by Tim Young, KF15, Senegal

It is difficult to believe that more than three months have passed since I first arrived in Senegal to begin my Kiva Fellowship. During that time I have travelled from the desert to the sea; I’ve met borrowers who are farmers, retailers, tailors and fishermen. Some have been asking for tiny loans to start their first micro-enterprise, others for commercial-sized loans to continue funding the growth of their successful businesses. All have been inspiring. I have a new golden rule for Kiva Fellows: Exspecta inexspectata! (That’s right; don’t try and spin a blog post around a latin quote – people will think you’re an idiot or worse!)

Here are a few observations from the coalface:

Explaining Kiva: Loan Officers take time and care to explain to their clients what Kiva involves and what they are signing up for. I have not yet experienced an unenthusiastic response.

 1. Kiva Borrowers genuinely enjoy being part of Kiva

One of my first jobs on arriving here in Senegal was to give a training session to UIMCEC staff on how to implement the Kiva programme in their various offices. The question that exercised most of my time was: how to persuade people to sign up as Kiva Borrowers? Every experience since then has taught me that my efforts here were completely unnecessary.

Of all the potential Kiva clients I have met, not one has said no. In part this is due to the eloquence of the loan officers, who know their clients exceptionally well and are able to enthuse about the work that Kiva and UIMCEC are doing in partnership. In part I think it is because the people here are disposed to help each other and to believe the best of others. They have also witnessed first-hand the benefits that microfinance bring and are happy to support and promote their sponsors. But also they love the idea of Kiva as much as we do. “I am honoured to be chosen for this programme” one woman told me, sitting proudly beside her boxes of incense and perfume. I was honoured to take this photo:

Proud to be part of Kiva!

2. Kiva Borrowers are endlessly innovative

On one memorable visit near the coastal city of Mbour I met a farmer who had decided to do something different and had asked for a loan to support his new venture. New ventures are inherently risky. It was financed by Kiva.

I was taken out to visit the project on a donkey cart. In an area where all the other farmers were growing low value millet, this Borrower had bought a hectare of land, sunk four wells for irrigation and planted a complex variety of crops; from mango trees to aubergines, each arranged in such a way as to compliment the others. “These are high value crops” he tells me. “Why should I grow millet like everyone else?”. With the profits he plans to start breeding expensive sheep to sell to civil servants; Senegal’s equivalent of a middle class.

Approaching an innovative agricultural project, financed by Kiva!

3. The Senegalese work hard

“I am a man in a hurry”, Amadou confides in me as we stride through the streets of Mbour in the dusty light of a Senegalese evening. “There is so much to do here, there is no time to waste”.  Amadou is expressing a theme I have often heard repeated in my time here. In order to develop and catch up with the West, the Senegalese feel that they need to work as hard as Westerners do, and then some. Amadou is in the office before 8 am every day, rarely leaving before 7 pm, often later. This is not unusual for UIMCEC staff whose appetite for work seems unbounded. When I try to explain to them that I do not want to work on Saturdays because I am a visitor and I want to see some of the country, they look at me askance. 

Amadou Ba, Kiva Coordinator at UIMCEC Mbour. In his time community organiser, politician, teacher, Amadou is in a hurry to see his country develop

4. They can because they think they can

During Kiva Fellows training in San Francisco, a lot of time is spent talking about humility. In the field you learn what this means. Today I met a young woman, 22 years old and recently married. She was looking for a loan to purchase a freezer to make and sell ice, a valuable commodity here in the steamy south. Thinking ahead she is looking to a time when she will need to support her children through school and possibly to support elderly parents as well. She wants to be well established by then. She is 10 years my junior. She hasn’t benefitted from the education that I have enjoyed. There is no social security to help her if she falls. She is thrilled to be asked to be part of the Kiva programme. She is innovative. She works hard.

http://www.kiva.org/lend/330290

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Tim Young is currently a Kiva Fellow working with UIMCEC, one of Kiva’s partners in Senegal. When he was 14 he achieved his lowest ever academic grade, in latin, and was forced to give it up. He has been trying ever since to prove that he can use it because assiduus usus uni rei deditus et ingenium et artem saepe vincit. However he has to confess that if it wasn’t for the internet, there would be no latin in this post at all, because he is relying on various websites to provide him with motivational quotes that he otherwise would not understand. If there are any latin scholars reading this post then Tim apologises to you unconditionally for his brutalisation of the language. And encourages you, and all others, to support an UIMCEC borrower by joining our lending team on Kiva at: http://www.kiva.org/team/tafftaff. Gratias e salve!


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