As Thanksgiving approaches, I'm constantly reminded by all of Kiva's inspiring borrowers in Vietnam of what it means, and why it is essential to be grateful, despite one's hardships. I very rarely cry, but there was one borrower in particular that I met in Dien Bien province who brought me to tears with her gratitude. She showed a level of generosity, happiness, and overall appreciation for her life and what it has to offer, despite the fact that she has to work multiple agriculture sector jobs - growing corn and rice, and even took on a side job to make beautiful bags, scarfs and skirts to make ends meet.
Studies show that:
1.) Being grateful makes you happier (Forbes; Harvard); and
2.) The poor are often more generous and altruistic than the wealthy (The Telegraph; CNBC; Berkeley).
These studies can seem counterintuitive, Catch-22s even. How can you be grateful if you are not happy? How can you be generous if you are not wealthy? To address the first finding, that being grateful makes you happier: studies show that gratitude guides people to focus on the positive aspects of their life, connects people to something larger than themselves, and also causes people to realize that happiness lies outside themselves. As for the second finding, that the poor are more generous and altruistic than the wealthy, the research shows that this is likely due to the fact that the poor are often more connected to those around them - psychologically and socially. Poor people are generally more dependent on one another to get by as they therefore practice compassion and empathy more regularly, or so the research suggests.
Meet Phanh, a Farmer and an Artisan:
Phanh is a Lao ethnic minority Kiva borrower whose happiness, gratitude and perseverance, despite the fact that she lives in one of the poorest regions of Vietnam, truly struck a chord with me. She and her family took a small Kiva loan (~$180 USD) to purchase this machine to help her clear the land and harvest corn and rice (to eat and to sell) in a more efficient manner. Unlike most borrowers that I met in Dien Bien, she opted to continue her family's multi-generation practice of growing corn and rice, instead of raising, breeding and selling animals. Phanh told me that she believes raising animals is too risky since animals can easily succumb to diseases.
The above photo was taken from Phanh's house. Phanh and her family grow corn in the hills nearby for just four months of the year (corn season). They grow rice year round. She initially took her Kiva loan for a machine to increase her income. She said that it helped increase her income, though she would like to take out another, larger loan. Specifically, she plans to take out a loan for the materials needed to develop her tapestry business, which she recently started. Phanh said that she took up making tapestries because of the short length of the corn season; She makes tapestries for the other eight months of the year. Here are some photos of Phanh working on her tapestry business on the second story of her wooden, stilt house:
These are the types of products Phanh makes:
Phanh told me that it took her three months to learn how to make these products. She learned how to make these from the tapestry leader in her village, who is responsible for collecting these products and providing them to the buyers. Specifically, there is a shop in the Old Quarter of Hanoi that sells products made by Phanh's village. These products are also marketed at the Hanoi International Women's Club's Charity Bazaar that takes place every year during the month of November. I already purchased my ticket to this event and I can't wait to attend!
Gratitude & Generosity Despite Hardships
In addition to the multiple jobs Phanh has had to master in order to get by, she said she has struggled to keep her children in school, because their work in the corn and rice fields often takes precedence over school. She hopes that her next loan for materials for her tapestry business will help her increase her income to the extent her children won't need to leave school to help out with her work. Despite all of these struggles, Phanh would not let me leave without giving me a flower to thank Kiva and the lenders for believing in her. She then insisted that we take a photo with me holding the flower in the middle of the group, even though I told her *she* is the one who should be holding the flower and standing front and center after all of her hard work!!
The women in the beautiful skirts are the Kiva borrowers and the tapestry leader (second from the right). The others are employees of Kiva's field partner, Entrepreneurs du Monde-Anh Chi Em.
Every single borrower I visited in Dien Bien offered me (lots and lots of) tea during my visits. Just about every borrower invited us for a full meal after our visit as well. While I appreciated their offers, as I was in awe of their gratitude and generosity, I often politely declined, as I did not want them to waste any resources on me.
To support more grateful, generous borrowers like Phanh, please lend (not donate) $25 or more to one of the inspiring borrowers from Kiva's Dien Bien field partner, Entrepreneurs du Monde-Anh Chi Em, by clicking here. You will be able to directly give a borrower a much needed hand up, not a hand out. Thank you so much!