Posts filed under ‘Togo’

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

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


  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


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.

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


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


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




20 December 2012 at 08:00

Dancing in the New Year

By Holly Sarkissian, KF 19,  Benin & Togo

In Benin, New Year’s Eve is a BIG HOLIDAY. I recently spoke with two Kiva borrowers about their plans to celebrate. Meet Flaure:
Flaure is currently saving money to celebrate the New Year. She plans to buy pagne (or colorful fabric) to make a new outfit for each member of the family. She will also celebrate by cooking a special meal and dancing with her friends and family.

Meet Romance of the Dieu Est Grand Group (God is Big Group):

Romance is looking forward to celebrating Christmas and the New Year. She plans to sell pre-made New Year’s outfits for children in order to earn additional income. During the festivities each member of her family will wear a new outfit made of pagne or colorful local fabric. They will also celebrate by eating and dancing together.  Romance’s favorite dance is Zouk which originates from the Caribbean islands of Guadeloupe and Martinique and has gained popularity in francophone  Africa .

In addition to Zouk, there are several other dances popular in the region. Many of the kiva borrowers in Ghana, Togo, and Benin will be celebrating the holidays with the following dances:

1. Cool Catché is a dance with origins in Togo that is very popular throughout West Africa. This dance is done by lifting one’s hand or foot in front of the body and alternating right and left to the beat of the music. There is also a version of this dance called Cool Catche Mama which involves moving the head and neck back and forth to the beat of the music. You can see both versions in this popular Togolese music video LA GRIPPE CC.

2. Azonto originates from Ghana and Nigeria and is also very popular throughout the region. It involves knee bending, hip movements, and alternating pulses of ones hand in front of the body between the legs and then up to the sky.  It is said that Azonto is the dance of the spirits so in many popular versions of the dance, the dancers will wear masks to enhance the dance’s cryptic element. You can see it in this two popular songs:

  1. Sokodé or the Azonto Song
  2. Afro Mask

3. Cutata originates from Togo and Cote d’Ivoire . This is the dance for booty dancing lovers everywhere. It involves shaking ones behind up and down very quickly. You can see some starting at minute 1:52 in this popular Togolese music video, Fo Mapelé.

4. Agbadja  is a traditional rhythm originating from the Mina and Ewe ethnic groups. It comes from the southern region of Togo and the southwest region of Benin. You can see Agbadja in this video.

5. Simpa comes from the central region of Togo, originating from the Kotokoli ethnic group. You can see a performance of Simpa in this video taken in Sokodé, Togo.

6. Kamou comes from the North of Togo, originating from the Kabiyè ethinic group. You can see an example of this dance performed by the group The Seeds in their music video Lidaw.

Now you too can celebrate the New Year by dancing like a West African Kiva Borrower.

Happy Holidays!

Holly is a Kiva Fellow currently dancing with Kiva Borrowers in Togo & Benin. Find a borrower in Togo or Benin and lend today!

19 December 2012 at 14:10

Giving Thanks for New Opportunities in Benin and Togo

The Kouroumlakiwe Group in Togo received a loan from WAGES to fund their farming activities

The Kouroumlakiwe Group in Togo received a special credit loan from WAGES. This loan does not have to repaid until after their crop has been harvested.

This Thanksgiving I may not be eating turkey and pumpkin pie, but I have many reasons to be thankful. I am grateful to work with two Kiva Partners in Togo and Benin who go above and beyond to provide services to poor clients who previously had no access to formal credit.

Reaching the Poorest of the Poor

In December, 2011, Kiva launched social performance badges as a way to measure and maximize the good created by Kiva partners.  Alidé, a Kiva partner based in Cotonou, Benin, has already earned 5 of the 7 Kiva Social Performance badges, making it one of Kiva’s most socially conscious partners.  For partners to merit Kiva’s “Anti-Poverty focus” badge, they must target poorer populations despite additional costs and difficulties. This week I saw firsthand how Alidé credit agents are driving long distances, in the pouring rain, to do just that.

Visiting Ze, Benin’s Poorest Community 

The Partnership with Alidé is a BIG DEAL for the Ze Community.

