A Story from the Field, but from a Distance

In most ways, Tuesday was a pretty average day as a Kiva Fellow.  I spent a few hours working with Bob, the Kiva Coordinator at new field partner Hekima.  We reviewed how Kiva implementation is going at the institution and tried to resolve a few technicalities.   We drafted some new templates and a manual, tools that will help the partnership scale-up and evolve from pilot phase to active phase.  Bob updated me on his plans to train a second Hekima branch on Kiva’s processes, and invited me to come along.  What was not average is that I had to decline.  Bob works in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, and due to ongoing security concerns in the region, Kiva staff and Fellows are not allowed to visit.  Instead, we must connect by email, Skype, and on rare occasions, we meet across the Rwandan border on the shores of Lake Kivu, in the tourist town of Gisenyi.

Bob and me in Gisenyi

It seems to me that Hekima and its clients are up against pretty stacked odds.  Despite peace accords signed in 2003 and 2008, and the presence of the world’s largest UN mission, the eastern DRC remains engulfed in conflict and corruption.  Oxfam just released a report documenting brutal and scandalous levels of rape in the North and South Kivu provinces, where sexual violence is systematically used to repress and terrorize women and children.  Thousands of people from the region are displaced and extreme poverty reigns. DRC is in contention with neighbouring Burundi for the unwelcome statistic of world’s lowest gross domestic product per capita, about $200 a year.  Natural disasters such as the 2002 eruption of Nyiragongo volcano (which destroyed much of the city of Goma) compound human tragedy in the region.

I’ve been thinking about these challenges, and feel inspired and humbled by Bob and his colleagues at Hekima.  They work in an extreme environment, but remain so dedicated to empowering the women and men from the region to lift themselves out of poverty and build better lives.  Microfinance won’t be a quick fix to end suffering in the eastern DRC, but it could play an important role in the region’s long-term development. Hekima’s staff are so excited to work with Kiva because the partnership will allow them to expand and impact more people.   The partnership is also a testament to the power of Kiva’s model, which can reach and connect people almost anywhere in the world through the internet, even when the barriers seem immense.  After all, even though I can’t visit Hekima’s clients for now, we can all get to know them through their borrower profiles on Kiva’s website.

Meet Hekima's Tuongozane Group and their leader Mwadji, who is raising her hand in the back. In addition to expanding her business, microloans helped Mwadji reunite with her children, who were separated from her during the war in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

After a productive and enlightening day, Bob and I said our goodbyes.  We probably won’t meet again in my remaining few weeks serving as a Kiva Fellow in Rwanda, but I’m happy that I will be able to support Hekima and its clients from afar by lending to them through Kiva.  For a complete list of Hekima’s Kiva clients, please click here, and check back often to see current lending opportunities.

Sara Strawczynski is a Kiva Fellow based in Kigali, Rwanda.   She really hopes that the next time she visits this part of the world it will be safely  possible to visit Hekima’s staff and clients in the eastern DRC.

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