The people who borrow

By Jane Lim, KF9 Mongolia

Today my envy of other Kiva fellows faded because I finally, finally got to meet Kiva borrowers.

There is a certain sadness that most of these borrowers have. For some it’s buried deep beneath stoicism and the victories of subsequent success, but for others it’s brimming at the surface, and you get the feeling that one more slight push would send them into the chasm. When I take their photos, they never smile – and I’ve thought of asking them to, but I don’t want to if there’s nothing to smile about. The truth is, life has been hard for them.


where i went today: the Chingeltey ger district

Kiva lenders may think they are doing a great thing (and they are doing a good thing of course), but these borrowers don’t get the benefit of the 0% interest rate, and to them, they aren’t being done any favors – because who knows what they had to get through to make those repayments back in full and on time, with interest added. They certainly don’t owe anyone anything, and because of that, when I intrude in their lives with a video and a huge camera, I feel somewhat ashamed.

But it’s not all grey of course. So many in the microfinance industry are in it because they hope, as do I. And the borrowers I meet, they do laugh, but don’t necessarily dream. The reality is that for many, loans are required for survival or working capital, not necessarily to step up or make a significant game-changing investment. Consequently, default rates in the microfinance world are lower than those in the mainstream commercial world, because these borrowers need to repay to get the next loan, and the next, and the next. And perhaps that’s why some of them are willing to go on video, get their photographs taken, answer questions… even though they might not necessarily want to – because they don’t want to risk losing their line of credit.

I realize this post sounds a bit morose, only because one particular borrower made such a strong impression on me. Soft-spoken, it isn’t in her nature to fight. But she has to, because she has two young sons to feed – a little red-faced baby was sleeping soundly on the single bed she has, and her other son, no more than 6, was watching a dubbed version of LOTR while doing homework. The downfall of socialism 20 years ago meant the closure of a lot of government-run factories, and she lost her job. So now she sits in her dimly lit ger, sewing grey gloves, hoping to find a mass buyer.

Hers is the sadness that threatens to overflow.


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