A Little Goes A Long Way

MARY Njoki, 42, needs $2,000 to expand her dairy business. Shes a single mom of two living in Nyandarwa, Kenya, earning about $73 a week an adequate living for Africa but not enough to pay for her sons escalating high-school tuition.

Instead of going to the bank, she went to Kiva.org, and her request for a microloan was posted on the Web site.

So far, her bankers have spotted her $1,350, but she still needs another $650 to buy two more dairy cows to produce and sell more milk to the nearby Kenyan processing plant. Her lenders are: Andrew from New York City; Robert from Leadville, Colo.; Reid and Barb from Cincinnati; Farhad from Pleasanton, Calif.; Tasha from Alexandria, Va.; Rutger of the Netherlands; Lynne from Los Angeles and a few other ordinary, middle class citizens of the world, each giving small amounts of $25 or more.

The concept of microfinance is not new. In fact, most trace it back to Mohammad Yunus, who, in the 1970s, set up the Grameen bank, which has lent over $3 billion. His life work earned him the Nobel Peace Prize of 2006.

Kiva.org founders, Matt and Jessica Flannery of San Francisco, took the concept of lending small amounts of money to poor people in developing countries to help them start or expand businesses and made it accessible to everyone via the Internet. They started last year in Kenya since that country had Internet access, even in outlying areas.

The Kiva concept was featured on Frontline/World, a PBS documentary program, last month. As a result, the Web site (www.kiva.org) received $30,000 in loans in almost 24 hours and then crashed. It is back up and running and a marvel to surf, especially for someone looking for meaningful Christmas or Hanukkah gift-giving.

Each year at this time, my wife, Karen E. Klein, and I pick a charity to give to. We used to do the research, but now that our sons are 15 and 17, weve shared the research duties with them. This year, we chose Kiva.org. Heres some of the high points on Kiva:

1. 100 percent of the money goes to the recipient. The Internet money transfer company, PayPal, will perform the transaction at no charge.2. Kivas partners will get the money to the recipient.3. The money is a loan. Though lenders are prohibited from charging interest by the SEC, they should expect to be paid back. After the loan is paid back (six months or up to a year), the lender can re-loan the money to a different entrepreneur and continue the cycle.4. Lenders can track progress of the business through the Kiva.org Web site, or sometimes entrepreneurs will send e-mails. The Web site usually includes a picture of the person and a description of the business venture. Lenders can identify themselves with first names, their city and a photo.

Some call this peer-to-peer lending. Others say through use of the Internet, the middle man is eliminated. For me, the meaning is based in the word kiva, which in Swahili means unity.

Too often, the news only widens the gap between the haves and have-nots just one way our world is divided. We throw up our hands when we hear about poverty in Africa. The Flannerys didnt quit. They found a way to unite those with means to those struggling. They found a way to cut through the red tinsel and commercial clutter of what passes for Christmas these days.

Gifts to us? The Christ child, the hope of glory, heavenly beams, family smiles. Gifts to others? Share some of your gold, frankincense and myrrh to someone who can really use it.

Closer to home
Last year, our family made a Christmas donation to Foothill Unity Center in Monrovia, a regional food bank for low-income families in the San Gabriel Valley.Volunteers are sought for the charitys annual gift-and-food distribution event. Adults are needed Sunday, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and again on Tuesday, from 9 a.m. to noon, at the Ayers Hall at the Los Angeles County Arboretum in Arcadia. The center could still use donations of food (turkeys, desserts and other meats) to include in food packages. The event is sponsored by the Tzu Chi Foundation/Buddhist Compassion Relief.For more information about donating food, cash or volunteering your time, contact the center at (626) 358-3486.

Have a meaningful holiday.

An earthly mission

THE holy couple of Christmas wander from town to town looking for a place to stay without avail. Theres no room at the inn, theyre told. They are homeless.

Today, if we dont identify with the 1,200 people sleeping on Pasadenas streets, or the 21,000 women or 15,000 children homeless in Los Angeles County, with whom do we identify?After reading our Nov. 30 article that ranked the San Gabriel Valley as the worst area for homeless services in the county, it dawned on me: Do we have more in common with the stingy innkeeper?I turned to Andy Bales, resident of northwest Pasadena and president of Union Rescue Mission in Los Angeles on Skid Row, for answers. Heres my interview with Andy:

Q: What is the Union Rescue Mission?
A: It is the largest rescue mission of its kind. We house 785 folks each night in our (downtown) facility. We just purchased property in the foothills near Sylmar (were renovating an abandoned retirement home) where we will move elderly women into permanent, supportive housing.

Q: Our story said 90 percent of those homeless women and children are unable to find official shelter. Why are more women becoming homeless?
A: A lot of single moms cant keep up with the cost of rising rents, and they dont have adequate skills to get jobs. We have to get the women in an environment where they can gain skills, go to school and save money.

Q: I thought we had a safety net in this country?
A: There is not enough of that. And add that to the rising costs of rents, there is not a way for them to keep up.

Q: Recently, you videotaped an elderly female patient being dumped onto Skid Row in a hospital gown, straight from a Kaiser hospital. Others say Skid Row is where the shelters and services are. Why is this a bad practice?
A: It has been a bad idea for many, many years. What weve done in Los Angeles County is so-called containment. We think we can corral them in one area called Skid Row, so the rest of us wont have to deal with these folks that are struggling.

Q: What has happened as a result?
A: It has caused great harm to the environment of Skid Row, making it dirty and filthy. … It has done great harm to those individuals who have been abandoned and dumped by society. Ive been active in working with other groups to make sure people are treated like human beings. We need to regionalize services so that each city, each area, takes care of their own homeless.

Q: Is the homeless problem getting worse or better?
A: In some areas, it is getting better. Overall, I think we are in bigger trouble. One tragedy looming is with the elderly on fixed incomes. Large companies are buying mobile home parks and raising rents 30 to 50 percent, and nobody is stepping in. Now there are elderly having to choose between medicine and rent.

Q: What can cities, communities do?
A: Take Pasadena. It has not been as intentional in creating affordable housing or work force housing. It has gone after affluent housing and caused a lot of flight (of poorer families) out of Pasadena. Unless we get intentional about helping the poor and marginalized, we are intentionally driving them out of town.

Q: How do the homeless numbers in the suburbs compare to those on Skid Row?
A: There are nearly as many homeless in Pasadena as living on the streets of Skid Row (about 1,200 in each).

Q: What do you recommend people do to help?
A: The biggest thing Ive tried to do at Lake Avenue Church (as pastor of outreach) was bring people face to face with homeless families, so they recognize they are human beings like you and me. That changes their hearts. Then I say, use your talents. Someone might be able to give money or raise money; someone else might serve a meal. I have a developer friend working on a plan to build several units as very low income.What is most needed is to come and talk to them … to play a game of chess with an elderly guy at a shelter or spend some time and laugh with the ladies.Why cant we care about our fellow brothers and sisters?

Q: Why? Why dont more of us care about the less fortunate?
A: We think maybe homelessness or poverty is contagious, when all that separates us from them is a catastrophic illness or a loss of a paycheck for a month. We want to immediately label them as troubled people to separate from them.

Q: God bless you, Andy.
A: You too, Steve.

Union Rescue Mission is located at 545 S. San Pedro St., between 5th and 6th streets in Los Angeles. The mission needs presents for its 15th annual Christmas Store Toy Drive. Visit their Web site (www.urm.org) for details, and check out the presidents blog for more stories.