My name is David Stewart and I am the Kiva Fellow in Nairobi, Kenya. I am working with Opportunity Kenya, part of Opportunity International. Opportunity just bought Sunlink, a small MFI here in Nairobi. I am here to help the transition and get all of the Sunlink staff on board with this thing from the US we know (and love) as Kiva….but before I got here….
It was virtually impossible to write anything before leaving the States for Nairobi. There was simply too much movement, too much momentum to stop and capture my thoughts.
For starters, I spent almost 5 months backpacking through the mountains of California, Oregon and Washington on the Pacific Crest Trail. Most people have heard of the Appalachian Trail: the PCT is its longer, slightly wilder cousin in the West.
It is a 2,600 mile long continuous footpath through the mountains, starting at the Mexican border east o San Diego and ending 8 miles inside of Canada. There are virtually no shelters to sleep in (bring your tent!) and one must go into town every 5-8 days in order to buy food and supplies for the next leg of the journey. It runs along the eastern edge of California, through the Mojave Desert, and then up into the majestic Sierra Nevada mountain range, where you live like a mountain goat for several weeks, climbing up and over and down 11, 12, even 13,000 foot mountain passes. It then winds back to the middle of California and takes you up through the center of Oregon and Washington along the crest of the Cascades. All told, the trail passes through 7 national parks and countless national forests and wilderness areas.
Along the way, I managed to apply for the Kiva Fellowship, conduct a phone interview (early on a Sunday morning in Ashland, Oregon) and get hired (which I found out by checking my e-mail on another hiker’s IPhone, high up on a ridge in Oregon, where he happened to have reception).
Originally, I thought I was headed to Azerbaijan; this was right around the time that Russia invaded Georgia. This lead to mock “Good luck out there” wishes from other hikers and suggestions that it might be safer to sleep with candy bars in my tent in bear country than to go anywhere near Azerbaijan. It was also discussed at length whether or not I should shave my beard before leaving…this, however, was all for naught, as I found out soon afterwards that I would be headed to Kenya, instead. I was pleasantly surprised…
My hike lasted from April 25th until September 11th. The timing worked out perfectly, as training for the Kiva Fellowship began on September 25th. I still had to get to San Francisco, though. How did this work?
At the northern end of the trail, in a provincial park in Canada, there are buses running into Vancouver. Vancouver was a beautiful city, a great way to come back into civilization…unless you take a wrong turn and go down East Hastings Street, on which you can find countless people shooting heroin and smoking crack in broad daylight. I am not exaggerating about this; my friends and I made the wrong turn and watched people shoot up on street corners. Less than 100 yards away, people were shopping at American Apparel and enjoying the finest raw oysters that the northern Pacific has to offer. This passes for normal in Vancouver.
I jumped into the northern Pacific, by the way. In a word: cold.
A few days later, upon arriving in San Francisco for my Kiva training, I witnessed a shooting. I called 911 and described to them everything I had seen, which was not all that much. I simply heard the shots, looked across the street, saw a hooded figure fall and another hooded figure run off with a gun in hand. It all happened so fast….tragic, sad, scary…
Such was my reintroduction to society.
At least Kiva was uplifting. Actually, it was downright inspiring. After one short week of training, I left San Francisco feeling that I was truly a part of Kiva and that I could actually contribute to the cause. It was not an abstraction; indeed, as a Kiva Fellow I am on the ground, in the country, seeing how loans are disbursed and how those loans affect people here. The positives, the negatives, and all the concerns and issues surrounding microfinance as it relates to real people who are simply trying to get a leg up in life.
I can say now that the effect of these loans is very real – for the Microfinance Institutes that grant the loans as well as for the borrowers who use them to grow their businesses.
Oh, wait: before leaving Boston for Nairobi I attended a wedding in Delaware, swam in the roiling Atlantic Ocean (thank you for the waves, Ike) and found some time to sleep somewhere in between all of this…/>