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.
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.
 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:
When I was a Bostonian (or just-outside-of-Boston-ian), randomness was one of life’s essentials. Due to the brilliant construct of the MIT campus, the great ol’ Massachusetts Avenue divided the campus between the student life section on the west side, where most of the dorms, gym, and student center were located, and the academic buildings on the east side. When my classes and research work were done on a random weekday, but before the problem set marathon, I would come out of 77 Massachusetts Avenue in the late afternoon and many times, instead of crossing the street to head to my dorm, I would turn left instead and walk toward Boston.
Upon turning, the Boston skyline across the Charles River would immediately be in sight. I would walk across the river, which would take about twenty minutes one way, and simply enjoy the breeze and the sight of a big body of water. When the sky was clear and blue, it would be very close to what I’d call perfection.
Usually, after I got to the other side of the bridge, I would simply cross the street and walk back. On a freer day during vacation, I would extend the walk into the city, walking along Newbury Street, crossing the Boston Public Garden and Boston Commons, even going as far as Government Center and Little Italy. For what reason, you may ask? Well, nothing particularly, except for the simple pleasure of walking and savoring the moment. I loved the fact that I didn’t need to go anywhere, didn’t need to do anything, and I could just…be.
Sure, the one-hour detour or the Boston loop may heal a case of a cluttered brain, or increase the oxygen intake in my blood stream. But these functional reasons were not really why I went on a walk. I wanted to enjoy the walk not for what it could do, but for what it was.
I believe in enjoying life. I believe in extracting as much joy as I can in various simple pleasures, and walking is one of the ways I find that enjoyment. The air, the surroundings, and the people – I get to experience all of that when I move at pedestrian’s speed.
As I get older, this type of spontaneity becomes less and less accessible. But I still believe in its importance. Perhaps it requires more intentionality in carving out time for enjoyment, especially amidst the numerous tasks that we need to do.
“There is nothing better for a man, than that he should eat and drink, and that he should make his soul enjoy good in his labor. This also I saw, that it was from the hand of God.” Ecclesiastes 2:24
Perhaps because the verse is sandwiched between Solomon’s “all is vanity” litanies, I used to read it in a more bitter tone: things are going to be gone and destroyed eventually, so just enjoy them while they last. But read in an optimistic way, the verse says quite a different lesson: don’t worry that things won’t last, just be grateful that they are here now. Take pleasure in food, enjoy your good labor – these are gifts from God.
Sometimes I think about how I would be remembered, should my life end. In a busy world that puts much value in working, I actually don’t want ‘hard-working’ to be the first thing people think about when they hear my name. Instead, I want to be remembered as someone who enjoys life and everything that I do, someone who lives with joy.
How fitting it is that Sabbath is here, a day to be savored not because it serves as a relief to the week’s burden or weariness, but because of what it is – a time to be.
“There is a realm of time where the goal is not to have but to be, not to own but to give, not to control but to share, not to subdue but to be in accord… The meaning of the Sabbath is to celebrate time rather than space. Six days a week we live under the tyranny of things of space; on the Sabbath we try to become attuned to holiness in time. It is a day on which we are called upon to share in what is eternal in time, to turn from the results of creation to the mystery of creation; from the world of creation to the creation of the world.” (Abraham Joshua Heschel, The Sabbath)
GYC 2011 in Houston, Texas was my eighth GYC, and I think it was the one at which I had the most fun. What made this GYC drastically different than any of its predecessors? This time around, instead of attending the conference, I was volunteering. I’ve volunteered in the past, but not to the extent that I would miss most of the meetings and seminars. This time, I really volunteered. And I don’t remember ever being so refreshed returning from a GYC conference.
My favorite part about volunteering at GYC was the part where I could work together with like-minded young people, with my favorite people in the world. I’d do any project with these ones. And not only I could work together with them, I could work together with them physically in one place. There’s nothing that can replace the synergy of a team other than being together. And the team that made up the Presidential Hospitality Department (PHD) at GYC 2011 was top notch! I’ve never seen such seamless and efficient execution of both planned and unplanned tasks.
Since I’m located in a place far away from most of my spiritual peers, this ability of working in a team is something I highly crave. It boosts my mood and quality of my work when I can do them with people. It is even a source of spiritual struggle when this doesn’t happen. In fact, this was the case the last few months of 2011. I was simply tired, not of working, but of working alone.
With that background, volunteering for PHD fulfilled perfectly my spiritual need. I needed to work more than I needed to sit in sermons or seminars. Being involved in service is the practical aspect of spirituality and it is equally (if not more) important than the theoretical. In fact, this practicality suited my day-to-day existence. Being in a working cycle, where I cannot rely on protracted amount of vacation time anymore, I can’t rely on breaks to get spiritually charged. I need to learn to find spiritual refreshments during the intense demands at work.
Most times, at least for me, when I think of spiritual needs, I think of the need to be fed through prayer, Bible studies, sitting in seminars or sermons, or being spiritually nursed by older and wiser mentors. And when I think of service, I think of it as a less important and optional aspect of my spiritual life, because in this case I am on the giving end instead of the receiving end.
I’d like to submit that service is a spiritual need. Working, getting physically tired from running around doing errands, taking care of other people – all of these are spiritual feedings. I experienced it first hand this GYC – gaining more refreshment by giving.
So, for all GYC attendees out there, I highly recommend volunteering at GYC, or anywhere, as a matter of fact. Volunteer at church, in the local communities, and engage in service. You need it!