Posts filed under ‘Tanzania’

Following a Kiva loan from Calgary to Dar es Salaam!

Marion Walls | KF19 | Tanzania

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I’m on a quest to follow a Kiva loan from lender to borrower! How often have I dreamed of this whilst browsing my loans on a frosty winter weekend in Canada?  Now I have an ideal opportunity to do so as the Kiva Fellow in Tanzania, so I’ll take you along for the ride!

My directions are set when a friend emails from Calgary: “I donated to the Jaguar Group.  They’re asking for a loan in support of their beauty salon. I chose that one in honor of you – I figure you might want a haircut or a color given you are there for months!”  Too true; I’ve been in Tanzania since September and this Kiva fellowship has been rich and rewarding, but also tough, so I’m looking a little ragged…  And salons here offer beautifully intricate braids – why not give them a try?

I love the idea of making the personal connection between a Kiva lender in my hometown of Calgary, and a Kiva borrower here in Dar es Salaam!  I had the dubious distinction in KF19 Fellows’ class of traveling furthest to my placement, so this will be an opportunity to reel in some of that distance.  And what fun to report back to my friend on how his loan is working out here on the ground!  I immediately start making arrangements to meet Juliet, the featured borrower of Jaguar Group…

Lender’s city; borrower’s city

You may already be familiar with Calgary – prosperous modern city buoyed by oil wealth; 5th largest metropolitan center in Canada; enviable location at the foot of the Rocky Mountains; renowned for its volunteer spirit; host city of the ’88 Winter Olympics (remember The Jamaican Bobsleigh Team?); 9th largest lender city on Kiva in 2011 (way to go Calgary)!  In short: it’s a privileged city with a lot of heart!

What can I tell you about Dar es Salaam?  The name conjures up exotic images of centuries old sea-trade, sultry summer evenings, and short ferry rides to magical Zanzibar island!

Container ship and fishing boats juxtaposed at the mouth of Dar es Salaam’s famous harbor.

Container ship and fishing boats juxtaposed at the mouth of Dar es Salaam’s famous harbor.

But the reality of daily life is far from tropical paradise for most of Dar’s 3 – 4 million inhabitants; believe me, this is one grindingly hard city in which to eke out a living…  Still, people keep coming, lured by hopes of a better economic future than they face in their hometowns or villages.  Dar is one of the fastest growing cities in the world.  It’s a statistic with unenviable consequences: Dar’s infrastructure is clearly not keeping pace with the burgeoning population.  Unrelenting heat and humidity are exacerbated by almost daily power cuts that mean no fans or air conditioning (in the words of my office-mate: “We are practicing for the fires of heaven!”), and no reliable refrigeration for foodstuff (where do maggots come from anyway?)

It's fitting that the Flame Trees are in bloom!

It’s fitting that the Flame Trees are in bloom!

The dala-dala (bus) system is extensive and was genuinely well designed at inception – but now it’s inadequate and the overcrowding is epic!  Likewise, unremitting traffic on overwhelmed roadways morphs the “5 p.m. rush hour” into the “2 – 8 p.m. standstill”.  (Can traffic officers judge precisely when 64 passengers crammed in a sweltering dala with seating for 32 will finally reach breaking point?  Only then do they signal us through the intersection!)  Admittedly construction is underway to address transportation issues, but I regret the almost imperceptible progress in the 5 months I’ve been here.

Dala-dala: Never thought I’d be the one riding precariously on the bottom step, clinging tightly to the handrail because the door can’t close…

Dala-dala: Never thought I’d be the one riding precariously on the bottom step, clinging tightly to the handrail because the door can’t close…

Yet, in the face of wretched infrastructure challenges and the fact that formal employment is not keeping pace with population pressures either, the people of Dar find ways to get by – they have to.  So the informal economy is bustling and every hot and dusty road is lined with shops and stalls; every opportune space is claimed.  (Note to self: “That’s why Kiva loans to entrepreneurs are so relevant in Dar!”)

Ali, who brightens my walk to work each day with his greetings!

Ali, who brightens my walk to work each day with his greetings!

Dresses for the two-dimensional!

Dresses for the two-dimensional!

And if half of all Tanzanians are getting by on $2 per day per Kiva’s country statistics, it’s surely not from want of trying: it’s common to work long hours here in Dar.

No two ways about it – it’s a hardscrabble life here. But there’s a side to this city that defies all expectations: people in Dar (as in all Tanzania, in fact) are extraordinarily friendly, and helpful, and tolerant!  I know it sounds cliched, but this is truly friendliness, and willingness to help, and tolerance, on a scale I’ve seldom encountered in my travels on any continent. It occurs to me this is the real key to living in Dar!

The expedition across town

Of course you realize Kiva borrowers don’t work in downtown office towers, but still you might be surprised by the widespread locations of their businesses (such as Juliet’s salon).  Greater Dar es Salaam area is extensive, and many Kiva borrowers live and work on the outer fringes – perhaps 50 km away from my base at the main branch of Kiva’s partner MFI, Tujijenge Tanzania.

The road I walk to the office, just outside the downtown core.  Main roads are paved; most others not.

The road I walk to the office, just outside the downtown core. Main roads are paved; most others not.

Off to see a Kiva borrower’s business on the outskirts of greater Dar…

Off to see a Kiva borrower’s business on the outskirts of greater Dar…

I had no concept of the stamina it would require before I started visiting borrowers last September!  My mind boggles when I consider that loan officers from Tujijenge routinely travel across Dar to attend borrower group meetings every week…  (The numerous challenges MFIs such as Tujijenge face in delivering services here in Dar are daunting.  That’s why I admire MFIs for working here – where the need for microfinance is great, where it can make a significant impact on the lives of borrowers, but where it is not easy.)  The loan officers are all busy as bees so I enlist Rita, the star Kiva Coordinator at Tujijenge, to join me on this visit to Juliet.  We set off together, as always.

Rita: Kiva Coordinator, and my invaluable helpmate and friend for the last 4 months.  I couldn’t have made it in Dar without her!

Rita: Kiva Coordinator, and my invaluable helpmate and friend for the last 4 months. I couldn’t have made it in Dar without her!

I use my favorite strategy:  Start early in the morning.  Take a series of “city-bus” dalas to the furthest point at which bajajis (auto rickshaws, named for the pricipal company that makes them) are available.  Cover the final stretch to the borrower by bajaji, because the alternative of switching first to a “mini-bus” dala then risking life and limb on a piki-piki (motorbike taxi) is no fun at all.  Persuade the bajaji driver to wait whilst we visit the borrower. Then do the trip in reverse.  And hope to get home before dark…

Trio of blue bajajis - the fiery decal more indicative of spirit than speed!

