Honeymoon in Sierra Leone

Two years ago, back in Dublin, I hatched a plan to become a Kiva Fellow. In Africa, if at all possible.

To make the dream stick, I enrolled in a development work preparatory course held on weekends in an old Georgian building.

“First will come the honeymoon period,” the facilitator warned, in a class on cultural immersion. “Then culture shock, then adaptation. Finally, when you return home, there will be some reverse culture shock.”

The dream stuck and the plan worked out. I have been working in Sierra Leone as a Kiva Fellow since February, helping the microfinance operations of BRAC Sierra Leone and finding other projects for Kiva to support.

Let the record show that Sierra Leone offers as heady a honeymoon period as any other. The earth is red. Music pumps from the ‘poda-podas’ (minivans) that weave around, packed with passengers. Women walk with the carriage of queens carrying wares on their heads. Taxis are bespoke with urgent declarations of loyalty (“Arsenal till I die!”). There are intense smells of food, of life. The sun makes each color more alive. Every veranda becomes a theater stall as people have conversations overheard in the street.

Sierra Leone is teaching me about resilience. Many of the Kiva-supported business people I have met did not set out to be shop keepers or market traders. They got into business to make ends meet after the war. They taught themselves how to sell, to negotiate for stock, to build something. We adapt to hard times and change and grow.

A month in, I can report that the honeymoon doesn’t last forever. The twinges of culture shock are no match, however, for the inspiration given by each borrower who crosses your path. I will share stories and pictures about these people soon. 

About the author

Yvonne Deane

Yvonne is an Irish lawyer who has worked for over 5 years in one of Ireland’s leading law firms. Yvonne grew up in a rural village in West Cork, where her father was a voluntary director of a local Credit Union. Inspired by a summer spent volunteering with refugees, Yvonne delayed her professional legal studies, upon graduation from university, to gain an LLM in human rights law. She saw the limitations to the ‘top-down’ approach to human rights (where states routinely enter into conventions without follow-through) and decided, as Eleanor Roosevelt once said, that human rights begin ‘in small places, close to home’. Yvonne’s training was profoundly shaped by the global banking crisis. As a legal advisor to investment funds and regulated financial service providers, Yvonne has advised on the national, European and international legislation emerging from the fallout of the crisis. Yvonne hopes to use her sense of good banking practices to inform her work as a Kiva Fellow. Yvonne is thrilled to have the opportunity to assist the operations of BRAC Sierra Leone during her Fellowship, and to learn about West African culture. She is really looking forward to seeing how the loans improve the lives of local borrowers.