by Magdalena Malinowska, KF11, Dominican Republic

Well, almost 100 days. A Kiva Fellowship lasts three months so my work with Esperanza International in the Dominican Republic and Haiti has lasted some 90 days. And so has my hands-on experience with micro-finance.

As a PhD student of Hispanic literature (at Boston University), it’s been quite an experience going from reading about the lives of others, like those described by Junot Diaz and Edwidge Danticat, to witnessing them first-hand on this historic island. During my Fellowship I have had the unique opportunity to meet some truly courageous and inspiring women. Here are those who moved me most.

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Claribel, Mujeres Luchadoras Group

This borrower lives in a small community some 30 km outside of the city of Puerto Plata, on the northern coast of the country, known for its all-inclusive resorts and white-sand beached. But the typical life for the local population does not involve napping under a palm tree.

Like others in her group, Claribel makes her living from a modest small-scale business for which she has taken out a few loans with Esperanza International. These have been used to develop her household-cleaning products business which she runs out of her home. The loans allow her to purchase the necessary products (laundry detergent, chlorine, cleaning sprays and pastes, sponges, etc.) and sell them to clients in the surrounding communities.

Claribel stands out among other borrowers: she is a keen businesswoman with clearly-defined business objectives, strategies and personal goals. And she’s a single mother. Over the last three years she has been able to generate profits, which she has been saving for a very specific purpose – the construction of her own home. This is her future goal: to move out of her mother’s house in which she currently occupies one room shared with her two children (10 and 6). She told me she moved back to the countryside where she grew up specifically for this reason. By not paying rent and becoming an entrepreneur, in the near future, she hopes to provide a better living environment for her children. After starting up with buying and selling bedding, she switched to cleaning products upon realizing it is more profitable. She’s been successfully developing her small business ever since, and slowly filling up her mother’s yard with bricks and cement bags.

Jaquelin, Mujeres en Accion Group

Jaquelin’s story is unique but also representative of her community, the millions of Haitian immigrants residing in the Dominican Republic.

This borrower is a young mother of a one year-old boy. She moved to the Spanish-speaking part of Hispaniola about a year ago and she makes her living in a poor urban neighborhood by selling clothes in her community. Jaquelin spreads out her products (undergarments, blouses, jeans, etc.) on the doorsteps of her home and on the sidewalks of her community. She shares her modest wooden home with her husband, a construction worker. Like many Haitian males who form the multifarious unskilled labor force of the Dominican Republic, Jacquelin’s husband often finds himself unemployed when demands for basic services is low. This is when his wife’s sales business becomes the only source of income.

But things can get worse: your family members can die in a deadly earthquake. This is what happened to Jacquelin in January. She put her business on hold and made the trip to Port-au-Prince to find out the fate of the family she left behind … on foot! Transport being scarce at that time and expensive, Jacquelin walked for three days (along with others, having left her baby in the care of her husband and neighbors). She stayed a week, buried some of her relatives and managed to find other ones, and then made the same trip back … also on foot.

Naturally, her business was affected. The MFI suspended loan payments for a few weeks after the earthquake but, just like many other of her group members, Jacquelin has been struggling to make ends meet. She is barely getting by, the clothing business made possible via the Esperanza loan being her family’s only source of income until construction business picks up.  But Jacquelin remains positive, saying that things can only get better.

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These are but two of the many stories of challenges and the courage to overcome them that I have had the opportunity to witness during my time as Kiva Fellow at Esperanza International. Two other highlights of my three months here include a trip to the Haiti branch and the ubiquitous singing-prayers at repayment meetings. See for yourself.

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Although my time in Haiti and the Dominican Republic with the wondrous real lives changed by micro-credit is up, and although it’s time to get back to the fictional lives depicted in the books I read as a student of literature, my involvement in micro-finance is not over. As I hope is the case with you. Please continue to support small-scale entrepreneurs on the Hispaniola Island by lending to Esperanza International, a partner of Hope International.

Saludos and adios from Magdalena, a Kiva Fellow on the Hispaniola Island. Kiva Love and … keep lending!


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