Day In The Life Of A Kiva Fellow

July 01, 2009 · By Sloane Davidson, Founder and CEO, Hello Neighbor


Every day is by no means the same. I'm just one. One of many soldiers out there. At current count 38 of us Kiva Fellows in the field. I can't speak for anyone but myself, but we have all been sharing emails over a group email chain and change the country, what the type of transportation is called, the landscape and we're all out there every day doing as much as we can to stand up for Kiva and stand up for this opportunity we've been given.

Here's a day in my life:

(I could make this cutesy with lots of little notes, but as days go, today was exhausting and I really just want to give it to you straight)

6:30AM - Wake up

7:00AM - Leave for branch visit.

7:00-7:30AM - Take some combination of public transportation to visit a branch. Usually a tricycle to a jeepney. Sometimes both. Sometimes both twice depending on where we have to go. Air is already thick with exhaust. Most women use bandannas to cover their mouths, I quickly follow suit.

8:00AM - Quick briefing with staff on the day planned. Some Kiva Fellows only have one branch, but since I have 10, I am on a kind of circuit where I spend one day in each for a week, gather notes and information, spend a few days putting it online and then do a few more and repeat. They are all gradually farther away - imagine going up the California Coast where every hour is another stop and you sleep at each one and then at the end of the week, travel back to where you started. It's how they do things here, so I'm taking their lead.

9:00AM - travel to Center Meeting #1. Up to 30 minutes away usually. This involves public transportation of some kind and I'm with the Development Officer and Kiva Coordinator.

loanrelease10:00AM - Center Meeting. All of the interactions with the Borrowers is my favorite part, and I love the 1-1's with the women but the Center Meetings have so much character and are so individual to the needs of each neighborhood that I just can't wait to see what's in store. No two have been the same and I've now been to 11 of them.

I'll write a separate post about Center Meetings as they're incredible unto themselves. For now an overview.

Each Center Hall is different - some nipa huts and some bamboo shacks and some something in between. Some Centers have a uniform (like custom Tshirts they had made) or a dress-code. Some are talkative and want to know everything about me. Namely am I married! Some are quiet and I have to warm them up and then they start talking and laughing, some are so shy.

Each Center meeting I welcome them and they welcome me and after the opening prayer and their pledge, I am introduced and speak for abut 5 minutes. A brief overview of Kiva (history, fun facts), the Kiva Fellows program, a bit about me. I'm told my English is slow and easy to understand and while many of them like to speak in Tagalog and have it translated, they understand me quite well.** I like seeing them nod their heads when I say "Like you, my mom is an entrepreneur and has her own business and I do too." I work hard to connect with them, look each of them in the eyes. I ask questions, ask for their stories, it's incredible. ** 11:30AM - Well. Another Center has heard I'm around and text someone in the Center I'm in to bring me to their meeting to say hi. It's not in the schedule but I have to go! I get there and word has traveled. The whole process happens again. Each Center has faces and stories imprinted on my mind forever. Money is collected, loan requests go into the Development Officer and loans are released to maybe one member.

End of meeting pledge is said and prayer closes the meeting.

1:00PM - travel back to branch for lunch.

1:30-2:30PM - Lunch. The Kiva Coordinators, who know my tricks now (!), know I have "lunch" questions and "dinner" questions. At lunch I like to talk to the staff about something cultural in the Philippines. Weddings, funerals, birthdays, the legal system, prison, hospitals, politics, family life, food, holidays, traditions - I pick a topic on the spot and we talk about it here in the Philippines vs. America. I feel like I'm debunking myths every time. The staff almost universally have never left the Philippines and what they know of America is the movies. It's amazing, insightful. I'll work on a blog post with overviews.

conchita&me2:30PM - travel to Borrower meeting. Tricycle or jeepney. A tricycle might be 10-20 Pisos each (about 15-40 cents depending on distance) while a jeepney is usually 12P (20 cents). Main difference is tricycle is faster but doesn't go as far of distances.

3:00PM - Borrower Meeting #1. Most likely to do a check and be able to write a Journal update. Sometimes it's a new Kiva member and it's meeting them, taking the picture and filling out a form about their business to be able to post on Kiva.

If it's for a Journal I have to make sure her loan checks out and was used for business and not mis-utilized, which means digging for information. "Can I see your receipts?" "What days do you go to market? Who goes with you?" I spend about 45 minutes with each woman.

4:15PM - Second borrower meeting. This one will be close to the other one, so a quick walk to tricycle.

5:30PM - Wrap up field visits and travel back to Branch. I'm emotionally exhausted from the day. The women open up to me about their lives and their lives haven't always been great. When I see tears welling in their eyes telling me how much microfinance and the opportunity to have a business means to them, what the women in their Center mean to them, how their lives are different, it's enough to shake you to your core. Or if I've found out a women didn't use her loan the way she was supposed to, I'm exhausted from pushing for the truth.

6:00PM - Most development officers are still in the field. They are super over-worked, wow. They trickle into the office. I'm writing notes from the day (by hand as branches don't have Internet).

7:00PM - Depends. If I'm staying in the Branch for the night, then I'll be having dinner with them and have about an hour of free-time. I brought my yoga mat and jump rope and am fond of setting up a little bootcamp - area for pushups, situps, squats, jump rope, jumping jacks and anything else requiring little space and then I stretch. They think I'm a little nuts for working out in oppressive heat, but I need it. Sometimes they join me for like 4 minutes and then laugh and go back to their desks, it's a hoot.

Sometimes I read. Or work on origami. I need to do something, it's not Internet time yet.

I shower and help with dinner. At dinner I like to talk about everyone's story (love story if they'll tell me), they're almost all married and I like to hear about how they met their spouse, what that person does, how many kids they have, what their children want to be when they grow up. I answer the same questions back with my little auto-insert jokes (boys are trouble. they're like having a second job)! Mostly, I just want to listen, I don't have anything exciting to share in this category!

After dinner, I'll find an Internet cafe to plug into, if there is one around. This is about a 50/50 shot. I do all I can, until my eyes grow heavy. Sometimes it's hard to concentrate. Sometimes, I'm on the ball. I only have a few hours but my body is achy from all the transportation and my mind is spinning from my interactions of the day.

7:00PM (again) - If I'm not staying at the Branch but at some local hostel/hotel, I probably don't have space for my bootcamp, but I stretch in my room. I find some food. I find some Internet.

11:00PM - I read for about one hour in bed. It's magical. I haven't done this in years. I start dozing and crash out. Sometimes the lights are out but I can't sleep. I see their faces in my head, passing me by like billboards on the highway. I see the women sitting on their stoop with a child hanging on her pant leg and I see them. I see their bright shiny eyes popping at me through the dim surroundings. I toss and turn trying to let it go enough to fall back asleep.

Day ends. Day begins again.

I'm tired looking at this, but I swear it's truly a day. Just one. For those when I'm not at a branch, I'm happy to find an Internet spot to post my work for Kiva or have meetings with ASHI staff about Kiva best-practices.

It's already going by so fast, I can't believe 3 weeks have gone by.