Trio of blue bajajis – the fiery decal more indicative of spirit than speed!

(Rita scolds me for excessive expenditure on bajajis, but I can’t help it: I love everything about them!  Bajaji drivers are fearless; they are consummate alternate-route-finders in the face of traffic jams; they are willing to tackle any road.  Bajajis can negotiate all terrains successfully, or at least are light enough for this Kiva Fellow to push out of the sand when stuck…  The open-air design provides sweet relief from the heat (even if the air I’m breathing is laden with diesel fumes, and bugs impale themselves on my camera lens), and I can choose how many of us are on board.  I bet you’d take a bajaji too, if you had the chance!)

On today’s trip to see Juliet, a second bajaji driver dashes up just as we finish negotiating our fare with the first.  “Mama,” he calls to Rita, “you gave me my loan at Tujijenge!”  It means he has a Kiva loan!  “Oh, I wish we could go with you then,” Rita responds.  “It’s alright, you can go with him – he’s my friend,” says the Kiva guy, with characteristic Tanzanian friendliness.  (What a great coincidence!  I told you I love bajajis!)

Meeting the borrower

Turns out my meeting with Juliet is not happening after all…  Instead of Juliet, Prisca is waiting for me at the roadside.  Prisca is Chairman of Jaguar Group, and she tells me Juliet has bowed out today.  Of course I’m disappointed, but I try to imagine myself in Juliet’s position as a borrower.  Is she simply too shy?  Battling a family or business crisis she’d rather not discuss?  Scared because she’s behind on a repayment (even though she’s paid off 5 previous Tujijenge loans successfully)?  Unwilling to have nosy neighbors learn from my obvious presence that she has a loan (out of financial privacy concerns, or because they may press for a share of the cash)?  Unwilling to have her husband learn she has a loan (and thus jeopardize her personal financial stability)?  Or is it something else entirely?  I don’t know, but I’d far rather Juliet refuses than indulges me at her own expense – my visit is purely whimsical and not business related.  It’s an apt reminder that a borrower’s loan is a significant business contract that is not undertaken lightly; it must be managed and paid back in the context of real-life complexities.

Meeting the borrower (Take 2)

Prisca saves the day by inviting me back to her store.  I’m very happy to accept because, after all, the Kiva loan covers Jaguar Group, not Juliet alone.  (Group loans are a mainstay of microfinance.  You can read about their many benefits in Dar in my earlier Kiva post: Group Loans – Filling a Particular Niche.)  Prisca hops aboard our bajaji and we’re off on a roller-coaster ride!

Prisca in her store.

Prisca in her store.

Prisca owns an impressively well-maintained store selling sodas (pop) and beer.  There’s a shady seating area too, so Rita, the Bajaji driver, Prisca, and I settle down to enjoy a cold soda (bonus – Prisca has a fridge!) and a chat.  I show Prisca her Jaguar Group’s loan on Kiva, and she breaks into a wide smile as she sees herself in the photo!  She quickly points out Juliet, as well as Judith who was featured in Jaguar’s previous Kiva loan.  She’s somewhat incredulous when I point out my friend from Calgary in the Lender section…

I ask Prisca about herself.  She’s married, has a young son and daughter, and has always lived in this area of Dar.  Her store used to stock a wide variety of goods but in 2011 thieves broke in and stole pretty much everything, including the scale for weighing goods like rice and dried beans.  It was a cruel setback. That’s when Prisca joined Jaguar Group and started taking loans from Tujijenge to try to get back on her feet.  Yes, the series of loans have helped restore her business – injections of cash every few months are invaluable in buying bulk stock at cheaper prices, and purchasing items like the fridge to draw customers.  Some of the extra profit that is generated helps with household expenses (think school fees) too.  But there’s still a way to go…  That’s why Prisca has stayed with Jaguar Group, and recently become group Chairman.

Closing the circle

I’ve done what I’ve always dreamed of doing: followed a Kiva loan from lender to borrower!  Now I know the people on both sides of the contract, and I’m totally delighted.

I report back to Calgary: “The bajaji ride was one of the best yet!  The rest of things didn’t quite go to plan, but still they ended well.  I met Prisca, not Juliet.  I got a soda, not braids…   Prisca was amazed to see you!  Her business is coming along, and she says the loan is helping.  Here’s the postcard I made you – it was a brilliant day, thank you!  M.”

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Click here to lend to a Kiva borrower in Dar es Salaam. (Please check back at the start of next month if all Tujijenge Tanzanian loans are currently funded!)

See more of the daily sights I’ve enjoyed in and around Dar in The Illustrated Guide to Cooking Thanksgiving Dinner! (Tanzania Edition).  Or see the complete antithesis in On the Road Less Travelled: Kagera Region in Tanzania.

24 February 2013 at 07:00 2 comments

Kiva One: Faces that Impacted the Lives of Kiva Fellows

By Kiva Fellows | KF19 | All Over the World

With January 2013 coming to an end, KF19 fellows are either continuing on with KF20 or returning home to various responsibilities and careers. Regardless of the next adventure or destination, one thing is common among all: KF19 fellows have been permanently changed by their placements.

What began as a joint blog post about any person, place, or event during the course of the fellowship that affected our lives, of itself turned into simply the one person who left the most impact. Afterall, Kiva’s mission is to alleviate poverty through connecting people. The fellows of KF19 have witnessed this connection over the course of the last three to four months, and nothing could have prepared us for meeting the people who would touch our lives in various ways.

KF19 presents to you Kiva One, a small collection of stories about human connections, hope, and inspiration.

(more…)

31 January 2013 at 08:00

Twelve Days of Christmas from Kiva Fellows

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…

Day 1: A Turtle Heading Out to Sea!
Marion Walls | Tujijenge and Barefoot Power | Tanzania

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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

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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

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Here are three beers from three Colorado breweries, enjoy!

Day 4: Four Kuki Carolers
Eileen Flannigan | WSDS-Initiate | India

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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

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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

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  1. Lagman: Noodle dish with beef and pepper
  2. Mante: Dumplings filled with ground beef and onions
  3. Turkish Kebab
  4. Russian style roast duck with apples
  5. Plov: Fried rice mixed with meat and carrots
  6. Traditional Kyrgyz soup with meat and potatoes

Day 7: Seven Candles for Día de las Velitas
Rose Larsen | Fundación Mario Santo Domingo (FMSD) | Colombia

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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.

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Day 8: Eight Filipino Christmas Lights and Festive Faces
Keith Baillie | Roaming Mindanao | Philippines

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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

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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

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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.

