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.