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Wednesday, July 17, 2013

A Kiva Story: How People Choose Their Microloans

A Kiva Story: How People Choose Their Microloans
by Wes Smits

When we find hundreds or thousands of loans on Kiva.org to pick from, it’s difficult to pick one out. Some people go to the country of their ancestors for loan candidates; some go to a country they’ve visited once or worked in with the Peace Corps; some choose a certain occupation, such as artisan or tailor or farmer or food sales. Some people do careful due diligence and consider credit worthiness. Others look at the faces or the group name. Some choose by gender. Some carefully read the story of the applicant.

Recently, I chose a loan because of the person’s name. Usually, I start with the country of Cambodia. In the early 1980s, my wife Donna and I got involved with sponsoring Cambodian refugees. Our first refugee family consisted of a husband and wife, four small children, a widowed sister and her daughter, and the wife’s half brother. We found them a place to live, took them to medical appointments, helped them learn English, navigate the government bureaucracy, find jobs, and all sorts of miscellaneous stuff.

The one experience I remember vividly is taking their eldest daughter to kindergarten for the first day. She was frightened because she didn’t speak English, didn’t know anyone there, and had no idea what school was. Her name was Sopheak (pronounced So-peh). On a rainy September morning, I brought Sopheak to Mrs. Wilson’s classroom, stayed for about half an hour and then left. That night, I received a call from Mrs. Wilson, telling me that Sopheak had kicked her in the shin. I explained to Mrs. Wilson that Sopheak was a frightened little girl and urged her to be patient.

We soon lost track of Sopheak and her family because they moved to South Dakota to buy an Asian restaurant. About twenty years later, my wife and I were invited to a Cambodian wedding, which is a huge event in their culture. During the course of the reception, a lovely young lady came up to me and said, “Hi, Wes. Do you remember me?” Embarrassed, I said I didn’t recognize her. She said with a big smile, “I’m Sopheak.” She went on to tell me that she was married with two children, had gotten her nursing degree, and had gone on to become manager of nursing for a large pediatric clinic. Donna and I were so pleased and so proud of her.

Which brings me back to choosing loans on Kiva: As I was scrolling through the Cambodian loans, I ran across a rice farmer whose name was Sopheak. I didn’t go any further. I clicked on “Lend.” Later on, I read that this lady was from Battambang Province, the same place where our Sopheak was born. It doesn’t matter if the loan is ever paid back. I made the loan in honor of Cheng Sopheak, the young Cambodian girl who had come so far and made us so grateful and happy for all she had become.

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