03 April 2009

Kiva: Rising out of Poverty

While I was home in central Wisconsin over spring break, I heard a story on the news that peaked my interest.  An hour or two north of my hometown is the small town of Rhinelander, WI.  Rhinlander High School students in a Global Studies course were learning about poverty, loans, giving, and business all at the same time through a web site called www.kiva.org.   This website is a global site that allows people to give loans to entrepreneurs in poverty stricken places to help get them out of poverty and into a successful business.  

The students in the global studies class were introduced to this site by their library media specialist.  The media specialist used $350 from her library budget to give the students.  This money would be loaned to the individual(s) that the students felt was most worthy of their money. Through discussion, research and personal interest, they chose three people on the Kiva site that they were most interested in loaning money to.  They used criteria such as family, profession, and need to decide who to chose.  Through discussion and debate, they decided that all three of their choices deserved some money, so they split the money up between them.  
The way the site works is that after the entrepreneurs acquire all the money they ask for in their loan and begin their business they will pay the donors back.  

This site and this example made me think a lot about the things we have talked about in this course, particularly on our on-campus day.  There are so many resources on the web that allow these global connections to happen.  I found this particular example to be one that can teach students in so many different content areas.  An activity like this touches on geography, poverty, family values, business, loaning, banking and humanity.  Imagine if sites like this are connected to sites such as TakingItGlobal.  It would be even more beneficial to students to be able to raise the money that they loan to the people on the Kiva site.  Creating fundraisers and awareness of those less fortunate would make this opportunity even more rewarding.

I have taken some time to look at the Kiva website, and my initial concern was, "What if you never get your money back?"  Who's to say it's legitimately going to work?  I then looked into the risk section of the website and saw that it is certainly possible that you will not get your money back.  The people on the Kiva website are interviewed and chosen based on certain criteria and past business practices.  They are chosen because they have proved that they will work hard to use the loan money and pay back the lenders.  But, due to health issues, natural disasters, economic situations or political situations, there is always a chance that something will go wrong. Certainly, I suppose if anyone is loaning money on a site like this they are doing it out of the goodness of their hearts and receiving money back is not what they are most concerned about.

My favorite part of the site was the journal section.  Here the Kiva staff and entrepreneurs post an update on their situation.  This includes how they used the money, how it has helped them and how much of their loans they have repayed.  

Overall, I thought this was a great resource for anyone willing to give a little to those less fortunate.  It reminded me a lot of Donor's Choose which is a site for public school teachers to request grant money for certain projects.  Teachers write a short proposal of what they need money for, how much money they need and how it will benefit them.  People can then go onto the site and choose projects they would like to fund.  Obviously, this is a gift as opposed to a loan, but I think it strikes the same chord...sometimes giving is the most important part.

I am very interested in sites like Kiva that can be used in schools to teach global lessons like this.  Are there any others out there that people have experience with?  Please share if you do!

Also, here is the link to the news story about the high school:  http://www.waow.com/global/story.asp?s=10085968

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