Monday morning, it was time to make my last visit to verify client information for Kiva. I headed off to Alidé’s most distant agency in Allada, Benin (a two and a half hour moto ride away from Alidé’s main office in Cotonou). Once I arrived in Allada, I set off with loan officer Aubin to visit the group Titomagba.

During the hour long ride there, Aubin explained to me that the group is located very far from the office in Ze, the poorest community in Benin. The community has no banks (the closest is in Allada) making it very challenging to access financial services.

Aubin uses the red moto in the background of this photo to visit Alidé’s clients. He works with clients in Ze, one of Benin’s most isolated and under-served regions.

When we arrived, we were greeted by the 16 members of the Titomagba group along with various children, family members, friends, including the Chef of the community.

After everyone introduced themselves and I explained why this Yovo (white person in Fon, the local language) was visiting their neighborhood, I began my line of questions to verify information for Kiva.  I asked the group members to rate their satisfaction with their loan on a scale of 1 to 10. One indicates that they are not at all satisfied and ten indicates that they are extremely satisfied. Aubin translated this question into Fon and each group member’s response included the word “DIX” or “OWO” (TEN in French and Fon, respectively).

The Chef explained that before Alidé started working in Ze in April, there had been no way to access loans with affordable interest rates. The women in the Titomagba group are the first members of the community to have the opportunity to receive an affordable loan.

The group members used their Kiva loans to buy food products such as bananas, rice, and palm oil.  The women prepare and re-sell these items for a higher price, increasing their income and earning potential. The group members have paid back 71% of their loan and plan to begin a second loan immediately after the first has been repaid. The women of the Titomagba Group hope to use their increased income to contribute the expenses of their family and provide food and schooling for their children.

Some of the children of the Titomagba Group.

Improving the Lives of Farmers in Togo 

Back in Togo, Kiva’s Partner Women and Associations for Gain both Economic and Social (WAGES) has been increasing its offerings of high-impact loans tailored to support under-served farmers. These agriculture loans offer a flexible repayment cycle which allows farmers to start repaying their loans AFTER their crops have been harvested and they have begun generating income from the sale of their produce. This initial grace period permits farmers to focus on the production of their harvests instead of worrying about their loan repayments.

Adjoa received a loan from WAGES in April to buy fertilizer and seeds.

Learn more about Adjoa and the lives of other farmers in Togo here.

THANK YOU from the Kiva Family! 

This Thanksgiving I am grateful for the Kiva lenders who are helping to alleviate poverty in Togo, Benin, and all over the world.

Give a Kiva Borrower a reason to be THANKFUL:

Click here to make a loan through Alidé in Benin

Or help a borrower through WAGES in Togo

From Kiva, WAGES, Alidé and our family of borrowers, I thank you for your continued support.

On est ensemble!

(We are together)

Holly Sarkissian (KF19) is a Kiva Fellow, working with WAGES in Lomé, Togo and Alidé in Cotonou, Benin.

22 November 2012 at 06:57

Bonne Fete from Togo!

Happy Tabaski! Or Happy Eid al-Adha (for those not in West Africa).

The celebration of Tabaski started off last night with a neighborhood wide soccer tournament

Today is Tabaski, the Muslim holiday which celebrates the festival of the sacrifice. The day honors the Prophet Abraham’s willingness to saciafice his first born son as an act of submission to God until God intervened and allowed him to sacrifice a ram instead.

Last night I joined in the celebration by participating in the neighborhood’s Tabaski soccer tournament. Young adults organized into eight different teams – seven male teams and one female team. The small patch of dirt in front of the mosque was transformed in to a soccer field. The rules went as follows:

1. Three men or four women were allowed to play at one time.

2. No rough play (meaning no contact such as pushing or kicking of other players)

3. If the team tied at the end time period the winner would be determined using penalty kicks into the small but unguarded goal. This served as a test of the players aim.

In the end, the female team was undefeated. This is our victory picture:

Girl Power: the women are the undefeated champions

The soccer festivities continued well past 1am. Despite the late night, my friend Kamal and I woke up early to join more than 2,000 people for today’s 9am prayer.