Day 11: Eleven Indian Ingredients and Spices
Irene Fung | People’s Forum and Mahashakti Foundation | India

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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!

Day 12: Twelve Bright African Futures
Holly Sarkissian | Alidé in Benin and WAGES in Togo

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The smiling faces of twelve bright futures for the children of Kiva borrowers in Togo and Benin!

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HAPPY HOLIDAYS

FROM THE KIVA FELLOWS!

20 December 2012 at 08:00

On the road less traveled: Kagera region in Tanzania.

Marion Walls | KF19 | Tanzania

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If you prefer the road less traveled, then I have just the place for you: the Kagera region of Tanzania!

You may not have heard of Kagera – even though it’s exceptionally beautiful, and the people here are especially friendly – as it’s not part of the Tanzanian tourist circuit.  And that’s precisely what makes it ideal for those of us who prefer to explore places off the beaten track!  Kagera is tucked away on the western side of Lake Victoria.  The region is bordered by Uganda to the north, and Rwanda and Burundi to the west, and it takes a 20+ hour bus ride (or two flights) to get here from Dar es Salaam.  I’ve come here in my capacity as a Fellow to visit Kiva borrower Gration and his project partner Daeni in the town of Muleba, as well as Andy in the town of Ngara.  They both obtained Kiva loans earlier this year to purchase solar power products from Kiva’s partner, Barefoot Power. The time I’ve spent with them and their Wata na Nuru (Light for the People) teams, resellers, and solar clients has been truly remarkable.   You see, I am here to work!
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I’ve long been fascinated by solar power, so I’m thrilled by the opportunity this Kiva fellowship has afforded to see firsthand the impacts and challenges of providing solar lighting in rural Tanzania.   And I’m looking forward to sharing these Barefoot Power updates with you when I get back to an area with sufficient internet speed to upload the blogs…  Meanwhile, here’s a photo journal of my favorite (non-work) experiences in Kagera over the past two weeks:

1. The dawn chorus of songbirds in a beautiful garden in Bukoba. The birdlife is prolific here; the garden in this video reminds me of the home where I grew up in Zimbabwe; and Bukoba (Tanzania’s second-largest port on Lake Victoria) is a breath of fresh air after my last nine hot and sweaty weeks in Dar es Salaam.  What an uplifting way to start the day!
Flower collage4

2.  Expansive views of Lake Victoria.  It’s called Lweru (The Big White) by the Haya people of this area, and as soon as I saw the lake I knew why.  This is an area of vast panoramas and glorious open skies!  The shoreline of the lake is dotted with granite outcrops, and the surrounding landscape is lush with green grass (good grazing for the heavy-horned cattle in this video!) and trees, thanks to plentiful rainfall and the rich red soil.
Lake Vic collage11

3.  A frenzy of activity as 450 donated bikes – recently arrived in a container from Switzerland – are reassembled and prepped for sale. Daeni is involved at this bicycle center in remote Nshamba, where youngsters learn the skills of a bicycle fundi (expert).  I’m delighted to see the Tanzanian side of this project, because I’m familiar with the donor side of a similar project in my hometown in Canada.
Bike collage3

4. Kagera isn’t called the banana capital of Tanzania for nothing…   Banana plants grow everywhere!  Matoke (plantains, or cooking bananas) are the staple food here, usually eaten with maharage (beans).  The bananas we eat start growing from tiny yellow flowers – initially the size of your thumb nail – hidden under the dark reddish bracts of a large inflorescence known as the banana heart.
Banana collage5

5.  My hilarious bus ride from Muleba to Ngara!  It rains.  The bus leaks.  I am drenched from head to foot!  I balance my little daypack on my knee as water pours down upon me for several hours, relieved that my laptop and camera – the tools of my trade these days – are sealed in a waterproof bag.  I’m sorry when the kid sitting snugly next to me gets off at his stop; I was grateful for his warmth…  And just for the record: I’m beginning to think a ticket agents’ assessment that “it will take 3 hours” is an optimistic way of saying “a long time, maybe even 6 hours”!
BusMuleba collage10

6.  Wandering for hours along a ridge at Murgwanza that overlooks the Tanzanian border with Rwanda.  I’m drawn onward by the tantalizing views from the next rocky outcrop, and the possibility of finding another flame lily swaying in the breeze.  The sounds of distant voices, wood chopping, and the occasional cock-crow drift up to me from the valley below, and mingle with the low buzz of insects and melodious bursts of birdsong.  The African bush is so alive!  Goat herders on the next hillside call mzungu! (the friendly Kiswahili term for foreigner) to catch my attention, and wave.  Could I be any happier?
Ngara view collage7

7.  The harmonious singing voices of a church congregation in Murgwanza stop me in my tracks as I’m passing by.  (The picture quality in this video is poor, so just close your eyes and listen, and you’ll hear birds trilling joyfully too!)

8.  A vibrant market operates under cover of huge white UNHCR tents that have been repurposed in downtown Ngara.  The tents are remnants of the refugee crisis in Kagera that was caused by the Rwanda genocide in 1994.  It’s impossible for me to reconcile the idea of such horror with the normal daily life and tranquility I see around me now.
Market collage6

9.  My 9-hour bus ride through Karagwe region.  Since there are no direct buses for the next 3 days, I’m advised to take a bus from Ngara to Karagwe (it’ll take 3 hours!), from where I can get onward transport to Bukoba.  I arrive at the bus stand before dawn to get a window seat.  The bus fills rapidly (and I do mean fills…), and we set off close to schedule but lose time as we inch our way through the mist and up the steep hills.  The man wedged in next to me buys water at our first stop and downs more pills than I’ve ever seen in one dose; I wonder sadly if he’s one of the many people here infected with HIV/AIDS.  (I’ve visited a sewing class at one organization that cares for 1800 orphans, and met a worker from another that cares for 3700.  The numbers overwhelm me.)

Then the bus halts at a barrier and a man with an automatic rifle, (I recognize it as an AK47; I grew up during the war in Zimbabwe), climbs in next to the driver.  My neighbor explains this is our escort, but I’m a bit disconcerted and text a message to Andy in Ngara in case this all ends badly…  He replies that an armed escort on this route is normal…  I’m still feeling pensive when suddenly there’s great excitement on the bus: Twiga, twiga!  Someone’s seen giraffe, and we all scan the bush eagerly for a glimpse!  I snap a couple of photos, and pass my camera around.  My fellow passengers laugh happily at our good fortune, and my mood lightens!  I can face the rest of this 9-hour bus journey with equanimity now.
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10.  Young girls are delighted by their new dresses for Christmas!  I think the dressmaker is equally pleased.   Entrepreneurship is visible everywhere I go – this woman set up shop in front of her house, in the midst of a banana plantation.   And she’s doing a roaring trade as the festive season approaches!
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And finally: The unlikely Kiva connection. Yesterday I chatted with a charming woman at Bukoba airport as we waited in vain for our flight – the runway too muddy for the incoming plane to land. We met again today, and I showed my new friend the Tanzanian content on Kiva website. Imagine my surprise and delight when we scrolled through the last Update I posted about Tanzania, and she exclaimed “I know her! That woman is an excellent baker!” Who’d have thought there would be a connection way out here in Kagera? It’s a small world, thanks to Kiva!

