This is a guest blog post written by Dave Smith, 7th Grade Social Studies Teacher, Garden Spot Middle School, New Holland, PA.
In January of 2009 the “One Million Dollar Team” on Kiva.org was formed to show 7th grade Social Studies students that there is a world outside of their classroom in New Holland, PA. I set a goal of loaning $1,000,000 to entrepreneurs all over the world before I retire. The hope is to show my students that even they, at 12 and 13 years old, can change the world and make a huge difference towards ending world poverty.
I was initially inspired years ago by the movie “Pay It Forward” where the teacher, Kevin Spacey, challenges his 7th grade students to “Think of an idea that will change the world and put it into action.” Five years into my teaching career I was introduced to Kiva by an old high school friend via email and I realized that it fit perfectly into my idea of implementing a service project into my classroom.
It was easy to start, easy to maintain, and most importantly it was economically sustainable, which is something that is unheard of in our world today. Where else can you use the same money over and over again to help more and more people as it gets paid back? This is the advantage of investing in people - in their hopes, in their lives, and in their dreams – they are so appreciative of your help that they want you to be able to help others so it grows exponentially.
Since launching our school’s Kiva initiative 5 years ago, my students have raised over $10,000 helping over 3,000 families in 69 different countries around the world. We have loaned over $75,000 thanks to the fundraising they have done through bake sales, luminary sales at Christmas, jewelry sales, and other entrepreneurial ventures. It’s awesome to see kids become entrepreneurs to help other entrepreneurs better their lives. They have the chance to go onto the computer and choose to whom we lend, and we put the loans through right there live in class. We are able to do at least 60 loans every month with the money that we have already loaned out as it gets paid back.
It shows the students first-hand the lesson that Muhammad Yunus learned in 1976 when he gave $27 to 42 women ($.64 / woman) who had nothing - no collateral, no hope – and they used that little money to better their lives and paid him back. That important lesson was that if you give the poor a chance, those that truly want to help themselves, they will be so thankful that they will do everything they can to pay you back. This explains the incredible repayment rate that Kiva lenders experience.
A huge turning point for my classroom came in 2013, when Kiva launched Kiva U with the goal of getting Kiva used in classrooms. Since my classroom had been doing it successfully for 5 years, we were honored to be featured in their video campaign with our “Eternal Impact” video to encourage other schools and teachers to take on this worthwhile program. If the idea of teaching kids the importance of helping people help themselves spreads across the world, imagine the power of a movement of millions of children and schools helping others and working towards ending world poverty or whatever cause they choose.
So, naturally, when I learned that Kiva was launching another new initiative called Kiva Zip with the goal of specifically helping people in the U.S. and Kenya, I wanted to check it out. What makes Kiva Zip so incredible is that it allows the lenders like my students and I to have online communication capabilities with the people we are helping. This is a perfect fit for my classroom. It is a great way for my students to have access to so many entrepreneurs and creative minds from all over this country and in Kenya so that they can ask questions and learn first-hand from them.
We have done over 50 loans so far to people through Kiva Zip and have really enjoyed communicating with them and having the opportunity to ask questions and learn more about what it takes to become a business owner. My hope is that it inspires my students to not only think globally, but to be open to and aware of the challenges business owners face on a daily basis. The fact is that small businesses are the backbone of the small towns and big cities that we live in and the American economy as a whole. If we can help support people here in the U.S. and in Kenya build their businesses, they can in turn hire others - and that is what gets people out of dependency and onto the road to prosperity.
I try my best to instill in my students the understanding that the secret to eliminating poverty is to help someone produce more than they need to simply survive. By doing $25 micro loans, whether through Kiva or Kiva Zip, we are doing just that. I truly believe from the bottom of my heart that micro-lending is the key to eliminating world poverty and getting people on the path toward financial stability and economic independence. I don’t want to just tell my students that someday they can make a positive difference in the world and truly change it for the better; I want them to realize that they already are. The fact is, I want everyone to realize that their dream of a better world can be a reality.
Author Bio: Dave lives in the small town of Lititz, Pennsylvania, with his beautiful wife Nicky and two awesome children – Parker and Carter. He graduated from Beaver College (now Arcadia University) outside Philadelphia, PA, with a degree in Health Administration and later went to Penn State to earn his Teaching Certification and then Master’s Degree in Education. He has been teaching 7th grade Social Studies since 2003 at Garden Spot Middle School in New Holland, Pennsylvania. Dave was honored to be selected as a 2013 Teacher of the Year from Izzit.org. He began the “One Million Dollar Team” on Kiva.org in 2009 and would love for people from all over the world to join his team and help them reach their team goal of loaning $1,000,000 and their ultimate goal of ending world poverty.