked yogurt, which is a newly delicious discovery that is a cross between a crème brûlée, and American style yogurt. Although I appreciate the ritual and social nuances of chai time, there’s nothing like the comforts of a cup of coffee or two, to turn my day around. Added bonus is this cafe plays the most wonderfully bad acoustic remakes of American songs. Depending on my mood, I am either really happy or deeply embarrassed that I now know all the lyrics to Rhinestone Cowboy.
Describe the people and culture in your region.
Manipur is one of the most northeastern states of India, snugly positioned next to Myanmar, formally known as Burma. Almost all states in the northeast have international borders with countries that include Nepal, Bhutan, Bangladesh, Myanmar and China which has meant a continuous migration of people with strong ethnic identities. The amalgamation of different tribal nations, indigenous traditions, languages and food has left a dynamic imprint on the Manipuri culture. They have a rich arts heritage, however my favorite pastime is the daily theatre of weaved garments whisking by in the streets, with just the right amount of dramatic flair. Most women don’t wear saris but a long wrap-around skirt that tell a story of the woman, her home tribe and religious lineage through the intricate patterned design, electrified colors and weave techniques.
I love Indian food and its explosion of spices to awaken an exotic, far-away feeling in me. However, one of my biggest surprises has been with my culinary experiences. It’s not your typical Indian fare of masala, cardamom, coriander and the like, with the exclusion of turmeric, spices are used minimally here, if at all. Manipuris smother everything with the king chili (the hottest in the world) and say that “rice is always the main course” with something fermented (fish or bamboo) and possibly dried meat as a side. Thankfully, my host family has been understanding of my western palette and doesn’t try to push the king chili on me, as I think we both know it would end badly.
What type of work is common in this region for Kiva borrowers?
I’ve been awed by the way Kiva borrowers work many different, inter-connected businesses to sustain their livelihoods. There is no main industry to speak of, so the women must find creative ways to bring in little bits of income from many different sources, mostly 4, 5 or even 6 businesses operating at once. The Kiva borrowers, all women, live in remote hill areas with fertile land and weaving skills that start at a very young age and are seeded in deep traditions. They are using these strengths to form business of:
Weaving + Rice Paddy + Garden
All village women will be involved in these three activities. Weaving is done twice daily, at dawn and late night when all the other household chores are completed. Rice harvesting is only once a year and the yield is not only expected to feed the whole family throughout the year but provide a small supplemental income. A majority of families, regardless of income level, have a paddy field that has been pasted down through the generations. In addition, village families will have anything from a kitchen garden to a full farm. In this region, they typically grow potatoes, gooseberries, ginger, turmeric, cabbage, chillies and will use the harvest for family consumption and market sales.
Piggery + Poultry
“Piggeries”, as pig farms are known here, can reap a good profit, especially around festival time when the demand is high. Ladies will spend about 8-9 months feeding their pigs from scraps from their garden and rice paddies. In most cases, a woman who is raising pigs will be raising chickens,too. This is because chickens, like pigs, are a home based business and can be sold within 4-6 weeks, allowing the Kiva borrower profit to live and pay back the loan while waiting for the income from the piggery.
Clothing +Tea + Paan+ Variety Stores
The resale of used clothing has provided a good living for Kiva borrowers here because of the high profit margins with less time and hard labor then other activities. In addition, tea stalls, paan shops and variety shops are heavily littered throughout India, but in rural areas they are still viable means to respond to village needs.
What are the main strengths of your MFI and how have you experienced these in the field?
Kiva’s partner, WSDS-Initiate, has many strengths that contribute to successfully penetrating the remote regions in the northeast. Manipur has several challenges and complexities that make it difficult for financial institutions to operate. Which of course, compound the effects of social, political, and geographic circumstances by widening the disparities in rural populations by financial exclusion. WSDS- Initiate, has a long history of working in this area, not only in a financial role but a social services capacity and understands the ethnic conflicts and nuances needed to work with many different tribal communities. They operate with an inclusive approach that tribal harmony and peace-building is pivotal to the regions long-term growth. Therefore, they work with the three major tribes (Kuki, Naga & Meitei) in remote and sometimes dangerous regions with a needs-based approach to financial inclusion. This includes, not only providing loans, but financial training and savings education. I’ve personally met hundreds of WSDS clients, in several villages and have witnessed how they work to financially include and educate all women, even those that are considered “too high risk”, such as widows, women over 55 years old and those with little collateral.