Barefoot Power loans in Tanzania also went to Martin in Dodoma, and Clive in Moshi. That’s were my travels as a Kiva Fellow take me next! No Barefoot Power loans in Tanzania are currently fundraising on Kiva, but each month you can find loans posted by Tujijenge Tanzania.

9 December 2012 at 12:00 2 comments

The Illustrated Guide to Cooking Thanksgiving Dinner! (Tanzania Edition)

Marion Walls | KF19 | Tanzania

I’d like to celebrate Thanksgiving with you, the Kiva community!  I’d love to cook dinner for us to share but this is the thing: I’m in Tanzania right now.  (I’m a Kiva Fellow, serving with Tujijenge and Barefoot Power.)  So I’m enlisting your help with getting the food to the table.  It’ll be easy!  I’ve chosen a familiar Thanksgiving menu:

Turkey with Pan Gravy

Nut Loaf (*vegetarian option)

Mashed Potatoes

Roasted Corn

Seasonable Vegetables

Desert

Coffee or Tea

And just to be certain we end up with the same meal as each other, I’ve provided step-by-step instructions (with full-color illustrations from Tanzania!) for you to follow.  You can’t go wrong…  So let’s get cooking!

1.  Set the oven temperature to “moderate” heat, i.e. be sure to let the charcoal burn down!

2.  Cook the Bird till the juices run clear, and the skin is nicely browned.  (Turkeys proved elusive – here’s rooster from Bagamoyo instead…)

3.  Pick, peel, and roast nuts for the nut loaf.  Cashews are abundant here, but feel free to use any nuts growing locally near you.

Oh! I almost forgot to decorate the table!

4.  Peel the potatoes – don’t be shy with the quantities!   (My neighborhood chip-vendor goes through 3 of these 250 lb sacks every day!)

5.  Roast the corn to perfection, then spice it up with peri-peri (chilli) and lime juice.

6.  Finely chop a selection of greens, and saute each individually.

7.  Fix the desert of your choice.  We’re not big on pie here, and the electricity quit (again) so the ice-cream has melted…  but cake is a winner at all celebrations!

8.  Brew coffee or tea – we grow them both here!  Our coffee is world-famous for quality and flavor, but we export most beans to you.  We usually use instant powder ourselves, or more often drink tea.

I hope you’ve cooked up a feast!

Happy Thanksgiving from Tanzania!



Marion has written many pages of operating instructions for polymer manufacturing facilities… You too can apply to be a Kiva Fellow for a totally different experience!

22 November 2012 at 19:00 1 comment

Group Loans: Filling a Particular Niche

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!

10 November 2012 at 18:00 2 comments

Same Continent, Different Worlds: Part 1

By Kiva Fellows in Africa, KF16
Compiled by Tejal Desai

Where might you find muzungu hunting? Where do Kenya’s elite runners hail from? And what do most borrowers in Burkina Faso use their business profits for? Kiva Fellows from KF16 bring you a unique perspective from the diverse and vast continent of Africa! We patched together an overview of each of our placement countries that includes: basic socioeconomic stats, common stereotypes (and to what extent they are true or false), greatest challenges, most common loan products at our respective field partners, and the borrowers’ most common use of their profits. This first post of a two-part series focuses on Kenya, Tanzania, and Burkina Faso. We hope our summaries give you a new perspective on the continent and its distinct countries that we’ve been fortunate to explore during the Kiva fellowship!

Continue Reading 31 December 2011 at 13:00

Update from the Field: New Products in Microfinance, Over-Indebtedness + Transparency

Compiled by Kathrin Gerner, KF16, Rwanda

This week on the Kiva fellows blog, start out by learning about three new microfinance products – microinsurance in Indonesia, higher education loans in the Philippines and green and water loans in Kenya. Continue on to Nepal to admire the handiwork of artisan borrowers. Make your way to Ecuador to find out more about the risk of indebtedness. Share the fellows’ personal experiences with the recent elections in Nicaragua and rush hour traffic in Uganda. Finish by taking a critical look at transparency in microfinance and Kiva’s responsibility with regards to transparency.

Continue Reading 15 November 2011 at 06:44 3 comments

“Fundación Paraguaya al Mundo”: 5K to Tanzania

By Alba Castillo, KF 16, Paraguay

Before this month, I had never ran an organized race. But when I heard of Fundación Paraguaya’s 5K to celebrate their new initiative in Tanzania, I was in! Yes, I said Tanzania – over 6,000 miles away from FP’s headquarters in Asunción.

Continue Reading 31 October 2011 at 15:29 1 comment

New Orleans: A Developing Country in America?

by Rebecca Corey, KF 9 & 16, New Orleans, USA

“This isn’t America. New Orleans is like a developing country.”

In the four weeks I’ve lived in New Orleans, I’ve heard this statement from nearly ten different people.

(…)

So if the United States is a developed country, then why does Kiva have a presence here? Once a country is considered “developed” (modernized, industrialized, democratized, capitalized), then people want to wipe their hands, pat each other on the back, and say the work is done. Institutionalized greed and inequality are given the leeway to exist, because we become convinced we have achieved development and reached an endpoint. The action is completed. Stasis reached. Shouldn’t we be satisfied? By bringing Kiva City to the United States, Kiva has made a brave statement about what development means and who can benefit from it.

Continue Reading 14 October 2011 at 15:42 6 comments

A New Look at Need: Microfinance From Tanzania to New Orleans

by Rebecca Corey, KF16, New Orleans, USA

In 2009 when I told friends and family I was moving to Tanzania to study international development and to work for Kiva in the field of microfinance, or the furnishing of small loans to the working poor, we all had certain pre-formed ideas about how impactful and necessary my work was sure to be. We understood that in terms of GDP, literacy, infant mortality, and other common measures, Tanzania is a “developing” country, Third World, periphery. In another word: poor. As a recent college graduate, I had established ideas about poverty. It is there as opposed to here, it happens to the Other or them, not to me or mine, and so on. Therefore, a $200 loan for the purchase of a few goats to a thin, ebony-skinned woman with a brightly patterned cloth turbaned around her head made sense; it fit into my worldview, my idea of the face of poverty. The same held true for the fishmongers, the roadside bicycle repair men, and the juice vendors whose loans I helped process and post to the Kiva website. Oh yes, I knew there was poverty in the United States, but a part of me believed that for Americans, it was different. Better. Safer. More comfortable. And who in the U.S. didn’t have access to credit? I was sure that an entrepreneur with a solid business plan would find it relatively easy to acquire working capital.

