Posts tagged ‘West Africa’
Tim gives his first impressions of how a Micro-Finance Institution interacts with the local community it serves, gets to know the personalities of the Dakar suburb of Yoff and even tries for an early sneaky appearance on national TV!
I began writing this blog on a scrap piece of paper just north of the Burkinabé/Ghanaian border. I had spent my morning walking across the border carrying a 40-pound pack and subsequently spending far too much money on a taxi into the nearest town. My Kiva Fellowship had ended a week and a half earlier, and I was sitting in a hot, dirty hotel room with a concrete floor, grimy walls, and inconsistent electricity. I was desperate for entertainment. I had finished the only book I brought on this three-week post-fellowship excursion, my computer was lifeless without the electricity to charge the battery, and my broken iPod seemed to be mocking me with its inaccessible entertainment. I was entirely alone. So, I took some time to process the last four and a half months.
Benin is a country not often in the news. When I was a Kiva Fellow placed there, I’d come to appreciate this. It meant we didn’t have the political instability of Togo, the violence of Nigeria, or the food shortages of Niger. While Benin still had many flaws, it was stable compared to its neighbors. This gave it hope for the future – hope for growth and international investment. (more…)
In Fon, Alidé means “a path always exists (for the very poor).” This is a touching sentiment matched by the equally strong social mission of the Kiva field partner that bears its name. During my time as the Kiva Fellow placed with Alidé, I’ve been impressed with the institution’s passion and perseverance. When I meet borrowers, I consistently see illiterate women who are able to send their children to school and praise Alidé for their success. It’s easy to start thinking, “wow, there’s really something to this!”
But then there are also the times when I step back (more…)
I like my bank in the US. The staff is nice, they have a lot of ATMs in New York City, they once gave me a fruit basket (long story)… But I would never think about getting together with other Wachovia customers to toast how much we like banking there. Yet that’s exactly what a number of Alidé (Kiva’s partner in Benin) clients do regularly. (more…)
There are two responses Alidé’s clients in Benin have when asked to have their picture taken for Kiva: fear and delight. Generally, both paths end with laughter and a lot of pictures of me, the Kiva Fellow assigned to Alidé.
Fear: They say that while Benin has about 50% Christians and 40% Muslins, 95% of the population simultaneously practices Voodoo. This means you can buy fétiches (magical objects like monkey skulls) at the market, and that you’ll encounter a number of clients who fear that having their picture taken might steal their soul. (more…)
In addition to loans (and savings accounts, social work, and coming soon – insurance) Alidé, Kiva’s field partner in Benin, offers formations, or training sessions, to its clients. Some are optional but there are three that are actually mandatory for a loan.
The one income family doesn’t exist in Benin. Just like their moms and their mom’s moms, Beninese women enter the work force as soon as they’re able and keep going no matter what. They’ll work through the rain, they’ll work through malaria, they’ll work while pregnant with all of their wares stacked on top of their heads and their children literally strapped to their backs.
For those of you who want to try this at home, here’s one Kiva entrepreneur teaching me the art of baby-strapping (and her amused friends in the background).
Alidé’s Kiva coordinator spends a lot of time on the Kiva site, mainly from the back end, uploading profiles and journals. But she’s never experienced what it’s like to be a Kiva lender, an experience I wanted to give her thanks to the $25 Kiva gift certificate I’d received at training. Getting her to use it has been a challenge.
I gave her a print out of the certificate on my second day, but she kept putting off when we’d use it. Last week when there was a lull in work, but solid-seeming electricity, I decided it was time. She didn’t seem happy about my decision and begged for another colleague to join us. But I don’t understand. What do you want us to do? they asked with alarm. (more…)
One of the questions Alidé, Kiva’s field partner in Benin, asks clients when they’re applying for a Kiva loan or writing their journal update is What are your personal ambitions? What are your dreams for the future? Many of Alidés clients don’t have the luxury of thinking very far ahead (maintaining my business, reinforcing my business they respond). Of the dreamers, they all answer the same thing – they’d like to acheter une parcelle et construire une maison (buy some land and build a house) be it for their home or business (though that’s often the same place), a real one out of cement.
Sadly, this is a pipe dream for many of Alidé’s clients; (more…)
By Marie Leznicki, KF10 Benin
About two hours into my first day at Alidé, Kiva’s field partner in Benin, the power went out. Do you have a lot of power outages in the United States? the Kiva coordinator asked me. We do. It was a tough question due to the resigned disappointment in her voice. No, not very often, I said, but we did have a big one a few years ago, which affected tens of millions of people and lasted several days for some. And I went on to recount the Northeast blackout of 2003, coincidentally one of my favorite days in New York City, and she seemed to feel better.
The next day, the questions got harder. We all received a mass text from the telecom company saying that the entire city of Cotonou (population approximately 1.5 million) would have no water service over the weekend (depressing news to be delivered through such a novel media). Do you have a lot of water outages in the United States? she asked in the same tone as the day before. I couldn’t recall that ever happening.
By Taylor Akin, KF9, Togo
In the months of preparation leading up to my Kiva Fellowship in Lomé, Togo I have had plenty of opportunity to practice my take on the taxicab test – a concise explanation of Kiva’s mission and the work of a Kiva Fellow. Upon completing my training at Kiva Headquarters in San Francisco, I felt confident in my ability to accurately explain Kiva’s approach to microfinance to a relatively neutral audience. More often than not, I encountered the disinterested but common eyes-glazed-over look immediately following the words “non-profit.” To be sure, anyone who has ever gone to the developing world to do anything other than build schools has faced this problem.
While we learned the many ways in which to defend Kiva, there was one area where our taxicab test fell short: defending our host countries. It had not really occurred to me that I would be put in the position of having to justify a five-month trip to the continent of Africa. Yet, I rarely got beyond “I’m going to Togo” before being hit with a surprising amount of ignorance, miseducation, and prejudice.
At first, the most common responses seemed innocent enough. They generally fell along the lines of cautionary warnings like “be careful,” “watch out for the lions,” and “it’s not safe there like it is here.” At other times, comedy was the vessel through which this prejudice was revealed. One co-worker recently asked me when I leave “for the jungle to visit Tarzan” despite my repeated explanations that I’ll be based in a bustling capital city. Finally, there are the truly shocking remarks. About a week ago, a co-worker warned me to “be careful in Africa because the people there are like animals, not real men.” (more…)
By Jessica Chervin, KF9 Togo
Yesterday evening, West Africa made me giddy.
I have been in Togo for almost five months, and in West Africa for almost nine. Here, my senses are never neutral. The most lovely moments are tempered by inconvenience. My daily moto rides to and from Microfund are at once thrilling and relaxing, but the soot and smell of burning garbage, the potholes that make Lome’s boulevards feel like urban mogul fields, and the passage by open landfills smack in the middle of the capital, tinge the experience with unpleasantness. Sensory and experiential overload and deprivation are not mutually exclusive. On those moto rides, I am equally attuned to what my heightened senses do not perceive: safety, calm, balance, and the ability to breathe deeply. The expatriate experience in West Africa is one of inescapable contrast. Everything is more colorful, too spicy, impossibly beautiful, unbearably filthy—but never quite normal. If one reacts every time to each of these stimuli, one is quickly exhausted. So, with time, in order to complete the marathon, one has to find a sustainable cruising speed, some semblance of equilibrium in a world that is anything but balanced—or, for that matter, equal.