Why I Volunteer Abroad (with Kiva)

29 December 2011 at 02:00 6 comments

By Eric Rindal – KF 16 – Bolivia

Before I volunteered as a Kiva Fellow in Sierra Leone (May of 2011) and Bolivia (September 2011), I was living in Santa Barbara, California. Imagine: Santa Barbara beaches saturated with color, mansions with the smell of jasmine twisting through the air, and a pace of life only to be set by the sun. While there, I was working for a de jure artist and took up the ranks as a de facto artist myself. Life was pretty easy, and moving to a developing country and working with microfinance seemed a million miles away. Leaving it all made me wonder why I would forfeit the comfort and normalcy of home for places where it feels like I have to relearn basic parts of life (i.e. restroom, showers, and food).

While volunteering, I was often asked , “Why would you come volunteer in my country?” Each time, I rambled about a desire to foster opportunities in the development of people around the world. But that is just it, how concise can pre-volunteers really be?

Well, the life of a volunteer goes with the wind. Four weeks ago I was living in Sierra Leone and today I am sitting in an office in Bolivia. Obviously, volunteering is not the most advantageous financial move one can make; in fact, while in the States, I qualified for free immunizations before coming to Bolivia because I was “low income”. In all honesty, most volunteers are a footnote to an organization’s real employees, and the “We couldn’t do it without you” speech only gets volunteers high for a split second. So why endure the bucket showers in Sierra Leone and language barriers in South America? Why volunteer?

For me, it has to do with something I encountered as a child while hiking around my home in Washington State. I saw the diverse beauty of nature: cedars, Douglas firs, ferns, and myriad wildflowers. I then thought about the diverse beauty of humanity (although those weren’t my exact thoughts as a child…). What it came down to was that I knew people (and the world) had to be different beyond my hometown population of ninety-something.

I didn’t leave and volunteer to “save the world.” (Do people still do that?) Rather, I had this desire to cease to be dichotomized from the developing world. Volunteering was a means to share life with people and hope to understand why populations live at different standards of living. This, hopefully, is joining in the process of lifting people out of poverty –the more minds and hearts that are included in the “process” (any process or cause you are volunteering for), the more potential there is to yield results and answers.

The wonder in volunteering, I have found, is simply in the interaction between me and a Kiva Borrower (those who recieve loans). In most cases, we each have something to add to the life of the other. With Kiva, microfinance volunteer work is geared to sustainably enable entrepreneurs in developing countries by facilitating capital for their business through loans.

My greatest interest in life was to see this “process,” and I have been so encouraged by what Kiva Borrowers are doing with their loans to better their lives. In reality, when any volunteers collaborate with people in development, we begin to answer for ourselves the questions we could not articulate beforehand. Within it all, volunteers are fortunate to take the time and witness the diverse beauty of humanity.


Eric Rindal has had the privilege to be a Kiva Fellow based in La Paz, Bolivia working with Emprender and IMPRO. He is a big proponent of Kiva Lenders lending to people in countries they have not lent to. If you have not lent to a wonderful borrower in Bolivia, click here to find a smiling face. Eric was a Kiva Fellow in Sierra Leone during the 15th class — if you have not lent to someone in Sierra Leone, click here to find a wonderful person! 

Entry filed under: blogsherpa, Bolivia, Countries, Emprender, KF15 (Kiva Fellows 15th Class), KF16 (Kiva Fellows 16th Class).

A Fellowship in Photos (Part 1) 60 Tips from Kiva Fellows


  • 1. marion w  |  21 May 2012 at 21:08

    Hello Eric
    I’m applying to be a Kiva Fellow and have reached the second round of interviews. I love southern and eastern Africa but haven’t been to west Africa yet. I’m keen to list Sierre Leone and Liberia as choices (I only speak English), but wondered if you would mind giving me your opinion at the email I’ve provided on whether one might be more suitable than the other for me as a woman working and living there. Thanks! Marion

  • 2. volunteer abroad  |  29 February 2012 at 20:28

    This is a great website for learn about trvelling. This is a high class opportunity for a trveller to learn more about trvell.

  • […] about stories from the KIVA field to interest the kids into learning more about the program. Stories like this one from a KIVA volunteer who, I’m amazed to find out, lived in Santa Barbara before making […]

  • 5. machholz  |  29 December 2011 at 09:09

    I might just do something like this myself this year !

  • 6. Kate Bennett  |  29 December 2011 at 06:09

    Love the post & the pictures. Thanks for sharing, Eric!

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