What do you really do? A journey through my first borrower visit

It’s no surprise that people around me don’t fully understand why I left the comfort of my job and life in the United States to go to the Philippines to become a Kiva fellow. Friends and family often ask, “What do you do, exactly, for Kiva?”

I am going to attempt to answer this question by walking you through one of the responsibilities I am asked to complete during my time here: borrower verifications.

As a lender, you go on Kiva.org and browse through different profiles and you choose someone based on the stories and information you gathered from the website. There are over 2.5 million borrowers to choose from, but how do you know that all these people actually exist and whether they are really using the money for what they said they would?

This is where I and 10 other fellows come in. We are sent to different corners of the world to meet with Kiva partners: microfinance institutions, NGOs, or social enterprises. They work in the field to facilitate the loans that you back through Kiva for the borrowers who need them. Kiva serves borrowers in over 80 countries - without our partners, we would not be able to spread our impact.

The 33rd Kiva fellows class at Kiva's Headquarters in San Francisco

All the places where Kiva borrowers are located

As fellows, we spend time with a particular partner and make sure that its work still aligns with Kiva’s goal. We are the eyes and ears for Kiva and for our lenders. I’ve been working with Community Economic Venture Inc (CEVI) the past 8 weeks and even after 9 years of partnership, the organization is still very open at improving its processes with Kiva.

The borrower verification process consists of me visiting 10 random borrowers across different regions that has a Kiva loan through this partner. My job is to confirm a series of information, including the borrower’s identity, loan payment schedule, loan utilization and so on. On my second week in the Philippines, I embarked on this journey with Elvira, a CEVI staff member that oversees the Kiva program at the organization. This was definitely not Elvira’s first time doing verifications. In 1 week, she efficiently arranged 6 meetings to fit into 5 consecutive days.

All the places I went in 5 days - 6 different islands and 15 places within the Visayas Area

Below is an overview of the itinerary of my first day, the places I went and the kind of transportation I used. I’m proud to say that I’ve become fairly comfortable hopping on a motorcycle after this journey, and I’ve taken at least 8 modes of transportation within 2 days.

Day 1

From the island of Bohol to the island of Iloilo (to visit the first client):

9:30-11:30am - Ferry from Tagbilaran to Cebu

11:30am - 12:10pm - Taxi from the Cebu Port to the Airport

12:10-1:45pm - Check in and wait for the flight to Iloilo

2-2:40 pm - Flight to Iloilo (it took longer to get to the airport than the flight time itself)

3-3:30pm Van from the Airport of Iloilo to Tagbak Bus Terminal

3:30-6:30pm Bus ride (3 hours) from the Tagbak Terminal to Balasan - the branch office

7-7:15pm - Motorcycle from the branch to meet the first client

Yes, that was only the 1st day, and yes, I only met one borrower.

An extended version of a motorcycle - often used to carry at least 4-5 passengers

On the second day, we took a pedicab known as a “pot pot” or trisikad (see photo below), 2 motor tricycles, 2 boat rides, a couple of motorcycle rides, a bus, and lastly, a van. We started the day at 7am and finished at 9pm. We met 4 borrowers that day.

You get the idea. It was hectic, and surprisingly, I had a lot of fun.

Me in a Pedicab known as a Trisikad or “Pot Pot.”

Note: Elvira and I were sitting on that same seat together. You don’t believe me? See the photo below

Elvira (right) and I squeezed into a Pedicab

A motor tricycle

The boat ride on the second day - We fit 4 people inside

I found this journey very valuable because not only was I able to meet very hard working borrowers (and confirm to lenders that they indeed exist), I also learned first hand how important loan officers are in the Kiva process. Without them, we wouldn't have client stories or be able to collect payments. Rain or shine, these loan officers will meet these clients and ensure their needs are met.

There was never a dull moment during this experience, only constant challenges. Some of the roadblocks we faced during our trip include, but are not limited to:

  • Trying to locate a borrower who lives in an island that barely has cellphone service (most people just give up having a phone altogether)

  • Getting stranded in a village at 9pm and waking up the borrower’s neighbor so that they can give us a ride to the main road

  • Helping the boat captain to ride the boat so that we don’t get caught in the rain

Note that all of these roadblocks were solved by Elvira and the branch manager, not me. I am forever grateful to them for keeping me safe and for giving me an adventure of a lifetime.

After visiting our 3rd borrower - the branch manager, Hilmer (middle), Elvira and I

Hopefully after reading this post, you understand more about our role as fellows. On behalf of CEVI, I thank you for your constant support. If you are interested in giving a loan to borrowers under this partner, you can click here to view available loans.

Salamat! ("Thank you" in Tagalog)


About the author

Yaris Ng Pang

Yaris comes from a background of work in the travel and hospitality industry, focused mainly in hotel management, events, and service operations. She is a Chinese descendant who was born and raised in Venezuela. She lived in Guangzhou, China and New York City before moving to San Francisco. Yaris worked for Starwood Hotels and Resorts and Expedia.com before switching to a more social impact focused career. In her most recent job, in the field of economic and community development, she implemented neighborhood revitalization strategies in emerging neighborhoods in San Francisco. As a Project Manager, Yaris planned and executed outreach projects and development initiatives with major community organizations. Yaris holds a B.S. in Hotel Administration from Cornell University. She is super excited for this amazing opportunity at Kiva and looks forward to working with all of the partners in the Philippines, East Timor, and Kenya!