In addition, I’ve been particularly inspired by how they continue to strive to make a social impact in this region, which isn’t easy. They have partnered with organizations that are using innovative ways of enhancing their client’s livelihood activities by enabling them to get better access to solar power, education, agriculture and forestry projects that benefit the whole community. It’s clear that WSDS’s investment in these villages are holistic with the overarching driving principle of poverty alleviation.
Eileen Flannigan is a Kiva fellow (19th class) serving in Manipur, India with the micro finance organization, WSDS Initiate. Support our Indian partners here, join the Indian lending team, WSDS lending team or get a holiday gift card for someone special!
Eileen and Irene are both fellows in India. Eileen is living in Imphal, Manipur and Irene is in Bhubaneswar, Odisha. While in conversations with one another, we have been struck by how different the cities are. We’ve compiled these observations to share with you our experiences of the rich and diverse culture of India. In Part I, we start with Irene in Odisha and continue with Eileen in Part 2.
Top 3 things that you always notice while roaming your neighborhood…
Abhishesh Adhikari | KF19 | Kyrgyzstan
When you live in a new culture for a long enough time, you start to realize subtle cultural norms that you wouldn’t have necessary learned by reading a book about the country. I have now been in Kyrgyzstan for exactly 2 months. Here are some interesting facts about the country and its culture that I have noticed after arriving here.
1) Manas: Manas, a warrior who united Kyrgyzstan, is undoubtedly the most popular folk hero in the country. You see this name everywhere. There are streets, statues, universities, radio stations, national parks, and many other things that are named after him. Even Kyrgyzstan’s main airport is Manas International Airport. During one of my borrower visits, I visited his final resting place, Ala Too mountain, in the northwestern city of Talas. There they have Manas Ordo, a historical park and museum built in his honor.
Abhishesh Adhikari | KF19 | Kyrgyzstan
It’s crowded, overwhelming, loud, and cheap. And you can find almost anything you need here. Osh Bazaar is a huge marketplace near the center of Bishkek. People from all over Bishkek and the surrounding areas come here to buy and sell.
By Marion Walls, KF19, Tanzania
There’s a buzz about Group Loans here in Dar Es Salaam! And now that I see them in action every day, I’m sold too! I’m volunteering as a Kiva Fellow at Tujijenge Tanzania where all Kiva loans are Group loans, so I’ve learned considerably more about them in the last six weeks. It’s become clear why Group Loans are a mainstay of microcredit: they fill a particular niche for borrowers.
Let me show you what I’ve learned…
Borrower groups at Tujijenge are made up of around fourteen members who know each other, though there may be as many as twenty or as few as eight. Groups choose their own names – and names run the gamut from the practical “Mt Rungwe”, to the motivational “Breakthrough”, and confident “Top Class”. Their names are just the first indication that each group is unique… It’s been immediately apparent when I’ve met them that each group has it’s own personality: some are shy and quiet, others cheerful and full of energy!
Group members don’t necessarily operate the same type of business as each other. One may have a fruit stall in a market;
another may own a general store;
while a third raises (inquisitive) ducks!
Group members don’t all borrow the same amount as one another either – each member’s loan amount is dictated by both the amount they requested and their personal loan history at Tujijenge.
I’ve participated in a number of Group loan disbursements at Tujijenge’s main branch. I’ve been delighted to meet members on their tenth loan cycle, borrowing Tsh 1,800,000 (about US$ 1125), because it confirms for me that the loans provide genuine benefit. I’ve been equally happy to meet members who’ve only recently joined a group and are on their first loan cycle, borrowing Tsh 80,000 (about US$ 50). Wait a minute…. surely that can’t be right? $ 50! I’ve never seen an Individual loan for $ 50 on Kiva. And this is precisely the point: Group Loans are special. They enable borrowers to start borrowing.
