My week has been one of experiencing the meaning of the word ‘between’ (Not to be confused with the town of Between, GA which lies exactly between my parent’s house in Atlanta and my most recent house in Athens).  I have experienced and relished the state of being between, which I have conveniently organized into paragraph form for you. Yes, you.

The first state of between was geographical: between Kiva training in San Francisco and the start of my Kiva Fellowship in Peru and Bolivia.  I am one of the first in the 6thClass of Kiva Fellows to go abroad and so had only 10 days to get everything I needed to do done.  In between packing and preparing, I visited friends and family in Athens and Atlanta, Georgia and DC.  From my forays into the realm of geographical betweens, I realized the importance of technology in bridging the distance. 

The second state of between was financial: between donations and loans.  Since Kiva Fellows are unpaid volunteers, we are asked to fund ourselves through networks of friends and family, creative fundraising efforts, and even grants from universities or wherever we worked.  This reality left me in the uncomfortable position of asking for donations to support me support an organization that has as the core of its animating spirit a replacement of donations with loans.  Kiva stresses partnership with the poor rather than paternalism; their mission is to connect people through lending [not donating] for the sake of alleviating poverty.  The tension inherent in any fundraising I would do led me to seek out new ways of fundraising that would capture several shades of that magical word: ‘between’.  If I have already paid for my trip by dwindling my savings to a month or two’s rent in DC when I get back, how can I allow any money I raise to be maximized in between it being raised and my need for it?  If I want to leverage the goodwill of those who support me into supporting Kiva’s mission, what can I create in between the two to create that relationship?  While I won’t go into specifics on this blog, you can check out my personal blog (http://joshtoro.wordpress.com/ ) for my answers (caution: it’s a work in progress for the next week or so).

The third state of between was psychological:  between strangers and friends.  The boundaries we sometimes construct between the two are often broken when generosity and kindness emanate in equal parts from both.  For me several acts of generosity and kindness this past week have moved a few people into a new social region between friend and stranger that will lead me to ponder the supposed distinction in the weeks to come.  During my period of initial fundraising for my Kiva fellowship, I made a jump into worlds of both strangers and friends.  And in my interactions with strangers, I received unbelievable support, validation, and comfort.  In particular, one individual became an anonymous donor for a fundraising dinner Sierra (a fellow Kiva fellow) and I threw with our friends.  This donor’s support throughout has consistently been overwhelming and increasingly so (one example, the donor would match whatever we raised at the dinner up to $1500!!! When it turned out that only us and our college friends attended and we fell well short of that, the donor informed us that $1500 would still be given!).  When I try to distinguish the kindness of ‘strangers’ and my friends who came on two day notice with hour-long drives to listen to mine and Sierra’s passion for Kiva in a cramped studio apartment with soup, sangria, and guacamole and give whatever they could, it begins to seem a little ridiculous to split the camps.  I imagine the same might be true for borrowers on Kiva’s website.  Before Kiva’s Field Partners gave them access to Kiva’s world of lenders, it is likely the borrowers had to rely on friends and family to support their small businesses.  Now, I can go to them with pictures of forty individuals- strangers from strange countries- who supported their little business in the outskirts of Lima.  I feel like my experience with fundraising this past week may help me gauge their reaction.  “I understand my friends supporting my passion, but forty strangers?  Why me?”  If their feelings are anything like mine, the range of emotions may just be those invisible tendrils predicated on kindness reaching out between individuals and forming connections where once none stood: the ‘between’ between stranger and friend.

We learned in training that Kiva fellows are to act as bridges between several groups of people: we will connect lenders and borrowers by posting pictures and journal updates and we will connect Kiva with their Field Partners by helping the latter utilize the former.   If my experiences of between during my ‘between’ week are any indication, this position of being in between is one I am going to enjoy immensely in the weeks to come.  Perhaps it is only fitting that this blog entry was written in the air between Washington, DC and Lima, Peru.  May the experience of between invigorate rather than dismay.

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This post is dedicated to the ampersand, that wonderful little symbol that no one really knows what it is nor what it truly represents (though some may claim it means ‘And’), only that its presence signifies a ‘between’: a distance bridged, a connection formed, an object once separate now joined to another.  

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