Holly and Kamal are dressed to kill... or in this case prayer

I am not Muslim but I previously lived with a Muslim family in Cameroon who taught me how to pray. Despite my basic familiarity, I have never participated in prayer before in a large public space and, as the only white person in the bunch, I didn’t want to stick out even more by doing it wrong.   I laid out my borrowed prayer mat next the line of women that had formed 100 feet behind the line of men facing the direction of Mecca. When the Imam began the prayer I watched the women next to me out of the corner of my eye and followed the steps which include standing, bowing, placing your forehead on the ground and sitting. It was amazing to join thousands of people performing these movements in sync.

After the prayer, it was time to get the cows and goats ready for sacrifice.

The men wash the cow to prepare it for sacrifice.

Each family sacrifices one animal for this holiday.  1/3 of the animal goes towards the family, 1/3 of the animal goes towards friends, and 1/3 of the animal goes to the poor.

Tonight I will join my friends  for the feast. We will gather with the rest of the neighborhood around a large, round table to eat together and watch a performance of children dancing and reading from the Quran.

Happy Tabaski and Bon Appetit!

26 October 2012 at 09:40

Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose (the more things change, the more they stay the same)

Michael Slattery | KF17 | Togo

Is Togo much different from what the 1969 edition of the Encyclopaedia Britannica has to say?  Agriculture still dominates the economy, people still haul in the fishing nets by hand on the beach in the morning, pagnes are still sold in the markets, and animism is still practiced — though not as much as before.  Pictures don’t define a nation, so read on.

Dusk in Lomé is a special time when people leave their offices and head home for the evening. On street corners and along avenues, evening vendors lay out their wares. Charcoal fires are stoked in old oil drums or large metal basins to cook chicken and beef brochettes — thin skewers of heavily spiced meats — tempting passersby. In these moments when the roar of traffic momentarily silences, a faint muezzin’s call can be heard, reflecting Islam’s lesser presence in these parts.

Sitting on a patio along the boulevard circulaire — the ring of road that girds the city center — I can both see the ocean and admire the rush of speeding motorcycle taxis as they carry their passengers to and from destinations unknown. In the time I have been here, nearly all road and storm sewer work in the core has been finished: the paving stones that make up the sidewalks are falling into place, and even young palm trees have been planted along the medians. The sense of well-being that comes from well-paved roads and proper sidewalks is palpable. And so Lomé la Belle moves further away from the denizen’s local moniker of Lomé la Poubelle (the garbage bin). (more…)

29 May 2012 at 11:52 5 comments

Sweet Deliciousness

Compiled by Michael Slattery | KF17 | Togo

Despite the often upbeat tone of fellows’ posting on the blog, I’ll be the first to admit that the position entails some universal hardships.  There is the occasional social isolation that leaves you Saturday night at home with a book and bottle of the local plonk, despite apparently leading a life of swinging exoticism and sun-drenched adventure.  There’s is a lot of driving around, waiting, driving some more, and then getting told some tall tales by people who look at you like you’re definitely one of those foreign imbeciles that regularly swallows half-truths and thoroughly enjoys the taste.

Kiva Fellow Carrie Nguyen, Peru, delivers on delicious: ceviche made of jungle fish, marinated in lime juice and sliced onions, served with yucca and chifles (banana chips). Cost, around ten soles, or USD $3.50

I’ve also come home and spent a good hour picking black soot out of my ears and my nose, then showered and found the water around my feet an unhealthy, industrial smelling, swirl of charcoal.  (I also associate the smell of burning plastic with Africa, most often first thing in the morning, as dutiful sweepers light fire to the last day’s fallen leaves and dropped plastic bags.)

Not to be outdone, Kiva Fellow Jen Truong, Cambodia, sticks up for the homeland with some fresh crab stir-fried with Kampot peppers straight from the garden, for three happy diners (or one author). Price USD $ 7.50

Fortunately, there’s food.  Blessed food.  Balm to the solitary and bruised soul; and even if the full stomach isn’t spiritual salvation, it is a way to warm the heart, as many a romanticized grandmother may have advised uncomprehending grand-daughters.  Kiva Fellow Chris Paci has pointed out that I can eat a lot of food in a given day, which is more or less true, so I thought to spread the love and identify who among my colleagues are the true foodies.

Straight from the Bosphorous to your chest–err, hips–Kiva Fellow Kim Strathearn, Turkey, gives us Sekerpare, semolina sponge cakes soaked in syrup and hazelnut, presented with chopped pistachios and a sprig of mint. The author says, send him to Turkey, Kiva, and let him rot his teeth.

