By Rob Mittelman, KF8, Peru

Most days I struggle with what I see.

The academic in me would explain the concept of economic dualism as the coexistence of modern and traditional sectors within a single economy, especially as found in less-developed countries. Modern and traditional are perhaps polite terms for rich and poor (that’s not the academic in me, that’s the cynic). The division between rich and poor, or modern and traditional, is as great here as I’ve seen in Latin America. Statistics may say otherwise but I see a great discrepancy.

During my Kiva Fellows Program I am living in a middle class neighbourhood in Lima called Jesus Maria. There are much nicer and safer neighbourhoods nearby where most of the other foreigners live but I chose this one as it’s close to EDAPROSPO’s main office. This wasn’t the Peru I was expecting.

I have a McDonald’s at one of the street and a Papa John’s Pizza at the other. There are no less than 6 Chinese food restaurants, 2 major grocery stores, 2 private medical clinics, a theater, and plenty of other amenities within walking distance.  On my way to work I see BMWs, Audis, and Mercedes Benzes in the parking lots of the adjacent buildings.

Friends came through Lima the other week (omitting names and genders to protect the ‘guilty’). Overnight buses arrive bright and early in the morning. After a few months in rural Peru, I took them to sample some of Lima’s more Western options. We hit McDonald’s for breakfast and then walked past the Burger King, made a right turn at the KFC/Pizza Hut and headed to Starbucks for a grande americano and a grande caramel frappuccino. Unfortunately it doesn’t end there. We could have gone to Hooter’s for wings (but maybe not for breakfast), TGIFriday’s, Chili’s, or Tony Roma’s The Place for Ribs. I haven’t been to any of these places yet but I did go to McDonald’s once after a really hard day. There’s just something about those fries!

This was not the real Peru or the real Lima. Maybe I shouldn’t say that, it is most definitely real and reality for some, it just doesn’t feel right after seeing other parts of the city and how the people there live.

When I cramp myself into one of the local buses to take me on the hour plus ride out to visit Kiva Borrowers in the ever growing outskirts of Lima, I enter a different world. This ride cost me 2 Nuevo Soles (a Quarter Pounder with Cheese combo costs about 14 Nuevo Soles – Seven times the cost of the hour bus ride!). This Lima is dirty, dangerous, and struggling to make a better life for itself in the face of those who already have it.  There are no more Western chain restaurants or fancy cars here. An hour earlier when I could have safely taken out my laptop to take advantage of the free WiFi at Starbucks, I am now a target. I’m not a target because I’m foreign, everyone is a target.  The Peruvian loan officer I was with was assaulted the other day, just seconds after she insisted on putting me in my bus home first before searching for her bus. She was left with nothing. One of the nearby street vendors, who struggle to make enough for a living, gave her the 1 Nuevo Soles she needed so she could get home (How guilty did I feel the next day when I found out what happened??). This is the Lima where people are working hard to make a better life for themselves and their families. Not the thief in this story but the street vendor. Most people are struggling to get by here. This is the Lima where microfinance and Kiva can make a difference and we work every day.

I struggle to reconcile these two places. Politically it’s all one city but in reality it is many more. I know the same is true in cities all around the world.

How can Kiva and Kiva Lenders make a difference? Obviously through making loans and supporting microfinance. But, I think there’s more. There’s a local opportunity.

One of the things I love about Kiva is the international aspect of it and how Kiva Lenders from all over the world (182 countries according to the latest Facts & Statistics page) come together to support the working poor in countries far away, countries and people they may never visit.

In a recent post on the Kiva Blog, Kiva Intern Jonny Price posted a presentation detailing the number of Kiva Lenders from each country. What I would love to see even more is greater involvement from those members of this and other developing countries’ wealthier population on Kiva. I know there is a substantial population that can afford it, to lend in $25 increments, I’ve seen how they live. Those restaurants I mentioned are filled every day. I’m talking about the wealthy upper and middle class and expat communities that exist in most of the developing world countries. As a Kiva Fellow and as a foreigner in general on all my travels I’ve always had opportunities to meet and interact with this segment of the population.

I was dismayed a number of times when I spoke with some of these people and they told me, albeit embarrassed by the fact, that that they had never been to the areas where Kiva Borrowers live and work. I had been to more areas of their city than they had. These people had lived here their entire lives and had no idea what was going on in their own city. No, that’s not quite right, they knew what was going on but had never thought about seeing it firsthand or getting involved other than making a charitable donation.  They expressed remorse and wished they could get involved without putting themselves at risk. That’s what Kiva can let them do! It isn’t a perfect solution as I would like to see them even more involved in their local community but it’s a start.  My guess is that this story isn’t limited to just Lima, Peru.

Peru has only 42 lenders (and I commend those 42!!) but there are many more that could get involved if they wanted or were aware. I want to see more Peruvians lending to Peruvians, Kenyans lending to Kenyans, Indonesians to Indonesians, etc…

How do we make this happen?  Suggestions welcome.

Rob Mittelman is a member of KF8 and will be working with EDAPROSPO in Lima, Peru for 10 weeks. To check out currently fundraising loans from EDAPROSPO on Kiva, click here.


About the author

Robert Mittelman