By Julie Pachico, KF9 Mexico
I said in my first post that I wanted to keep my eyes and ears open, especially in terms of how “la crisis” has been affecting the lives of Kiva borrowers in Nuevo Laredo. Most of the clients I’ve interviewed for journals have definitely commented (quite emphatically at times) that business these days has been certainly tough. What’s surprised me, though, has been the number of clients I’ve met whose struggles are more due to random acts of life or just plain bad luck, rather than the economy.
Take the example of R, a Kiva borrower who took out a loan to build an extra room for his house, so that he and his parents (who he lived with) could have more space. Earlier this year, R. had to have an operation on his heart. Because he didn’t earn a salary for the three weeks he was in the hospital, he couldn’t afford to pay the fee for his visa renewal, which he needed for his job as a truck driver exporting goods over the U.S. border. Since he couldn’t renew his visa, R ended up losing his job and is still looking for work three months later. As a result of this chain of events, R never ended up finishing the extra room he started to build with his Kiva loan.
Then there was the Kiva borrower whose infant son died of an infection shortly after birth, due to less than stellar conditions at the hospital. She and her husband are now in debt to the funeral home until 2013, paying 600 pesos a month. Since the husband’s job as a soda vendor is hardly a high-paying position, this additional financial burden has been a tremendous strain to the family, and has made it difficult for them to meet their loan payments on time.
As Kiva lenders, we might be confused when a loan we’ve made to a borrower appears as “delinquent.” It’s important to understand that one of the most significant characteristics of poverty is vulnerability. An illness in the family, a stolen purse, the loss of an animal if you are a farmer—all these events can set off a chain of events that can end in terrible hardship. I feel like it’s fair for me to say that for most Kiva lenders, these “random acts of life” are easier to deal with. If the worst occurs, most of us at least have a savings account to turn to, or the possibility to apply for a loan at a bank, or even a family member capable of bailing us out, Wall Street style. For a lot of clients at FVP, these support systems simply do not exist. Sometimes all it takes is one of life’s random events, the kind that happens to us us all, and suddenly a borrower’s ability to repay on time becomes all the more difficult.
This vulnerability makes the capacity to get a loan to start a small business all the more important. Not just for financial support, but for psychological reasons. Other Fellows have already posted about the emotional strain that comes with poverty: late bills, hungry kids, cut-off electricity, fights with your spouse, the pervasive sense of shame and helplessness. In face of all this, a loan can act as a little voice of hope and encouragement, saying “no, don’t give in, you can do it!”
Take Claudia, who’s using her own savings to pay off the loan her now ex-husband took out in order to build a fence around the house they no longer live in. Claudia took out another loan at FVP in order to pay for her son’s education and hopes to take out yet another one in the future, in order to finance her own home-based business. “What happened is in the past, y hay que seguir adelante,” she said in the FVP office, bouncing her seven-year-old son up and down in her lap.
“Seguir adelante” is the eponymous phrase I keep hearing again and again from FVP clients that’s so tricky to translate: to keep moving forward, to keep at it, to go on. One good example (out of many) of how to “seguir adelante” in Nuevo Laredo as an FVP client is Señora Juana, a Kiva borrower whose loan gave her the opportunity to open her own snack stand and support her family. You can watch our journal interview in the video below. (Yes, I did get to eat that homemade mango popsicle dipped in chilli, and yes, it was amazing.)