New Zealand and Southeast Asia are almost a thousand miles apart and contain vastly different cultures. And yet, Kiva lender Ken feels a distinct kinship with Vietnam and Laos, two countries in the South East Asia region.
“Technically speaking, we’re still considered Asia,” says the 74 year-old retired IT project manager from his home in Wellington, NZ.
Continental inclusivity aside, Ken’s interest in Vietnam and Cambodia lies mainly with its people: Of the 32 loans he has made on Kiva since joining in 2012, 61 percent have gone towards farmers, entrepreneurs, students and other residents of these countries surrounding the Mekong River Delta.
“A few years ago, my partner and I took a river cruise down through the region,” he explains of his focused effort, describing the good cheer and industriousness of those he met living on the water and outside the major cities of Ho Chi Minh and Phnom Penh.
“It was impressive that despite all the troubles and turmoils that they have been through that they are so forgiving.”
That adventurous holiday and subsequent ones became a heartfelt calling for the Kiwi, who says, “I have made it my mission to lend to this part of the world.”
A region in recovery—and peril
“They are looking forward”
Dismantled by colonialism and followed by the bloody wars of the 1970s—against outside enemies and each other—the people of Vietnam and Cambodia have experienced generations of poverty and trauma. While economic reforms and tourism have improved living standards for millions, many continue to struggle with meeting basic needs, accessing healthcare, and paying for education, especially in rural areas.
Further, climate change in this area has brought intense changes in crop management and river flow. While governments and organizations work to implement sustainable development and economic strategies to offset the worst, the Cambodian and Vietnamese people continue to live, work, and raise their families under uncertain circumstances.
“I was amazed how they live on the water, build their homes on stilts…they are adaptable,” recalls Ken of the people he met, adding that the pristine school uniforms of the children—a sign of dignity and pride—made a marked impression on him.
“They are looking forward,” Ken says.
A focus on women
Even before he began sorting Kiva loans for a specific geographical filter, Ken has mainly lent to female borrowers: About 89 percent of the loans he has made over the last decade have gone to women.
“I’ve worked with women, for women, and I must admit there is still a kind of bias against women in the world,” he says. “The men have plenty of chances, the world is geared for them.”
He remembers making loans to women who wanted to buy animals to create a husbandry business or purchase materials to improve her home. These are women like Sokvy, a Cambodian entrepreneur and mother who is seeking funds to build a household latrine, and Hanh, a farmer in Vietnam looking for capital to buy chicken and pigs.
While both Cambodia and Vietnam have made important strides towards gender equality, lower incomes and violence continue to affect women.
“In the societies where the women I help live, it appears to me that they have it the hardest to succeed,” observes Ken, adding that his initial Kiva loans continue to be relent to other borrowers in the region.
“I have had all my loans repaid in full so I automatically reinvest with others.”
‘I know where the money goes’
“The thing I like about Kiva, when I lend I know the money has gone to the borrower—all of it.”
Ken visits his Kiva account when he receives notice that he’s been repaid and enjoys reading through the borrower posts to find new loans. Once he has sorted by country and gender, he then prioritizes loans that are almost funded and just need a small amount of money to complete.
“It’s peanuts to me, but it means a lot more to the people I’m lending to,” he says of his $25 loans.
“I live in a country with free speech, and no enemies. These people have been through terrible things.”
As a Kiva lender for over a decade, Ken—who also volunteers at the Wellington chapter of the Citizens Advice Bureau to help residents understand their legal rights—says he finds value in being able to have an effect on a region of the world that matters to him most.
He also appreciates the direct impact his loans have.
“The thing I like about Kiva is that when I lend, I know the money has gone to the borrower—all of it.”
Ken made loans to dozens of people in Cambodia and Vietnam to help start their businesses, improve their homes, and positively impact their lives. Where would lending on Kiva mean the most to you?