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.
Anjali Fleury is currently working as a Kiva Fellow. She is serving her fellowship with CREDIT, a partner of World Relief Cambodia. Her story was originally posted on "Kiva Stories from the Field" on September 13, 2010. To see the original post, please click here.