But already, Kiva was challenging preconceived notions about poverty and microfinance. At training in San Francisco in 2009, I learned that the leaders of the young organization had decided to start funding loans in the United States. There was immediate backlash. A lending group was formed protesting the decision. Articles were written denouncing the move. But Kiva posted the first U.S. loans, and they were funded almost immediately.

Continue Reading 1 October 2011 at 08:00 5 comments

The Most Boring Election in East Africa

By Ann Hingst, KF12 Tanzania

While many Americans will spend next Sunday, October 31, trick-or-treating, Tanzanians will be headed to the polls. October 31, 2010 marks a general election for Tanzania, and voters will choose their President for the next five-year term.

Continue Reading 26 October 2010 at 07:00 6 comments

Portfolio Teams to the Rescue!

By Ann Hingst, KF12 Tanzania

Every Kiva Fellow attends a weeklong training at Kiva Headquarters in San Francisco. The training we received is top notch. But what happens once a fellow is in the field, and all of a sudden forgets the procedure for reporting loan repayments in Kiva’s system or has trouble navigating the politics of the microfinance institution (MFI) that he or she is visiting? That’s where the portfolio team comes to the rescue.

Continue Reading 20 August 2010 at 09:03 2 comments

Kiva Lending from a Kiva Fellow’s Point of View

Rebecca Corey, KF9 and KF10 Tanzania

I’ve now been in the field as a Kiva Fellow for almost four months! It’s hard to believe all that has happened in this short time. I’ve battled malaria, ridden the local daladalas ‘til I know their paths like a local, developed a healthy taste for “chipsi mayai” (an egg and french fry omelette–the most popular Tanzanian street food), learned every Kiswahili greeting around (and there seem to be hundreds!), and settled into life with my beautiful homestay family. I’ve also conducted a borrower verification of SELFINA (a Kiva partner in Dar), and spent hours interviewing, photographing, and writing for borrower profiles and journal updates  for Kiva clients at my host MFI, Tujijenge Tanzania, Ltd. I’ve collaborated with RockhopperTV and the BBC World News on a short documentary series that will feature Kiva as one of the world’s most innovative social businesses, and created templates and training materials for Tujijenge as well. Last but not least, I’ve enrolled in the Masters in Development Studies program at the University of Dar es Salaam, which has allowed me to explore the theoretical background and debates surrounding the development practices I’m witnessing on the ground. Most of my days are spent at in the field with clients, at local branch offices, and on Partner Administration (or PA2 as the Kiva Fellows call it), the website that allows Kiva’s partner microfinance institutions to post business descriptions, upload borrower profile pictures and journal updates, keep track of repayments and account details, and otherwise manage their interactions with Kiva headquarters. (more…)

30 June 2010 at 09:18 1 comment

You Know You are in Tanzania When…. (Volume V)

Five months after boarding a plane to San Francisco, it’s time to wrap up my Kiva Fellowship. For my final post, I’d like to honour a tradition set by past Tanzanian Kiva Fellows and share a few of my observations from this crazy and charming country. Hope you enjoy!

You know you are in Tanzania when…

Continue Reading 25 June 2010 at 04:32 2 comments

Why Lend to a Charcoal Seller?

That’s a question I’d never considered before serving as a Kiva Fellow. I figured that charcoal is a dirty and unsustainable source of fuel, and not one that I want to support. Charcoal production causes massive deforestation and produces considerable emissions of carbon dioxide. So when presented with the option of lending to a charcoal seller on Kiva’s website, I always selected an entrepreneur in a different sector to support.

Flash forward a few months – I have now enjoyed hundreds of meals cooked on charcoal stoves and grills, first in Rwanda and now in Tanzania. I’ve also met about a dozen Kiva clients who make their living producing and selling charcoal. These experiences haven’t made me a full advocate for continued use of charcoal fuel. They have, however, made me realize that the issues surrounding sustainable energy are not white and black, but closer to charcoal grey. So here’s why I would now consider lending to a charcoal seller and supporting them through Kiva…

Continue Reading 23 June 2010 at 01:44 11 comments

Sugar Daddy Syndrome

Yesterday I spent about 12 hours on hot, crowded and bumpy buses in Dar Es Salaam. At least half of that time was spent idling in traffic jams, an inevitable experience whenever one travels to the far-flung corners of this sprawling city. I was trying to reach a couple of Tujijenge Tanzania clients and interview them as part of Kiva’s borrower verification process. I found one of the two clients I was hoping to meet, so the day was partially successful. By the time I got home it was close to 9pm, and after cleaning up and a quick meal (rice and beans in coconut sauce – delightful!), I was ready to relax. Allowing myself a short reprieve from noisy, dusty Dar, a movie was in order. Figuring a British film set in 1960s London should do the trick, I settled on the film An Education; however, as the story of a schoolgirl’s doomed relationship with an older man unfolded, I couldn’t help but recognize that the movie holds significant parallels with modern Tanzania.

Continue Reading 4 June 2010 at 05:12 4 comments

Sweet Memories at Home and Abroad

The Rideau Canal in my hometown of Ottawa, Canada is the world’s largest skating rink. Each winter, the canal freezes into a winter wonderland, and I love skating along its 7.8 kilometres of ice. No skate would be complete without a taste of beavertail at the end. Despite what it’s name might imply, beavertails are actually a delightfully deep-fried pastry, covered in cinnamon and sugar. They are available at huts along the ice, and in my mind, beavertails are as much part of winter as skating, cold feet and hot chocolate.

