By Noreen Giga, KF14, Peru
Mine entailed traveling around Central Peru for a week and a half. Part of a fellow’s duty is to complete a Borrower Verification. Kiva selects a random sample of ten clients that represents an organization’s portfolio and sends it to us fellows. We, in turn, visit each and every client on the list to verify that they are who they say they are, that they indeed received a loan for the amount posted on Kiva’s website, and to talk to them about their business and loan use. You can think of it as a mini-audit process.
I am serving as a fellow with Microfinanzas Prisma, a large micro-finance organization that is based in Lima, Peru, but has branch offices throughout the country. Before I received my list I was told I would get to do some traveling, I had no idea what that meant until now.
The Borrower Verification
Part One – Into the Andes
A week and a half ago I packed my bag and left for Tarma, the “Pearl of the Andes,” located 232 kilometers east of Lima, or about an 8 hour bus ride. My Lima wardrobe was not conducive to the Andean weather, but I found that layering about half of what I brought with me to Peru was sufficient to keep me warm. The next morning I set out on a two hour motorcycle ride to visit the first client, Aquelina. It was my first time on a bike and I enjoyed the trek immensely! However, I got to the woman’s house only to find out from her husband that she is currently in Lima recovering from an operation. She might return in a month or two. I was in shock. I traveled a total of 10 hours to see this woman (8 hour bus from Lima plus the 2 hour bike ride) only to find that she is currently an hour away from where I live in Lima. I have 4 weeks left as a Kiva Fellow and cannot wait a month or two for her possible return. I gathered the information about where she is in Lima and am keeping my fingers crossed that I find her.
Part Two – The Jungle
I spent the weekend exploring Tarma and first thing Monday morning I traveled two hours by bus to Chanchamayo to visit my next three clients in the central jungle of Peru. The climate change was incredible. I went from cold, cloudy, rainy weather to sunny, hot, humid weather in just two hours. The first woman lived close to where the bus dropped us off. In a short twenty minute walk I was at her convenience store. Piece of cake.
The next client, I was told, lived a little farther. That was an understatement. We took a mototaxi from Antonieta’s house to a bus stop over the river. Then we got in a combi (small bus) and rode for another 20 minutes to La Merced, the main city in Chanchamayo. From La Merced we took a shared taxi another 20 minutes up a hill. Then we got in our second shared taxi with 8 other people, not including the driver (two in the front, 4 in the back and two in the trunk). We drove around mountains and through small towns and slowly the passengers piled out until it was just myself and the Kiva assistant.
After our four hour journey into the jungle we finally arrived at the client’s house, only to learn that he was working on another mountain, another two hours away. It was about 3pm by this time. Our driver was not going to take us there. It was too far and getting too late. We piled back in the car and proceeded to drive through the same isolated jungle towns we passed earlier. Our driver passed through 4 towns honking his horn to gather passengers, but no one came out. He stopped the car and said to us, “well ladies, there are no passengers.” His look and tone said it all. It was not financially viable for him to drive just us two another 3 hours back to La Merced. We looked at each other and stayed put in the car. “Un ratito, por favor señor” we pleaded. Please wait just a little bit longer. Minutes passed. No one showed. Then, after 30 minutes (yes, that still counts as “un ratito”), we saw a family walking down a hill. Passengers! We returned to La Merced and then chased one of the last buses of the night back to Tarma. I have never been so happy to return to cold, rainy weather!
What about the clients I didn’t visit? I was told that there will be a group meeting next month and the two clients I need to see in Chanchamayo will be there to make their next loan payments. Perfect.
Part Three – Back in the Andes
Early the next morning I packed my bags and headed to Huancayo, the cultural and commercial center of the Andes region, and another three hour bus ride from Tarma. I arrived at the office and discovered that I had to visit the two clients in the most remote areas of Huancayo. Not again! Early the next morning I set out on another long trek with the Kiva assistant from Huancayo. We took a combi about thirty minutes to the outskirts of Huancayo and then piled into a taxi with 3 other people. We drove along for a couple of hours into the countryside and slowly people piled out when they arrived at their respective towns. After three hours we were in Usibamba. The town was bustling. Every Thursday there is a fair in the main field. We found Lilia at the fair. I enjoyed speaking with her. She was a bright woman with a lot of energy and a great laugh.
But while standing and talking to her I started feeling hot and a little nauseous. I did not understand why I felt so awful, I knew I had not eaten anything strange since I tried cau-cau, or cow guts, last week in Tarma. I whispered to the Kiva assistant that I needed to sit down. She explained to me that it must be the altitude. Huancayo is situated at 3271 meters and Usibamba is at an even higher elevation. For comparison Cusco is located at 3300 meters. She was right. After arriving back in Huancayo I felt normal again.
After 11 days of traveling, a motorcyle ride, several buses, combis and taxis, a mild bout of altitude sickness and layering the same clothes for warmth, I returned back to my home in Lima, Peru. Next up on my borrower verification list? Finding the client in Lima, heading back to the central jungle and trekking out to San Francisco, (no not the one in California) the town that borders Cusco. All in a fellow’s work to ensure that all lenders are lending to reliable and trustworthy institutions.
Noreen Giga is a Kiva Fellow (KF14) working with Microfinanzas Prisma in Peru. Join Friends of Microfinanzas Prisma’s lending team today and lend to clients deep in the mountains and jungle of Peru or closer to the cities.
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