What do a woman, a priest, a diamond trader have in common with microfinance?
As a Kiva Fellow one has many roles like trainer, guest speaker, advisor and others but I never expected someone to think of me as a woman, a priest or a diamond trader… how did it happened?
Walking through a small town I was happily greeted by many kids that were calling me Father – it sounded more like ‘fada’. I didn’t understand what they were calling me until my friend explained that the few foreigners came to the area and they are mostly priests visiting churches… If I was a foreigner, then I had to be a priest.
Why would someone think I am a woman? While visiting a small town in Sierra Leone two little boys were arguing if I was either a man or a woman, the one who said I was a man had talked to me the other had just seen me and was saying I was a woman because I have straight hair. It was an area that doesn’t receive many visitors and only women wear hair extensions or wigs with straight hair… If I had straight hair then I had to be a woman.
Another occasion I was waiting outside a store and had an encounter with two immigration officials. They asked me for identification documents. Luckily that day I was carrying my passport and after a couple of minutes talking why I was in Liberia they said they liked microfinance and wanted to be friends; then they casually asked me if I was interested in purchasing diamonds or helping them do business with diamonds in my home country. Never thought a Kiva Fellowship could open these kind of doors in my career.
Besides these unusual roles as a Kiva Fellow, there are others where I have the opportunity to participate in interesting activities related to Microfinance. Recently I was invited to join a lunch with personnel from Liberia’s Central Bank Microfinance Unit. It was great to hear that microfinance is considered as an important tool to activate the economy and also had the chance ask a couple of questions regarding a national personal IDs and about a credit bureau. Liberia currently does not have a national ID to identify its citizens, the closest would be the Voter’s Registration Card which some institutions are already using to identify their borrowers. The credit bureau may take longer. Currently there is only a database of bad loans (and borrowers) where banks submit information on a voluntary basis, but without a National ID system it is difficult to identify people by their name only. Things are changing fast in Liberia and hopefully these tools will soon be in place to have system to protect borrowers and ensure Microfinance indeed helps reduce poverty and activate the economy as it is expected to.
Want to try the world of microfinance around the world??? Join the Kiva Fellows program and give it a shot…
Carlos is enjoying his last weeks working as a a Kiva Fellow in Liberia.