Kiva Fellows: My Virtual Family
Not every day as a Kiva Fellow is a good one. There are days when I wait for seven hours for a credit officer to be available to take me to the field to collect journal updates for only two clients. There are hours of intermittent internet in which I am able to load less than one page. There are the clients I meet about whom I would be inspired except that after doing the math I’m not convinced they’ve found a way to run their businesses with a net profit. Luckily, after more than 7 months of victories and setbacks, I think I’m in the black.
Small moments compensate for unpleasant hours. A coworker’s delight at a weak attempt at their local language can be contagious. The look of recognition on the faces of loan officers to whom I just presented a new template keeps me going for days. And the shy request by a client to have a picture taken with me makes me feel that my presence is appreciated.
On top of the ups and downs of the day-to-day, though, there is another secret to my contentment: the Kiva Fellows. In ways both tiny and massive, unexpected and enormously appreciated, having a virtual community of fellows makes my life infinitely better. During training in June, I left four days at Kiva HQ disappointed that after meeting so many fascinating and fun people I would ultimately embark on this fellowship solo. I only wished we could all be placed at the same MFI. Kiva said no—that would sort of defeat the purpose. Time and again, however, I’ve been able to turn to them for all manner of support despite great distances between us.
Not sure how to shrink a photo? Wondering if anyone has an effective training Power Point presentation? Curious about coping mechanisms for language barriers? For all manner of information—from the recreational to the professional—fellows have proven to be an essential resource.
And as it turns out, Kiva has good judgment. As my Fellows class, KF5, has gradually finished up in the field, I despaired that I’d be left alone without my network of compatriots. I was entirely wrong. When I risked deportation from Tanzania, I was able to call on a KF6 and stay with her in Kenya for a week—all arranged having never met. From there I went on to intrude on another Kiva Fellow whose acquaintance I had never made but who quickly became an indispensable friend. The prospect of Christmas and New Years alone in Africa was depressing so three KF6ers and I ignored the fact that we did not know each other and made plans to travel Africa together to be in the company of people whom we knew would soon be friends.
Whether it’s crossing African borders to see one another or participating in email chains that gain momentum and garner nearly 50 responses from fellows in the same boat, I couldn’t live without the other fellows. It’s possible that I’ll never actually be in the same room as some of the fellows with whom I’ve been in frequent correspondence. Others I’m quite sure will persuade me to cross one or more countries just to see them again. Whether in Cameroon or Cambodia, Bolivia or Tanzania the fellows play a significant role both in helping me to get through the day and in helping me to add the most possible value to Kiva and my microfinance institution placement. There’s nothing like a real, live human resource to advise, commiserate, support, and amuse. Thanks for keeping me sane, fellows!
Julie Ross is currently serving as a Kiva Fellow at Vision Finance Company in Rwanda. In December she completed her first placement with BRAC Tanzania./>