by Jacqueline Gunn, KF13 Ghana, KF14 Ukraine
For the past 7 months I have been roaming the world as a Kiva fellow. I began in the lovely town of Cape Coast in the Central Region of Ghana where I spent my days in the office and my evenings and weekends on the beach. When I applied for a second fellowship, my only request was that it provided contrast to Ghana. Working in an industrial factory city in Eastern Ukraine has certainly delivered that. I arrived in Winter and it was -20 degrees Celsius outside and not much warmer inside.
Before I started on this adventure, I had expectations about what I would learn- microfinance in action, the inner workings of Kiva. I have had so many great opportunities to learn about microfinance, but for me this experience has been so much more as well.
Here are just a few of the things I have learned as a fellow.
To say yes
I suppose being a Kiva Fellow already makes you a ‘yes’ kind of person, but being away has really made me aware of the importance of ‘yes’. I consciously made the decision to say yes a lot whilst in Ghana and the Ukraine, and doing so has led me to all sorts of interesting and fantastic places; a traditional festival where chiefs were carried through villages; hiding eggs for an Easter hunt at a Ukrainian orphanage; hitching lifts in the back of a pick up truck in the sunshine. Saying yes has taken me outside of my comfort zone but there’s something exciting about trusting your instincts and taking a leap of faith, whether that be within or outside of work.
I think most fellows would agree with me that moving from the working environment in London or New York into an office in West Africa or Eastern Europe is a bit of a change. It can be frustrating- it can feel like nothing is getting done and that you are peddling against a strong tide. Then I decided to start going with the flow- I slowed down my pace of life; took the time to greet each of my colleagues with a handshake every morning, talk with them for longer about how their day has been; started to walk slower rather than using the “London march” at 100mph. It has been surprisingly refreshing and things do get done, but in a different way- you just need to look from a different perspective.
English language is a great commodity
Before coming to the Ukraine, I hadn’t really thought about how valuable being able to speak English is. I have never been to a place where so little English is spoken which was a bit of a shock at first. Having being here for a while now, I have seen so many examples of people placing a lot of value on a skill which is so a part of me that I hadn’t even considered it a skill. I have had the pleasure of being able to share my Englishness with 3 local language clubs each week and although I feel a bit like a subject of a ‘show and tell’, it’s great to see people so excited about learning.
You get out what you put in
I probably knew this one before becoming a fellow, but I wanted it on my list as it is so true. Over the past 7 months I have had ebbs and flows of motivation (not many ebbs, but there have been some). I made a decision to increase my productivity on something, or say yes to something- and lo and behold I was soon back on track and having a fabulous Fellows experience. Making an effort makes a difference.
People are generally great
I feel like I could write a whole post on this one. Since becoming a fellow I have relied on so many people for help and support and I have only been met with generosity and kind-heartedness. It started when meeting my KF13 class of fellows in training at Kiva HQ who I have relied on throughout my placements, to all the people who I have met along the way. Some people even changing their whole plans for the day to help out people in a foreign land- it has been quite humbling. When I am back in London I am going to actively seek out lost travelers to try and help them along their way.
When I was heading to Ghana in November I would never have guessed that part of my Kiva experience would be learning some Russian. Although I am very much still a beginner, every time I successfully communicate with someone I get a little buzz inside. I can now proudly say I can read the signs in the street, and with any luck I will never accidently buy cheese infused sausages again.
I wanted to pick up some new skills on my fellowships and so when I was offered drumming lessons in Ghana, I enthusiastically said yes. I’ll be honest, I have never been a great musician, but there was something magical about learning some African rhythms and beats each week on the beach. For anyone travelling, I would recommend trying to learn something local. You might make a bit of a fool of yourself when you can’t drum in time with your teacher, but you learn a whole lot more than just one skill. Who knew that in Cape Coast drumming is banned on Wednesdays because in their not so distant history a bloody battle took place and they believe drumming raises the spirits of their ancestors?
Talking of superstitions, it seems that both Ghana and the Ukraine have some interesting beliefs in the world of folklore. Whilst sitting with my host family one evening in Ghana, I whistled along to a TV advert- the youngest son promptly ran over and stopped me. If I continued, the spirits of the dead would surely be raised…whereas if I whistle indoors in the Ukraine, no money will come into that household. I have to be careful not to sit on the corner of a table in the Ukraine as I will never get married if I do so, and if I give someone an even number of flowers on their birthday it is bad luck (even numbers reserved only for funerals). In Ghana, I must not hit anyone with a broom as I may end up giving birth to a broom if I do so (the real purpose behind this one is to stop people using an easily accessible household object to cause harm to others).
These are just a few examples of the things I have learned as a fellow. Being a Kiva fellow is an experience that will stay with me forever. If anyone reading this blog is considering applying to become a Kiva fellow, I have one response; “Just say yes!”