What we can learn from La Paz’s zebras: A guide for future Kiva fellows

By Alexis Guild, KF11 Bolivia

Zebra helping people cross the street

I am basically halfway through my fellowship.  On one particularly reflective day, I started thinking about future classes of Kiva fellows.  The topic of surviving a Kiva fellowship has been explored in previous posts (see Nadia Anggraini’s  post : Kiva Fellowship Survival Guide). However, with KF12 getting ready for training in a month and new Kiva fellow applications rolling in, I thought I would share my thoughts on what it takes to be a Kiva fellow…by writing about the zebras of La Paz.

Yes, La Paz has zebras. The streets are filled with them. Of course, they are not real zebras.  They are people dressed in zebra costumes who help direct traffic on the busy and often chaotic streets of La Paz. Seeing these zebras always makes me smile. A few days ago, I ran into many zebras on the Prado (the main thoroughfare through downtown La Paz) and thought to myself– what can future Kiva fellows learn from these zebras? Here is a list of 4 characteristics essential to be a successful zebra and a successful Kiva fellow:

1) Enthusiasm

Zebras are always enthusiastic, whether playing with a child or dancing in the middle of the street so pedestrians can safely cross. There is no such thing as a dowdy zebra.

As a Kiva fellow, you have to be enthusiastic about your work (especially on those days when you feel frustrated) – a smile gets you a long way!

2) Optimism

It’s hard to change people’s habits. Many here are used to crossing the street whenever there is opening between cars. Zebras are optimistic that, poco a poco, they can change the behavior of the average Paceña (resident of La Paz), making the city safer.

Kiva fellows are optimistic by nature. We believe that microfinance can make a difference in people’s lives. We therefore dedicate three months, sometimes more, working on the ground with Kiva’s partners all over the world. This optimism is essential to your success.

Zebras on the Prado

3) Fearlessness

The streets of La Paz are dangerous – there are many cars, small streets, and little respect for streetlights and pedestrians. When a light turns red, the zebras jump into the middle of the street. Do red lights stop the cars? Not necessarily. But the zebras go out there anyway.

Going to a foreign country where you do not know anyone can be scary. As a Kiva fellow, you need to conquer that fear and be confident that you will adjust and find your groove (although it may take longer than you expect).

4) Compassion

Zebras are compassionate. Being a zebra is a service to the community. I do no know what their compensation is, but I am pretty sure that money is not the main motivation. They want to help people and make La Paz a safer and more enjoyable place to be.

Kiva fellows are motivated by a desire to make a difference. It is a volunteer position, after all. We also work with many kinds of people: loan officers, administrators, entrepreneurs, etc. Compassion and empathy are essential characteristics that will allow you to connect with your co-workers and clients

Do you possess these characteristics? Apply to be a Kiva fellow today! (link)

Learn more about our field partners in Bolivia! Loan to an entrepreneur through IMPRO or Pro Mujer Bolivia (link).

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