That’s why it took me a moment to place the distinct beavertail scent while wandering the hot, congested and sandy streets of Dar Es Salaam…

Continue Reading 26 May 2010 at 23:34 5 comments

You Know You Are In Tanzania When… (Vol IV)

By Jennifer Gong, KF9 Tanzania

As my fellowship draws to a close, I would like to contribute my last post to a tradition set by past Tanzanian Kiva Fellows.  There is something unique about the country that fellows have been compelled to share.  Alec Lovett (a KF4 and my interviewer!) first started the series “You know you are in Tanzania when…” back in 2008 and later added a Vol 2.  Jara Small (KF5) brilliantly added her observations and wrote Vol 3.   In my 90 days here, I’ve been privy to witness some of the unique characteristics of Tanzania and its inhabitants. So here goes Vol 4… Enjoy! (more…)

30 December 2009 at 21:46 8 comments

My Blue Sweater Moment and Yours

by Jennifer Gong, KF9 Tanzania

The Blue Sweater is a book that recounts the experiences of Jacqueline Novogratz, social venturer and founder of the Acumen Fund. The book contains a string of stories, but the most poignant is the tale behind the title of the book. When she was young, her uncle gave her a blue sweater, which she eventually outgrew and donated away. It would turn out that the journeys of Novogratz and the blue sweater would eventually cross paths a decade later in Rwanda – She, jogging along the dusty roads of Rwanda and it, covering the small frame of an African boy.

A few weeks ago, I had my own “blue sweater” moment. (more…)

24 December 2009 at 21:28 19 comments

The Local Local Lifestyle

Rebecca Corey, KF9 Tanzania

The first time I got shoved DSC04778out of the way in a mad rush to the dala-dala bus, my friend Victor said to me, “This is the local local lifestyle, pole sana–I’m very sorry.” The next time he said it was when the electricity went out and I was reading in the living room. “This is the local local, pole dada–sorry sister.” Then again when I had Malaria: “The Tanzania local local, pole sana, pole sana.” In the streets, when Tanzanians are shouting to me, “Mchina, mchina!” Chinese person, chinese person! : “They are local local, they cannot tell you are Korean. Pole.” And every time, he smiles his big smile, apologetic, almost wistful, partly amused, always sincere.

I have also started to think to myself, “local local,” several times each day. We haven’t had water for the past eight days because of a broken water pump, so we fetch bucketfuls from next door. Tanzania is suffering from a major power crisis, so electricity is rationed. Ours goes out for a full day once every three days. I get up at five every morning to catch the dala-dala before the major traffic jams so I can get to work by eight. I see one bus that says on the back, “Don’t Hide, Just Pay,” another claims “Jesus is Power,” and a third “Blootooth On.” “Local local,” I think. (more…)

14 November 2009 at 03:57 12 comments

YOSEFO Day 2009

By Jennifer Gong, KF9 Tanzania

YOSEFO has come a long way.  In 1997, it humbly opened its doors to 50 clients, for a total loan portfolio size of $5000.  However, with unwavering determination, it has succesfully expanded into 14 different communities around Dar es Salaam and has opened offices in Ifakara, Zanzibar, Kilwa and Tanga.  Today, YOSEFO can proudly claim to serve over 11,000 active clients and has seen its loan portfolio increase to $1.5m. This is definitely something to celebrate about, and celebrate we did!  To mark 12 successful years of serving Tanzania, my MFI decided to organize YOSEFO Day 2009.  

P1000296-1

The purpose of the celebration was not only about rejoicing, it was also about recognition.   It was about acknowledging the outstanding clients and staff members that have played a significant role in making the past dozen years successful.   Recognition is important because the sweat and tears of both clients and staff often go unnoticed. Furthermore, the showcasing of successful stories will hopefully create a competitive spirit that will drive everyone to strive for more.  

Here are some highlights of YOSEFO Day 2009… (more…)

13 November 2009 at 04:43 5 comments

Dreaming of Dar

By Jennifer Gong, KF9 Tanzania

My name is Jen Gong and I will be spending a few months at YOSEFO, a Kiva field partner in Tanzania.  I arrived in Dar Es Salaam about 2 weeks ago and here is my first entry…

YOSEFO1

the YOSEFO CREW!

There is something enchanting about Tanzania.  Most travelers would say the charm is in landscape.  And without a doubt there is much to behold here.  I have not yet wadded in the turquoise waters of Zanzibar, climbed to the top of Kilimanjaro or spotted the exotic creatures of the Serengeti, but flying into Dar Es Salaam itself was a treat.  I wish I took a photo of how the tin roofs sparkled like stars against the blue Indian Ocean. 

But for those who have spent a little more time here and immersed themselves in the local culture, they will claim the charm is in the people.   Tanzanians are colorful, diverse and warm.  When my coworkers held a meeting to discuss about the upcoming marriage celebration of one of the credit officers, I was asked to be involved because they said “<I am> now a part of the YOSEFO family”.  My host family of three sisters, treat me like their own dada (sister in Swahili), and have been generously teaching me Swahili and Tanzanian cooking.

(more…)

21 October 2009 at 10:34 11 comments

A Rough Start

By Rebecca Corey, KF9 Tanzania

Somewhere between Arusah and Dar; vendors; from bus window.

After my first day interacting with Kiva borrowers I was exhausted but exhilarated. It was slow work, waiting while the money for the loans was counted out and matched with each client’s loan record booklet, paperwork was filled out, treasurer and secretary books were gathered. Outside the Tujijenge branch office in the heart of Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, members of loan groups languished in the sun, clothes bright against the dusty ground. I glanced out of the window from time to time to watch them and try to guess what each group had named itself.

At Tujijenge Tanzania, most of the loans are given to groups. Each group consists of 15-40 members, who are split into sub-groups of 5-7, whose members act as guarantors of each others loans. For many poor borrowers, the group’s guarantee is the only collateral they can offer. The social pressure from the group is a major deterrent to delinquency and default, along with the hope for future loans. After a group is approved by Tujijenge, they have one month of business and microfinance training by loan officers. At this time, their information and photos are collected, they elect group leaders, a secretary, and treasurer, and they get to choose a name. Many of them convey a sense of national pride (like “Kilimanjaro” or “Mungu Ibariki Tanzania”–God bless Tanzania), but as you can imagine, these names go fast. So there are also groups like “red rose,” “lion,” and “peace.” Soon, even names like these are gone. So groups pop up named “flag” or “Bob Marley” or “Ferarri”. One of my favorite groups was called “Parachichi,” which means “avocado” in Kiswahili. I loved this little bit of trivia so much that I included it in the business profile for the group on Kiva.org. The other group we worked with that day called itself “Sigara.” I didn’t have time to ask what this meant, but leaving work that day I asked a friend. “Ah, yes, sigara! It means ‘cigarette.'” I recalled my interview with the elected leader of Sigara group, a tall and slender woman with large eyes who held her child in the lap of her green dress as she told me about her shop, her monthly profits, her hours, and saving for her children’s education. I wondered if it was her idea to name the group ‘Cigarette.’

