Adam Kogeman, KF10, Cambodia

My landlord recently explained to me that when she moved to the United States in 1980 after the fall of the Khmer Rouge, she got a job assembling hi-tech equipment like computer motherboards.  She was intimidated by the difficult work at first.  The workers had to be surgically precise and use extremely small materials, but she looked at her colleagues and said to herself “They have two eyes and two arms, just like me.  Anything they can do, I can do.”  She took the challenge head-on and was a productive, successful employee for many years before returning to Cambodia in the early 1990’s.

This inspiring woman and her story epitomize the reason I am enthusiastic about microfinance.  In my opinion, aside from being unproductive, unsustainable and damaging (see Dead Aid by Dambisa Moyo and The White Man’s Burden by William Easterly) most international aid and charity to the poor is condescending, patronizing and only succeeds in creating social divides where solely economic ones existed previously.  Too often charity assumes its recipients need help because they cannot help themselves.  (Of course, this is a generalization and not always the case.  I’m sure charitable contributions to Haiti in the past month were far more helpful than they were damaging).  Still, to give someone a handout rather than a chance is to say “You, charity recipient, are incapable, incompetent, and cannot effectively determine your own destiny.”  Microfinance, on the other hand, is a vote of confidence in the borrower.  To give a microfinance borrower a loan is to say “You are fully capable, competent and, if given the chance or provided the resources, can responsibly and effectively lead a productive, healthy life.”  It is to say “You have two eyes, two arms.  Just like me.  Anything I can do, you can do.  Our circumstances might be unimaginably different, but that is the only difference between us.”  To give a microfinance borrower a loan is to declare a vote of confidence in the equality of all mankind and a beautiful way to close the cognitive and emotional distance imposed on individuals separated only by geographic space between the developed and developing world, not by intelligence, competence or ability.

Adam Kogeman is a Kiva Fellow at CREDIT, a Field Partner in Phnom Penh, Cambodia.  Prior to his fellowship, he studied international development and conflict resolution at the Monterey Institute of International Studies.

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