This thrills me – I’m here, seeing borrowers stepping onto the first rung of a ladder that could lead upward out of poverty! New group members are borrowing $ 50 to boost their fledgling business, or to make a lump sum payment on an item such as school fees. The main reason these borrowers join a Group is that members guarantee each others’ repayments, so small loan amounts are accessible to those who don’t yet have physical collateral. (Tied to this fact, too, is that members don’t need spousal approval for participation in a Group loan – an important consideration in a culture where gender equality has not been the traditional norm.)
Group loans also provide a good environment for nurturing new borrowers. Established group members can help new borrowers learn the skills and discipline associated with repaying a loan, all within the safety-net of the group guarantee. And, I was fascinated to learn, a Group is a self-regulating mechanism against the scourge of over-indebtedness. Group members actively discourage each other from taking out simultaneous loans from multiple organizations because they know they’ll personally be on the hook for paying back the Group loan if a fellow member cannot.
Then there are the intangible benefits to a Group loan that I’ve discovered while attending Group meetings!
Groups meet on a weekly or bi-weekly basis in a location convenient to them (but that entails several hours’ journey on a hot and supremely overcrowded dalla dalla for the Tujijenge loan officer and Kiva Fellow…), to register repayments with their loan officer. At one meeting, I ask the Group Chairman if hers is a tough job and she sighs: “Yes, following up with members who haven’t repaid is the hardest part.” I ask her why she’s persevered in the role for five years, and she answers without hesitation: “Leadership!” She’s referring to leadership within her group, as well as within her community. It’s her very practical way of bettering the community in which she lives.
Likewise, the young Treasurer is demonstrating her accounting skills and acting as a role model to new borrowers within the group, whilst also developing her status outside it.
And another group member, (an irrepressible character who offered me a two-week home stay to get my Swahili vocabulary up to scratch!), has the opportunity for the group interaction she so obviously thrives on. It’s a big part of the reason she was a founding member of the group five years ago…
But it’s not just idle chit chat at a Group meeting; the support members gain from one another is so highly valued that many well-established borrowers choose to stay in a Group long after they are eligible for “graduation” to an Individual loan. In this case – and in a nice paradox – the Group loan enables borrowers to access some of the largest loan amounts on offer. So chalk up one more winning attribute: Group loans empower the borrowers that started with them to keep moving upward!
If you’d like to loan to Tujijenge’s Group borrowers, you can do so here.
As we say in Tanzania: Karibu sana! You are very welcome!
Alice Reeves – Timor-Leste
East Timor, Timor-Leste, Timor-Lorosaé…
Literal meaning is important here, and names are not chosen frivolously. Leste means ‘east’ in Portuguese. In the local language, Tetum, Lorosaé means ‘east’ – literally ‘sunrise’. For those of you familiar with Bahasa, the main language of Indonesia, the word Timor can be translated as, well, ‘east’.
Just keep heading towards the rising sun, one day you will eventually arrive at the shores of this rocky, dusty, mountainous island just off the northern coast of Australia, at the very tail end of the Indonesian archipelago. It’s definitely a long way east.
Guard dogs, long hikes and broken-down motos are just a few of the obstacles we face on our hunt to track down new Kiva borrowers.
Along with my trustee co-pilot/loan officer/BFF, Juan Carlos, we’ve managed to catch up with 28 new borrowers this month, and the quest to do-so has been nothing short of an adventure.
In the majority of cases, we’re given a hand-drawn map at the ADICLA headquarters, marked with a few points of interests and accompanied by the customary “you can’t miss it.”
From there, we set off into the countryide and neighboring villages of Sololá with a mission to shake hands and deliver opportunity.
We’re able to zoom in on our financial targets through a pinball-like strategy of asking one neighbor after another until a name sticks with somebody. It’s a numbers game, but we always find a match (eventually).
The paths we take often turn into winding sidewalks, between and through homes, fields and workshops, so we count on the fact that people of the Guatemalan countryside know their neighbors by name within a few mile radius.
