On Valentine’s Day this past week, for the first time ever, I officially became a microfinancier through Kiva.org. I suppose it was my way of spreading love around the world.

I’ve been meaning to experiment with microfinance for a while, and though my knowledge on the subject is still relatively limited, from what I know, I’m a big fan of the model. The idea is to provide microcredit to self-employed individuals with limited income so that they can start or expand their businesses (mostly household businesses) without being victims of high interests from banks, which probably will not loan to those with very low or no income.

At Kiva.org, you can provide loans for as low as $25. The website has listings of various individuals around the world who are seeking for loans, their pictures, plans, and the financial institutions that Kiva works with in their respective countries. You can see how much money they need and how far along they are in their fund raising. The business areas include agriculture, clothing businesses, groceries stores, funds for education, etc. Once you get your money back, you can then re-lend it to another project on the website.[1]

On Valentine’s Day, I chose four different projects in Jordan, Pakistan, Peru, and the Philippines that moved me. I specifically chose projects by women who are widowed, except for one who is raising funds for university.

What was surprising to me was how quickly these projects became fully funded, even though when I checked them out on Tuesday, some of them were still 10% funded. Within one to three days, I got several emails from Kiva notifying that the projects I chose have become fully funded. It was impressive how much a pool of people can generate a relatively small amount of money in such a short amount of time, with presumably quite an impact in someone’s life.

Why do I like microfinance? I like it because it empowers many people to do what they need and want to do. It helps people to help themselves.

As I’m stepping into the adult life, I’ve realized how important it is for an individual to have autonomy, aspirations, and experience rewards in one’s work life. More than earning a living, these things boost one’s morale and help achieve a better life. It is far more superior to being told what to do or being a mere recipient of someone else’s charity.

There is an impressive quote in the book Education regarding courtesy.

True courtesy is not learned by the mere practice of rules of etiquette. Propriety of deportment is at all times to be observed; wherever principle is not compromised, consideration of others will lead to compliance with accepted customs; but true courtesy requires no sacrifice of principle to conventionality. It ignores caste. It teaches self-respect, respect for the dignity of man as man, a regard for every member of the great human brotherhood. Ellen G. White, Education, p. 240, emphasis added.

Although donations will always remain an important option in the portfolio of charity work, sometimes simply giving money to someone or a group of people is not the best thing for the receiver. Some forms of donation are simply patronizing, which in turn demoralize and paralyze the recipients, because they affirm the people’s feeling of helplessness. Such forms of ‘charity work’ do not practice true courtesy, in that it does not see the recipient at eye-level in a “I’m rich, you’re poor” kind of way, instead of telling them that they too can achieve and one day give.

At the creation, labor was appointed as a blessing. It meant development, power, happiness. The changed condition of the earth through the curse of sin has brought a change in the conditions of labor; yet though now attended with anxiety, weariness, and pain, it is still a source of happiness and development. And it is a safeguard against temptation. Its discipline places a check on self-indulgence, and promotes industry, purity, and firmness. Thus it becomes a part of God’s great plan for our recovery from the Fall. The youth should be led to see the true dignity of labor. Ellen G. White, Education, p. 214, emphasis added.

I think it is the purpose of true education to ennoble humanity and restore the dignity that God gives to human beings. And one of the ways to do that is to help people to work.


[1] There are discussions on whether your loans will go directly to the individual you choose on Kiva.org. Since the individuals on the website probably already have loans from the microfinance institutions, your money may or may not go to the person you chose. Personally, this is not an issue for me, since you’re still helping people through the institutions even though you don’t know for sure that you helped Mr. A or Mrs. B specifically. The following articles contain useful information on Kiva.org:

http://www.nytimes.com/2007/03/27/opinion/27kristof.html

http://www.nytimes.com/2009/11/09/business/global/09kiva.html

http://blogs.cgdev.org/open_book/2009/10/kiva-is-not-quite-what-it-seems.php

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