How young men at a juvenile detention center became Kiva lenders

Brookside Youth Center

From inside a small juvenile detention center in Ontario, Canada, a group of young men have lent more than $2,000 to Kiva borrowers around the world. Their own circumstances are challenging, but they’ve embraced the opportunity to help others, with the assistance of one dedicated volunteer.

Hilda Van Netten, a long-time Kiva lender, volunteers with the art program at Brookside Youth Centre. Brookside is a secure juvenile detention facility for youth who have come into conflict with the law. These young men range between the ages of 16 to 18.

In 2016, the art program at Brookside, called the Talent of Many, won the chance to design and paint pianos for Cobourg, the town where the facility is located. The pianos are put in a prominent spot in downtown Cobourg for anyone passing by to play. As a result of their hard work, Talent of Many received honorariums from the town. They then decided as a group to give away the winnings to women around the world through Kiva, since Hilda has been a long time Kiva lender and is familiar with its work. Why women? Hilda explained over email that in her 10 years of volunteering, she’s noticed that a lot of the young men “have very strong connections with their mothers, grandmothers, etc., in their lives.”


The pianos that are displayed in Cobourg

Since no computers are allowed within the facility, once the group receives repayments Hilda arranges the profiles of possible borrowers in the countries they’d like to lend to, so that all the information can fit onto one page. On this page, she includes a map of the country in which the borrower lives and a chart across the bottom so that they can track repayments. Hilda then prints out hard copies to show to the young men. They read the profiles, decide who they want to lend to and how much they want to lend. 

A sample profile made by Hilda

Hilda then lends the money through Kiva and returns to Brookside the following week. The profiles of the borrowers are then put up onto their Kiva map (pictured below) and the payments are tracked at the bottom of each profile. Once the loans are fully repaid, a big star is put next to the profiles and they go into a folder. On the folder is the Kiva slogan, “Dreams are Universal, Opportunity is Not.”


The Kiva map to track repayments & the folder with Kiva's slogan is to its right

When asked how lending through Kiva has impacted the youth at Brookside, Hilda said, “It has given them the rare opportunity of being a part of something bigger than their lives ‘behind the fence’ as well as the opportunity to give back and to proudly see themselves as someone doing good.” 

Hilda said it has also “broadened their understanding of geography” since the loans are mapped onto a world map, and this often leads to “discussions of just where El Salvador or Cambodia is.”

Talent of Many is still going strong and continuing to multiply their impact. As members leave or join the facility, Talent of Many continues to pass on this empowering experience to someone new.

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About the author

Barani Maung