Apr 16, 2009 GT Guatemala

Someone asked me how it was that I seemed to have (almost) constant access to the internet AND no indoor running water or heat. From an American perspective, it seems irrational and contradictory. But, Guatemala is filled with (seeming) contradictions and contrasts. I suspect that many of my “fellow” fellows have experienced the same in the countries where they are working.

The family I live with has satellite TV, a wide screen television (and a television in every bedroom) but they have no indoor running water or heating. They...

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Apr 14, 2009 UG Uganda

Sometimes, when interviewing the entrepreneurs from Pearl Microfinance, Uganda, I am startled to discover how many businesses they have. They are teachers with a few milk cows on the side, or used clothing salespeople who also keep pigs, or farmers who also raise cassava, matoke, and chickens! These ‘super entrepreneurs’ amaze me, but I am always left wondering why do they choose to have so many businesses. Wouldn’t it be better for them to focus just one? Each cycle they could inject all their loan money into one business and it would take off!

As is typical when I am making...

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Apr 13, 2009 GT Guatemala

So, warning, this has NOTHING to do with microfinance.

But, here are two videos that give a definite flavor of life here in Nimasac, Guatemala where I have spent the last two months as a Kiva Fellow with ASDIR, Kiva’s field partner in Totonicapan, Guatemala.

K’iche is the predominant language spoken here. Many people have asked me to describe what it sounds like, but I’ve found that to be an impossible task, so here is a short video of animated dinner conversation in K’iche.

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Apr 13, 2009 CM Cameroon

Living in Bamenda, Cameroon is relatively inexpensive. Taking a taxi from one end of the city to the other can cost you a maximum of 250 CFAs (50 cents). Granted, with everything else, you have to sacrifice some luxuries. Using the taxi as an example, the driver, at times, will fit 7 passengers with him in his mid-sized sedan. That is not unusual, especially for longer trips. Other purchases can be extremely cheap when compared to US prices. An avocado, or “pear” here, costs about 75 CFA (or 15 cents). They can cost even less at times. The trick to getting the low price is,...

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Apr 8, 2009

Wrapping up my six month fellowship with Kiva, I’m not sure how to express that thought any more artfully.   On balance I’ve been inspired by the people I’ve met who, with only meager means, must spend long days at arduous tasks in order to support their families.   But I’ve also had to confront the reality that a life in poverty often means making hard choices every day.   The temptation to judge these decisions can be tempting until you realize that in many cases people have few good options on the table.

In Tajikistan I spent many days in the bazaars and was initially surprised...

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Apr 7, 2009 GT Guatemala

Long hours, low pay, angry barking dogs, collection calls, long motorcycle rides and even longer walks…………what on earth keeps these loan officers “in the saddle” 8+ hours a day, 6 days a week?  I interviewed two of ASDIR’s (Kiva’s partner bank in Totonicapan, Guatemala)  loan officers to try and find out.

I have to say I have been most impressed by the dedication, care and compassion of the  loan officers at this MFI. I would also bet  that most of Kiva’s 90+  field partners  have similar, committed loan officers—- clearly...

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Apr 7, 2009

The other day in the Mission district at Kiva headquarters in San Francisco, I converged with three micro enterprises, on just one corner. A young man selling fresh oranges, a Popsicle and ice-cream cart vendor, and another man with a tall stick of cotton candy- $2 each. Although this coincidence is quite novel, it does explain another, larger phenomenon. Perhaps the true impact of small businesses in the U.S. is underestimated. AEO, the association for Enterprise Opportunity, says that 87% of all businesses in the U.S. are microenterprises, businesses with fewer then 5 employees. As a...

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Apr 7, 2009 RW Rwanda

It’s easier to make sense of Rwanda if you erase the human element of the Genocide that happened here fifteen years ago. If we could just pretend it wasn’t actual people who perpetrated the one million unthinkable acts, it would simplify the dynamics of the country. Afterall, if we acknowledge that it was not only people but fellow Rwandese who held the machetes, we need to also see that they still exist—and not in an abstract way but in a day-to-day, walking down the street, drinking milk for breakfast, and sending children to school kind of way.

Many perpetrators of the 1994...

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Apr 6, 2009 NI Nicaragua

I recently picked up The Bottom Billion: Why the Poorest Countries Are Failing and What Can Be Done About It by Paul Collier, Professor of Economics and Director for the Study of African Economics at Oxford University and former director of Development Research at the World Bank. It has been a grim and simultaneously enlightening book, dubbed as a must-read by the New York Times and set to become a classic according to the Economist.

In a nutshell, The Bottom Billion states that our perception of development for the last forty years has...

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Apr 6, 2009 ID Indonesia

West Timor is the country equivalent of Robert Downey Senior. The usual reaction is “West Timor? I didn’t know there was a West Timor. But I’ve heard of East Timor so I suppose it makes sense”.

And indeed it does make sense, especially if you live here. West Timor, formerly a Dutch colony until it was un-clogged in 1945, is on an island towards the eastern side of Indonesia (Timur conveniently means “east” in Indonesian) but, it should be stressed, not the most easterly island as that is Papua and or West Papua (to clarify please see www.google....

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