(more…)

20 October 2009 at 21:48 8 comments

Tanzania bound

By Rebecca Corey, KF9 Tanzania

I’m sitting in terminal three at Emirates AirDubai’s International Airport. The moving sidewalk beside me sounds like horses trotting on a packed dirt road. Since my 14-hour layover began a several hours ago, I’ve heard the Islamic call-to-prayer twice over the airport intercom system, followed soon after with enticing invitations to browse the duty-free shops that run down the center of the terminal. I should be sleeping, re-setting my internal clock, but the fluorescent lights and ribbons of Arabic that stream from the ceiling won’t let me rest.

Hi, my name is Rebecca Elizabeth Yeong Ae Corey, and I am a member of the Kiva Fellows Program’s 9th class. I trained for a week in San Francisco, had two days to pack up my bags and say my goodbyes in my hometown of Athens, Georgia, and now I am headed for Tanzania. Once I get to Dar es Salaam, I will settle into a homestay and begin work at Tujijenge Tanzania, Ltd., one of Kiva’s field partner MFI’s. I’m en route. I am Tanzania bound.  (more…)

1 October 2009 at 13:06 7 comments

BRAC Tanzania Lending Team!

After reading my post about BRAC Tanzania a few days ago, I imagine that many of you are just chomping at the bit to get more involved with the organization.

Oh you absolutely are, you say?

Well, you’re in luck. There is a BRAC Tanzania Lending Team on Kiva.org that you can join and be surrounded by fellow BRAC Tanzania enthusiasts! We only have 8 members right now, so you should really go to the site, join the lending team and help our BRAC Tanzania Lending Team grow to be as massive as BRAC itself!

Thanks to those 8 people who have joined and together already made 6 loans toTanzanian women!

A BRAC Tanzania borrower makes a loan repayment in Zanzibar

A BRAC Tanzania borrower makes a loan repayment in Zanzibar

Sarah Forbes was a KF6 in Kenya with K-MET and is now serving her KF7/8 placements with BRAC Tanzania. She is clearly very excited about the new BRAC Tanzania Lending Team. You should join, so she’ll stop harassing you about it.

5 June 2009 at 06:37 2 comments

BRAC – like Risk, but without the risk

The concept of risk has been discussed by many, and often, over the past year, as citizens around the world voice their concerns about the global recession. Mortgage risk, loan risk, credit risk, bailout risk, risk assessment, risk of spending too much, risk of spending too little, and on and on. A lot of risky business (and not the underwear dance kind) has been going on and we are paying for it now in all too literal a way.

There is another kind of risk though; one that I think some of you may be familiar with. That’s right, it’s Risk, as in epic board game, world domination style Risk.

I have been thinking about this particular kind of Risk lately due to the fact that while working with the Kiva field partner BRAC, I cannot escape how much the organization makes me think of the game, with its trademark little army men taking control of continents and sweeping across the globe in the attempt to gain complete domination of the two dimensional board game-world.

Only in BRAC’s case, the army is not little plastic figures, but a human, benevolent BRAC army of Bangladeshis, Afghanis, Sri Lankans, Pakistanis, Southern Sudanese, Ugandans, and Tanzanians. And this is just the beginning – the army is growing, sweeping the globe, out to conquer the poverty of the world, one country at a time.

The figures in green represent BRAC, those in red...poverty.

The figures in green represent BRAC, those in red...poverty.

Okay, my analogy may be getting out of hand at this point. “Out to conquer the poverty of the world” is definitely too melodramatic, but the quantity and quality of BRAC’s global work to improve the lives of those living in poverty is undeniably striking.

Created in 1972 as a small-scale relief and rehabilitation project that was designed as a response to the consequences of the liberation war in Bangladesh, BRAC has since evolved into the largest southern NGO in the world.

With its programs in Asia and Africa, BRAC provides services to more than 110 million people. These services include: microfinance, health, water and sanitation, education, adolescent education and life skills, agriculture, livestock, and other social development programs.

Poverty is a simple word for a complex beast – BRAC works to improve the quality of people’s lives using a holistic approach, with strategically linked programs that address the causes of poverty from multiple angles. This might mean that within a microfinance group, there will be a health worker providing medical supplies for her group members or that down the street from a microfinance meeting a client’s daughter will be learning about gender issues at an adolescent club.

(more…)

2 June 2009 at 02:47 5 comments

Kiva Fellows: My Virtual Family

Not every day as a Kiva Fellow is a good one. There are days when I wait for seven hours for a credit officer to be available to take me to the field to collect journal updates for only two clients. There are hours of intermittent internet in which I am able to load less than one page. There are the clients I meet about whom I would be inspired except that after doing the math I’m not convinced they’ve found a way to run their businesses with a net profit. Luckily, after more than 7 months of victories and setbacks, I think I’m in the black.

Small moments compensate for unpleasant hours. A coworker’s delight at a weak attempt at their local language can be contagious. The look of recognition on the faces of loan officers to whom I just presented a new template keeps me going for days. And the shy request by a client to have a picture taken with me makes me feel that my presence is appreciated.

On top of the ups and downs of the day-to-day, though, there is another secret to my contentment: the Kiva Fellows. In ways both tiny and massive, unexpected and enormously appreciated, having a virtual community of fellows makes my life infinitely better. During training in June, I left four days at Kiva HQ disappointed that after meeting so many fascinating and fun people I would ultimately embark on this fellowship solo. I only wished we could all be placed at the same MFI. Kiva said no—that would sort of defeat the purpose. Time and again, however, I’ve been able to turn to them for all manner of support despite great distances between us.

Three Fellows (Zack, Nabomita, and me) in Mombasa, Kenya--brainstorming about Kiva and how to save the world

Three Fellows (Zack, Nabomita, and me) in Mombasa, Kenya--brainstorming about Kiva and how to save the world

Not sure how to shrink a photo? Wondering if anyone has an effective training Power Point presentation? Curious about coping mechanisms for language barriers? For all manner of information—from the recreational to the professional—fellows have proven to be an essential resource.

And as it turns out, Kiva has good judgment. As my Fellows class, KF5, has gradually finished up in the field, I despaired that I’d be left alone without my network of compatriots. I was entirely wrong. When I risked deportation from Tanzania, I was able to call on a KF6 and stay with her in Kenya for a week—all arranged having never met. From there I went on to intrude on another Kiva Fellow whose acquaintance I had never made but who quickly became an indispensable friend. The prospect of Christmas and New Years alone in Africa was depressing so three KF6ers and I ignored the fact that we did not know each other and made plans to travel Africa together to be in the company of people whom we knew would soon be friends.

