Featured Volunteer: JD Bergeron - Microfinance professional and volunteer Russian translator
“Even in my day job working in microfinance, I don’t think I get as close to the personal stories as I do when I translate. I find them so compelling, and I can’t forget the stories I read. I feel like I really get to understand what people’s lives are like.”
City: Fort Collins, CO
Time with Kiva: 5 years
Outstanding Contribution to Kiva: JD is not only a translation volunteer, he is also the former Director of Social Performance and the Kiva Fellows Program at Kiva -- he's the person who created Social Performance badges. He gives freely of his time, having reviewed more than 1125 loans to date. JD is now directing Truelift, working to renew the pro-poor focus of microfinance, and he runs an annual trip called "Bike Zambia" to raise awareness of poverty and AIDS in Africa.
Read on for a brief Q&A with this accomplished volunteer.
How did you find out about Kiva?
I was serving in the Peace Corps in Bulgaria when Kiva was starting out, and a Peace Corps buddy of mine was facilitating one of Kiva's first four partnerships. It caught my attention again when I was working at Acción in Boston, and I thought, "What is this Kiva thing?" I was enchanted by how accessible it made microfinance.
Why do you choose to volunteer your time with Kiva?
Translating serves as a good reminder of the personal stories behind microfinance. Although I work in this field, I think that sometimes when you work on something, you get far away from the beneficiaries.
Also, I'm a grammar geek, and I like when I can help make a borrower's story more accessible just by putting a paragraph break in the right place. From my time at Kiva, I know that loans from Eastern Europe and Central Asia are not as popular as other locations, so I like being able to help tell the stories of these borrowers.
What is your favorite partner or region?
I may understand Kiva's Field Partners better than the average translator, because I did social audits and created the Social Performance badges in my time there. The quality of the work that an MFI does really matters to me. Bai Tushum in Kyrgyzstan is one of my favorite field partners -- they are very successful and they're devoted to reaching vulnerable people, especially in an environment where commercialization of microfinance dominates.
Tell us about a memorable profile that you reviewed.
One of the first loans I translated was very memorable. It was one that I translated and then immediately donated to. It was for a woman named Manzura who sells fabrics at her local market. Her husband had left her because she was incapable of bearing children, so she went to the orphanage and adopted two kids. She was doing what she needed to do to raise those kids. I can still see her picture in my mind.
Where is your favorite place in the world to travel?
I've done a lot of travel both personally and for my work, and Mongolia is still at the top of my list. I had an incredible time there when I went in 2002 for about five weeks. No person had any interest in, or even asked about, my job. Instead they asked about my siblings and our birth order. The hospitality of the people was also remarkable. Mongolia was the first place I traveled where I realized the world was not at all the way I thought it was.
Tell us an unusual fact about yourself.
I used to blow glass in college. In fact, that was my minor. I used to like making things that were useful, like drinking glasses, plates, and vases. One of the assignments was to make a glass for your best friend, and I actually did that for a number of my friends. It was fun to think about what color and shape would best suit the person. I still use some of the glasswork I made!