Scene setter: Work

As a Kiva Fellow, I have been assigned two field partners – Urwego Opportunity Bank and Kepler University.

My first three months in Kigali will be spent with Urwego, a leading microfinance institution here in Rwanda that primarily focuses on the underprivileged, i.e. women, farmers and rural populations.

My average work day begins at 8am and finishes around 6pm. The majority of the workforce gets to work by bus, including me. My 10 minute ride costs me 200 Rwandan franks (20p in the UK) and plenty of priceless ‘mazungu mazungu’ looks. I can however also walk home and enjoy the beautiful views of the valleys.

The dress code is pretty formal – shirts and trousers for men; skirts and blouses for women. Urwego (and Rwanda as a whole for that matter) is a deeply religious country, so shoulders and knees should be covered at all times. Mazungus get away with showing more skin but leggings with skirts has become my go to solution!

One of my main tasks at Urwego will be conducting a borrower verification (BV). This means visiting 10 randomly selected borrowers across Rwanda and ensuring all processes are followed and all documentation is accurate.

A successful BV indicates that each party in the Kiva lending process is taken care of – a borrower knows their story and picture are available on the Internet; a lender knows that the people they lent their money to actually exist; and Kiva knows the field partner understands and lives the Kiva values every day.

From a personal perspective, this assignment allows me to meet the beautiful people of Rwanda, explore the country side and visit remote villages. I cannot wait!

 

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Scene setter: Home

The first few blog entries aim to set the scene for my day to day life here in Kigali… This one is about my home.

Kigali is split into many areas with different characteristics, just like London. I’ve made home for myself in Kimihurura, which is becoming the new business hub of Kigali, attracting many expats. My street has a big hotel with a great pool and one of the best restaurants Kigali has to offer.

I live in a large five bedroom house that I share with two MIT students who are working on a Science Lab in the local university. We have a wonderful dog called Jameson, who is beyond excited every time you come home and tries every trick in the book to get some of your food.

I am very grateful for the standard of living I have here. The house is spacious and to my great delight has reliable electricity, hot running water and good wifi reception. We have a house keeper who comes four times a week to clean and help us with our washing, as clothes are mostly hand washed.

As the days go past, I draw more and more comparisons between my life here in Kigali and the life I had back in Estonia as a child.

I remember my grandma washing clothes by hand in the garden every weekend and how her hands hurt afterwards. I remember my great grandmother praying before meal time and how it made me feel scared of the holy spirits. I take great comfort in these memories as they help me relate to the people around me today.

The new chapter

After five and a half amazing years at EY, I decided it was time to look beyond the corporate world and explore what else is out there.

It had become clear to me that I wanted my success to have significance and I needed to test the waters as to what that means to me personally.

Therefore, I decided to take a sabbatical and apply to become a Kiva Fellow.

An application form, two rounds of Skype interviews and a week of training at Kiva HQ in San Francisco later, I found myself on a flight to Rwanda… my home for the next four months.

So, what does it mean to be a Kiva fellow, besides living in a lush beautiful country?

I see my role splitting into three categories:

  • Sharing the inspirational stories of borrowers – meeting local entrepreneurs and sharing their success with the Kiva lending community and the general public
  • Creating a safe space for lenders – conducting borrower verifications to ensure every party involved in the Kiva process is protected and respected
  • Creating new opportunities for Kiva – working with local institutions to create new lending products and partnerships to further Kiva’s mission in the field

I am excited and humbled by this opportunity and I’ll go into it with an open mind and heart… Let’s see what the next four months bring!

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