Phoenix From The Rubble
My heart fell when I opened up the e mail, ‘Congratulations…….. you’re going to Beirut’. I hold my hands up, my first thought was warzone. A quick scan of the UK Foreign Office website confirmed my fears, general risk of terrorism, violent clashes in previous months, not somewhere I was in a hurry to leave the UK for. Fortunately I didn’t send an immediate ‘thanks but no thanks’ e mail. I told a friend expecting him to laugh and his response was ‘awesome’, another friend said she had always wanted to visit. With such a positive response from others maybe I was missing something and Lebanon deserved some research and I am glad I did.
First stop the trusty Lonely Planet: the traveller’s bible. Reading through it I became more and more excited, amazing food, wild nightlife, beaches, ancient ruins, ski resorts, vineyards where’s the catch? An incredibly precarious political system which balances 18 different religions and numerous different agendas. Add into the mix that it lies in the heart of the Middle East, with amongst others; Israel, Syria, Iran, Iraq as its neighbours you start to see why it has been a volatile destination. Balancing the pros and the cons I became enthused, emailed Kiva HQ to say I was in and here I am.
South East Asia has a legendary reputation for friendliness but this is nothing in comparison to the Lebanese. Every single person who I have met; from taxi drivers, work colleagues, to people on the street and even soldiers have been warm, helpful and so welcoming that I am seriously considering making Lebanon my home.
What’s most incredible is that given Beirut’s history of civil wars, it is such a beautiful city. The people are incredibly resilient. A lot of the city has been rebuilt, and whilst there are some buildings with bullet holes, these are rapidly being replaced by modern office and apartment blocks. The Downtown area has been expansively redeveloped and every major international designer has a boutique here. Restaurants Downtown have valet parking with fleets of Ferraris, Aston Martins and Range Rovers parked outside. Not everyone in Lebanon is a millionaire but those who aren’t are working really hard trying to become one.
The economy was relatively stable throughout the period of civil war, thanks largely to the strict financial regulations which were and continue to be in place. My partner MFI has a repayment rate which verge on 100% something unheard of in the western world.
I am working with ACSI (CHF International) a pilot field partner for Kiva, which has its operational centre in Beirut, but all of the branches and borrowers are based in Iraq. In each Field Partner there is a Kiva Co-ordinator who is responsible for the MFI’s interaction with Kiva. I am very fortunate that my co-ordinator is a fantastic, if very busy person. My aim is to take ACSI CHF International from pilot to active partner as quickly as possible.
A large part of my role is familiarising the Field Partner with the Kiva website, and the way in which Kiva works. And today uploading loan profiles, we had a significant breakthrough. Looking at the first loans which were posted a couple of weeks ago, I showed her the lenders. She was blown away that 99 different people had all contributed to make one loan to a borrower in Iraq.
What I wasn’t expecting was what came next; she said that she would like to make a loan herself. Not only does she want to work with Kiva, but she wants to be a part of it herself. Going through the lender profiles, they became real life people in places all across the world, helping her borrowers to expand their businesses. And she would like in turn to help people in other countries too.
Having made a breakthrough we just have to finish off typing the loan profiles and look forward to seeing where the next lenders come from.
Caroline Pattinson is a Kiva Fellow in KF13, working with ACSI, CHF International in Beirut Lebanon