Ayacucho, Peru has a sad story. In the 80s and early 90s, it was there that the terrorist group Sendero Luminoso, ‘the Shining Path’, was thriving, fighting political and social battles that left 30,000 dead and 40,000 who remain missing. Setting foot in Ayacucho today, you’d never guess its painful history, and although not opposed to talking about it, the locals rarely mention it without being asked.

On a client visit, riding in the back of a moto-taxi through the bustling life of Ayacucho, we head out past the cobblestone streets and abundant colonial churches of the beautiful city, and cross over to the pothole-ridden dirt roads that run parallel to shanty houses where men are building adobe bricks that lay out in the sun to dry. The promotora (loan officer) I am with leans over to me and whispers ‘this is where the Shining Path had their graveyard’. The land we are driving over served as a dumping ground for bodies just 15 years ago. The terrorists would dispose of bodies without a care, dumping one on top of the other in the open air, left to rot with the company of thousands of other innocent victims. Families missing loved ones would travel to this site and dig through bodies, having given up hope of finding their loved ones alive, but clinging to the hope of identifying their body and giving them a proper burial.

Today the Shining Path is virtually extinct, although occasional outbursts have occurred. Ayacucho is rebuilding their city and their culture day by day, with homes and roads covering the old graveyard, but the tragedy of the recent decades is still very present. With 40,000 people still unaccounted for, most residents of the city have friends or family members directly affected by the terrible events that changed their lives forever.

The air here is different, and I’m not sure if it’s the history of the town I now know, or the fallen souls breathing their stories, asking me to listen, but it has my attention, and I am listening. I take advantage of this open communication to ask the promotora a question that’s been riding heavy on my heart since starting my fellowship with Kiva. Although one hundred percent certain that Kiva is making an incredible difference in the lives of not only the entrepreneurs, but the lenders as well, I can’t help but wonder what the men and women think about having their lives publicized and broadcast for the world to see; I wonder if they privately feel it’s an invasion. I ask the promotora, holding my breath for her answer, fearing she will say yes, but instead, she smiles and becomes overcome with joy. ‘Maren,’ she says, ‘I understand your concern, it is valid, but you have to understand something. These women have been forgotten by the world, their country, their community. No one notices them, no one cares. They are invisible. The idea that someone, especially the intangible concept of someone they’ve never met, has taken an interest in them and wants to know their story and share in their life, well it’s just an indescribable joy.’

Her answer brings tears to my eyes, and I feel a sense of justification and love for what I’m a part of here. She goes on to tell me that Finca has given them a chance when no one else would. These women trust Finca, when others have taken advantage, and it shows. When you first knock at their door, they are hesitant to talk to a strange person, very reserved and ready with excuses for not being able to talk. But the second they hear the word Finca, their eyes light up as if to say ‘why didn’t you say so?!’, and they invite you in as family, eager to share their world with a new friend.

One woman I met shared a very intimate story with me. Her father had beaten her mother severely for years and years, in the presence of their eight children. Her mother had every piece of strength beaten out of her and was left defenseless, living her life in submission and pain. Fourteen years ago, her husband left her for a younger woman, and although a blessing that there was no more abuse, she was left with no money, no job, no strength, and the responsibility of raising eight children alone. Because she had no capital, she had no chance of getting help from a regular bank. She was referred to Finca, and with faith they gave her a small loan, and bit-by-bit she pulled her family out of the sudden poverty in which they’d found themselves. Not only was she able to become financially self-sufficient, but Finca also taught her how to believe in herself, how to remain strong in the presence of weakness, how to love and respect, and how to raise her children to do the same. They taught her how to live, not just survive. Two years ago, her husband came back. Somehow she found the strength to forgive him and welcome him home, but according to her rules. She lives happily now with him, living with the values that Finca taught her and staying strong, free of abuse, both emotional and physical.

Hearing this story and the reaffirming words of the promotora, both coming from a city that so recently was darkened by terrorism and hatred, gives me hope and faith for a world with so much darkness. Good can come from evil, hope from desperation, love from hate, and life from death. I’m not sure exactly what to do with that yet, but the realization is a start…


About the author

Maren Misner