Blog Archives

Make a Difference with Kiva Micro-Lending

Have you heard of Kiva? It’s revolutionizing the way we lift people out of poverty. Harvard Economist (and author of The End of Poverty) Jeffrey Sachs says that micro-lending is the single most viable method to end poverty in our lifetimes.

I’ve made numerous loans through Kiva for years. They have always been paid back extremely quickly, and then the money is back in my account to loan again. Most of the loans I have made have been for $25 — this money is pooled with other micro-loans from people around the world, to loan the recipients a few hundred dollars to start a business, buy a sewing machine, or a cow or chickens, or supplies to craft or resell. It’s an amazingly simple way to let someone become self-supporting and support their family, rather than a charity handout. It’s also much more empowering for the recipients.

In fact, the rate of repayment for micro-loans in the developing world is much, much higher than the rate of repayment for traditional credit in the first world — an amazing 98.94% repayment rate!

Now Kiva is making an amazing offer — new lenders can sign up through existing Kiva partners like myself — and then BOTH Kiva lenders get $25 deposited in their account, for free, to loan out. What is there to lose? It’s a win-win-win situation, for the lender and recipient and Kiva.

Click this link to sign up to become a Kiva lender,
giving you and me both $25 to loan!

My last loan was made to Esther (47), in Nairobi, Kenya. My $25, plus other lenders, gave Esther a total $900 loan that she used to buy a stock of clothing to resell, and raw material to make hair wax that she then sold. And the loan was 100% repaid. Esther has been running her business for 12 years, and used this loan to expand her business to support her family.

And in case you’re wondering, 100% of every dollar you lend on Kiva goes directly towards funding loans; Kiva does not take a cut. Furthermore, Kiva does not charge interest to their Field Partners, who administer the loans.

I have also made loans to Sok in Cambodia, a 50-year-old woman who farms for a living and earns $1.50 per day. Sok’s husband is a motorcyle taxi-rickshaw driver and earns $3 per day. Her requested loan of $500 went to buy a new motorbike for her husband, to earn the family additional income so that they can make repairs to their home. I’ve also made loans in The Democratic Republic of Congo and Pakistan. I re-loaned my Kiva credit, from repayments of past loans, to the group Fe Y Esperanza in Nicaragua, a communal bank of 11 women who have various business ventures; and the Mungu Tubariki Group in Tanzania.

Now, with the money paid back from previous loans and the $25 that Kiva credited me via this promotion, I have just made a new loan — my first loan in India, where Kiva just announced its newest launch! I have often wondered why Kiva did not have loans available in India; it’s because determining how to work in India wasn’t easy. In particular, Kiva loans are subject to Reserve Bank of India regulations that require loan funds sent to non-government microfinance institutions to remain in the country for at least 3 years.

Therefore, any Kiva loan made within India won’t be paid back for 3 years; the Kiva Field Partners will simply hold on to loan funds for the minimum 3-year term before sending repayments back to lenders. The borrower you select will probably repay beforehand, in which case your funds will be recycled to help other local borrowers, maximizing your impact before your funds are returned. That is perfectly fine with me — and so I made my new loan to the Sri Jaggannath Group, a cooperative of four women in Cuttack, Odisha where I visit every time I go to India, and the region where my children’s home that I support is. These women have a general store, and want to use the loan to expand their inventory and increase their stock of items. In the last year, the shop was relocated due to road construction and the move has hurt business. I hope that my Kiva loan helps!

Premal Shah, the President of Kiva (who left PayPal to go with Kiva), has made more than 300 loans himself and has this quote on his Kiva page:

Give,” said the little stream, as it hurried down the hill; “I’m small, I know, but wherever I go the fields grow greener still.”

Get $25 to make your first loan, and make a big difference, today!

Butterfly Moments

Butterfly, a website portal for working mothers, features a different “celebrity mother” each month. For April, I am delighted to report that yours truly is featured on the site. Butterfly features both a printed interview with me, as well as a series of short video interviews. The interviews discuss my work in India and research/writing about issues affecting children there, as well as my own journey as both a parent and author.

Click here to read the written interview.

For the video interviews, they are available in order below:

Interview Part 1 - Shelley Reports on the Deplorable side of India

Part 2 - How a Boy's Life was Changed

Part 3 - India's Impact on an American Teenager

Part 4 - Orphaned by Malaria, AIDS and Poverty

Part 5 - Shelley's Journey in India

Part 6 - Advice for Aspiring Writers

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On India’s Childrens Day, Millions Left Behind

Today is Children’s Day in India; yet for 25 million Indian children, there is no cause for celebration. Amidst their country’s growing prosperity, these 25 million children live without parents, in orphanages or on the streets where they are vulnerable to abuse, child labor, trafficking, malnutrition and disease. For these young people, Children’s Day is simply another day to survive.

View Photo Essay: The Rights of a Child

Close to four million more children are joining their ranks each year, and India is home to the world’s largest population of AIDS orphans, at approximately two million. According to UNICEF, one of every three of the world’s malnourished children lives in India, and about 50% of childhood deaths in the country are attributed to malnutrition or starvation. Save The Children found that more than 400,000 children each year die within the first 24 hours of life in India.

