By Leah Gage, KF 10 in Ukraine & KF11 in Togo
Today is my last day as a Kiva Fellow. Kiva Fellows Class number 10 (or KF10) took me to Zaporozhye, Ukraine where I worked with Kiva’s field partner HOPE Ukraine; KF11 brought me here to Lomé, Togo, where I work with two different field partners, Microfund Togo and Women and Associations for Gain both Economic and Social, or WAGES. I can’t think of two countries more different, and I have loved and been challenged by both experiences equally.
Despite wide differences, a similar streak has run through both – that of getting to know some amazing and inspiring people through my work along the way. As a Kiva Fellow I’ve visited close to 100 clients and taken 100s of photos. Behind every photo and every face is a personal experience I shared with a borrower or the staff of an MFI. To me, that is the most important and special thing about being a Kiva Fellow. And so for my last blog, I’d like to present a scrapbook of my favorite photos from my 7 months as a Kiva Fellow in Ukraine and Togo. Thanks for your comments, support, and interest in Kiva. Without Kiva lenders, being a Kiva Fellow simply wouldn’t be possible.
Petro Manyak lives in Mukachevo, Western Ukraine. I took a 36 hour train from Eastern to Western Ukraine just to meet him! He has a very successful business selling chickens. In his community, he is the only one with a truck such as the one he is standing in front of in this photo. After visiting with him and his wife, they sent me home with a large bag of special Ukrainian spices (a secret family recipe, I’m told).
Akoélé Agbo is a farmer outside of Agbélouvé, Togo. When her loan officer and I came to visit her, she was working in her farm with her two small children. Her two beautiful daughters were very excited to have their picture taken. She has two older children who attend secondary school in the nearest city, Tsevie.
Irina Poleshchuk runs a small funeral parlor in Novomoskovsk. She does all the upholstery of the coffins and the flower arrangements herself. For dealing with death constantly, Irina was cheerful and made lots of jokes about her work. She started this business after a particularly difficult year when 8 people in her family died. She saw a need in her community for someone to offer a particular service for those in times of grief and great need. With the help of her family, Irina will pick up the body from the morgue, clean and dress the body, dig the burial hole, make the coffin and arrange the flowers.
Madame Attisso Kayivi was one of the first borrowers I met in Togo. I love this photo because it shows off how beautiful and colorful women's dress is here in Togo. They all wear something called a "pagne," a colorfully wax-printed cloth produced here in Togo. With the income Madame Kayivi recieves from selling fish and making palm oil, she has been able to ensure that her third child is now at university. Attisso was self conscious about having her photo taken, but I think she looks stunning.
Inna Savchina sells sausages in Kherson. My HOPE Ukraine colleague, interpreter for the weekend, and dear friend Masha Levchenko took this photo of Inna. Photography is her hobby and she took such beautiful photos of all the borrowers we met that day. This one is my favorite.
Korkiou Adjeretou has a restaurant in Kpeme, Togo. The Agency Chief and I waited for hours to interview her because the line outside her restaurant was so long. She brought me to her backyard where her husband, pictured, had just killed a goat (also pictured). I like this photo because it shows the husband is helping his wife with her business. Korkiou is the loan client; she’s the proprietor of her restaurant; her husband is the helper. It was clear they have an equal relationship when I spoke to them. I like that kind of turn around, especially here in West Africa where gender equality is usually not the norm.
Searching for a client in Ukraine looks like this...
Searching for a client in Togo looks like this...
Lunch with the staff of the Novomoskovsk office of HOPE Ukraine. I spent the day with this loan officer and his daughter, Anne (not pictured), whom he invited to join us to serve as a translator for me knowing I didn’t speak Russian. Althought I had brought my own translator, the four of us spent a great day walking around the market and talking to Kiva borrowers. I learned about Anne’s dream to open a Spanish Food restaurant; her father proved to be a converted Kiva enthusiast willing to implement all Kiva-related procedures. A day like that is a win in the Kiva Fellow’s book.
Lunch with the staff of the Agbélouvé office of Microfund Togo. Claude, center, invited us all to eat at his mother's house after a grueling day of field visits in the surrounding villages and farms. His mother served my favorite Togolese dish, called pino. As a team, the four of us (Roland and Patrice pictured as well) became close and had lots of fun working together.
Vladmir Alekyan and his family (pictured, with me at the far right) made for one of my favorite borrower visits of all time. Vladmir is Armenian and lives in a community full of Armenians who escaped to Ukraine following the war with Azerbaijan in the 1990s. Since then, Vladmir has become a successful greenhouse farmer in Kamenka, Ukraine. He and his family of 6 live in the same 2 room house, where I shared Armenian coffee with them after a tour through their impressive farm.
Madame Solange and her beautiful apprentices - taking this photograph was a hilarious feat, as each time the girls wanted to retake it to make sure it was perfect. I have at least four versions of this photo, I'm confident this is the best of them. Madame Solange has built an impressive business, from starting as an apprentice herself in her 20s to now employing 5 apprentices and helping put her only daughter through school.
To the left is the street where I lived when I arrived in Zaporozhye, Ukraine in February 2010. To the right, the street where I live in Lomé, Togo, beginning in May 2010.
And this is where it all began, in January 2010 at Kiva HQ in San Francisco.
Leah Gage is finishing her second of two Kiva Fellowships today. Over the past 7 months she has worked with Kiva’s field partners HOPE Ukraine, Microfund Togo, and WAGES. While she looks forward to returning home to her family and friends, there is no denying that being a Kiva Fellow in Ukraine and Togo have been the best jobs she’s ever had.