KIVA and Kenya

kenya.jpgMy hubby has recently gotten really excited about an international development group called KIVA. This non-profit organization has been featured by everyone from Oprah to Bill Clinton for their stellar methods and results – KIVA offers microloans to poor and working people around the world so that they can lift themselves out of poverty. Using local partnerships and really solid practices to set up the recipients of the loans, KIVA then asks individuals to give loans online (in increments starting at $25), that will be repaid by the recipient at low interest within 1-2 years so that the money can then be re-invested in new development microloans. KIVA is so ‘successful’ in their work (they currently give almost 15 million in loans), that around Christmas, all their possible loans has been covered and people visiting their site and willing to give money had to wait for new opportunities to give loans (which now are availble). The story of the organization is also fascinating – it started with a couple that had a heart for international development who then grew a solid and smart company from scratch. It is so encouraging to me that smart and dedicated, ‘everyday people’ are now helping connect people around the world through loans and through their stories. It is a really great example of what can work in the sometimes overwhelmingly complex realm of international development.          

In their words, here is a summary of KIVA:

“Named as one of the top ideas in 2006 by the New York Times Magazine, Kiva (www.kiva.org) is the world’s first person-to-person lending marketplace for the poor. Kiva’s goal is to reduce global poverty by letting consumers lend to and connect with a specific developing world entrepreneur online. In a little over a year, Kiva has rapidly grown to connect 65,000 Internet lenders to thousands of entrepreneurs in 30 developing countries. Headquartered in San Francisco, Kiva is a 501(c)3 non-profit internet start-up that has a rare opportunity for dramatic growth and profound systemic impact.”

I learned about this great group through Peter (hubby), and we decided to give several loans this past year through KIVA to various groups using microloans. One group that we gave a loan to is the Ebony Foundation in Kenya, who is itself a lending organization working with poor and rural populations in their region to create income generating opportunities. One option that KIVA offers are journal updates that help connect lenders/recipients and share the on the ground stories of the mission the money is funding. The recent journal update from the Ebony Foundation is a powerful one, as the Director relates just some of the horrors that Kenya is experiencing right now due to the senseless violence and civil fighting going on in their region. Here is an excerpt from the journal upate relating how much the fighting has affected just the clients of the Ebony Foundation:

“We have recently completed auditing the riot’s impact on our clients and as of yesterday about 4,900 of our clients had been badly affected by the riots:

— About 1,532 of our clients were displaced and both their homes and business premises burnt down. This population is currently housed in church compounds and police stations.

— Another 2,479 clients had their business premises burnt down or looted leaving them with no source of income at all.

— 833 clients had their homes looted or burnt down and about 56 clients are missing and feared dead or critically injured.”

Sometimes I need reminders of the reality of what is happening around the world like this; I knew violence had erupted in Kenya that was serious, but this update was a reminder to me to pray and to be intentional about remembering this reality, not hearing about it on the news and dismissing it. I am now somewhat connected to these people, to this Foundation’s work to help equip this population to pull itself out of poverty, and it matters to me what is happening there.  

In addition to this sobering reality check, the journal update ends with a long list of fascinating comments that actually brought me to tears. Literally hundreds of KIVA lenders commented on the Ebony Foundation’s update that they hoped everyone was alright, they appreciated the update, and said that they wanted their loans to various people within the Eobny Foundation forgiven. Some lenders also offered to loan more money, or outright donate funds, or help out in other ways if needed. While I know that a simple expression of generosity can sometimes be a thin answer for people to offer in the face of tragedy (the idea that you write a check and feel better without engaging the deeper issues), I was moved that, again, just ‘everday people’ who have chosen to be connected to Kenya in some way through these loans are affected by violence halfway around the world enough to express their care financially. Who knows if these simple forgiven loans will be ‘enough’ to make a difference in the face of all that Kenya and the Ebony Foundation communities are going through, but it means something. It conveys something to the Ebony Foundation. And I think it shows something significant, maybe transformative, happening on the part of the lenders. To be inspired, just read the update and some of the comments yourself. And if you’re looking for a great way to support development efforts around the world at just about any level of financial commitment, check out KIVA.org.      

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Financial Justice and Shopping for Baby

My husband and I have been diligently learning about the world of newborn care as we wait for Baby V to make her appearance. Along with learning about the important topics like baby health and caretaking, there is a lot of “gear” associated with having a baby (in our country anyway) to learn about that we’ve now been exposed to. Beyond what I would call the basics of clothing, blankets, a car seat and a few bottles, there are a variety of products at baby stores that all claim to help a newborn sleep or eat better, be safe in a car or secure in the park, make mom more comfortable or help dad with feedings, help families be portable and babies feel attached to their parents, etc. etc. Plastics of every shape and (pastel) color claim to be able to deliver these goods – for a small price. I’ve already felt overwhelmed by the not-so-subtle messages that a loved and healthy baby “needs” a lot of this gear. As an almost new parent, I can see how we newbies entering this realm might not be able to discern what is needed, what is helpful, what is a luxury, or what is worth a little more money. It’s literally a new consumer world for me to ponder – and one that, like it or not, our family will now be impacted by.

