The Passing of a Kiva Borrower

Saahkem Dorothy Muyang. 1954 - 2009.

By Dennis A. Espinoza, KF9, Grounded and Holistic Approach for People’s Empowerment (GHAPE) in Bamenda, Cameroon

I was working at my desk when Kenneth, my roommate and GHAPE loan officer, answered his phone and heard that ten year GHAPE member and Kiva borrower, Saahkem Dorothy Muyang, had passed away after a bout with diabetes.

Just glancing at Dorothy’s picture and noticing her beaming smile gives you an impression of who she was.  She had a big heart, a deep love for her family and was very involved in her community.  Needless to say, her passing was a significant loss to a lot of people around here.  She was well loved and I wish I would’ve had an opportunity to meet her in person.

As I took my bucket shower at 4:30am the morning of the funeral, I was a bit concerned that I hadn’t brought the proper clothes.  Black wasn’t a color I was planning on wearing much in this heat.  Fortunately, I dug deep and found a black polo at the bottom of my luggage to go with some black slacks and black shoes.

When I arrived I noticed I stood out.  I wasn’t the only one in colorless attire but we were in the minority.  Those closest to Dorothy weren’t wearing black. They weren’t even wearing dark colors.

Her church community wore bright yellow and white.  Fellow members of her fish frying community wore green, yellow, white and purple.

Her GHAPE community wore their blue, yellow and white GHAPE dresses.

Like a military uniform or a flag draped across a soldier’s casket, Dorothy’s GHAPE outfit was a defining article that remained with her throughout the entire ceremony.  Each of the individuals in her GHAPE lending group did also.

GHAPE rarely has to declare a bad debt.  The nature of the lending circle makes it so that all members’ loans are properly supported by peers and it seems to work well.  One of the few instances when GHAPE does declare a bad debt is in the event of a borrower’s death.  When a borrower passes away GHAPE forgives the loan and provides the deceased’s family with a bereavement contribution for the funeral and burial expenses.  The financial contribution is a gesture that makes a big difference in a place that doesn’t have the luxury of life insurance, but it is the least of what GHAPE does.

Throughout my short time in the field I’ve learned that GHAPE, and most of Kiva’s field partners, are so much more than a loan.  The fact really hit me when I saw four of GHAPE’s ten loan officers, GHAPE’s program director and a GHAPE board member consoling Dorothy’s family’s during the service and funeral.  Besides being a bit concerned of how the others were holding down the fort, I was amazed.

I sometimes wonder if the old personal financial advising firms took a cue from an MFI when they ran ads depicting a financial advisor speaking at the wedding of one of his client’s sons.  While I have yet to personally experience that level of involvement from any of my banks, it is exactly what many of Kiva’s partners do for their clients.  They know each borrower’s name, they have their account numbers memorized, they share in the joy of a birth, they celebrate their successes and they cry during their funerals.

So it seemed fitting that, instead of mourning in solemn dark attire, most of Dorothy’s friends demonstrated and celebrated the community they shared with her through their clothing and their songs.  They didn’t wear black.  They didn’t wear their Sunday best.  They displayed how they knew her best and what brought them together.  Watching Dorothy’s lending group stand together alongside GHAPE employees made it apparent that being a GHAPE member may be based on a loan but it means so much more.  It means standing in solidarity during a loss.  More importantly, it means standing united and supporting each other throughout life.

I think I need to find a new bank.

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