By Eric Rindal, KF15, Sierra Leone
“To touch a person’s heart, you must see a person’s face.” (quote from My Name is Asher Lev – Chaim Potok)
Lending on Kiva.org is a very personal experience. Reading a borrower’s profile, understanding a glimpse of their life, and seeing their picture, kindles, in one way or another, a sincere interest in their potential and forms a connection with the uniqueness of that borrower. Beyond the loan, lenders affirm a strong and inherent hope within the borrower and encourage their entrepreneurial spirit. How awesome for global lenders to see a borrower’s face, take a $25 risk to make a loan, and possibly change that borrower’s life.
How does this really play out? Does the borrower get to look through this window, called the Internet, and see their lenders’ faces?
Kiva Fellows have the opportunity to open that window and make the Person-to-Person connection tangible. Allowing not only the borrower’s financial life to be changed, but also possibly their heart. It’s one thing to know a loan is funded by Kiva…but another to know who Kiva is. A person? A group? Or just another organization? Certainly this does not happen with every borrower, but the previous Sierra Leon based Fellow, David McNeill, and I used my computer to show Kiva borrower, Muhammad, the Kiva webpage of his 38 (and counting) global lenders. In his true smile and kind eyes it was clear he recognized the significance of a loan funded by Kiva. He understood his loan was facilitated by the local microfinance institution BRAC and was funded by 38 lenders around the world. Each of those square quirky lender pictures on Kiva.org represented a person or group who believed in Muhammad and encouraged him to actualize his dreams. As he intently read aloud the countries of his lenders, he looked up at me and quietly said, “These people, from everywhere, all funded me?” At that moment we saw the beauty in Kiva. He does plan to some day expand from his roadside stand and open up a grocery store (most likely with another small loan). The Kiva process came full circle; Muhammad had touched lenders’ hearts and in turn his heart was touched. Our “face” is so important in the Kiva process; it represents who we are and what we do…this model may bring people closer than we can imagine.
Let’s quickly get our bearings here about Sierra Leone; 70% of the population live under the international poverty line; the life expectancy at birth is 48 years; and the literacy rate is 35-40%. As I walk home from my MFI (Microfinance Institution) the streets are lined with small businesses: some women carry their business of fruits or shoes or bags of clean water in large baskets balancing atop their head, while others are sell cell phone minutes out of a metal piecemeal “office”. The spirit of small enterprise here is palpable, Sierra Leoneans have a drive to make a sustainable living through small business, however most lack a solid job opportunity or the capital to grow their business. This country profile is like many others and many other organizations offer microfinance, but the notion of touching a person’s heart by seeing their face is quintessential Kiva.