Kiva Fellow Jamie Greenthal, the Philippines, says, take that land lubbers: fresh sea scallops shucked and served raw on the half-shell, pulled from the Philippine sea, on Calituban Island. Price, free. Because Jamie is a pirate. Arrrgh! And takes what he wants! (Actually, the scallops were a welcome gift from borrowers in recognition of his arrival, but hey, who said stories had to be true? Estimated price in a restaurant, USD $5 to 7).

Kiva Fellow David Gorgani, the Dominican Republic, shows us how island living really works. Please support his application for Survivor: Paul Bocuse’s Kitchen.

End result of the Young Man and the Sea: fresh fried fish with tostones (fried plantains). Price USD $8-10 depending on the size of the fish.

Intermezzo: time for a cold one to wash down the previous delicious meals. Kiva Fellow Jen Truong, Cambodia, refreshes us with sugar cane and orange juice. Price USD $0.50.

Kiva Fellow Devon Fisher, Kenya, brings us some coastal Swahili delight from Mombasa: fresh fried fish. Say it all together: samaki hii ni utamu sana! (Kiswahili for this fish is delicious!) Price, delicious.

Kiva Fellow Micaela Browning, Mozambique, keeps the fish theme alive with xima (a paste made with casava flour) and little delicious fishes. Price, delicious. (Micaela, by the bye, pays her student fees by hand modeling).

Kiva Fellow Jen Truong, Cambodia, does the delicious hat trick and three-peat all at once: fried fish, fried chicken served in unusual but delicious fashion, and stir-fried morning glory with a side mango salad. Price, USD $10 for all three.

Kiva Fellow Adria Orr, Samoa, destroys the seafood delicious fest with the ultimate in deliciousness: the roast suckling pig…for the office lunch “feast” to welcome new loan officers into the fold. Price, pirate discount. Island love is high.

Kiva Fellow Ryan Cummings, Liberia, gets us back to rice country with his typical lunch at the office: served with a piece of chicken and eggplant. Simple yet elegant delicious. And not a roast suckling pig.

Kiva Fellow Philip Issa, Palestine, paves the way to increased rice delicious sophistication: Eggplant Msaq’a (مسقعة باذنجان), which is eggplant and beef in a tomato sauce, garnished with pine nuts. Not featured is the accompanying yogurt.

Getting in his ten cents of deliciousness, the author shows today`s lunch: a hither never seen before dry fufu desi (sauce) made of fried fish and some kind of vegetable. Price 800 FCFA or USD $1.60.  Savour the deliciousness in life.

As ever, my thanks and recognition to the other fellows.

Michael Slattery (KF17) is serving as a Kiva Fellow with WAGES in Lomé, Togo. He’s pretty sure that one day he will have a coronary bypass and a large stock holding in an antacid producer.   Find a borrower in Togo and lend today!

4 May 2012 at 12:08 2 comments

Down the Hatch

Michael Slattery | KF17 | Togo

My favourite breakfast at the commonplace street-side caféteria. A three-egg omelette made with shallots, tomatoes and spicy green peppers stuffed into a baguette. The café au lait is prepared using instant coffee and sweetened condensed milk. French influenced and yet distinctly West African. Price, 450 FCFA for the sandwich and 150 FCFA for the coffee, or total USD $1.20.

For those who love to eat as much as I do, I salute you and call you henceforth my brothers, my sisters, my true fellow companions in life.  Eating is a passion of mine; I’ve had a good run thus far and hope to have many more good days ahead of me. When I worked planting trees in the aftermath of Canada’s logged bush, I would consume absurd amounts of food every day, and find myself hungry only half an hour after having eaten an amount of food that, verily, makes me now a bit uneasy.  Subsequent to that uniquely terrible and beautiful occupation, my metabolism has never been quite the same, and eating has consequently taken on a different, more epic quality that — like the tide — rises and falls relative to my phases of activity.

An average lunch: veilli (black eyed peas), moulu (rice), pasta, amadan (fried plantain), a boiled egg, some diced carrots, potatoes, and tomatoes, and all lathered with a beef desi (sauce), a spoonful of mayonnaise (thank you, France) and, again, a dollop of hot pepper paste. Price, 500 FCFA, or USD $1.

