Over the past few weeks, I have had the privilege of working with Liz Fish, Kiva Media Fellow, in Armenia.  Liz has come with me on borrower verifications, and I have come with her on media visits.  Together we have met more borrowers than either one of us would have alone.

Working in the offices of SEF and Nor Horizon, Kiva’s partners in Armenia, is great because it is obvious that the staff at both feel passionate about their work in helping low-income Armenians improve their businesses, expand their agriculture, and get an education.  As satisfying as the office work is, it is even more rewarding to meet the borrowers and hear from them what their Kiva loans have meant for their lives.

Stepan and his daughter at their work table (photo by Liz Fish)
One great example of this is Stepan.  Stepan is a shoemaker.  He lives with his wife, mother and 3 children.  Stepan learned his trade during Soviet times.  He recalls making shoes before Armenian independence, “They paid me pennies for my work then.”  Since 2002, Stepan has worked for himself.  Of course at first it was difficult.  He recalls, “I could make 5 pairs of shoes and only sell 2.  Now when I make 10 pairs, I sell out and get orders for more.”  Stepan’s daughter designs the shoes that he makes.  Stepan has been able to remodel his house buying the materials with his profits from selling shoes.  His son did a very professional job installing the polished stone floor and making other improvements.    Now he sells to distributors, but Stepan wants to open his own shop to sell directly to his customers.

Arman the welder working (photo by Liz Fish)
Another interesting borrower I was able to meet with Liz was Arman, a welder who makes beautiful gates for homes, window bars and decorative pieces like candleholders, tables and lamps.  Arman lives with his wife, 5-year-old son and baby girl, but last year he was forced to go to Russia to find work.  His Kiva loan enabled him to finish construction on his workshop, so that he could work for himself and take orders for his products.  Although his income is less than when he was abroad, the loan allowed him to start a business and be able to be a part of the lives of his children at home in Armenia.  This type of family reunification is something that Nor Horizon repeatedly works to achieve.

Lilit at home (photo by Liz Fish)
Lilit is a second year university student at the teaching university in Yerevan.  She is a charming but shy young woman, but her mother is happy to brag about her.  She received a designation as an “Excellent Student” in school (before university).  Her family paid for her first semester at the university but needed a loan for the second semester.  They received a Kiva loan through SEF.  Lilit did so well in her first year that the she is able to study free of charge her second year.  Lilit studies mathematics and technology.  Without the loan, this talented young woman’s education would have ended after only one semester at university.

Liz photographing Lilit at her home
Often with my borrower verification visits for Kiva, the borrower does not have much time or may be a little nervous answering questions about their loan, regardless of my explanation that we are not checking up on them.  The media visits have allowed me to get to know borrowers on a deeper level and see more vividly the difference Kiva loans make in the lives of the borrowers.

I invite you to consider making loans to borrowers like Stepan,  Arman, and Lilit’s mother in Armenia.  You can also become a member of a lending team that focuses on Armenia.

About the author

Amy Williams

Amy is a native of Dallas, TX. She earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in Russian Studies from Trinity University in San Antonio and lived in St. Petersburg, Russia for 3 years. While in St. Petersburg, she worked for a venture capital company and helped establish a Russian-American School of Management. Amy just finished Peace Corps service as a Community Business Development Volunteer in Armenia where she also volunteered at Heifer International. She is spending an intensive 6 weeks reconnecting with friends and adjusting to being home before heading back out to the Caucasus where she will serve as a Kiva Fellow in Georgia and Armenia.