Why I Volunteer Abroad (with Kiva)

By Eric Rindal – KF 16 – Bolivia

Before I volunteered as a Kiva Fellow in Sierra Leone (May of 2011) and Bolivia (September 2011), I was living in Santa Barbara, California. Imagine: Santa Barbara beaches saturated with color, mansions with the smell of jasmine twisting through the air, and a pace of life only to be set by the sun. While there, I was working for a de jure artist and took up the ranks as a de facto artist myself. Life was pretty easy, and moving to a developing country and working with microfinance seemed a million miles away. Leaving it all made me wonder why I would forfeit the comfort and normalcy of home for places where it feels like I have to relearn basic parts of life (i.e. restroom, showers, and food).

While volunteering, I was often asked , “Why would you come volunteer in my country?” Each time, I rambled about a desire to foster opportunities in the development of people around the world. But that is just it, how concise can pre-volunteers really be?

Well, the life of a volunteer goes with the wind. Four weeks ago I was living in Sierra Leone and today I am sitting in an office in Bolivia. Obviously, volunteering is not the most advantageous financial move one can make; in fact, while in the States, I qualified for free immunizations before coming to Bolivia because I was “low income”. In all honesty, most volunteers are a footnote to an organization’s real employees, and the “We couldn’t do it without you” speech only gets volunteers high for a split second. So why endure the bucket showers in Sierra Leone and language barriers in South America? Why volunteer?

For me, it has to do with something I encountered as a child while hiking around my home in Washington State. I saw the diverse beauty of nature: cedars, Douglas firs, ferns, and myriad wildflowers. I then thought about the diverse beauty of humanity (although those weren’t my exact thoughts as a child…). What it came down to was that I knew people (and the world) had to be different beyond my hometown population of ninety-something.

I didn’t leave and volunteer to “save the world.” (Do people still do that?) Rather, I had this desire to cease to be dichotomized from the developing world. Volunteering was a means to share life with people and hope to understand why populations live at different standards of living. This, hopefully, is joining in the process of lifting people out of poverty –the more minds and hearts that are included in the “process” (any process or cause you are volunteering for), the more potential there is to yield results and answers.

The wonder in volunteering, I have found, is simply in the interaction between me and a Kiva Borrower (those who recieve loans). In most cases, we each have something to add to the life of the other. With Kiva, microfinance volunteer work is geared to sustainably enable entrepreneurs in developing countries by facilitating capital for their business through loans.

My greatest interest in life was to see this “process,” and I have been so encouraged by what Kiva Borrowers are doing with their loans to better their lives. In reality, when any volunteers collaborate with people in development, we begin to answer for ourselves the questions we could not articulate beforehand. Within it all, volunteers are fortunate to take the time and witness the diverse beauty of humanity.


Eric Rindal has had the privilege to be a Kiva Fellow based in La Paz, Bolivia working with Emprender and IMPRO. He is a big proponent of Kiva Lenders lending to people in countries they have not lent to. If you have not lent to a wonderful borrower in Bolivia, click here to find a smiling face. Eric was a Kiva Fellow in Sierra Leone during the 15th class — if you have not lent to someone in Sierra Leone, click here to find a wonderful person! 

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