Growing up with a Chinese mother, you luck out in the food department: a lot of spices and varied ingredients result in a large number of dishes. Food preparation is diverse, eating style is communal, your olfactory system gets used to a range of tastes and, especially, many food textures. Fufu is a West African staple, made of cassava that has first been peeled, cut into chunks, boiled, and then is pounded in a wooden mortar with long, thick, and heavy shaped wooden staffs only somewhat shorter than the holder. Small amounts of water are added during the pounding process to lubricate and add moisture to the product. After a few minutes, what’s left is a velvety, moist, gelatinous and tacky substance that gets eaten all the time at any time of day. (more…)

25 April 2012 at 10:00 12 comments

Watership Down and the World Happiness Report

Michael Slattery | KF17 | Togo

“The does, who had never dug in their lives before, enjoyed the work. Both Hyzenthlay and Thethuthinnang told Hazel that they had no idea how much of their frustration and unhappiness in Efrafa had been due simply to not being allowed to dig.” (Watership Down, Chapter 41)

This past week, a paper called the World Happiness Report came out.  According to the report, Togo came in dead last in happiness among all the countries of the world.  By no means a wealthy country, the Togolese seem for all intents and purposes like an outwardly happy people, much more if not more so than the average Canadian.  Perhaps it’s because I hail from Toronto, whose denizens purportedly live only to work, that makes me say that the Togolese I’ve met and see day to day are happier.  Despite anecdotal evidence, Canadians have it far better than those here in Togo according to accepted economic indicators.

The Happiness Report isn’t about happiness per se; rather, it’s about including factors beyond the usual economic measures to evaluate a nation’s relative progress.

Here indeed people smile and laugh through the best of times and the worst of times, which may have to do with the tropical climate, and certainly there is little to commend supposedly smile-inducing Canadian winters by comparison.  But like the sad clown, smiling doesn’t always reflect happiness; it may just be the surface expression of a cultural trait.  Likewise, happiness in the Report is just a way of saying social-economic indicator. (more…)

11 April 2012 at 10:00 12 comments

This Sporting Life

Michael Slattery | KF17 | Togo

Football: what more needs to be said?

For the past number of weeks I’ve been training with my microfinance institution’s football club, WAGES FC.  Early on in my stay, I found out that most of the male loan officers I was spending my days with were members of the team.  This didn’t surprise me after a certain point: the MFI was interested in placing me with their best agents.  Well-rounded people are generally active in various areas of their lives, and this includes sports.  When I expressed some interest in the team, I was invited out to train with them, for fun, as they said, at 6:30 am, every Saturday.


28 March 2012 at 08:00 12 comments

Who are these handsome devils?

Loan officer AMETEPE Kafui, who waited patiently for the foreigner while he made pretenses to know what he was doing with the camera.

Previous to the Kiva Fellowship, I worked for the Canada Revenue Agency, Canada’s federal tax department.  It was the only job I’ve ever had where I was reluctant to tell people what I did for a living.  While working for the Agency carries with it a certain stigma, the job itself can be described as people management; you learn to understand and quickly read your fellow citizen and how best to communicate with them, all the while recalling that you’re there to serve their best interests.


14 March 2012 at 10:00 15 comments

Update From The Field: Inspiring Field Partners, Cultural Adjustments + Girl Scout Cookies (No Wait, That’s Not Right)

Compiled by Chris Paci, KF16 & KF17, Azerbaijan

A Béninois borrower - Allison Moomey, Benin

It’s the beginning of March, and by now, most of KF17 has been out in the field for several weeks. We’ve settled in at our field partners, gotten to know some of our new coworkers, and started to dig a little deeper into the societies of the countries we now call home. Many of us have already traveled out into the field to visit the borrowers at the heart of the Kiva model. Check out this week’s posts and join the fellows of KF17 as they discover the quirks of Samoa, reflect on Benin’s distinctive culture, and observe extreme poverty in the Dominican Republic. Then keep on reading to learn about a devoted loan officer in Ecuador, the money management techniques of microfinance clients in Togo, and the surprising opportunities that Liberian microfinance institutions can create.

