By Megan Bond, KF15, Ecuador
Kiva provides a new lens through which we can view global problems and solutions. Just contemplating a concept like “world poverty” seems like an insurmountable task. It is overwhelming. It is daunting. Kiva helps us focus our concerns for the problems presented by poverty on a global level by allowing us to connect with entrepreneurs in need of a hand up around the world on a more personal level. A loan through Kiva is an investment in an individual or group, a business, and a community. We could take it as far as saying that a loan through Kiva is also an investment in a country, a continent, and a global effort to alleviate poverty.
Kiva lenders make these loans over and over again, choosing the characteristics of the borrower they want to invest in. Perhaps it’s their name (Personally, I like to search for women named Carmelita), their country (I know there are some “Country Collectors” out there!), or the fact that they sell fried food but something (tangible or intangible) connects each lender with each borrower. Kiva Fellows have written about it beautifully in the past. It’s an incredible thing to feel that connection and to invest in someone you will never likely meet in person. But, what if you could meet the person on the other side of the profile? What would you do? What would you ask? I had to think about this as I got the opportunity to meet a borrower I had lent to before I came to Ecuador as a Kiva Fellow.
Her profile introduced me to her. Graciela wants to invest in supplies for her food stand where she has worked for twenty years. After many years of working and saving money, she purchased her own food stall in a local market and no longer had to rent. She wants a loan to invest in her business and plans to use her earnings to buy a space for her daughter to work in and finish the construction of her house. I invested in her and her food stall based on this story of hard work and dreams for the future. Last week, I visited her food stall and met someone who had come to feel like “my” borrower, Graciela.
As I approached her food stall, I recognized her instantly. She looked at me, asked me to sit down on the bench, and sat next to me. We talked for at least fifteen minutes. She was asking me (an obvious foreigner) about how long I’ve been in Ecuador, how I like it here, and if I would return to Ecuador in the future. She served me lunch, telling me that her cooking was muy rico (delicious) and that she hoped I liked it. The farmer eating his lunch beside me commented that Graciela’s food was the best in the market and that he always chooses to eat at her food stall. Looking around, there are dozens of other stalls seemingly identical to Graciela’s. I ask her what makes her food stall stand out among the rest. She smiles and replies that it’s her food, her television, and the music she plays that attracts loyal clients. This market’s food stall section contains over fifty food stalls and overwhelms every one of your senses. Along with Graciela’s other customers, I ate a delicious soup of vegetables, rice, and chicken accompanied by a salad, juice, a plate of rice, vegetables, and meat served by Graciela and her daughter. The going rate for this filling meal prepared daily from scratch: $1 USD.
Her food was good but the hospitality was better. Before I worked up the nerve to bring up Kiva, Graciela was treating me as one of her favorite loyal customers. I sat talking with her as she worked through several cycles of customers. She invited me to return as often as I wanted for more of her food that she prepares from 6:30 in the morning to 5:30 at night every day of the week. When she asked about what I was doing in Ecuador, I explained that I was there to work for Kiva. I handed her a printed copy of her profile. Graciela grabbed her reading glasses and spent a long time looking over it next to me. She loves the picture. The story, in its original Spanish, represents her well, she says. She looks at the twenty-four lenders and reads as much information as she can about all of them…including the one that makes her stop, look at me, and say es Usted (it’s you)! She does not linger on that fact and continues to admire her profile repeating how chévere (a common Ecuadorian word that means something similar to “great” or “cool”) it all was. Chévere it is!
Before I left, she invited me to return…many times. She would not accept my money but instead, in a savvy business move, said that I needed to repay her the dollar I owed her for lunch when I came back for another meal. Graciela asked me to take a picture of us together so that she could have a printed copy. My experience of meeting a borrower I had lent to (and felt that connection with) did not disappoint me in the least. I feared that the connection would possibly feel one-sided but I left my lunch with “my” borrower feeling like I had made a friend. Perhaps I still would have felt like I had made a friend had I not been an investor in her business. To me, that makes the experience even more amazing. The connection encompassed much more than a sum of money shared between us.
Megan Bond is a Kiva Lender and a Kiva Fellow working with the new partner FODEMI in northern Ecuador. For more information on FODEMI, visit FODEMI’s partner page or English website. If you would like to support FODEMI and its borrowers, please join its newly created lending team. If you feel so inclined, check out our currently fundraising loans!
Past posts by Megan Bond: