When I set out to blog about the entrepreneurs that Mansueto Ventures sponsored through Kiva.org, I wanted to provide readers with as many details as possible about the day-to-day lives of small business owners in developing countries and how exactly access to microfinance was impacting their operations.
As you can imagine, it is not a simple task to connect directly with entrepreneurs in developing communities, as most do not have access to communication technology. So far, what I have learned about the entrepreneurs we sponsored and what I have reported here on this blog has come from examining the background profiles and photos posted on Kiva's website of each borrower. However, this snapshot is only part of their story, and as a journalist, I felt it my duty to uncover as much of the individual's story as possible.
This is where Kiva comes in. The organization's staff has been amazingly instrumental in getting me access to the information I desired. I have connected with several Kiva fellows, volunteers who are stationed in countries all over the world where Kiva has microfinance partners. These fellows are working on the ground to facilitate the smooth transaction between the local lending institutions and their clients. As such, many of these fellows have the chance to visit with entrepreneurs in their homes and places of business.
Jessica Young, a fellow working with one of Kiva's microfinance partners in Cambodia, was able to arrange a meeting with Phal An, a rice winemaker in Cambodia, and one of the entrepreneurs we loaned to through Kiva. Jessica graciously agreed to bring my interview questions to Phal An and report back with her answers. In order to conduct the interview in Phal An's native language of Khmer, Jessica brought along Phal An's loan officer, Mr. Kiry, to act as translator.
Jessica visited with Phal An at her home in late March, and since then there have been several e-mail exchanges between us detailing the experience. Here is an excerpt from one of Jessica's e-mails (with some words added or changed for clarification purposes) in which she describes her journey to Phal An's home in the village of Damnak Sankae and the nature of their meeting:
We arrived [at the home] about an hour before lunch time, so [Phal An and her family] were already starting to prepare to cook the food. Her husband was at home, as was her son, so during the course of the interview they would take turns adding hay to keep the fire [for the rice wine] going. The overseeing of the rice wine production is an ongoing activity throughout the day. [Phal An] invited us to sit down, answered all of our questions and offered us water and mango. It's common for clients to offer tea or water when greeting you in their homes.
Also present was her daughter who now has a child, so the family was playing with the baby. During the course of the interview her second son came home, as families will typically eat lunch together. Traditionally, it is the woman's responsibility to prepare the meals and look after the house, so she, like most of the female clients, will begin work around 7 A.M. and take two main breaks -- one to cook lunch and one to prepare dinner. In Phal An's case, she can do this while she simultaneously looks after the rice wine. Because she runs the side business of pig raising, she also has to tend to the pigs, feeding them and giving them medicine to prevent them from getting sick.
She was expecting us [for the interview] because another loan officer who is assigned to her district stopped by to see if she was home and give [Mr. Kiry and I] directions. Most homes are off the paved national roads, on side dirt roads, reached by cutting along paths in between people's houses. As they're unmarked, they can be difficult to find if you haven't been there before, unless a local villager is familiar with the name and can point you in the right direction.
After the interview, Jessica provided me with such a wealth of information about Phal An's winemaking business, as well as photos of her winemaking equipment, that I felt it important to share her story with readers beyond just those who follow this blog. Here is the link to the extended Q&A with Phal An, and another to a slideshow that depicts the process of making the rice wine. The interview with Phal An helped to shed light on the significance that one small loan can have to a hopeful entrepreneur.
I am grateful to everyone who has helped me relay Phal An's story, and to tell it accurately. A special thanks to Jessica for stepping into the journalist's role and reporting everything so thoroughly.