It was my first ‘borrower verification’, and things weren’t going exactly to plan. We were five hours into the journey with still a bit to go: darkness was falling fast and I was worried about the photos I needed for Kiva.
By way of background, ‘borrower verifications’ are a core part of the role as a Kiva fellow: acting as Kiva’s eyes and ears on the ground, it’s a mechanism for making sure everything is working as intended with the local partner organisation (in my case, a wonderful organisation called Camfed – The Campaign for Female Education). I’d been given a random sample of 10 Kiva borrowers to go meet, to confirm that the loan got to the right person, that it’s been used for the right purpose and that the Camfed and Kiva records all align. Importantly, it also allows us to see how the loan has impacted the life of the borrower and to feed this back to the lenders. Hence the need for some good photos.
It being my first trip out into ‘the field’, I’d excitedly been up since 6. Somehow, though, we didn’t get left until 2. That hadn’t seemed a big issue: Kwekwe, our target district, was only 2 hours away. However, what I’d not anticipated was that Kwekwe town was only the start of the journey.
Having picked up several additional local officials in town (representatives from The President’s Office and the Ministry of Education, the local chair of the Camfed network), we had packed into our 4×4 truck and headed into the countryside to visit Saziso, our selected borrower. As the hours went by, the roads had become increasingly narrow; windows were shut to avoid us being whipped by the trees and high grasses, the potholed tarmac had given way to unpaved roads, and these in turn for the final stretch seemed to have turned into nothing more than a rocky river bed. It being rainy season, several sections were flooded. I wondered what the journey back, in pitch darkness, would be like. But the fact that Zivanai, our calm and collected driver, was still cheery, kept me relaxed.
The lengthy trip was giving lots of opportunity for probing questions as well: was I not married?, did I not have any children? I should have been a priest, was the consensus conclusion (eh, hang on…). Eventually, just beyond the locality of Wozoli, we found Saziso, patiently waiting to show us her new business. And within a few minutes, I knew the long journey had definitely been worthwhile; it was so rewarding to get to meet such an bright and determined young woman, in person.
With the $500 Kiva loan Saziso received, she set up a ‘scholar tuck shop’ at the local school, catering for both teachers (with groceries) and schoolchildren (sweets and biscuits). In the light of our truck headlights, she opened up the shop and unpacked her stock to let us see. She proudly showed us her immaculate stock records, and explained how the business was going. There are challenges: in some areas, teachers are struggling financially, having not been fully paid in recent months, plus many local customers are gold-panners and are notoriously unreliable debtors. ‘The children still buy their sweets, though’, Saziso told us, laughing.
From her profits to date, Saziso has built a new kitchen in her family compound. She’s been able to help with medical bills for her mother-in-law, who fell ill earlier in the year. And she can support her three children.
It’s early days, but I feel this experience in Zimbabwe has already taught me a few things. Firstly, I’m beginning to see how amazingly resilient are the young women who take out the loans: remote and economically deprived areas present major challenges, but women like Saziso are enthusiastically embracing the opportunity, through Camfed and Kiva, to establish small businesses and generate a sustainable income. I’m struck, also, by how the Kiva loan programme, particularly through a partner like Camfed, impacts the wider community as a whole: in Saziso’s case, she pays ‘social interest’ on the loan in the form of voluntary work in the community (she’s a ‘learner guide’, coaching on life skills at the local school). Her profits go to supporting not just her family, but also the wider community as a whole. I’m learning how cohesively Camfed works with other bodies (the Ministry of Women’s Affairs, the Ministry of Youth, local authorities), and how this collective effort is providing a broad support network within the community. And finally, I’m particularly struck by the sense of pride, self-esteem and empowerment that comes to young women like Saziso through having a role in the community and a degree of economic independence.
We made it back to Kwekwe around 11 that night, thanks to Zivanai’s impressive driving skills. The photos for the Kiva lenders were a struggle, relying just on car headlights. But I hope I’ve at least been able to convey something of the warmth and pride that we saw in Saziso’s smile. The trip was well-worth all the bone-shaking. I can’t wait to meet my next borrowers.