The things we don’t often factor in along our journey however, are what make this glorified scavenger hunt so exciting.
Last week alone , we were chased off a property by three protective guard dogs, hiked 45-minutes up a terrace farm in the pouring rain and had to repair Juan Carlos’ moto four times in two hours because apparently the chain isn’t fit for a 200 lbs gringo.
These are the moments that make our meetings so special.
The opportunity I have to visit borrowers, in their natural surroundings, in what may seem like the most remote of locations, has no doubt been the highlight of this fellowship.
From fabric weavers and mecanics, to grocery store clerks and onion farmers, once we make it through the obstacle course that is the actual arrival, we’re always met with open arms and big smiles.
Sometimes I think their smiles come from us being there and other times I think it just makes them happy knowing what we went through to find them.
Here are a few more visual highlights of our conquests thus far…
A chance encounter en route to Dakar, Senegal…
I have a strong tendency to read (ok fine, skim) blogs filled with photos. Aesthetically, it’s what I naturally gravitate toward, and I’m sure many readers out there likely do the same. Ironically, this post will defy this preference, as my camera has — unfortunately — found a new home.
It was important to remind myself when my camera went missing (as it is in so many other situations traveling or otherwise) that keeping an open mind and rolling with the punches is vital to staying sane. Had I not done so at the very start of my trip, I would certainly not have the following story, which I’m thrilled to share.
It didn’t start well, as I suppose encounters with strangers – especially on planes, in close quarters – often do not. I “accidentally” placed myself in the seat to the left (…aisle!) of the one assigned to me. But this arrangement didn’t last long, as the man who was in fact assigned to the seat I was occupying would quickly and abruptly (for the first time, mind you) correct my error. His method was not your standard gentle nudge, but rather an aggressive wave in my face of his ticket stub, backed up by two flight attendants urging me, “Please, ma’am, you must move.” Of course I did so immediately, and apologized profusely for my error. The dispute was settled cordially; we gave one another a very forced smile and I carried on with my reading.
The silence lasted about 15 minutes, until our plane began its ascent and the same man to my left pulled out a clearly SkyMall-purchased green blow-up tray table pillow. Admit it — you know what I’m talking about! It’s that outrageously oversized item in SkyMall Magazine that, when you’re flipping through the pages, catches your eye and forces you to pause for a few seconds to contemplate: “Seriously, who on earth would ever need or want this.” (Photo below if you’re not familiar.)
Well, I’d found my guy, and after 3 minutes of watching him work to inflate his pillow, I simply could not hold back my giggles. He of course noticed, and turned toward me with a glare of sorts. That’s when our conversation began…
Mo (short for Mamadou) was born and raised on the outskirts of Dakar, Senegal. When he was 13, his family moved to the United States for his father’s work, and he’s lived there more or less ever since. Mo lives and works in Washington D.C., and takes an annual pilgrimage home to Dakar to visit family. When Mo learned that I was Dakar-bound to work with Kiva, his enthusiasm for was effusive. Not only was Mo familiar with Kiva, he’s a lender himself! (I should clarify: Mo is a Kiva lender through his niece, who first joined and started an account for “their family”).
To me, this was fascinating — an absolutely perfect brain to pick. Not only was I meeting a Kiva lender (awesome…), but moreover I was meeting a Kiva lender who makes loans to individuals and groups from his home country. I was curious to learn more.
Mo explained, unprompted, how powerful organizations like Kiva are: “Kiva successfully illuminates the issues and lives of those in my country for people around the world.” He went on to describe his firm belief in the power of loans. They are, in his mind, a method through which “his people” can escape from a culture of dependency (aid, corruption, trade, debt, etc.), into independence and self-sufficiency while retaining their cultural identities. He also emphasized how fundamental this is to their personal empowerment.
I listened carefully, but was somewhat perplexed. I know that Kiva is subject to the same biases and attacks made by all microfinance critics. It couldn’t possibly be that EVERYONE feels the way Mo feels.
(My questions were incessant. I apologized several times for this, but Mo insisted I continue. If I hesitated to give him time to breathe, he’d probe me with: “So… what else??”)
