Rain pummeled the roof and windows of the truck as we came to a halt and surveyed the scene before us. A raging river, some 400 meters across and extending in either direction far beyond eyesight, roared - where a few hours ago there had been an easily passable stream. The dirt road we had been bumping along had turned to mud. Thick forest enveloped the surrounding mountains, blotting out the clouds from which the rain poured down. There was no way we would make it across the river, and there were no other roads out of town. So we hunkered down in the truck and we waited.
This was the situation I found myself in while visiting Kiva borrowers on a recent site visit to Soluz Honduras, a social enterprise based in San Pedro Sula, Honduras that uses solar photovoltaic technology to increase access to clean electricity in both rural and urban areas. I was traveling with three members of Soluz’s team to meet clients who have used loans funded by Kiva lenders to purchase home lighting systems, freezers, and other solar-powered products in remote areas of Atlántida, a department on the north Caribbean shore of Honduras. In its rural off-grid markets, Soluz serves customers where there is no access to an electrical utility grid, providing many of them with first-time access to electricity. I could see how far these customers live from the reach of public utilities and how herculean Soluz’s last mile distribution efforts are, as we wound through dense rainforest for many hours to get to their homes.
On this particular day, Soluz staff and I had just finished our last visit of the day, with a Kiva borrower named Iris in a rural community called Trujillo, high up in Atlántida’s mountains. She loaned from Soluz Honduras to purchase a solar freezer for her pulpería, a small grocery store attached to her home where she sells a variety of foodstuffs and household products. We discussed how the freezer has allowed Iris to grow her business, save money on buying ice, and raise her family’s overall quality of life. We finished our conversation, I thanked Iris for her time, and the Soluz team and I began our long journey back to La Ceiba, the capital city of Atlántida.
Soon after we came upon the flooded river. We waited at the bank of the river, alternating between sharing the last of the meager snacks we had packed for the day, taking naps in the truck and braving the storm to wade down the muddy road and observe the choppy brown waters up close. After two hours, with dusk looming and the accompanying threat of low visibility along an already difficult route, we had no choice but to turn around. Back up through the jungle we drove, bracing ourselves as our driver Denis stepped on the gas with all his might and steered us across smaller but still turbulent rivers that had grown into obstacles of their own since earlier that afternoon.
Iris welcomed us back into her home as graciously as though we were her own family. Her three young sons eyed us with gleeful curiosity as we plopped ourselves, soaking, onto the porch. In no time she had a cheery fire blazing in her cookstove and fed us each a hearty serving of scrambled eggs, refried beans, queso duro (a hard white Honduran cheese), and mantequilla crema (a thick sour cream). We piled these staples of Honduran cuisine into piping hot tortillas and happily ate our fill as we chatted with Iris and her family.
As the evening and the storm wore on, we knew we would not be making it back to La Ceiba that night. Once darkness settled in the stillness of this remote corner of the world, I could see the power of Iris’s solar lights - also acquired through Soluz - in action. One bulb lit up the porch, piercing the blackness of the night with what seemed to be the only illumination aside from the stars for miles around. A few more bulbs inside the house cast beams of light on the well-stocked shelves of Iris’s pulpería. These guided our way to one of her children’s bedrooms, where we eventually dozed off to the comforting sound of a rainfall we did not have to drive through - at least not at that moment.
In the morning, Iris lavished upon us fresh coffee and more eggs, beans, queso duro, mantequilla crema, and tortillas for breakfast. The rains had continued until 6 AM, meaning that we needed to wait a few more hours for the river to recede. In the meantime, Iris’s young sons eagerly led me down a nearby path through the jungle to a patch of palm trees, where Denis helped us knock down a few coconuts to drink from.
Without any internet connection or cell service to distract me, I thought about the astounding circularity that can exist among people who may never meet face-to-face. I thought about having arrived in this faraway corner of rural Honduras to represent Kiva, whose lenders generously funded Iris’s loan, the impact of which I had come to inspect. I thought about how Iris had extended to me - a perfect stranger - a level of hospitality I might never get the chance to repay: taking me in from a storm in unfamiliar territory, feeding me, and giving me a place to sleep. I thought about how I might communicate this story to Kiva lenders, to ensure we keep this virtuous circle going by continuing to fund the dreams of compassionate, ambitious, and deserving people like Iris.
The Soluz team and I did eventually make it across the river that next day. But the many acts of kindness I received in Trujillo stuck with me and have continued to inspire me. This cycle of giving and receiving defines not just one borrower’s story but Kiva’s entire model. And now more than ever, Soluz could use every bit of support to continue serving off-grid customers in need of functioning televisions, radios, and cell phones to stay updated on developments related to the COVID-19 crisis.
Help support Social Enterprises like Soluz Honduras who have impacted by COVID-19 by visiting kiva.org/covidresponsetoday!
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