I wanted this post to be deep, intellectual thoughts that would blow all of your minds, but realize with only a few weeks of experience, I realize I don’t have any of those thoughts.  What I can offer is some observations I have about microfinance and poverty. It seems so two-dimensional to learn about something through a book or in a classroom when you can see it first hand.  Microfinance is no different.

One thing I have learned is part of the premise of microfinance: handing out money can many times be detrimental. On one occasion when confronted with a handicapped woman unable to work and buy her own food, a group receiving loans decided to support her with their savings.  Since their savings is a great sacrifice for that group, a wealthy businessman offered to cover her food expenses for a whole year.  Initially it seemed like a great idea but is not the best option.  The right motives can sometimes foster dependence and steal dignity.

Another thing I have learned is that we can all make a difference.  If you are reading this blog, that means you have a computer and the internet (or at least access to both).  That means you have money.  There are websites that allow their users to contribute money to directly fund loans for microfinance institutions around the world.  One such site is Kiva.org.  Members can contribute any amount that they want in increments of $25 and have the choice of getting their money back at the end of the loan, contributing to other groups, or donating the money to Kiva to cover operating expenses. Esperanza International works with Kiva but there are alternatives including LendforPeace.org, which was mentioned this past week on this blog.  For those who want to help poverty and make a difference have this opportunity to make a direct impact.

It seems like poverty can bring the worst out of people.  Poverty is a cause of theft, school delinquency, and even racism.  The Island of Hispaniola is comprised of the Dominican Republic and Haiti, which is the Western-hemisphere’s poorest country.  Many Haitians emigrate to the DR because of the greater opportunities not only in work, but also education and other areas.  The Haitians work for less and are often hired over Dominicans to save employers money.  In the Dominican Republic there are similar sentiments towards Haitians as there are in the United States towards Mexican immigrants.

Loans can spur growth and friendships.  One of my main duties is to interview clients about their life situations and see how a loan will affect them and then post that information on Kiva for the lenders.  Esperanza follows what Grameen Bank does in that we have individuals in groups that cross-guarantee each others’ loans, so when one member cannot pay the others cover for him or her.  This provides camaraderie among group members and is a great way to start friendships.  Between being grouped geographically, seeing each other at biweekly meetings, and the sense of a team working for a goal, these loan groups are a great way to develop friendships.  In every meeting I have attended I have seen a lot of laughing among attendees.

Little things we take for granted can drastically affect the way of life.  The best example I can think of is rain.  This past week it rained everyday.  Most of our clients do not own cars and have to travel by foot to get to meetings.  When it rains a lot, the dirt roads become mud roads, making travel difficult.  This can cause meetings to start late or be canceled; pushing back the whole day’s schedule for loan officers who often rely on public transportation or a motorcycle for travel.  A fellow myKRO blogger and HOPE/Esperanza intern, Krista Hoff, told me about a time she saw countless houses built under a bridge swept away due to the growth of the passing river.  A Kiva fellow I have worked with told me that traffic troubles caused by a mudslide cost her four hours traveling!

My experience here has been eye opening and I am really excited to see what else I will learn in the coming months!

About Kevin Halloran

I am a volunteer for Esperanza International working closely with Kiva in the Dominican Republic.
  • Don’t worry about not having “deep intellectual thoughts” after only 3 weeks. I’m looking forward to your learnings at the end of your stay in the DR.