Edith, a Kiva borrower, has a small wooden hair studio in Torkpoi town.
There are things we do to survive. We find work, shelter, food and pay our bills. Then there are the things we do to live. To live, we feed ourselves with the arts, conversation, beauty, sports, entertainment and nature. What a people do to live says a huge amount about them. These pursuits do not seem to cease in times of hardship; if anything they are bullishly defended. In 1994, the Sarajevo Philharmonic Orchestra performed in the ruins of City Hall. In doing so, they showed the world that their spirit was not broken.

As a Kiva Fellow, I have served in Sierra Leone for 2 months and have studied the quirks of its wonderful people. Spirit is shown here in many ways, but style especially seems to be integral to the art of living. Being an unpaid volunteer brings you closer to the experience of many local people. Electricity and hot water are hard to come by. There is heat and dust. Ironing clothes often involves heating coals to place in an archaic iron. You realize, from having washed a white shirt in cold water and soap, that wearing one is an act of stylish audacity. You look around and become struck by the high standards of grooming and style. Outfits are well put-together, shoes are polished. It is not just the girls that have style; the boys have a quality described in Krio as swagger.

I noticed hair and beauty salons in almost every village I visited and decided to meet a Kiva borrower in the industry. Edith has a small wooden studio in Torkpoi town, near Bo. The studio is decorated in lilacs and turquoise. Pictures from magazines are pinned to the wall for inspiration. Edith has developed a reputation for fixing bad weaves and showed me the oils she uses to soothe damaged hair. Edith is inherently caring and fixed my hair throughout the interview. She told me her Kiva loan was used to buy supplies to offer lucrative hair weaving services to her clients. It is helping to bring her business to “a bigger level." Her dream is to spend some time in Europe to practice working on different kinds of hair. She would then return to her town to set up a training school in her studio. She points to young girls in the street. “I could give them a trade, an education.”

I eventually had to leave but not before Edith fixed my hair again and gave me a hug. I learned a huge amount from the visit. People like Edith play a role in the art of living. Many women in Sierra Leone have tough lives. They are often the sole providers for their children and care for their extended families. I love the idea of these women scraping together some money, every now and then, to go and sit on Edith’s chair. To do something for themselves. To be looked after and fussed over until they feel beautiful again. To live and not just survive. They then return restored, ready to give once more.

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Yvonne is an Irish lawyer who has worked for over 5 years in one of Ireland’s leading law firms. Yvonne grew up in a rural village in West Cork, where her father was a voluntary director of a local Credit Union. Inspired by a summer spent volunteering with refugees, Yvonne delayed her professional legal studies, upon graduation from university, to gain an LLM in human rights law. She saw the limitations to the ‘top-down’ approach to human rights (where states routinely enter into conventions without follow-through) and decided, as Eleanor Roosevelt once said, that human rights begin ‘in small places, close to home’. Yvonne’s training was profoundly shaped by the global banking crisis. As a legal advisor to investment funds and regulated financial service providers, Yvonne has advised on the national, European and international legislation emerging from the fallout of the crisis. Yvonne hopes to use her sense of good banking practices to inform her work as a Kiva Fellow. Yvonne is thrilled to have the opportunity to assist the operations of BRAC Sierra Leone during her Fellowship, and to learn about West African culture. She is really looking forward to seeing how the loans improve the lives of local borrowers. 
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