Maria Guadalupe outside her food stall in Acuna, Mexico. (photo from Kiva.org)
A few years ago I became involved with Kiva, an amazing organization that changes the lives of hardworking people all over the world. It’s a micro-loan program that offers life-saving financial aid to people who otherwise can’t quality for or simply don’t have access to typical bank loans. I first became aware of Kiva after seeing micro-loan billboards along the roadside in Uganda en route to the Impenetrable Forest, a gorilla preserve in the rugged, remote mountains bordering the Congo. The way it works is simple. Create an account and donate as little as $25—and change someone’s life. It’s a loan, not a handout. The loans are relatively small, typically amounting to anywhere from $250 to $2,000, which is collected from micro lenders like me all over the world. Just as with a bank loan, the money gets paid back, usually within a couple of years, although sometimes it’s a lot faster than that. Kiva works with local organizers who rigorously vet the potential borrowers, and the default rate is extremely low. Once repaid, lenders can choose to donate recouped money directly to Kiva (to cover administrative purposes and new outreach) or loan it to someone else.In my extensive travels, I’ve been blessed that I’m able to stay in the world’s finest hotels and resorts and dine at the most incredible restaurants, whether in Uganda, Thailand or Mexico, places where most of the local residents aren’t nearly as privileged as me. I’m not rich (I’m a travel writer and food critic, for crying out loud), but thanks to this amazing program, I’m able to give back to a world that has given me so much. I tend to focus my investments on loans that are directly related to the things I write about in my travels: food, agriculture, hospitality and transportation. I’ve been able to help farmers in Cambodia buy new goats for their fledgling milk business. I’ve helped build a new bakery in Vietnam. I’ve helped a guy in Uganda open a much-needed bicycle tire repair shop. I’ve helped a married couple in the Philippines buy a motorcycle so they could start a taxi service. And now, finally, Kiva has come to Mexico. In Acuna, a border town near where I grew up in Texas, María Guadalupe, a widow, needs a loan of $950 to upgrade her food stall “Fried Chicken Lupita” where she sells tacos, tortas, hamburgers and fried chicken. So far, she’s raised $600. In the neighboring town of Piedras Negras, a woman named Juanita makes and sells tamales, but she needs to invest in more equipment and supplies. She’s trying to raise $500, and right now she’s 50 percent of the way there. In Santiago Pinotepa Nacional, in Oaxaca, Marcelina Gomez Velazco sells fresh tortillas. She likes having her own business so that she doesn’t have to depend on her husband. She’s requesting a loan of $525. So far, she’s raised $225. In Chiapas, a group of eight borrowers has come together to request a loan of $700. One of the members of the group, Maria Efrocinia, bakes and sells fresh loaves of bread, something she’s been doing for 10 months. Other members of the group are trying to buy ingredients to make candy and tamales or purchase more cattle for their herd. I hope you’ll join me in helping these people realize their dreams and create better lives for themselves. All it takes is $25, and the borrowers will pay the money back. Learn more about these people and their loan requests by visiting Kiva.org.