Of Autarky, Redundancy, and Giving
By Eric Rindal – KF15 – Sierra Leone
“Soon you’re not going to be here anymore, and I need to start doing things for myself,” Mbalu, the Kiva Coordinator at BRAC SL, earnestly said to me. One of my main objectives here in Sierra Leone has been to finalize Mbalu’s orientation of writing the Kiva borrower profiles, posting profiles to Kiva.org, and reporting borrower repayments to Kiva headquarters. With a great sense of accomplishment, last month was Mbalu’s first time posting borrowers onto Kiva.org without any
assistance. Her statement toward independence hit me with a little bit of sadness and a full punch of reality as I was reminded of my temporary presence. However, within this, I encountered a paradigm-shifting question, “what will happen tomorrow?”
This question has pervaded nearly every part of my life here in Sierra Leone. One common sentiment capping most sentences is that “things aren’t easy here in Sierra Leone.” Even though the country has steadily progressed since the civil war (1991-2002), there remains a great mix of needs deep within the soil. The ever-present reality of hunger sends me into a daily dilemma of giving a little bit of money to this person or that person who seriously need food. It is heartbreaking, but what will the needy do tomorrow for food when I am not around? Am I giving to mitigate their need tomorrow? Inevitably my time here has forced me to analyze how I give and who I give to. What is becoming clearer is that people would rather receive money for what they can do (e.g. a micro loan for a business), rather than for what they cannot do (e.g. alms for food). Intentionally giving toward productive ventures and self-sufficiency has a much more lasting affect.
The idea of autarky, which is economic independence or self-sufficiency, has since begun to envelope my mind when I see an outstretched hand. Previously, I would give money simply because I had and others did not. This detached my concern toward the use of my giving and conveyed that tomorrow was simply not my problem. But my fleeting presence here has started my mind whirring with thoughts about tomorrow.
Giving toward self-sufficiency became my goal, and promoting autarkic living seemed clearly attainable through micro loans. There are many places to give and many people with need, but supporting the self-sufficiency of a recipient and society should be on the forefront of our minds as we hand over our next dollar, pound, euro, yen, or Leone.
Employee training has illuminated this aim of my finite presence toward an infinite influence. By the time I arrived, Mbalu had received sound training from previous KF14 Fellow David McNeill. She recently e-mailed me, “I am doing fine, you and David taught me Kiva job, now i can do it for my self.” It occurred to me that in training employees the Kiva process, I was working toward my own redundancy, essentially to no longer be needed. Working in a developing country gave me the illusion that I am needed, and suddenly I find myself rather superfluous. Maybe this is the startling realization that comes from successfully working toward sustainability. After a bit, it all begins to make sense. As I sit at my little desk in southern Sierra Leone, the point of this whole Kiva Fellowship becomes apparent: equipping people and leaving them in control. Furthermore, this is what Kiva is about.
Over the last three months I reverently reflect on the many starving faces I have seen, some very helpless situations, yet noticing a fervent, grasping desire to be better off. Although, it has become apparent that when it comes to poverty and lending or giving, no matter how badly I want it or try, I may never be redundant. But I find great hope in the fact that self-sufficiency is possible, and I witness this every day with Kiva borrowers. I find great hope in the fact that Kiva Fellow class, by Kiva Fellow class we are becoming redundant. Finally, I find the greatest hope in the people who recognize their position in life and their fortunate ability to give and lend.