Continue Reading 5 March 2012 at 09:00 4 comments

The Sums of a Social Performance Certificate

Michael Slattery | KF 17 | Togo

Early on in my stay in Lomé I presented the Social Performance badge certificate awarded by Kiva to my microfinance institution WAGES.  I made enquiries and had a gilded frame made for the certificate at a local photography shop, and presented it to the Director of Women and Associations for Gains for Economic and Social (WAGES), Monsieur NASSIROU Ramanou.

Here we are at WAGES' headquarters in central Lomé. From left to right is M. AFO Kossi, Program Director, then M. NASSIROU Ramanou, Director General of WAGES, M. HOFFER Carine, Kiva Coordinator, the author with Canadian winter tan, and M. ASSANI-BENTHO Nasser, Projects Manager.

The certificate reflects two badges awarded earlier this year, Entrepreneurial Support and Facilitation of Savings, which recognize the services provided to WAGES’ clients that have specific social-economic impact.


4 March 2012 at 04:12 6 comments

Update From The Field: Client Visits In Bethlehem, A New Partnership In Cameroon + A Peek Into A Loan Officer’s World

Compiled by Allison Moomey | KF16 & KF17 | Bénin 

KF17 fellows have now made their way into the field, which means new workplaces, new countries, and new cultures for us all. Even more importantly it means fascinating new blog posts from every corner of the globe for you. Check out this week’s posts and join fellows as they observe microfinance in action Palestine, share about a great new partner in Cameroon, visit a village bank in Peru, and adjust to life in Togo. Then continue reading to learn about a cricket-raising business in Indonesia, microsavings in Mozambique, Senegalese politics, an apartment search in Mongolia, and a loan officer training in the Philippines.

Continue Reading 27 February 2012 at 02:56 5 comments

Lomé La Belle

Michael Slattery KF17 |Togo

A constant breeze flows across Lomé, day and night, alleviating the tropical heat.  It is a near constant 30 degrees Celsius at every moment of the day; only around the middle of the day when the sun is highest does the temperature rise. At this moment, people grow languid, traffic abates, eyelids droop, and it is time for the daily nap.

Solving the ills of social inequality requires a thoughtful environment.

Alternately, the beach beckons and seats under the palms fill with all sorts: office workers take off their jackets and sit next to dozing street vendors and down-and-outs while young couples eat together in intimate silence; all the while the breeze covers us in calm. (more…)

22 February 2012 at 12:21 18 comments

Updates from the Field: Roads, Remittances + the “Little Paris” of Togo

Last week our internationally-scattered Kiva Fellows introduced us to some of the men and women that compose the sixty countries in which Kiva works. From the woman in Cameroon who represents the strength of her nation; to the Phillipino men that must migrate from their country to make a living; to the young men and women of Uganda who show us a glimpse of raw entrepreneurialism and hope. We also see how a nation’s people are brought together, whether by a common and incredible credit culture in Nicaragua, or by the dream for Togolese roads to one day connect people, markets, and credit throughout the country. From roads to remittances, Fellows learn there is more to microfinance than world markets and interest rates, and that human factors are tipping the scales of success for microfinance in all corners of the world.

Continue Reading 27 June 2011 at 02:00 7 comments

Paving the Way to the Future (Part 2): Road Construction and Its Effects on Microfinance in Togo

By Kathrin Gerner, KF15, Togo

Lomé is under construction. In fact, all of Togo is under construction. This is what I heard when I first arrived in this small West African country two weeks ago. And it did not take me very long to find out what that meant.

Continue Reading 26 June 2011 at 02:00 15 comments

Paving the Way to the Future (Part 1): Bad Roads, Transportation Costs and Microfinance in Togo

By Kathrin Gerner, KF15, Togo

It becomes apparent with every new rainfall now that the rain season has started in Togo: Roads are the arteries that carry the lifeblood of the economy. They transport goods, employees and clients, and they provide shelf space for the countless street vendors.

Mostly unpaved, however, the roads of Lomé stand no chance in the face of torrential downpours. With few drains to take the water out of the city and the soil already saturated, they turn into a vast, difficult to navigate network of rivers and lakes. The otherwise vibrant Togolese capital comes to a halt and only starts back with a slow crawl when the rain subsides.

Continue Reading 20 June 2011 at 03:00 16 comments

I Am Happiest When…

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.