I asked what his opinion is of those in or from his county who may feel differently, perhaps averse to Kiva or microfinance, particularly when its facilitated through foreign entities. He explained that of course there are individuals who disapprove of the idea of Kiva and other microfinance organizations. But, if they think the obstacles facing their country and communities are surmountable without outside help, maybe it’s instead the idea – their mindset — that needs righting.
Mo had a cool and perspicacious way about him. He was truly pleasant to talk to — the sort of person you can tell is addressing you directly, not looking astray at distractions nor seeking approval or agreement. His speech is soft and unhurried, and as he explained to me, his love for travel comes from chance interactions just like this one. Being both snarky and sarcastic, I pointed to his SkyMall pillow – still inflated — and told him he had “that” to thank.
By the time morning dawned, we were halfway through our 9 hour voyage across the Atlantic, and my eyelids were drooping. That’s when our Kiva conversation ended.
What started off as a seemingly dreadful beginning to my journey ended up being a most memorable encounter for me. Silly purchases aside, I could not have imagined a better person to meet as I embarked on this journey. I have no doubt that the upcoming months will be filled with peaks and plateaus, and at times (as forewarned at our Kiva fellowship training) “troughs of disillusionment.” My conversation with Mo, however, made me ever more hopeful that I find potential in micro-loans. At the very least, this interaction will undoubtedly make the inevitable frustrations ahead a bit more palatable.
*Mo: If you’re reading this fellows blog (as I learned you often do) — what a delightful turn of events it was meeting you, and my most sincere thanks for allowing me to share this story. I’m investing in my own green SkyMall tray table pillow immediately upon my return to the States!
Anna Forsberg (KF19) is a Kiva Fellow working with UIMCEC in Dakar, Senegal.
Diana Biggs | KF 18 | Burkina Faso
The words of Arcade Fire’s song Lenin, “cause the money’s all been spent” took on a new meaning as I sat writing this blog. Savings has been on my mind a lot over the past two months of my fellowship — most prominently, in the context of the field and the role that microfinance plays in both teaching and facilitating savings for the poor.
This topic brings a lot of difficult questions: With such extremely small amounts of money available, how does one manage to put anything aside? And yet, without this, what happens when you child falls ill with malaria? How does one get together a sum large enough to pay their school fees? How do you put a roof over your head when your hut has been washed away in a flood? If the money stays in your pocket, the little costs of the day-to-day could quickly add up until “the money’s all been spent”…
Olivia Hanrahan-Soar | KF18 | Johannesburg, South Africa
In January of this year, a fatal stampede occurred at the University of Johannesburg while students and parents waited at the University’s gates, anxious to secure one of several hundred last-chance places. The stampede left one dead and several injured, and is a tragedy emblematic of the societal difficulties engendered by lack of access to education in South Africa. Last year, About 85,000 students had applied for the roughly 11,000 seats available at the University of Johannesburg; 20,000 more than the previous year. While access to education is tough to come by, there are organisations in South Africa working to meet the demand for education shown by the country’s youth, and students determined to succeed in getting their education.
By Patrick Seeton | KF18 | Kenya
One of the most effective ways of improving Kiva’s relationship with its partners is travelling to the branches and providing Kiva Training. Kiva training involves a refresher for the Credit Officers – the ones who make microfinance really work on the ground – about what Kiva is, how it works, why it’s important, what they need to do for a Kiva loan and finally – taking GREAT photos!
Now, I’m not a natural photographer, but as you can see from some of the Borrower Profiles on Kiva.org, neither are all our partner’s Credit Officers! So as part of Kiva training at the branches I have been having the Credit Officers go through an exercise to practice taking GREAT photos of each other using just items around them in the office – you can see some of the results in the slideshow below.
Another critical part of a Fellow’s experience is going out and performing Borrower Verifications. Aside from the adventure and connection Fellows get from these often remote borrower visits and the audit function it provides for Kiva, we also get a chance to practice our own Borrower Profile photography! – again, you can see the results in the slideshow below.