When I discovered Kiva two years ago, I excitedly studied the website and immediately began to participate in microlending all over the world. I began by lending to individuals and groups located in the countries I had traveled to or lived in, given my familiarity with the systemic and cultural barriers that block resources and opportunity for a very large segment of the human family.
In February, I was so excited and honored to be able to travel to Mexico City with other lenders and Kiva staff. The lure was that the transactional work of Kiva would be humanized for the lenders, and what I took away from our trip is that the Kiva community — staff, lenders, Field Partners and borrowers — is really about connection, passion and dignity above all else.
Kiva is dignity
One of my fears going into the trip was that there would be a sense of superiority for the lenders, possibly in facing some of the apparent “helplessness” of the borrowers. However, the lenders were not at the forefront of the itinerary—it was not about us, but instead about all of us, each person participating in their own unique way. The Kiva staff did a wonderful job of treating all who were with us with consistency and respect. On this trip it was clear that Kiva staff and lenders view borrowers as honorable, hard-working people with inherent value in their pursuits. Listening to the joy, passion and pride in the voices of the farmers as they showed us their land and animals was a highlight. On our second farm visit, we witnessed farmer David’s enthusiasm and felt his gratitude. After we toured the farm, he found some historical postcards in his collection and sat down at his table to write us each a note to return home with. Meanwhile, his mother served us fresh homemade juice. It was an honor to sit down in their kitchen. This was a moment of reciprocal hospitality and the connection of human hearts.
Kiva is connection
Kiva functions as a global human connector and storyteller. I am the kind of person that stares at my cereal and can’t stop thinking about who produced the corn (are their wages fair?), what kind of equipment it takes to process the cereal, who packages it and sells it and where the profits go, even as as my children and I gobble it down, rushing to get to school on time. At the end of our second day in the field we were surprised with a homemade meal prepared at the third farm that we visited, “Casa Rosa” in Puebla. As we ate together, we interacted—all of us—and what struck me was the multi-generational representation of all who were gathered, from grandpas and grandmas to the five year-old boy named David who seemed like he ran the place. Here, Kiva did what it does best—storytelling. The farmers told their stories. The field partners told their stories. Sitting down at one table and sharing food and stories together was a simple way to break culture and class barriers.
Kiva is passion
The Field Partners with whom we met were passionate and proud of their work in the communities they served. In the housing sector, the Ecoblock staff members showed a deep devotion and genuine care for those applying for loans to build their first home or to finish their current one. It was clear that this social business housing company possessed the skills and knowledge of the industry, and a kindness towards the people they served. In the farming sector, I was equally impressed with the work of Sistema Biobolsa. Their vision is for a sustainable, equitable and empathetic world without waste. Their mission is to create value from waste. I observed this mission fleshed out at each of the three farms we visited, seeing the use of the bio-digester technology and the visible result of bio-fuel and fertilizer being used in the homes and on the land. On the ride out to Puebla, I had the privilege of listening to the story of Xunaxi and her commitment to Sistema Biobolsa in Mexico City. It is a memorable story of vocation.
My family and I enjoy all of the fruits of operating a small business here in the US—we are able to sustain the lives of employees and their families and to support their livelihood, health and hopeful futures. That’s why Kiva makes a lot of sense to me from many various angles when it comes to global stewardship and generosity. History will speak of the widening gap between privilege and plight, but my hope is that history will also speak of those with conviction and those who take action. Nothing is wasted. When we’ve lived in places where we can visibly see how far one dollar can go, the potential of that dollar gets lodged into our hearts and minds, and into our politics. There will always be human debate about alleviating poverty, and that should be done thoughtfully and intellectually, with care and humility. But if we are honest and forthright, may we remain open to the deep wells of wisdom from our many traditions that encourage lending without usury.