Kiva strives to connect microfinance borrowers and lenders from all corners of the globe – and one medium through which it is able to accomplish this is the Kiva Fellows blog. I would therefore like to dedicate this post to telling the story of Javier Aguilar Soto, the things I learned from meeting with him, and some broader lessons I gained, through the meeting, about the field of microfinance.
Javier lives in a rural area outside of the city of Cochabamba, Bolivia and is a client of the Microfinance Institution (MFI) CIDRE. He and his wife Cecilia support four children, ranging in age from 12 to 1. Javier spends the entire day working at a construction site, while his wife takes care of the cows, whose raw milk they use to produce cheese. Their youngest child suffers from congenital cataracts in both eyes and the family, sadly, does not have the money to pay for surgery.
Cecilia spends the majority of her days traveling to the city of Cochabamba for her son’s doctor appointments. It is a sad reality that Cecilia is forced to spend substantial amounts of time on her son’s doctors visits, detracting greatly from the time she could be spending on the family’s productive activities, i.e. taking care of and milking the cows.
Kiva Fellow Frederic Billou recently wrote a post entitled The Last Mile, in which he described the physical challenge loan officers face in reaching their borrowers. Just as Frederic faced unforeseen obstacles during his borrower visit in Benin, my journey to meet with Javier had its share of barriers.
To begin with, loan officers often have a vague idea of their client’s working hours, but they certainly can’t always be sure of when he/she will actually be home. We arrived at Javier’s house just before noon, hoping that he would come home from the construction site for his lunch break. His neighbor informed us, however, that the construction site is far away and that he wouldn’t return until late in the evening. We asked that the neighbor inform Javier that we would return the following day at 8AM to ensure catching him before he headed off the work.
The following day, we had to leave Cochabamba and the CIDRE office at 5AM in order to make it to Javier’s by 8 o’clock. An outsider might be quick to pity Javier and his seemingly desperate situation. However, after talking to him for five minutes, his optimism and hopefulness about his future plans quickly negate these thoughts. He speaks excitedly about his ability to pay back his loan, the loans he will take out in the future, and the things he will use the capital for (primarily his son’s healthcare, the purchase of livestock, and house renovations).
After an inspiring conversation with Javier and Cecilia, we turned on the car to leave, only to discover that it was stuck in the gravel we had parked it on. A helpful neighbor called her husband to come and pull us out with his vehicle, and after nearly 45 minutes, we were on our way again.
Bringing financial services to poor people is difficult for a number of reasons, and as this example illustrates, the physical obstacles present in developing countries create various challenges. Yet this example, perhaps more importantly, illustrates the importance of doing so. While Javier and his family will have to work hard to lift themselves out of poverty, their relationship with CIDRE assists them in doing so. In addition to the working capital they provide, CIDREs provision of financial services to Javier and his family gives them a sense of pride and inclusion. In short, microfinance provides hope.
Meeting with Javier inspired me, reminded me why the services provided by CIDRE and all of the MFIs Kiva partners with are so crucial, and at the same time enlightened me about some of the challenges MFIs must overcome in order to provide these services.
To learn more about CIDRE click here.
For a chance to meet with borrowers and witness the realities of microfinance on the ground, read more about the Kiva Fellows Program.
Julie Shea is a Kiva Fellow currently working in Bolivia.