Tuesday morning at 8:15, all 20 of the new Kiva Fellows were on time, crowded around the breakfast table where Noah’s bagels, pastries and coffee were available to power us through the intense four days of training that would follow. The table in the middle of the training room was perpetually covered with beverages, snacks and laptops for the week we were there. I was extremely grateful for every ounce of caffeine and every handful of trailmix that JD, our Fellows Program Director, had to offer us along with the 800 Powerpoint slides and hours of practice sessions. I could tell in the first hour that the other 19 Fellows in the room with me were just as psyched as I was to have the amazing chance to work with Kiva, who is only 30 months old, in their very new program. Kiva puts an incredible amount of faith in strangers, a four day course, and the selection process to gather crucial information for the website via these new liaisons between the San Francisco office and the many MFIs around the world.
The reading materials for the course seemed like a lot of information to digest, being about 150 pages of microfinance terms, practices and the history of Kiva, as written by Matt Flannery. When I got to meet Matt and Premal (who joined Kiva in the beginning stages), I felt like I was in the presence of celebrities, although their demeanor suggested that I was in every way their equal. I would come to understand that microfinance terms and practices were the mere tip of the iceberg and that what appears on the Kiva website is a highly refined, user-friendly interface to simplify the complex workings of what they do. I also learned that my job as a fellow was not to be a microfinance specialist (thank god!) but primarily to write journals because that’s the humanizing element that Kiva adds to this industry. I think that I can do that so we’ll see how it goes once I get to Cameroon.
I want to introduce myself to everyone who may stop by the Fellows blog every once in a while to read my postings. My name is Lucy Gent, from Santa Fe, NM. I just spent a year in Brazil as a junior in college, and this is my fourth trip to Africa. This last year has been full of travels for me, spending 5 months in Rio de Janeiro studying economics in the fall, then going to Egypt and Senegal for 6 weeks while I took my Brazilian summer break, and finishing the school year back in Rio. I flew back to the US last Sunday so that I could participate in the Fellows training on Tuesday in San Francisco. Friday night I came to Santa Fe and I’ll be leaving on Tuesday for Cameroon, as long as my visa and passport get back to me by my 11:00 AM flight. I had been investing with Kiva for about a year when I found the Fellows program and knew that it would be an amazing opportunity to work in this field that greatly interests me and gives me the chance to continue traveling in Africa. With my graduation nearing, I’m trying to find where I can place myself to make an impact in the world and see results to gratify the hard work I’m willing to put in. I was so discouraged in Brazil by seeing the extreme poverty on every street corner and then going to my classes where my peers owned iPhones and 7 Jeans, which in USD equivalent cost about $700. I just didn’t feel like I should be in classes if there was any way I could be working to bring people out of poverty. This may provide the circumstance to experiment with that. I’m most excited see first-hand the nitty-gritty transactions of microfinance in the field and to talk to the individuals who are benefiting from this work. Probably what I’m most nervous about is running out of energy to give to the people I’ll be working with. I’m stepping into an office that works 45+ hour weeks and who have been dedicated to the cause for longer than Kiva has been around. I want to do the best job I can to help GHAPE, the office I’ll be at, and Kiva, and I’m just a little anxious about how much effort I can squeeze out of myself for the 10 weeks that I’ll be there. We shall see.
I’ll be arriving next week and hopefully I’ll be posting blogs pretty regularly. I would love to hear from anyone in the Kiva community about what their ideas and reactions are to what I’ll be experiencing so hopefully this is the beginning of a relationship I’ll have with you as the reader. Please feel free to write me or post comments. I’d love to hear from you! After getting pumped full of exciting information and energy from the training this last week, I’m ready to spring off into the field and I can’t wait to see what awaits in the field for me and for the other Kiva Fellows who will be heading off soon.