Abdoulaye, Loan Officer for the UIMCEC Yoff branch. Abdoulaye gave me a crash course on microfinance in his local community

By Tim Young, KF15, Senegal

Arriving in the field as a new Kiva Fellow is exhausting! First of all there are the challenges that come with any new job; new faces, a new organization, new ways of working. Add to this intense heat, constant noise and a need to try and keep up with your colleagues’ knowledge of the English Football Premiership, and you will begin to understand the many challenges Fellows encounter everyday.

My Fellowship is taking place in Dakar, Senegal, with Union des Institutions Mutualistes Communautaires d’Epargne et de Crédit, (“UIMCEC”), a Kiva Field Partner since 2008. On my second day I met with the Regional Director, Monsieur Sakho, in his office tucked away in the suburb of Dalifort. Later he walked me around the corner where he introduced me to the people at the sharp end of the business, the staff in the local branch office, located on a busy market street. I grew excited for here was a concept I recognized! With its bright orange frontage and prominent location the branch was clearly a retail destination. Monsieur Sakho placed a calming hand on my shoulder. “Well done” he said. “You have understood that UIMCEC has to be present in its community”.

My understanding, however, was a long way off reality, inspite of Monsieur Sakho’s kind words. For a Micro-Finance Institution (“MFI”), being present in the local community means a lot more than simply opening a shop on a busy street.  MFIs like UIMCEC, with a social mission to serve the poor, need to be embedded in the culture of the community they seek to serve. They need to understand intimately the needs and concerns of the people, to prosper and to sorrow alongside them and to share in their daily lives.

I began to realize this that same afternoon when Abdoulaye, the local Loan Officer in the suburb of Yoff where I have begun my Fellowship, declared that it was time to go out “on the ground”. We left the office and immediately started shaking hands, offering greetings, being invited into stores, schools and houses. “Is there anyone you don’t know?” I asked Abdoulaye. “No”, he replied. “Here we are a community, we all know everyone. To do my job I have to be involved in the community. “

On my third day I arrived in the Yoff branch office to find two elegantly attired gentleman talking with Abdoulaye. They introduced themselves as Lana and Abdoulaye (2), in turn Vice-President of Yoff Council and a local TV and radio celebrity.  

The two men are part of a committee of four, elected from amongst the more than 3,000 UIMCEC borrowers in Yoff, who volunteer their time to help UIMCEC with its work in the local community and to make sure that the relationship is mutually beneficial. “We help make sure that UIMCEC’s loans are appropriate for the needs of the population here”, Lana elaborated. “And we encourage people to go to UIMCEC when they need help. People here want to work but often when they have an idea, they cannot find the capital to put it into practice. When we find these motivated people, we encourage them to come to UIMCEC”.

“Before everything else we are a part of this community and we are responsible to each individual here.” Abdoulaye (2) agrees.  “Our responsibility is to help them and that includes helping them find work”.

The following day finds my new trio of friends more snappily dressed than ever. “We are going to the local festival of Tourrou, Mame Ndiare”, Lana tells me, and we set out through the sandy streets to join the party.  We arrive to find the square crowded with finely dressed Yoffians, the national TV, and a government minister.  

Lana is one of the first to speak and amidst his sonorous Wolof I pick up the occasional French sentence or word. UIMCEC is mentioned again and again, and then Lana is gesturing to me. “Monsieur Tim”, that’s me! “Kiva, UIMCEC’s partner”, I decipher. The cameras are pointing at me, there’s an outside chance I will be on national TV!

Back in the office I ask Lana what Kiva means to the people here in Yoff. “Kiva is good!” Lana thunders at me, throwing his arms in the air.  “We always speak about Kiva here. Today I explained Kiva at the ceremony. Kiva Lenders have helped finance many of the businesses you saw yesterday; the T-shirt stand, the food stall, the woman selling hair products. Lots of women have loans through Kiva. Today we committed UIMCEC and Kiva to our work here, to continue serving this community.”

And so it was that I found myself unwittingly committing Kiva lenders to yet greater efforts here in Senegal, and to humbly receiving on their behalf, the thanks of this fascinating, tightly knit and friendly community on the most Westerly shore of Africa.

Tim Young (KF15) is working with UIMCEC in Senegal where he is trying to get to grips with the basics of microfinance and the local language, Wolof.  If you would like to help support UIMCEC and Kiva’s work in communities here, why not join UIMCEC’s lending team  and make a loan at http://www.kiva.org/team/tafftaff 

Left to right: Lana, Abdoulaye (2) and Abdoulaye in the office at Yoff. (Subtitle: How Not to Take a Photo, by Timothy Young)

 

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