Dona Elsa Meets her Smile


"It's so beautiful!" Dona Elsa stood in awe of the photo I just took of her. 

Dona Elsa isn't used to being in photos, and she is especially not used to smiling in photos.  When I asked if I could take her picture, her first instinct was to stand with arms by her side; a serious, pensive look on her face without a shadow of a smile in sight.  Before taking the picture, I asked her to smile and she timidly obliged.  

I took the picture and showed her the outcome on the tiny LCD screen of the digital camera. That's when Dona Elsa saw the beauty of her own smile, and she stood laughing, blushing, in awe of the woman she saw in the photo. 

Dona Elsa, and so many other borrowers, don't instinctively smile in photos because they don't want it to be seen as sign of disrespect, as was explained to me by one of my colleagues later in the day.  Many borrowers associate smiling with being satisfied, and as they have just requested a loan, they don't want to show disrespect to their loan officers by smiling.  But a smile is a powerful thing and embodies the hope a loan can provide borrowers, even if the loan process itself is often serious and toilsome.

Dona Elsa is a new Kiva borrower with Hluvuku-Adsema in Maputo, Mozambique.  She is a driven entrepreneur - she buys plastic tables and chairs from the factory where her husband works to sell them to business owners.  I met Dona Elsa on her first day of the loan process, and I look forward to following Dona Elsa's story and seeing how Kiva lenders help impact the growth of her business, her quality of life, and last, but not least, her motivation to smile.

About the author

Sophie Aigner

Sophie comes to her Kiva Fellowship with international work experience and a commitment to serving the underserved. She gained intercultural and training expertise serving at a non-profit program in Brazil, studying abroad as a Rotary Youth Exchange Student, and conducting research on social and cultural barriers to safe sex habits in Indonesia as a Critical Language Scholarship Participant. After being exposed first-hand to the effects of poverty in developing countries, she became interested in micro-finance while serving as a capacity-building intern for the Global Women in Management workshop put on by CEDPA in Washington, DC, where many of the participants were managers of micro-finance institutions around the world. She went on to serve as the Training Coordinator at Chrysalis, a non-profit in Los Angeles that works to alleviate poverty by helping low-income and homeless individuals secure stable employment, where she created and facilitated financial literacy and career development workshops. From this varied experience in the global non-profit sector, Sophie has become passionate about helping low-income populations achieve self-sufficiency, and is thrilled to support Kiva’s mission of alleviating poverty through micro-lending as a Kiva Fellow in South Africa and Mozambique.