Worlds Apart: Connecting with Borrowers
Kiva is based on the principle that an average person can lend through microfinance and help borrowers all over the world. One aspect of my fellowship is to foster the connection between borrowers and lenders, and in the course of my work I have had the opportunity to meet with borrowers and hear their stories.
With the aid of my Kiva Coordinator we traveled by bus to distant branch offices in Cambodia. Then, guided by a local credit officer, we motorcycled on the dirt roads through villages, a spectacular way to see the rural landscape. The verdant and luscious green rice fields contrasted stunningly with the blue cloudy sky. Throughout the natural scenery, majestic Buddhist temples and modest homes of wood and thatch hugged the sides of the roads, and children and families looked on as we passed by. Several villagers waved and greeted the credit officer, familiar with their banker.
As we sped along the dirt roads between borrowers’ homes, the monsoon season was certainly upon us. The ominous threat of rain loomed over us as the sky darkened and a cool breeze replaced the heat. When it began to rain we forged ahead, maneuvering through the slippery mud, which unavoidably splattered onto our wet shoes and pants. When we finally arrived at the homes of borrowers, we slipped along the small paths to reach them and their warm greetings. My Kiva Coordinator laughed at my scared attempt not to fall and assured me it will only get worse. Soon the rain will affect the roads so much that we will have to walk long distances in the treacherous mud to reach the borrowers.
But meeting the borrowers was worth it. At each home, borrowers and their families offered a glimpse into their lives. As we sat and talked in their homes, many continued to work and relatives would take turns offering information as their children and grandchildren played nearby.
Many borrowers used their loans for motorcycles, a common vehicle for transportation in Cambodia. Some were motor-taxi drivers, others needed a way to commute to their institutional jobs, and others needed to transport products and produce to markets. Motorcycles were often purchased with a cart or carriage to move people, fish, vegetables, clothes, grain husks, rice sheets and recyclables. Borrower Chhorvoin’s cart, named “Long Beach Meat Balls,” housed imported meat balls fried with vegetables for hungry customers.
For others, the loans provided a means to expand or start new services, whether it was a grocery store stacked with daily use items, a motorcycle and bicycle repair store, or a food stand. As I spoke with Sokha, a borrower that expanded her roadside restaurant, a neighbor and her young child arrived and began drinking tea and eating her delicious food.
Despite the different needs and uses of the loans, each borrower mirrored the others. Every borrower expressed an inspiring entrepreneurial spirit with hopes for growing their business, albeit cautiously and carefully. Looking ahead, many borrowers expressed their hopes for their children. Hourt wanted to help her son by providing him tools to match his furniture-making skills and Sothy hoped to help his older daughters start their own sugarcane juice business. Neang used her loan to pay for her sons to attend a local university, explaining that a proper education is her first priority because it will allow her children to get good jobs and avoid their current hardships.
Again and again, their stories reflected their hard work ethic and determination to make a better life for themselves and their families. It wasn’t all good cheer and there were struggles, including difficulty with repayments. However, the loans were always valued as important for raising their family’s standard of living.
Microfinance is known to provide an empowering and dignified approach to alleviate poverty, but Kiva offers more than microfinance. As lenders we are able to connect, not only financially, but through the life stories of others around the world.
To read updated stories of Kiva borrowers click here!
Lenders: Look for a new tool Kiva is piloting where lenders can ask and direct questions to borrowers!
By Anjali Fleury, Kiva Fellow. Anjali is serving her fellowship with CREDIT, a partner of World Relief, in Cambodia. She enjoys spending time with and learning from the borrowers and the friendly staff at her microfinance institution.