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KIVA microlending is something that many at dKos already know about. And, in fact, diaries on dKos seem to generate a fair amount of interest for Kiva, sometimes overwhelming their ability to find loan opportunities. I would like it if this diary overwhelms them in that truely wonderful way...and I would like it to get people donating a little to help the environment within which Kiva works. But mostly I just want to share a REALLY cool success story with you, a story that I was able to play a small part of.

KIVA a microlending agency that connects small businesses with small investors like you and me. KIVA works with local partner organizations to find businesses around the world that look promising and want loans to expand. Loans can be a few hundred dollars all the way up to a couple of thousand dollars. Investors like me can put as little as $25 into the pot and KIVA combines these small amounts of money until the loan is filled. They then disburse the money through their partner organizations and keep track as the business pays back the loan. When the loan is paid back you can either take back your money (you get no interest) or you can reloan to another business. The difference these small loans make to families in the developing world can be enormous.

I started loaning to businesses through KIVA over a year ago. And I have felt like my loans have really made a difference to families around the world. I want to share with you one of the amazing success stories I have been a part of and I hope that it will inspire you to participate in KIVA's efforts.

Lakev Groceries is a small shop in Eregi, Kenya owned by Petronilla Shivachi, nicknamed "Betty" by her customers. Eregi is in Southwestern Kenya near the Kakamega forest. This forest is the last virgin rainforest left in Kenya and is part of the Lake Victoria catchment basin. This whole area's environment (the Albertine Rift Valley along with Lake Victoria) is endangered because of the drying up of the African lakes region. I should add that any success story in Eastern Africa is also endangered by the drying up of the African lakes region and the degradation of the East African environment. As an aside (though really a critical aside) to this diary I should add that the East African environment and economy depends on preserving these lakes and forests. To this end I always recommend people join me in supporting environmental efforts like those in the Albertine Rift Valley area and in the Kenya itself. And, since these lakes are bordered also by Uganda, preserving the environment in Uganda can also help the entire region. Again, the entire success story I am about to describe could be ruined by the environmental degradation of the East African Lakes region. Personally, I have made a few donations to the Albertine Rift Valley project of the Wildlife Conservation Society as part of my helping people in East Africa.

Petronilla Shivachi and her twin sister lost their father's land to neighbors because in Kenya girls cannot inherit land. [UPDATE: According to a comment from someone in Kenya, LEGALLY women can inherit and are legally equal to men...but in practice male relatives will prevent a woman from inheriting, stealing everything they can]. Due to lack of school fees, these sisters could not go to college, but rather was forced to marry early. Petronilla was deserted by her husband and now is a single mother bringing up two children without any child support.

She started her business with assistance from the Village Enterprise Fund, KIVA's partner organization in the region. After first establishing a small store called Lakev Groceries, she received a $500 loan through KIVA. This is where my life intersected Petronilla's since I contributed $150 to this loan. Since then she has worked hard to expand her business, and I have watched her progress with considerable interest.

Petronilla used this loan to introduce new products to her store for which there was a local demand but had previously been little supply. She started selling cold sodas, but primarily she introduced new Mobile phone cards. This new product brought in 70 new customers in the first 4 days after receiving her loan! Her business exploded thanks to the loan, bringing what appears to be a much-desired commodity to her town.

She took the profits from her phone card success and, just as the recent drought in East Africa broke, she bought corn and bean seeds to sell to farmers ready to plant their crops. This was another successful move on Petronilla's part as she quickly sold off her entire stock of seed by the third month after she received her loan.

These two early successes meant she was now able to restock her store weekly, keeping up with demand where before doing so was tough. It also meant she could start expanding. She hired more helpers and opened a branch store in the Makhokho marketplace nine months after receiving her original loan. She also has started to keep a reserve stock at her home for periods of increased demand and has introduced new produce to her stores.

By June of this year, Petronilla had added a THIRD business and more employees to her growing business empire. In addition to the Lakev and Makhokho stores, she has opened Lakev Hotel (in East Africa "hotel" means "restaurant") to cater to students of Sigalagala Technical College in a nearby town.

A single mother in a poor and environmentally threatened corner of rural Kenya, left without inheritance by sexist Kenyan law, unable to afford a full education, and abandoned by her husband without support has been able to turn a $500 loan into a small business empire that can fully support her family. And I am proud to have been a small part of this success. In all six people including myself contributed to Petronilla's loan and together we can be proud that we helped this amazing woman succeed.

Please join me in participating in Kiva's microloan program and in contributing to preserving the vital East African environment (see my above links or go here for another good organization...I just donated $20 to plant 10 trees, doing my little part to help the local environment and sequester some carbon). Believe me, you'll feel damned good about it.

Originally posted to mole333 on Mon Jul 30, 2007 at 07:41 AM PDT.

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