I'm a vegetarian. However, there are occasionally times when I relent and consume meat, especially if it's offered and refusal means either going hungry or—worse—being rude. Even this reluctant acceptance of the occasional meaty meal has its limits, though.
I will not eat pork. It's not a religious thing for me, nor is it a question of taste; I think bacon tastes fantastic and is a wondrous smell in the morning, particularly maple-cured smoked bacon, eagerly sizzling in the pan as the coffee brews. This is the smell that mornings are made of, that makes life worth living and that takes the edge off of traffic jams and other morning indignities.
Despite all of this glory, I don't eat pigs! They're too smart, too uncomfortably close to humans both mentally and physically (we can even regrow teeth in pig mouths with cells from human teeth!).
Connecting People through Pork
Now that you know where I stand, it is with a bit of cognitive dissonance that I present the following parable of pork:
During a recent interview with Leo, the executive director of FUDECOSUR (the Kiva partner that I'm working with), he related a story of a Kiva lender who came to visit Costa Rica and decided to take a break from the beach so that he could find a borrower to whom he lent money. With some help from the friendly FUDECOSUR staff, he was able to find her.
She used this loan to expand her business, which was the raising of pigs. They shared a wonderful time and he told her that he would like to purchase one of her pigs. This was a noble aspiration, but there was one problem: the pigs wouldn't be ready to be eaten until December, long after he would return home to the United States. This didn't stop him, though. He decided to pre-pay $400 for two pigs and stipulated that they be shared among all of the people in the woman's village.
At the appointed time, the pig was slaughtered and shared as a holiday feast in the town. While I cannot approve of the killing of this pig as a matter of conscience, this story is a beautiful allegory that demonstrates the power of Kiva loans to facilitate connections between lenders and borrowers.
Living Kiva Values
That this tale has become an essential part of the FUDECOSUR/Kiva story shows just how deeply the notion of making connections penetrates FUDECOSUR's culture. This isn't due to Kiva's influence, however. Solidarity between borrowers is one of FUDECOSUR's key values, and is something that translates well to Kiva's model.
In fact, FUDECOSUR is an organization that seems to be cut from the very same cloth as Kiva. In addition to solidarity, another of its core values is transparency with regard to its operations and finances. Both of these values speak immensely to FUDECOSUR's focus on the kind of impact-driven lending that is at the heart of Kiva's philosophy.
Leo believes that the trust which both Kiva and its lenders have given to him is a sacred one. To that end, he wants to make sure that FUDECOSUR is taking every step that it can to responsibly manage these funds in a way that's open to everyone who has a stake in them.
In my short time here, I've observed this responsible attitude in almost all of FUDECOSUR's practices. During my visits with borrowers, I notice that I need to keep reminding myself that FUDECOSUR lends money to people with the expectation of repayment, an activity that normally comes with a natural tension, even when done with the best of intentions.
It's difficult for me to perceive this tension in FUDECOSUR's interactions with its borrowers. Loan officers are encouraging and their borrower visits are typically greeted with smiles and none of the worry that I would experience from a creditor unexpectedly dropping in to check on me.
Partially due to the financing that Kiva lenders have extended, FUDECOSUR has expanded its portfolio by 18% in the past year. This is a remarkable number but, as Leo said to me in my interview with him, "We can't grow just for growth's sake. We must grow in order to help, and Kiva has assisted us in doing that."
FUDECOSUR's long-term goals are simple in principle but will take a committed effort to accomplish: it wants to expand to even more communities and is making a particular effort to reach out to more borrowers who are women. Its goal is to have women make up 40% of its portfolio, a task which is difficult in rural areas of Costa Rica, where men generally assume the task of running businesses. I am confident that FUDECOSUR has the ability succeed in both of these goals.
Leo looks forward to a continuation of the happy relationship that he's had with Kiva and hopes that more Kiva lenders can make the jump from seeing borrowers' profiles on their computers to visiting them in the flesh.
Please consider lending to FUDECOSUR's borrowers on the Kiva site (or joining the FUDECOSUR Kiva lending team) so that you, too, can buy a pig (or maybe a sack of coffee beans?)! Even a $50 loan "can be the difference" between a rural borrower "having a better year and not having one at all."