My first woman was from Uganda. I don’t remember her name, unpronounceable to my Western tongue, but she needed money for her pots and pans store. I lent her $25 and, together with a group of people I will never meet, we ended up pooling together $800 for her business.A year later, her loan was repaid, a few dollars a month.
I have never been to Uganda and I never met that woman. I picked her story out of the hundreds on the Kiva website. Her large body sitting on the ground, her gap toothed grin and the pot she was holding made me choose her among many others, men and women, all over the world who rely on micro-lending. I realize that my choice was entirely personal and based on what tugged at my heart but such a connection is what charity organizations count on.
What attracted me to Kiva, an non-profit based in San Francisco, is their good reputation and the ability to pick projects and people I had an interest in. My bias is towards African and its women but Kiva operates in 57 countries all over the world. They partner up with micro-finance institutions in loco who are in charge of sorting out the applicants and posting their requests on the Kiva website. Then, people like me can log on and peruse among the hundreds stories (that can be sorted out by region/gender or personal interests). Once I find someone who captures my imagination more than others, I don’t have to pledge the whole amount, just what I can afford which is as little as $25. As soon as enough people have pooled the full amount the loan is funded. An interest is charged to the borrowers to cover the micro-finance institutions’ costs and Kiva, on our end, will tag $3.95 to cover their own costs.
Periodically I receive e-mails letting me know how my borrower is doing, if she is on track with her re-payments. 98.94% of the people who borrow repay their loans. Recently my $25 were repaid and I could choose to get my money back or to fund another project. I remained in Africa but from Mozambique I moved to Uganda where the Reventobo Tukou Women, a group of ladies who run a beauty salon, were in need of money to buy more cosmetics and weaves. I liked the apparent frivolity of the enterprise and I loved the idea of women in an unknown village in war-torn and impoverished Uganda looking after themselves and their appearance. As further proof that certain female traits are universal, no matter the location or the circumstances.