Monday, October 29, 2012

#KivaTrip: Exploring Kiva's new connections in India

This is a post from Kiva staff members Chelsa Bocci, Laura Piper and Rachael Caine, who are currently in India visiting new Kiva Field Partner People's Forum. Follow their adventure over the next week as they work with the organization and meet with borrowers.

From left, Chelsa, Laura and Rachael fresh off the plane in Bhubaneswar.

After a 16-hour flight from SFO to Dubai, a 14-hour layover and an almost missed flight out from Delhi, we finally made it to our final destination: Bhubaneswar -- home to one of Kiva's very first Field Partners in India, People's Forum. As we walked off the plane, we passed a sign welcoming us to this "city of the gods" -- something we would soon find to be true, as this place is home to more than 50 active temples.

Before starting our work with People's Forum, we had some time to explore the surrounding area and get a feel for the people of Orissa. After a frustrating and unsuccessful morning searching for a SIM card and a decently priced taxi ride to the local temples, we were surprised to find Sunil, a Kiva Coordinator for People's Forum, waiting for us at our hotel and offering to spend the day showing us around Bhubaneswar. What an incredible surprise!

Sunil is a very kind Indian man in his early 20s. After graduation, his university placed him at People's Forum, and he was thrilled to find out they were establishing a partnership with Kiva. He had learned about Kiva in school, and hoped to be involved one day. Talk about serendipitous! It was his enthusiasm for Kiva and his economics background that got him the job as a Kiva Coordinator. Rejuvenated by a night's rest and inspired by Sunil's surprise visit, the four of us embarked on our first day exploring this capital city.

Kiva Coordinator and unexpected tour guide Sunil at a temple.

The day was spent visiting temples and learning more about Hinduism from local worshipers. Sunil explained that this week is special because they're celebrating a holiday. It seemed perfectly fitting to visit the temples on a day when so many families from all over Orissa were gathering to pay homage to their gods. It was really fun to engage with locals and learn more about their customs, religious practices and why they worship as they do. We were in awe of the complexity of the many gods and their relationships to one another.

Our favorite temple was Lingaraj, where Shiva and Vishnu (two Hindu gods) are worshipped together; it's the one space where their beings are intertwined. While the temples were magnificent, we were distracted by a small boy flying a kite a mile high in the sky. We caught site of the kite soaring high above the temples and traced the line back to his sheepish grin standing just behind us. He seemed to love the attention.

One of the number of temples visited.

A proud monkey mom spotted along the way.

After our temple tour was complete, we joined up with Irene, the current Kiva fellow stationed with People's Forum. Over a cup of coffee, she excitedly shared about all the incredible development programs that exist at this partner to help support their growing portfolio of borrowers.

For example, People's Forum hosts a rehabilitation center for Super Cyclone victims, as well as mentally challenged and distressed women. The fact that they target these often left behind groups of people is remarkable. We were touched to learn more about this and hear about the vocational training they offer for their semi-urban, rural and tribal borrowers.

Ending our first day in Bhubaneswar, we are full of excitement and anticipation for the days to come. We plan to spend the next week with People's Forum, visiting as many borrowers as we can and capturing photos and video to help bring their inspiring stories to life. We'll be posting to the Kiva blog a few more times this week, so be sure to check back for full updates and pics!

Keep tabs on Chelsa, Laura and Rachael during their travels here on the Kiva Blog and on Twitter, by following hashtag #KivaTrip. Have questions? Send them our way at