By Emmanuel M. von Arx, KF 16, Ecuador
Taxi drivers were not in the forefront of my mind when I was walking out of Guayaquil´s international airport into the hot and humid air of this Ecuadorian port city. I had just been welcomed by Rubi Chaca who thankfully was driving me to my hotel. Rubi is the expert in charge of managing the loans made by Kiva lenders at Kiva´s partner organization Banco D-MIRO.
Only minutes before, as my plane was approaching Guayaquil, I had been able to grasp the enormity of this sprawling city. As I was soon to learn, Guayaquil represents a condensed microcosm of the whole country, with all its regions, peoples, and customs being represented. It is a place of extreme contradictions and contrasts: many of the most affluent neighborhoods are surrounded by informal settlements without access to sanitation or clean water; sparkling shopping malls filled with designer boutiques are being built in the middle of the most crime-ridden neighborhoods; oasis-like public parks sheltering spectacular wildlife have turned into traffic islands; and major tourist attractions stand just next to notoriously unsafe areas. For visitors, these contrasts make Guayaquil an awe-inspiring and fascinating city; but they make it an exhausting and ultimately dangerous place for residents who are here to stay, live, and work.
With over 3 million residents (known as Guayaquileños) living inside the metropolitan area, Guayaquil is larger than Ecuador´s capital city Quito. The view from the top of the Cerro Santa Ana – in the heart of the city – shows that Guayaquil´s growth is barely being contained by the mighty Guayas River which provides easy access to the sea, 12 miles south of downtown. The Guayas is also the reason why Guayaquil has become a principal shipping and commercial hub since its foundation in the 16th century.
A half hour after landing in Guayaquil, I was already sitting next to Rubi in the car that brought us to my hotel, discussing with her my host organization Banco D-MIRO. Rubi explained to me that the bank has an asset balance of US$ 33 million and serves over 37,000 micro-entrepreneurs out of whom almost 2,000 have received their loans from Kiva lenders like you. Still, I was silently wondering: In this city where millions live and work, how long would I have to wait to actually see an impact of “my” small bank D-MIRO?
After arriving at my hotel and storing my luggage, Rubi invited me to join her for a twenty minute walk to the closest super-market located in a nearby shopping mall. There she left me with the recommendation to buy a few basic groceries and take an official city taxi back to my hotel. In Rubi´s words: “It´s already dark and you must be tired of your flight, so better don’t take any risks. Guayaquil is extremely dangerous for foreigners…” Rather contrary to my nature, I followed her advice and – less than an hour later – squeezed myself with two shopping bags into the narrow backseat of a little yellow cab. Its driver took off into the right direction even before I had told him my address.
My cab driver, a patient and soft-spoken man in his late fifties who introduced himself as Freddy, soon began to talk to me. When Freddy asked me about my background and what I was doing in the city, I answered: “I am here to work together with the staff of a local micro-credit bank. Kiva has sent me here to strengthen their partnership with…” – “Kiva?” he asked. “Yes,” I said, “it´s a US-based organization that connects lenders from all around the world with micro-entrepreneurs – everything through the Internet.”
When he asked me about the bank with which I would work, I told him: “It´s called Banco D-MIRO, located on the Isla Trinitaria in the south of town. There´s no way that you can know…” – At these words, Freddy shouted out: “D-MIRO?! I currently have a loan with them! Of course I know them! So many here know them! It was founded by Norwegians, right?” As it turned out, he had financed his taxi with several consecutive micro-loans, all of them given to him by D-MIRO. “These loans have changed my life and the life of my family,” he said. Before he could tell me more, we had already arrived at my hotel. I thanked him for the ride and he thanked me for my work – a thank which I don´t deserve and want to forward immediately to all the lenders who have made loans on Kiva throughout the years.
Yes, I admit that it was a coincidence to have met a D-MIRO borrower on my first night in this enormous, untamed, and restless city. But more than a strike of luck, I look at my meeting with Freddy as a great lesson: He taught me that what matters in the end is not that a micro-credit institution has an obvious or visible impact. The streets of Guayaquil would not be any less congested or look any different without Freddy´s little yellow taxi. But what matters is the impact that all of us can have on the life of a person with a dream and the way their lives are being changed by being able to realize their dream. One person´s dream is worth much more than a visible change in the landscape of a city or a neighborhood or a street. The great hope of you and me and all other Kiva lenders is to get to know people with a dream and see them realize it. I believe that following somebody like Freddy on his path will leave us all inspired – so may the simple act of trying to squeeze ourselves into the backseat of his little cab and hear his gratitude and enthusiasm in person.
As to the chance of meeting a client of Banco D-MIRO in the urban area of Guayaquil, they are 37,000 in 3 million – or about 1.23%! Should you ever visit this city, please try this: ask one simple question – and ask it to your taxi driver, the artisan who sells you a souvenir, the owner of the little candy store next to your hotel, or the painter who draws your portrait at the Malecon: “¿Es usted un cliente de D-MIRO?” If the answer is “sí,” then it´s time for you to really try your luck: “¿Su préstamo es de Kiva?” Yes, chances are far greater than you would think! What are chances…?