While the rest of the world celebrates United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) from November 14-21, these children have lost their rights and indeed, even their voices. UNICEF defines a child as “invisible” when he lacks an environment that protects him from violence, abuse and exploitation; goes without basic necessities such as adequate food, health care and schooling; and is neglected by the state.

The UNCRC is a universally agreed set of non-negotiable standards and obligations, and the first legally binding international instrument to incorporate the full range of human rights—civil, cultural, economic, political and social rights. In 1989, world leaders decided that children needed a special convention just for them because people under 18 years old often need special care and protection that adults do not.

However, twenty years later, India has fallen far short of meeting the rights of these children. So, what can you do to help ensure their rights, and prevent more children from falling through the cracks?

  • You can sign a petition for the United States to ratify the UN’s Convention on the Rights of the Child. The U.S. and Somalia are the only two countries in the world who have failed to do so.

UNICEF has some other great resources for ways to make a difference:

  • If you are a member or employee of an organization working for children’s rights, raise awareness of the Convention and its Optional Protocols, research and document governmental actions and policies and involve communities in promoting and protecting children’s rights.
  • If you are a parliamentarian, ensure that all existing and new legislation and judicial practice is compatible with your country’s international obligations, monitor governments’ actions, policies and budgets and involve the community—including children—in relevant decisionmaking.

You may also be interested in reading this beautiful essay from an Indian writer (and Save The Children photographer), who recounts how when growing up, Children’s Day meant sweets and fun – and how only much later, did she realize the struggles that many other children faced simply to survive.

Together, we can all get involved to make sure that all children have their needs met – and to give them that most basic of all things that each one deserves: a childhood.

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A New Look at Poverty

For today’s Good News Wednesday, I would like to share something written by my friend, Deepa Krishnan.

Deepa runs the tour company Mumbai Magic, an excellent visitor tour service that shows the real India, led by insiders and locals of the city with a great cultural immersion and respect for the traditions and culture of India. In addition, Deepa donates a percentage of her profits to social organizations that work with at-risk children living in the streets and slums.

Deepa with a woman entrepreneur on our visit to Dharavi, 2007

Deepa with a woman entrepreneur on our visit to Dharavi, 2007

Deepa showed me around Mumbai when I visited in 2007 – most particularly, the Dharavi area, widely considered the largest slum in Asia and where much of the movie Slumdog Millionaire was filmed. You can read my article about my experience in Dharavi with Deepa, where I discovered that besides the two Indias of affluence and poverty, there was a third India of the hard-working class. What I found in Dharavi surprised me, and Deepa gave me entirely new eyes with which to see parts of Mumbai that I would have never otherwise seen.

Recently, writer Mara Gorman featured a review of The Weight of Silence on her site, The Mother of All Trips. Mara was so inspired by the children’s stories in the book, that she amazingly made a pledge to donate $5 for every comment left on the article, to The Miracle Foundation! Deepa Krishnan was one of those who left a comment – and I loved what she had to say.

It was a whole new way of looking at someone who is poor, and I’d like to share her comments here:

“Poverty” is a much misunderstood word. Here’s an anecdote from my personal experience – I run a sightseeing tour company called Mumbai Magic, and we had an American lady on one of our city tours.

From Mumbai Magic

From Mumbai Magic

On the tour went to Sassoon Docks where the day’s fish catch comes in. The fishing community in Mumbai has a culture where the women take the fish to the market and are therefore the ones with the money. Our fisherwomen are very fierce, they have a sharp tongue and an equally sharp fish knife, and nobody messes with them, all locals know they are independent and proud.

Now at the docks, there was a fisherwoman sitting on the ground with a basket of fish, and next to her was her young girl child. My American visitor saw them and started weeping. Oh god, she wept, why do people have to be so poor? Why does that woman have to sit on the ground like this? Why is that child not in school and playing? The lady was inconsolable and retired to her palatial hotel room.

Whereas I looked at the fisherwoman and was proud of her financial independence, of the fact that she was supporting her family, that nobody in their right minds would ever mess with her, that the tradesmen treated her as an equal and haggled as hard with her as they could. As for her child, that child would always have a full belly, she would learn the fish trade and be as smart as a button soon. The docks are open early in the morning, that child probably went to school later as well, but I don’t know that. After the fish were sold, she would most certainly go home and play.

Now this is not a perfect scenario – their home is a tiny village without amenities – but the thing is, my visitor and I looked at them and saw two entirely different realities. To me this was not a scenario with a deprived mother or child. This was a happy family, and I strongly felt that the sympathies of my weepy tourist were entirely misplaced.

Shelley is not a weepy tourist. She has immersed herself in the country she is writing about. She has invested time, effort and – I know this is really basic – but she has invested sweat. In the heat and dust, she has given of her body and mind to be with the children she writes about. Shelley’s kids – orphaned and homeless – are truly deserving of our attention. Shelley is tireless in her campaign to ensure they get what they deserve. I wish her luck.

Thank you Deepa – for your support of The Weight of Silence, your donations to help further children’s educations through Mumbai Magic, and your ability to give us a new way of looking at the world. Namaste.

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Deepa at Shaar Harahamin, The Gate of Mercy.

Deepa at Shaar Harahamin, The Gate of Mercy.