Feeling truly connected: Kiva Fellows meeting their “own” borrowers in person

Luan Nio and Olivia Hanrahan-Soar |  KF18 | Nicaragua and Zambia

Kiva works hard to facilitate a connection between lenders and borrowers, through photographs, video interviews, and email updates from the borrowers themselves. Nothing compares, though, to the experience of being able to meet that borrower in person and see how your funds and the funds of others have had a tangible impact on his or her life.

Two Kiva fellows recently got the extraordinary opportunity to visit a borrower they had personally lent money to.

Luan from Rotterdam, The Netherlands <-> Alejandro Jose from El Sauce, Nicaragua


Alejandro’s profile on Kiva with me depicted as one of his lenders

As soon as I got to hear that Ceprodel in Nicaragua was going to be the main microfinance institution I would be working with, I looked up some of their borrower profiles on Kiva.org. One ready stood out to me: Alejandro Jose. His profile caught my eye because of his business: Bicycle Repair. Born and raised in the Netherlands, bicycles have been the primary mode of transportation for most of my life. Also now that I live in car state California, I am a big bike evangelist. And I am so grateful for bike repair men as they have saved my day many times. I therefore lent Alejandro $25.

It happened to be that I had to visit Alejandro’s village for Kiva’s Borrower Verification process – an audit of 10 random borrowers. So we headed for the tiny town of El Sauce in west Nicaragua.

Alejandro was spray painting a bike frame on the open porch it the front of his business. He later tells me that the open porch is relatively new, that he built it to show people what he is working on and to attract new clients.
I start off by showing him a print of his borrower page from Kiva’s website and my picture as one of the persons that lent to him. He understands: So you are actually my business partner? Instant connection there at the spot.

Happy to meet in person! Kiva Fellow Luan with Kiva borrower Alejandro, holding a print out of his own profile page.

I spent at least 20 minutes chatting with Alejandro. We talked about how he started working with bikes by learning as an employee in another bike repair shop in town. But one day he decided that he could run his very own business and started it from scratch, with his own savings.

He talks passionately with a smile on his face about how he just loves everything about bikes: how they work, how they are built and that they allow for clean and cheap transportation or are fun to play with as a child. I tell him about my country, that we even have separate bike lanes and traffic lights for bicycles. He is amazed. “So you have many bike repair shops in your country?”
Besides bike repair, Alejandro also refurbishes old or broken bicycles or makes them customized to order. He gains a healthy profit from these sales.

Refurbished chidren’s bike for sale

Alejandro’s dream is to become a bicycle distributor in the region. He is already preparing a business plan which he has to hand in together with the application for a larger credit. Even though his subsequent loan is still months away, he already prepared a robust draft document which he shows me.

To my question what he would like to say to his other lenders, his answer is: I hope that they will all come and visit me here in El Sauce one day.

Olivia from London, England <-> Muyoyeta from Kalabo, Zambia

When I found out that I’d be based as a Kiva Fellow in Zambia, my reaction echoed that of Luan: I immediately searched Kiva.org for my MFI, a mobile money transactions company called MTZ. The borrower I chose to lend to was Muyoyeta, a young man who wanted to open a mobile money kiosk in his home town of Kalabo.

Muyoyeta’s Kiva profile, with my father and me depicted as two of his lenders

Thanks to the enthusiastic staff of MTZ, Muyoyeta’s profile came complete with a video interview where he explained the challenges behind running his business. Muyoyeta stood out to me primarily due to his remote location: when I choose a Kiva borrower, my first reaction is to search for their location on Google Earth. I was surprised to find that the remote town of Kalabo was almost ten hours from Zambia’s capital of Lusaka, and during the wet season, the dirt tracks across the floodplains towards the nearest city of Mongu are covered in water, meaning the town is accessible only by boat.

Kalabo has no bank, meaning that Muyoyeta’s working capital must come to him via a four-hour boat ride down the Zambezi; highly inconvenient for a mobile money agent (highly inconvenient for anyone, as I would soon find out on my own journey from Mongu to Kalabo). I also enlisted my parents as Muyoyeta’s lenders, and within a few days we received an email to let us know that he had been fully funded.

Meeting Muyoyeta in Kalabo

I was delighted to find that Muyoyeta was one of the ten borrowers I’d been assigned to visit during my time in Zambia. When I arrived at his shop, I showed him his Kiva profile and the photographs of me, my mother and my father (who had managed to upload his picture sideways) but I suddenly became nervous that he might misunderstand the purpose of my visit and start to think of me as some sort of loan collector or debtor. I shouldn’t have worried, as much like Luan’s experience with Alejandro Jose, Muyoyeta was thrilled, immediately grasping the concept of my family as his business partners.

We spoke about his customers; around 100 per day, in a town of around 7000 people.  He lit up when I asked him about his son, who is now almost two years old. I also found out that he is only a few months younger than me, which made me all the more pleased to have chosen to support him some months ago. This experience has got to be one of the best for Kiva Fellows: I had been hoping that I might have the chance to visit Muyoyeta while in Zambia and see the effect of my Kiva contributions in action. Doing so only reinforces my faith in Kiva’s model and makes me all the more enthusiastic to be serving as a Kiva Fellow.

And to encourage you to visit Zambia: a beautiful picture I took last weekend of the Victoria Falls.

Luan and Olivia are Kiva Fellows in Nicaragua and Zambia in KF18. Inspired by these experiences? Find out how you can become a Kiva Fellow. The next class will start in January 2013 and deadline to apply is September 23, 2012. Feeling a little less adventurous, but still want to help? Try making a loan on Kiva. 

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