Volunteering at Kiva has been an incredible experience. I am a recently graduated grad student living in San Francisco, CA. When I learned that Kiva had their offices in my neighborhood, I decided that there couldn't be a better way to spend this year than volunteering with the organization.
in the DRC, a year ago
At Kiva, I am the coordinator for Content, Education, and Community Discussion on the Kiva website. This means, I write for and manage the blog you are currently reading. To produce the blogs I work with the Kiva community who have proven to be some of the most interesting people I have ever met. Weekly, I hear from internal and external experts in the field about their experiences in development and their latest projects. I have learned about what it takes to start a movement such as Kiva, how to make sure an organization stays true to its mission, and more than you could imagine about microfinance and Microfinance Institutions!
Kiva has an Intern program that recruits incredibly qualified candidates to work out of the San Francisco office, where they gain invaluable experience for their future and make some profound changes to the world. Interns work with all the different departments at Kiva from Development to Microfinance Partnerships to Engineering. These varied roles make up for a diverse class of interns fostering educational conversations within the intern class.
It is my family's influence that has caused in me a rarely satiated thirst for education and deep interest in helping others. It is this desire that attracted me to Kiva’s internship program. My mother and grandparents are the smartest, strongest, most capable people I’ve known. They are passionate, believe in empowering women, and spend their lives devoted to others. They’ve taught me about being compassionate and strong - but mostly, to care about others before anything else.
with Family in Naples, FL in 1994
When I first learned about microfinance I thought: what could be better? Helping women in poverty create a better life for themselves through running small businesses? This blew my mind – only then to realize that it goes so much further. Its not only women, its everyone and its not only the poor, its people ALL around the world with a myriad of financial situations. Check out some stories we have written about microfinance for: people who have been effected by disaster, people who are rebuilding after conflict, people using loans for environmentally sustainable causes, people in Rwanda, Peru, Bolivia, Cambodia, Pakistan, and South Sudan.
A couple weeks ago, I was asked to describe why I was so interested in international development. This memory came quickly:
A few years ago, I got a chance to spend a week in India, spending time in Dalit villages south of Chennai. I had been researching why economic development in these regions was so difficult. On the first day at one of the villages I was introduced to everyone; walking through the village turned into a welcome parade. I met a woman who had three children - it was clear she loved them dearly and was a wonderful mother. She couldn’t have been much older than me, maybe 21 at the time. We had no language in common, but shared some sort of bond of humanity. Her oldest daughter was particularly fond of me. Walking around the village she held my hand the entire time I was there, and wouldn’t let go.
Towards the end of the second day in this village, the mother came up to me with tears in her eyes. She had dressed her daughter up in her finest clothes and clearly had spent hours braiding her hair in the most beautiful and meticulous braid I had ever seen. She told me to take her daughter home with me. She didn’t have opportunities and her daughter was not going to have a chance to succeed. She wanted to give her a better life, and the best way she saw to do that was to give her to me - someone she had known for less than two days.
Not long after, I boarded a bus, waved goodbye and was off to the city. I was devastated and mad at the world for not giving this woman opportunity in life. But being mad is never a solution, and going on with life and forgetting about it was not an option either. I wanted to give that woman a chance. She deserves opportunities to improve her place in life. I think about that little girl all the time. Because of her, and the thought of so many like her around the world, I often stay up late at night thinking about the latest and greatest in development solutions and about how we can possibly be making steps to make this world a more equitable place.
This story has propelled my drive to spend a year volunteering at Kiva, to get on a plane to Africa and other far away places to volunteer - more than a few times, to become a Development Economist interested in making programs that help alleviate poverty more effectively, and to try to better understand and help others understand the world around us. It has become paramount in my mind to always stay involved with those who simply want a chance to improve their lives. This year, Kiva has given me that.
Volunteering at Kiva has been wonderful. I find Kiva’s model to be genius. The idea is that it belongs to everyone. We talk about Kiva meaning “unity” in Swahili. And we hear about the African idea of Ubuntu, that we are all connected in our humanness. From my point of view, Kiva enlightens us to connectedness, and is way for all to be involved in helping one another - unlike typical aid, there is nothing one sided about it. I have loved the chance to volunteer and have gained so much from simply coming into Kiva’s vibrant office. I have learned more than anticipated about microfinance and development, and seen effective ways to really connect people.
Here is a photo of our team: the Community Outreach Interns: Neda, Sonya, Annie, Kelsey, me, and Alyssa; with Chelsa (in orange), Director of Community Outreach and the world’s best boss, and Rachael (bottom right), the Kiva Volunteer Coordinator.