By Sloane Berrent, KF8, Philippines
Just five days into my Kiva Fellowship, one thing I already know, this is truly an amazing experience, no two ways about it. I am learning things, going places, meeting people that never in a million years would a normal traveler experience.
It’s also quite frankly, hard. This isn’t like jaunting in my solo travels around the world, being carefree and on my own schedule, meeting fellow travelers on the road and taking my own adventures at every turn. It’s a hard mattress on the floor, a cold shower that consists of filling a bucket with water and throwing cups of it over my shoulder and in my hair, it’s no air-conditioning and tossing and turning at night in my sleep waking up sweating. It’s spraying copious amounts of bug spray and those suckers still getting my ankles, my knees, the back of my neck. It’s taking multiple forms of transportation every day, on this motorbike, off that jeepney, into another taxi. It’s SLOW and unreliable Internet when all I want to do is post a blog post like THIS and respond to the most urgent emails and be done with the computer again for the day. But fighting for each page load. It’s meeting new people every day and they are so excited to meet me and I have to fight through the heat and exhaustion of all of the above and show the same enthusiasm back.
It’s hard. It’s also, in just under a week so deeply gratifying in the most pure and honest way I could ever describe.
It’s tears brimming in my eyes multiple times a day getting out in the field and meeting woman after woman who has benefited from my field partner, ASHI. It’s learning about microfinance in this region and meeting some of the most committed and passionate people I’ve ever had the privilege to come in contact with who chose to work at an NGO despite the long hours and lack of pay because they believe in the power of microfinance. It’s walking through villages, up hills and through fields to meet borrowers in their homes who always accept us with open arms and enthusiasm. It is these women who tell me how they’ve been able through one loan after another to slowly be able to send their children to better schools and afford college. It’s seeing the camaraderie in women who tell me that before ASHI (and in turn Kiva) they were shy and didn’t know their neighbors. It is these women who tell me that being part of a group of borrowers they are now like sisters and they are accountable to each other through sickness and health. It’s hearing about how they have a positive view of the future for their children. They tell me this all the while talking and laughing louder than the woman sitting next to them. These women shy? I truly can’t believe it.
It’s hard. It’s gratifying. It’s also beyond educational as I find myself daily in intense conversations about microfinance, sustainability and the future of the fight to eradicate poverty.
Yes there is a lot of hard work ahead, many more women to meet, and many more stories to hear, verify and retell to you. There are battles with internet connections as I try to report back to Kiva my findings. There is brewing an internal struggle coming to grip with a newfound respect for the word “patience” as I hurry up to make it places on-time only to wait in the maze of the Filipino word for anywhere between 5 minutes from now and 3 hours called simply “later.”
In the words of Helen Keller, “Life is a daring adventure or nothing,” As adventures go; this one has already paid for itself ten times over. Thank you for joining me on this journey, I’m excited to share much more of it with you.
Sloane Berrent, KF8, is currently serving her placement with Ahon sa Hirap (ASHI) in the Philippines. She is learning to love, or at least not visible cringe from, love ballads from the ‘90s, the de rigeur music choice in every taxi, tricycle, jeepney, café and restaurant experienced thus far. When better “connected” you can find her promoting Kiva on Twitter and writing about social action campaigns on her blog, The Causemopolitan./>