By Leah Gage, KF10 Ukraine
In a few days, my Kiva Fellowship with Kiva’s field partner HOPE Ukraine will come to a close. In three months I’ve visited 10 different towns and villages throughout Ukraine and met about 40 Kiva borrowers. Not only is this essential to my work as a Kiva Fellow, but borrower visits are my absolute favorite part of volunteering for Kiva! And none of them would have been possible without my favorite Ukrainian ladies, my interpreters Kate, Masha, Nastya, Oksana and Alina (pictured below).
Sometimes Kiva Fellows are sent to countries where they don’t speak the language and the borrowers and Loan Officers don’t speak theirs. Such was the case for me in Eastern Ukraine, where most people speak Russian and almost no one speaks English. With no prior training in the Russian language, I hired some of Ukraine’s coolest ladies to accompany me on long trips to remote towns and villages to interview HOPE Ukraine’s Kiva borrowers.
When I arrived in Ukraine, I’ll admit that I was terrified by my lack of language ability. I feared that I’d never get to meet any Kiva borrowers given my inability to speak the language! Zaporozhye doesn’t have an agency you can just call up and hire someone to translate for you. But in the first few weeks, I managed to make some friends, and usually I’d ask these friends – out of the blue – to help me out.
“Where are you going?? Why are you going to that village? I don’t understand…” these city gals would tell me over the phone, as I explained that my job requires me to travel to villages and interview small business owners…
As foreign as the Kiva concept sounds in my home country of the United States, imagine how strange it must sound to Ukrainians. They go to markets to do their shopping; why would we go to a market – let alone a market located 3 hours outside of Zaporozhye – to interview the business owners??
But they’d always oblige. They’d show up to “work” fashionably dressed, as most Ukrainian girls do, in high heels, tight jeans, ready to practice their English with this weirdo American girl they’d just met. After hours on a minibus, called a marshrutka, traversing dirt roads and arriving in remote villages throughout eastern Ukraine, these girls would then spend several more hours translating my endless questions to borrowers and explanations on Kiva to Loan Officers.
One day, my interpreter Alina and I visited Nataliya Minakova in Mikhailovka. Every time I end an interview with a borrower, I ask her, “What are you hopes and dreams for the future?” Normally, this question is answered confusedly or not at all. But this day, Nataliya told us, “I have dreams to be an artist…” and pulled out all of her drawings to show us. In the life of a Kiva Fellow, an experience like this is golden. I was beyond excited that Nataliya was able to link her Kiva loan to her dream by explaining that when her business is more sustainable, she’ll have more time to pursue her favorite pastime. When we left Nataliya’s store, Alina said to me, “Wow! That’s the first time we’ve ever gotten a response like that!” She felt my excitement too; she had felt the power of learning something so personal and dear to a Kiva borrower.
Another day in Novomoskovsk, my interpreter Nastya and I were training a new Loan Officer on Kiva. Try translating Kiva’s mission statement, “Connecting people through lending for the sake of alleviating poverty.” It’s not easy, but Nastya did it many times over. At one point I explained in English that the Loan Officer should try to print out the borrower profile from Kiva’s website to show his clients, as this is an effective way to explain Kiva to a reluctant borrower. “I already told him that!” she said, having learned well enough by now the ins and outs of Kiva successes. She joked, “You should just sit back, drink coffee. I can do all the explaining from now on!”
Throughout this process, which I experienced with five different interpreters over the course of my fellowship, my interpreters became honorary Kiva Fellows. Through my work as a Fellow, Kiva touched their lives, gave them some work in a difficult economy, and taught us all something about how Kiva really can make the world a smaller place. If there’s one thing I’ve learned from my Kiva Fellowship, the miracle of Kiva is that it spreads globally by touching individuals. Behind every aspect of Kiva is an individual who understands the concept that making our world more connected through microfinance will make our world a better place. I’m actually grateful that I needed interpreters to be a Kiva Fellow because it connected me that much more.
Leah Gage is ending her Kiva Fellowship with HOPE Ukraine this week. In May she’ll join KF11 as a Kiva Fellow in Togo.