This isn’t all bad of course – I love the selection of cute fabrics that our big box stores provide, the choices in products to help keep a room from smelling like a dirty diaper, and creative inventions that keep a pacifier near a baby or a shirt from being covered in drool. Products, afterall, aren’t really the problem; as with any financial issue, its the internal priorities and attitudes that have the power to shape or weaken us. But there is an unease within me as we finish up our baby registering in anticipation of baby showers coming up. When we went through the registry process before our wedding almost nine years ago I felt the same tension – this sense that I was getting pulled between needs and wants, between gratitude for having enough and greed for having the next or the nicer product. I freely affirm that learning about finances is a journey – one I suspect I will be growing through my whole life – but something about this current phase of shopping and planning and buying and acquiring stuff reminds me of it sharply and profoundly. So – how do we amass more stuff without getting attached to it? How does our little family receive gifts and products that ARE in fact helpful with gratitude, and with the right perspective? How do we celebrate the excitement that we want to share with family and friends through baby showers, appreciate the handmade fabrics/decorations for a new nursery space, and enjoy the “gear” that we do need/want/get? How do we intentionally build in some financial justice into this exercise of spending that new parents often experience? How do I graciously accept the ‘more than enough’ of everything that my child will have, while at the same time remain aware that many children around the world don’t even have clean water after they are born?

I don’t know the answer to this yet, but I have been thinking a lot about it, and have learned some wisdom from already-parents who have graciously shared their lives and ideas with us so far. I also know that I have just started learning about this world. Do you have thoughts on how to intentionally use money well, and also not over-obsess about it? How to keep a healthy internal attitude in relation to products and stuff in general? Places to spend money specifically on baby gear that benefits others (or a least does not harm others)? I’ll post again on this soon – I’m currently working on a list of principles and a list of practical places to shop/buy, as a place for me to start and at least be aware of. So any ideas?       

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A Lenten Prayer – to Help us Remember

I offered the below prayer at an Ash Wednesday service at First Covenant Church in Seattle, WA. The theme of the service was “Awareness and Unity With Our Global Neighbors,” and the guest speaker, Holly Hight of Bread for the World, gave a wonderfully personal and profound reflection on the topic “Hunger… As if it Matters.” After the speaker and this prayer, I and the two pastors at First Covenant performed the rite of putting ashes on foreheads as people came forward to be marked and for personal prayer. It was a moving evening and the start of an important season. As pastor Mark Nilson said on the Sunday morning following our experience on Ash Wednesday, “Lent is not just a ho-hum, downer of a season, it is an amazing time in the church year because we are invited to repent and to start anew – we are given a second chance! I love Lent!” He ended the sermon by exclaiming, “Happy Lent, Happy Lent, Happy Lent!” So, Happy Lent to you.  

“We come before you today to remember who we are.

We come before you today to remember whose we are.

We come before you today to be marked by you.

We come before you as your people, members who are spread around the globe and separated by geography, but united through one faith and in one body. We ask for your Spirit of truth and promise to be with our community on our journey to do justice and love mercy, to renew us and to give us wisdom.

Give us eyes to see the global suffering that is not always in the news; mark us with your eyes, oh God.

Give us ears to hear the individuals crying through the cracks of complex systems; mark us with your ears, oh God.     

Give us feet to respond in small and large ways in our community and in our world; mark us with your feet, oh God.

Give us hands that are open to receive and learn alongside those for whom we advocate; mark us with your hands, oh God.

We come before you today to remember who we are. We come before you today to remember whose we are. We come before you today to be marked by You.   

We come before you with our prayers, our hopes, and our pain alongside those who are suffering in hunger and in poverty around the world. We ask for your Spirit to be with the hungry in our midst, those in pain in our own congregation, those with cracks in their families or their health, those who are alone or grieving private pain.  

Even as Christ set his face to go up to Jerusalem, so, our Father, we would renew our discipleship and take up the cross and follow him. Help us to make the cross meaningful by putting right before self-interest, our neighbors before ourselves, principles above reputation, and love for you above love of self, through Christ Jesus our Lord.    

We come before you today to remember who we are.We come before you today to remember whose we are. We come before you today to be marked by You.”  

(“Even as Christ…” paragraph is excepted from “The Covenant Book of Worship,” an Invocation for Lent, p.58. The rest of the prayer was written by Liz VerHage; some portions of the prayer were first published in Bread for the World’s 2006 Offering of Letters kit as a congregational resource.) 

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