By Mohammed Al-Shawaf, KF9 Palestine

King Hussein Bridge sign

Veer Right to Cross Into Israel/Palestine

I’ve discovered the best time to reflect: It’s in between the second and third rounds of interrogation at the Israeli side of the King Hussein Bridge border after fielding the same question over and over–”So…why are you here?”

I first recalled how eerily similar these questions were to the first time I told my father that I wanted to be a Kiva Fellow in Palestine:

“You want to go to Palestine?”

“What’s Kiva?”

“All out of your own pocket?”

“Can I see your bank card?

To my father’s credit, he was a bit less incredulous and did refrain from asking that last question, but you get the idea.My thoughts then moved to a conversation I had with my Aunt Thabia the night before.  I had been staying with family in Amman, Jordan for the past two days, getting my bearings before beginning my trek across the Jordanian-Israeli border and into Ramallah. Before I left Berkeley, CA, some of my friends gave me going-away gifts in the form of Kiva gift cards (a virtuous trend I will likely reciprocate ad infinitum).  My aunt knew very little about what Kiva was and how it worked, so I thought it would be great to get on the website and have her make a loan with me.

When my aunt lived in Baghdad, Iraq, she was herself a small entrepreneur, selling hand-knit clothing under the label “Only 1 by Al-Shawaf.”  As such, she instructed me to look for loans that were fundraising in the clothing industry.

In between the page loads, I explained Kiva’s basic model: Socially-minded investors making small loans directly to entrepreneurs wanting to expand their businesses.  We read the borrower profile of Hamze, a 20 year old owner of a clothing store and the breadwinner for his entire family.  At this point my Aunt Thabia, Kiva’s latest, biggest fan, told me that what Kiva was doing was very “Islamic.”

My aunt might be right, but Kiva is certainly no more “Islamic” than it is “Jewish,” evidenced (through a quick scan on the Kiva website) of the 18 Jewish-inspired Kiva lending teams.  And what Kiva is doing is certainly “Christian,” the best example of this being “Kiva Christians,” the second-largest lending team on Kiva with 2,830 members and over $650,000 in loans.  The only lending team larger: “Atheists, Agnostics, Skeptics, Freethinkers, Secular Humanists and the Non-Religious.”

For the next ten weeks, I will be living and working in a land that is holy to three of the major religions of the world.  The conversation with my aunt reminded me of what makes Kiva such a special organization:  its mission crosses all borders, its impact crosses all faiths, and its adage is proven time and time again: “lending is connecting.”


Join the lending team Palestine and keep proving the adage that “lending is connecting.”

Mohammed Al-Shawaf is serving as a Kiva Fellow with Ryada and FATEN, two new field partners based in Ramallah (West Bank).

Follow Mohammed’s experiences in Palestine on Twitter @moshawaf

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