It’s my first two weeks in Kigali, Rwanda and in addition to the amazing Rwandan buffets, I have found myself tasting the many recipes in life that use trust as the secret ingredient.
When I discovered that I would be traveling to Rwanda, I knew life was about to get awesome. However, admittedly upon preparation for my departure to Rwanda, I couldn’t help but have the occasional “gulp” as I thought about moving to a new country and starting a new role at institutions I feel privileged to be exposed to. I therefore adopted the commonly known phrase “Luck favors the traveler” as my mantra and complacently resigned myself to the assumption that I would have to place trust not only in my own abilities, but more importantly in the people that I had yet to meet.
My initial impressions of Rwandan society have reaffirmed the trust I established at the onset of my journey. Not one person has refused to assist me, whether it is asking for directions or handing me my shopping bag that I left on the back of my chair. Unlike other places I have traveled, one will find in Rwanda that people are unequivocally proud of their country. Therefore, they treat visitors to their country with the same hospitality that I would imagine most provide to a guest in their home.
Perhaps there is no higher level of trust than that I instill in the moto-taxi driver every morning and evening as I commute to and from my MFIs. I had never been on a motorcycle prior to coming to Rwanda, and I empathize with the driver of my first ride. As he dodged through traffic, I shamelessly held onto him for balance (and my life I suppose). It was only after I peaked from under my over-sized helmet that I realized that no one else holds onto the driver. My awkwardness with the moto-taxis is gradually fading as I place trust in these drivers to deliver me in tact. In fact, I already anticipate missing my morning commute once I have returned back to the states.
Another kind of livelihood that relies on trust is that of the members of the lending groups of microfinance institutions. During the first week at one of my MFIs, I was invited to witness a loan disbursement for a lending trust group. The group consisted of 45 members, and the meeting began with the discussion of whether or not a person should be allowed to join the group. In order to be permitted, a person must be vouched for by another member and trusted by all members through a vote. The person had been accused of stealing a bicycle and therefore it was decided that he must wait to prove his trustworthiness before joining.
On my visit to the lending group there was also a batch of American exchange students observing the disbursement process. In their honor, a few of the borrowers within the group were asked to stand up and describe their businesses and how the loans via their “little trust” have helped them expand their enterprises. One woman described how within only 4 loan cycles, she has been able to increase her loans from 100,000 Rwandan Francs to 1 million. She described how her tailoring business is expanding so that now she will offer training services to those who wish to acquire sewing skills. As I listened to the members of the lending group describe their successes, I realized how vital these loans, and the trust needed to facilitate them, are to their businesses.
After the students had the opportunity to ask questions, members of the lending group were given a chance to ask questions of us as well. The most obvious yet profound question was, “Why are you all here?”. These individuals could not imagine why over 20 mzungus(foreigners) would be interested in their businesses. The Kiva coordinator answered that in addition to the innovation and aptitude they have displayed as entrepreneurs, it is quite extraordinary to those not regularly exposed to microfinance that trust and community relationships are just as (if not more) effective than the traditional physical sources of collateral.
Therefore in my inaugural weeks I have witnessed the feats that can be achieved with trust. Trust ultimately inspired my decision to journey to this place and have an amazing introduction to Rwandan society. Trust is what allows borrowers with no other means of collateral to acquire loans that will enable them to improve the quality of life for themselves and their families. Having a little trust can take you a long way.