Continue Reading 27 August 2010 at 10:03 4 comments

A Kiva Fellow’s Scrap Book

By Leah Gage, KF 10 in Ukraine & KF11 in Togo

Today is my last day as a Kiva Fellow. Kiva Fellows Class number 10 (or KF10) took me to Zaporozhye, Ukraine where I worked with Kiva’s field partner HOPE Ukraine; KF11 brought me here to Lomé, Togo, where I work with two different field partners, Microfund Togo and Women and Associations for Gain both Economic and Social, or WAGES. I can’t think of two countries more different, and I have loved and been challenged by both experiences equally. (more…)

20 August 2010 at 05:25 26 comments

Kiva Makes it Personal

By Leah Gage, Kiva Fellow in Togo

Less than a year ago, Kiva was taken to task by critics for not being as person-to-person (P2P) as it was claiming to be. But I think Kiva’s continued relevance in the field of grassroots development rests precisely on its continued ability to connect people through lending for the sake of alleviating poverty. There are lots of examples of this; here are three. (more…)

21 July 2010 at 09:11 2 comments

Why should a mom tie her baby to her back in Togo?

By Leah Gage, Kiva Fellow in Togo

All throughout Togo, women use a traditional cloth called a pagne. Pagnes are beautiful, they come in every color and print you can imagine. They’re extremely useful as make-shift blankets, clothing, bags, towels… Yesterday while buying something a woman unwrapped her pagne skirt partway because that’s how she wrapped up her spare change. But perhaps most important for a young working mother is the use of a pagne to wrap her baby to her back.

Why would a young mother wrap her baby to her back?!

Because she can’t afford childcare.

When mom and dad are struggling to put food on the table, or maybe saving for baby’s future school fees, spending money on day care is out of the question (not to mention culturally unacceptable). While she’s out working, mom can keep her baby with her without getting in the way. Whenever the baby needs anything, mom’s right there to take care. When her baby’s hungry, she can feed her. When her baby’s tired, the baby can sleep, nestled closely to her mother’s back. (more…)

9 July 2010 at 10:12 4 comments

Mission (Im)Possible? or Why Kiva Fellows are sorta like James Bond…

By Leah Gage, Kiva Fellow in Togo

Our Mission: Find Monsieur Kokou Abalo, a farmer who lives outside of Agbélouvé, Togo, to this month’s repayment and complete a Kiva interview. Kokou Abalo has a loan from Kiva’s field partner Microfund Togo. He’s also the last borrower on my list with whom I have to do an interview.


2 July 2010 at 08:45 7 comments

World Cup Reports from Kiva Fellows Around the World

Kiva Fellows share their World Cup experiences from Mongolia, Rwanda, Mexico, Bolivia, Togo, Sri Lanka, Chile and Kyrgyzstan

Continue Reading 29 June 2010 at 22:56 3 comments

The Red Notebook and the Glue That Holds the Whole Story Together

By Taylor Akin, KF9, Togo

Sleep-deprived and over-heated, I sat in front of the fan in the loan officers’ room. I had been waiting for a loan officer at the WAGES branch office in Hédzranawoé for over an hour and sat unmoving as the room buzzed with activity all around me. Loan officers ran in and out, clients sat down and stood up, phones rang and calls were made, passbooks opened and closed, pencils scratched paper, sweat stained foreheads. I looked at the loan officer sitting across the desk opposite me. Adam is one of the kindest people I have met since my time here at WAGES, and I have had the opportunity to visit clients with him on several occasions. He is gentle, quiet, smiles easily and works extremely hard. I watched him flip through papers and carefully write the names of clients on a yellow post-it. With every name, he would “tsk tsk,” exclaim a high-pitched “ah” sound of frustration, and shake his head.

Continue Reading 3 April 2010 at 09:07 2 comments

“Do You Know How To Run?”

On Thursday March 4th, the second Togolese presidential elections were held since the death of President Eyadéma Gnassingbé in 2005. After 38 years of uninterrupted rule, his son Faure assumed the presidency. Shortly thereafter, he held superfluous elections that resulted in a “democratic” confirmation of his leadership. The country erupted in civil unrest under the pretense of false electoral results, and hundreds were killed in the resulting violence.

Faure’s campaign posters dominate the billboards throughout Lomé
That first election of the post-Eyadéma era certainly set a precedent for fear. I quickly lost count of all the WAGES clients who reported a lack of demand for their products as a result of the elections. Countless others articulated a desire to take out another loan, but were waiting for the outcome of the elections before seeking additional credit. They did not want to be held financially responsible for defaults as a result of political instability.

Continue Reading 15 March 2010 at 08:39 6 comments

The Case of the Faceless Lender

Last week, I spent two mornings making the rounds of six WAGES branch offices that participate in Kiva. Accompanied by the Kiva Coordinator, I met with loan officers and branch directors to refresh their memories on the importance of transparency, clarity of photos, and detailed profile information. Most of all, I wanted to give Kiva a human face. While Kiva lenders are well aware of the person-to-person (P2P) connections Kiva aims to establish, the direction of this gaze is often one-sided. Kiva lenders are informed of the employment, location, and even marital status of the entrepreneurs they help. Yet, from the ground looking up, it is easy to see Kiva as a faceless, impersonal backer behind their partner MFIs. Kiva is often simply thought of as an organization that lends money to MFIs, which allows the MFIs to lend to their clients. While this idea is not inaccurate, it is certainly incomplete. I was disturbed by the thought that P2P connections were created between lenders and borrowers, but not between borrowers and lenders.

Continue Reading 20 February 2010 at 08:31 19 comments

Begging – A Sign of Development?

Whether at home or abroad no one likes to see people begging for money. In the countries where most Kiva Fellows come from it’s a sad sign of social dysfunction and a failure to provide adequate opportunities for everyone. But in the developing world could it actually be a sign of progress? After all, if a country can support begging, then it must be generating income beyond mere subsistence.

Continue Reading 15 February 2010 at 09:43 8 comments

Looking at Microfinance Through Rose-Coloured Glasses

By Taylor Akin, KF9, Togo

There is a lot of hype surrounding microfinance.  For some, microfinance is an effective tool used to promote large-scale poverty alleviation. For others, it is simply considered a way for moderately poor individuals to better their own situations. If you’re reading this blog, you likely fit somewhere on this spectrum of belief that microfinance does at least some good. While the degree to which microfinance impacts the lives of the poor is often debated, the hype remains fairly constant. But can microfinance really live up to the publicity that precedes it?

A (rare) smiling Kiva entrepreneur, Teko Kongo. Coming soon to!

I must admit that I too was a victim of this hype. I naively thought that my work as a Kiva Fellow would include listening to many heart-wrenching, life-changing stories of success and failure as a result of, or despite the efforts of microfinance. My friends at home often joked that I was off to “save the world.” (more…)

29 January 2010 at 05:56 9 comments

“Il faut profiter, ein?”

This is as close as I can get to looking Togolese!

By Taylor Akin, KF9, Togo

It’s amazing how identity can be so malleable. In a matter of hours, a person can be transformed from local to foreigner, fluent to fumbling, familiar to fascinating, and even from black to white. Anyone who has ever travelled even just a couple hours outside their hometown has experienced this shift. The change in identity may happen to varying degrees, but its unpredictability remains a constant.

In the past, I have often travelled to locations where my skin colour has conveniently allowed me to blend in. The mix of my Jamaican and British heritage has provided me with a variety of clever masks. I may appear to be Ecuadorian, Spanish, and even Moroccan depending on my location. Since my arrival in Lomé, however, I have done anything but blend in. (more…)

15 January 2010 at 07:09 4 comments

When the Road Ends…

By Taylor Akin, KF9, Togo

Picture yourself on a bike riding along a beach. Nice image, isn’t it?

A typical main street in Lome

Now, swap the bike for a motorcycle fishtailing in the sand and replace the crashing waves with revving engines and honking cars. Add dust in your eyes, the smell of exhaust in your nose, and about 30 degrees of heat and you’ve come close to the daily journey of a loan officer in Lomé, Togo.

I know I’m not the first to blog about the difficult trails a loan officer must travel every day. However, many of the blog posts that have come before have been set in rural areas. Lomé, on the other hand, is the capital city of Togo, and home to over 700,000 people. It is an industrial center, a trade center, a travel center, and pretty much the central city in this small country. (more…)

1 January 2010 at 08:51

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