By Megan Bond, KF15, Ecuador
My Kiva Fellowship is coming to an end. I will leave Ibarra and travel to Quito. An overnight flight will bring me to Atlanta and, finally, another flight will carry me to Dallas where I will resume my pre-Kiva Fellowship life. In less than two weeks, I’ll be back at Southern Methodist University, located in one of the most privileged neighborhoods in the city of Dallas. The juxtaposition of poverty and incredible prosperity I witness in my life is weighing on me as I think about my departure. I can find the lines between the so-called “haves” and the “have-nots” drawn heavily here in Ecuador and in my own US city where economic segregation is a daily reality. How do I reconcile what I’ve seen this summer with the luxury and lives of excess I see at home? How am I going to feel when I pay more for a cup of coffee at the Atlanta airport than I do for an entire day of room-and-board in Ibarra? These are just personal examples that illustrate an internal dilemma that many people, aware of the world’s most pressing issues yet not experiencing them, must comes to terms with. Where do I fit within all of this? And, the question I learned to pose when I was a student in college, “what, therefore, should I do?” stands out in my mind. What will I do with this knowledge and experience?
This summer, the fact that here are many faces of poverty just as there are many faces of prosperity in this world became crystallized in my mind. There is no one “poverty” just as there is not a single image of “prosperity.” People in Ecuador, usually after uttering the common phrase “please, excuse my poverty” themselves, often ask me whether poverty exists in the United States. I tell them the most concise response I can think of: poverty is widespread all over the world. They tend to accept the truth of this statement but look puzzled. They find it hard to reconcile the ubiquitous imagery of abundance and luxury from the US with what they know of poverty as they experience it. Inevitable questions arise next: Do people work in the fields for meager wages or risky harvests? Do they suffer from hunger? Must they work 16 hours a day to make ends meet? Do they send their children to work or to school? Must they decide between eating breakfast OR dinner each day? Poverty might not fit these particular criteria in every circumstance but, all over the world, poverty exists alongside great wealth. It puzzles me just as it puzzles the Ecuadorians I’ve spoken with about the subject.
The gap between the rich and the poor continues to widen around the world. Luxury villas have sprung up near urban shantytowns. Cell phones are more common than toilets in India. According to The Economist, the richest 1% of adults control 43% of the world’s assets while the richest 10% control 83%. The bottom 50% of the world’s adult population controls on 2% of the world’s assets. What do we do with this overwhelming information? Some might consider it too distant from their own lives or too insurmountable to think about. I am at the point where I can’t push it aside with the attitude that ignorance is bliss.
For me, ignorance is not bliss. Using the knowledge I’ve obtained about the world, my bliss is doing what I can to share that knowledge with others and to work to change what I feel is unjust about the world in my own small way. I’ve become even more dedicated to my own (admittedly tiny) role in alleviating poverty worldwide. The Kiva Fellowship and being a Kiva lender have taught me that nobody can do everything but that everybody can do something. Here at the end of all things related to my Kiva Fellowship, I’ve been honored to know some of the kindest and hardest working people I’ve had the opportunity to meet. They’ve opened their homes and their lives to me. They opened my eyes to a different kind of life and they challenged me to think more deeply about the world and my place in it. How we reconcile our lives in the context of global issues is a personal and challenging journey that few people seem willing to take. To my fellow Kiva lenders and the other Kiva Fellows, I’m glad to be taking this journey alongside people like you. Let us all decide what, therefore, we should do with our knowledge and experience.
Saludos and adios from Megan, a Kiva Fellow in the northern Ecuadorian Andes. Kiva Love and, please, keep lending!