Wednesday, January 14, 2009

A Good Cause

If you haven't noticed yet, I'm a sucker for a good cause. I feel that I have been blessed with so many things in my life (a home, a wonderful husband, more than enough food on our table, good health, family, friends, and living in this country). So when I find a way to help people who are less fortunate than I am, I want to do what I can. Sometimes, that isn't a lot, but I firmly believe that every little bit helps. In a sense, it's almost unfortunate that there are so many good causes out there...I can't support all of them! Although Shawn and I are rich compared to so many people throughout the world, our money is, of course, limited.

You've all heard this saying: "Give a man a fish, and he'll eat for a day. Teach a man to fish, and he'll eat for a lifetime." One problem with a lot of charitable organizations is that it feels like they're giving people fish. In other words, you can donate money to an organization that will get it into the hands of people who really need it. Or they'll use the money to buy things that will be given to people who need it (like food, clothes, or shelter). Obviously, these are good causes. But at some point, ideally, the people on the receiving end of this charity will be able to stop needing it. In order to do that, they'll need to be able to become self-sufficient.
And that's where Kiva comes in. Kiva is an organization that I am proud to be involved with. I first learned about Kiva over a year ago from my friend Greg (who, incidentally, has recently started his own good cause, Sense the World). You may have heard of this organization through the New York Times or through a TV show such as Frontline, Oprah, or The Today Show.

Basically, here's how it works. People from developing countries around the world apply for microloans (a "big" loan is a couple thousand dollars) in order to start or improve a business of their own. As the business succeeds, they repay the loan. Sounds pretty simple, right? Where does the loan money come from? From the lenders (people like you and me) at Kiva. So instead of giving these people fish, Kiva teaches them to fish...provides them with the means to become self-sufficient.

I already mentioned that I'm involved with Kiva. No, I didn't loan someone hundreds of dollars. I loaned $25. I was able to search through their list of people applying for loans and learn a little bit about them...their marital status, their children, where they live, the kind of business they want to start (or already own). I chose a person I wanted to support, and then I simply donated money that would go towards their full loan amount. Now here's the cool part. The money really is a loan...not a true donation. So when the person I chose to support had paid her loan back, that $25 was credited to my Kiva account. At that point, I could either have that money put back on my credit card, I could donate it straight to Kiva (for operating costs), or I could reinvest it. So I chose to reinvest it. And when Juliana Okyere in Ghana is able to pay off her loan, I'll most likely reinvest again. I'm a little intrigued to see just how many people that original $25 "donation" will eventually help! If you're interested in loaning a little money, go to Kiva's website. They've apparently been updating it recently, so if you get an "unavailable" message, please do try back a little later!

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