Call it fate, divine intervention, or mere coincidence, life sometimes — quite unexpectedly — gives you exactly what you need at just the right time.
That was certainly the case for me last week after the U.S. elections. The results were not what I’d hoped for, and I found myself questioning, well, pretty much everything.
When I arrived at the office the next day, it was with a heavy heart. I had planned to accompany the staff of Kingsbridge Microfinance (where I am currently serving as a Kiva fellow) on some field visits that afternoon, and while I looked forward to the opportunity to get out of the office for a few hours and hopefully meet a Kiva borrower or two, I held little hope that my mood would be lifted. That would be the second time in 24 hours that I was dead wrong, but this one definitely had a happier ending.
Rose is a seamstress with her own shop in the Sarpeiman area of Accra, Ghana. She works 10-hour days so it’s lucky that her commute is an easy one — her house, where she lives with her husband and three of her six children, is right next door. The front of the shop is an open-air space, similar to a long front porch, and as we walked in I saw several young girls in matching green uniforms busy at work on old fashioned-looking sewing machines. Rose invited us to the back of her shop where large shelves held stacks of colorful fabrics and threads, and offered us seats and cold water. Rose does not speak English so my colleagues from Kingsbridge, Ivy and Duncan, interpreted in Twi for us.
Rose is a long-time Kingsbridge customer and when she wanted to take out a new loan last year to purchase extra materials in preparation for the upcoming Christmas season, Kingsbridge knew she would benefit from a lower-interest Kiva loan with a one-year grace period. The loan of 5,000 GHS (roughly $1,350 USD) funded in just four days.
Rose said that the loan benefitted her business is many ways. She was able to buy enough materials to meet the demand of the busy holiday season (apparently everyone in Ghana wants a new dress to wear to church on Christmas!) and customers no longer have to pay in advance since her cash flow enables her wait until the job is complete to receive payment. And she can even buy extra thread and fabric to sell to women who want to do their own sewing at home, which had increased her profit. She has big plans for the future of her business and hopes to soon add wax prints to her offerings.
Rose isn’t just a seamstress but also a teacher, taking in apprentices who can benefit from her expertise. Starting around the age of 16, these young girls and boys will train under her for four years before returning to their home communities to open shops of their own. She currently has six girls apprenticing under her (at one time she was training as many as 50!), and estimates she has trained hundreds of people in the art of tailoring over the past 10 years, providing young people with marketable skills and a path to entrepreneurship they may not have otherwise had.
Rose will begin paying back her Kiva loan soon, but has already been building up her savings: In addition to offering loans, Kingsbridge clients taking out Kiva loans are also required to open savings accounts that will help them prepare for future expenditures and ensure they are able to make loan payments on time. Watching Ivy and Duncan interact with Rose, it was clear she wasn’t just a client to them, but someone whose success they are truly invested in.
I went on to meet four other Kiva borrowers that day, each with their own colorful personalities and remarkable stories, and returned to the office three hours later in a much better place than when the day began. I’m still concerned about what awaits me when I return home to Washington, D.C. in January, but after meeting people who have dealt with enormous obstacles their entire lives but can still laugh, hope, and help others along the way, I slowly felt some much-needed optimism seeping back into my soul.
To lend to a Kingsbridge Microfinance borrower, click here.