I’m writing from Nairobi after an amazing lap around Kenya for The 1st International Bank of Bob, my upcoming book for Bloomsbury about microfinance, my own Kiva lending experience, and my personal encounters with Kiva entrepreneurs and others all over the world. (So far, my own repayment rate is vanishingly close to 100 percent — after 2029 loans, I’m down all of $31.82.)
Much of my time here was spent visiting with officers and clients of Juhudi Kilimo, a microfinance lender that focuses on Kenya’s rural population. It was a privilege to join them as we drove to small towns and villages in the countryside, meeting farmers and families whose whole lives are transformed — just by buying a cow with Juhudi’s help (and if you’re a Kiva lender investing in Juhudi’s loans, your help as well).
Mr. and Mrs. Mwangi of Murang'a show off their cool new cow
Think of a cow as a dairy farmer’s capital equipment, and you’ll see why this is so powerful: Juhudi has figured out a way for small farmers to finance a top-end hybrid cow that produces more than twice as much milk than a local cow, and for the farmers to pay off the investment in just one year — so the cow produces nothing but income for the rest of its life. In the first year, farmers get milk for the market in the morning and milk for the family in the evening — so they’re feeding the kids as well as ever while paying off the cow — but thereafter they have income to invest in their homes, their farms, and their children’s education.
Mrs. Mwangi's sister and her shy little boy
The kids were always the most fun to meet. They were almost always curious, friendly, and then playful like my own niece and nephew were at the same age.
(The lone exceptions were a few little ones who were frankly petrified at the sight of a human being with my strange skin tone. I didn’t know until this trip that there were still places in the world where this was possible, but oh yes — as one little girl who is probably still cowering under her mother’s skirt made abundantly clear.)
The most inspiring group I’ve met was this group of deaf farmers from Bureti, way out west halfway to Uganda.
The Bureti Self-Help Group for the Deaf, plus Nathan (2nd from left) and Fred (5th from right) from Juhudi, and some dude. Group chairperson Isaiah Arap Chepkulul is 4th from right.
They not only face the predictable challenges of any group of rural poor trying to pull themselves up, but they’re doing it in a society where deaf people suffer far more obstacles than they do in America. But they’ve committed themselves to supporting each other — even putting it in writing in a simple but powerful statement of purpose they’ve all signed.
The grace and welcome that flowed from these people when this total stranger showed up was more moving than I can describe.
Communicating was surprisingly easy. As deaf folks, they’re extremely skilled at making hand signals and understanding those of others, and when words were necessary, I could mumble in English, Fred from Juhudi would translate into Swahili, and one of the members with some hearing would translate this into sign language. And then the answer would come back around the same way.
But words were rarely necessary. Sitting with these sweet folks in a small wooden home, the love and mutual care they are providing each other is something I will be remember for the rest of my life. No exaggeration.
It may not seem like it, just pointing and clicking at Kiva.org, but you are sending more than a loan out into the world. For people like the Bureti group for the deaf, you are sending out love. I’ve seen it. I’ve felt it.