On the job in Kisumu, Kenya--I met and stayed with Sarah

On the job in Kisumu, Kenya--I met and stayed with Sarah

New Year's in Kigali, Rwanda--in the good company of fellow Fellows Ankush and Sarah

New Year's in Kigali, Rwanda--in the good company of Fellows Ankush and Sarah

Whether it’s crossing African borders to see one another or participating in email chains that gain momentum and garner nearly 50 responses from fellows in the same boat, I couldn’t live without the other fellows. It’s possible that I’ll never actually be in the same room as some of the fellows with whom I’ve been in frequent correspondence. Others I’m quite sure will persuade me to cross one or more countries just to see them again. Whether in Cameroon or Cambodia, Bolivia or Tanzania the fellows play a significant role both in helping me to get through the day and in helping me to add the most possible value to Kiva and my microfinance institution placement. There’s nothing like a real, live human resource to advise, commiserate, support, and amuse. Thanks for keeping me sane, fellows!

Jara and I did a joint staff training when we were both placed in Tanzania

Jara and I did a joint staff training when we were both placed in Tanzania

Fellows recovering from a hard day's work in Dar es Salaam

Fellows recovering from a hard day's work in Dar es Salaam

To see all of Vision Finance Company’s currently fundraising loans, click here or join the Vision Finance Company lending team.

Julie Ross is currently serving as a Kiva Fellow at Vision Finance Company in Rwanda. In December she completed her first placement with BRAC Tanzania.

5 March 2009 at 08:57 14 comments

Last Impressions

My life has turned into a bunch of “lasts.”  My last time seeing friends I have made here, my last time gathering around the table with what has become my family, my last time going to my favorite market where they know me by name, my last time swimming in the warm and oh-so-blue Indian Ocean, my last time laughing with others about my attempt to speak and understand kiswahili, my last time holding on for dear life on a daladala (city bus), my last time climbing those 3 flights of stairs to the whitewashed office that is SELFINA (the partner Mico-Finance Institution I am assigned to), my last night sleeping under a mosquito net, my last Monday, my last Tuesday, my last Wednesday….the list goes on…

 

If I had to sum up what I have learned in this experience, it is to be patient and flexible (well, as much as my Type A personality will allow!).  Working on an internet based system when internet is haphazard and sometimes non-existent for periods of up to 2 weeks, one has to be patient and flexible.  Having malaria far from one’s home base and still having to achieve certain goals in a short period of time, one has to be patient and flexible.  Driving for up to 2 hours, swerving through traffic on the main roads and then trying not to smash one’s head on the roof top on some of the bumpiest dirt roads I have ever seen only to arrive to a location to find the client you are looking for not there, one has to be patient and flexible.  Trying to make sure when journaling that information does not get lost in translation (sometimes the client will talk very expressively for 10 minutes and the Kiva Coordinator will simply tell me the client is doing well), one has to be patient and flexible.  Understanding SELFINA’s capabilities and the Kiva requirements and making that relationship sustainable, one has to be patient and flexible.

 

Without a doubt, this experience has been very unique and inspiring.  Being invited to these women’s (SELFINA makes loans only to women in order to empower them in society) business and homes and learning about their struggles and their future dreams and plans has given me a peek at the strength and potential Tanzania possesses.

 

It has truly been an honor.

10 January 2009 at 05:58

Anti-malaria pills + deet ≠ invincibility against malaria

I had been looking forward to going to the southern city of Mbeya even before I arrived in Tanzania. Mbeya is known for it’s cooler climate and lush vegetation. So when it turned out that SELFINA had branches in Mbeya and the surrounding areas and that journaling needed to implemented in those branches I enthusiastically bought my ticket for a 12 hour bus ride that would take me there.

The first few days were great! I was teaching them how to conduct, write and post journals and everything was rolling according to plan. Then, one morning I woke up with a mind splitting headache, severe eye pain, and flashes of fever and chills. I had no idea what was wrong with me. I honestly thought it was from being surrounded by electronic devices too much. I was thinking to myself, I should have listened to my mother and not have sat at so close to the tv screen all those year, should have taken more breaks to rest my eyes at work, etc. The pain was so severe that I broke down in tears just climbing the stairs to my room …

But as I had no idea what was wrong with me, I proceeded to go to work like it was any other day. I had mentioned to a couple of people at the office I had a huge headache but did not make a big deal about it. I proceeded with my day and taught one of the branch managers from a nearby region the process of conducting journal surveys. After completing the training I had to excuse myself, as the pain was too much bear. I had contacted some friends who advised me that it may be malaria, which I thought would be impossible for me to get as I was taking anti-malarial dugs and spraying myself with deet every day. I found myself walking to a nearby dispensary down the road from where I was staying to get tested for malaria, in my mind, to cross that off the list of things I did not have.

In the front was a pharmacy and they escorted me to a room in the back where there was a doctor sitting at a desk in a bare off-white room texting on his phone. I sat down next to him and told him my symptoms, he took my blood pressure, and he advised me it was probably malaria, however, they would need to test my blood to confirm. I thought that was a very good sign and a vote for confidence for this place. He then proceeded to inform me that the blood test would not be performed until later that evening or the next day as there was no electricity to run the test. Mbeya and the surrounding region was in its second week of no electricity due to a transformer room blowing up at the one and only electricity provider in the country (in the SELFINA Mbeya office, we were lucky to have a generator to use during the day).

As I have no medical background, I of course had my concerns. I probably asked this man 50 times in 50 different ways if my blood specimen would last that long without refrigeration. He reassured me several times that it would be okay and just as they were about to draw blood, the Mbeya SELFINA branch manager, Mr. Kibassa, a bear of a man, barges through the door and tells them to stop.

He apparently learned I went home after not feeling well and went to check up on me at the place I was staying where they informed I had come here to be tested. He basically whisked me away and we arrived at this other clinic, one that happens to have a SELFINA client running the pharmacy, but more importantly to me at the time, solar panels which enable them to run my test now. I go into the cluttered office of the doctor, describe my symptoms again, get my blood pressure taken again, and get sent to a lab of sorts where they try to distract me as they draw my blood (I get quite queasy with needles). 30 minutes later, malaria positive test results in one hand and malaria fighting medicine in the other hand, I leave the clinic happy to know my illness isn’t from an overdose of staring at screens all of my life but something supposedly curable in 3 days.

I wish I could tell you that it was a painless and speedy recovery in 3 days, but it hasn’t been. I still have pain in my head and eye a week later. But I’m trying to take it as easy as possible and think of the positive side of things such as now I can relate a bit more with people here, most of whom have had malaria at least once in their life.

Note: I later learned that the incubation period is about 14 days, so I must have been bitten when I was back in Dar es Salaam

8 December 2008 at 03:53 2 comments

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