Stories you won’t read on Kiva
There is a lot of talk here and elsewhere as to whether or not microfinance (or any kind of aid for that matter) works. Is what anyone says the truth or just perceptions and opinions? It would be nice to have a definite answer, but it always seems a little more complicated than that.
In my past experience working with volunteers and in nonprofits, I noticed how this lack of certainty over results can trigger cynicism pretty quickly. Most people in this line of work want to prove that what they do leads to something good happening, and they also want to feel good all the time about what they do. It’s probably just natural, but it’s also not possible, at least not all the time. The need for instant gratification can be a hard thing to escape, and can lead many people to become bitter, quit, or just stop trying very hard.
I wanted to share this story of Safija, not a microcredit client but a woman who participated in Žene za Žene’s job skills training program, in part because it’s one that many here would not have heard otherwise. Sometimes you never know what your time, donation, or gesture will mean to someone else. It’s great that results can be shown on places like Kiva, but there will always be lots of stories we don’t see. We may just have to assume that good things are more likely to happen when we try to do something rather than nothing, whether we know the final outcome or not.
There are people in the world who need access to money and an opportunity to get somewhere. Some of their stories end happily, but some don’t. We can try to help each other out, or not. We can be hard on ourselves, but keep trying to do better. What else is there to do?
Safija is a 56 year old woman, originally from the town Srebrenica. Srebrenica was the site of the largest genocide of the war in Bosnia, where in one day over 8,000 Muslim men and boys, including Safija’s two sons, were murdered by Serbian forces. After the war Safija returned home only to find her house destroyed. She felt haunted by memories of her sons, who she felt she could see and hear everywhere she went, playing football, asking her to make them their favorite sandwich.
Life for Safija was intolerable for those first years in Srebrenica. She was planning on leaving town when she found out about the training & educational programs at Women for Women International. Joining the program gave Safija a chance to connect to other women in a way she had not been able to in years. Since the war many communities in Bosnia remain strictly divided on ethnic lines, and this is especially true of Srebrenica. During the training program Safija met many Bosnian Serb women from her town, who she thought she would never be able to speak with. But after hearing their stories she learned that they are women and mothers, just like her, who were as powerless to stop the fighting as she was.
Between her meetings with the Žene za Žene program and her new business ventures, Safija’s days were suddenly filled with activity. Through her sponsor she was given financial support to learn a new trade, and she decided to focus on breeding poultry and turned this into a profitable business. She also now makes marmalade to sell to the kids in her village.
Safija was also grateful to receive a donated cow, not just because it helps with her income, but because it gives her something to come home to. It makes her happy, she says, to have this cow, as she feels that she has someone who she can care for and talk to again, just like a child. Safija admits she still has bad days, but she has learned that while she may still suffer from all that she lost, she is not alone anymore. She knows now that there is always a way to find the will to go on.
Since there is a lot of Bosnia in the news these days, here is a frontline piece done that gives a pretty thorough background on Karadzic & the conflict itself. For those who want to learn more see below.