Don’t Judge A Book By Its Cover

My name is Nathan and I would like to introduce myself to the Kiva community as one of the members of KF7. I am stationed in Hanoi, Vietnam with the local MFI SEDA. I am extremely grateful for this amazing opportunity and strongly urge anyone who is considering applying as a Kiva Fellow to do so immediately!

A typical Hanoian street scene.

A typical Hanoian street scene.

The well-known idiom ‘don’t judge a book by its cover’ perfectly explains my first several days in Vietnam. While I had many fears prior to arriving in Vietnam including safely crossing the hectic and mob-like streets of Hanoi (I even was hit by a passing motorbike on the sidewalk one day and the previous day I saw a city bus T-bone another motorbike!), I am no longer afraid that there are no deserving recipients of microfinance here in Hanoi.

Before arriving in Vietnam, several previous fellows told me that in terms of Kiva placements, Hanoi is a 5-star rated fellowship. The city looks and feels like a modern city in all aspects including hotels that are budget to posh, an extensive public transportation system, large businesses and high-rise buildings on many blocks, and young, trendy, and fashionable people everywhere. The house that I live in even has high-speed wireless Internet, a luxury the vast majority of Kiva Fellows will not even come close to having at home let alone in Internet cafes.

This so-called 5-star rating made me question whether microfinance was actually all that necessary in Hanoi and the surrounding communities. After my first day in Hanoi I still felt this way after looking to purchase a mobile phone. After being pointed in a direction to find a phone by a long-time expat from Australia (maybe this was my first mistake!), I went into a very fancy looking store with an all-glass front with automatic sliding doors. Inside, the clientele was 100% Vietnamese with many of the people wearing what appeared to be designer clothing and sporting cool and trendy-looking haircuts. The cheapest phone that I found in the store was around $40, with prices ranging all the way up to $600+ for iPhones and various Blackberry phones.

My initial fear about microfinance in Hanoi however has turned out to be unfounded. Without even having a chance to settle down and get over my jet lag I went right to work as a Kiva Fellow my second day. After taking a hired taxi to SEDA’s branch offices on the outskirts of Hanoi and beyond I realized that there are in fact many deserving recipients of microloans here in the Hanoi surrounds.

The location of a SEDA branch office.

Bac Ninh: The location of a SEDA branch office.

In one village that I visited near SEDA’s Bac Ninh branch office, I met my first group borrowing team. The village was small and had open raw-sewage drains along the tiny road in front of the small retail shop of one of the women. Nearby several small children were playing next to dogs that were foraging in piles of litter. The five women that I met live very different lives than many of the residents of Hanoi-proper, and in my humble opinion are using their microloans to attempt to better their opportunities. In fact, when asked what their hopes were for their futures they all said the same thing: get larger future loans so that they can improve their businesses even more so that hopefully they can send their children to university to provide the children better job opportunities than they have. Very inspiring if you ask me!

Lesson #1 learned in Hanoi: you can’t judge a book by its cover!

To learn more about SEDA, please click HERE. If you would like to lend to woman like this group near Bac Ninh, Vietnam, please check out SEDA’s currently fundraising borrowing groups by clicking HERE.


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