I switched internet providers so hopefully now posting pics won’t be so frustrating. There aren’t many internet options in Togo. In fact, there are only 3: Togocel, Moov, and Togotelecom. Internet is very expensive and kind of a luxury. I get by by sacrificing hard. I stretch my living allowance by eating like a villager and biking everywhere. Maybe that’s why I feel so tired all the time.
One of the big projects I am working on involves expanding my homologue’s turkey farm. He’s been raising turkeys relatively recently, but has had decent success. Last year, we sold about 40 turkeys during the holiday season. He already bought the land, but was originally going to use the money he made to incrementally expand. I convinced him to put that money into a microfinance institution to increase his credit line to get a loan. That way he can do everything at once and increase his production before the market gets saturated.
I thought it would be cool to get Daniel, my homologue, on Kiva.org. For those of you who don’t know what Kiva.org is, it is a non-profit microlending website based in San Fran. They partner with microfinance institutions around the world to connect lenders to entrepreneurs. You go on the site and can search different countries, industries, even men or women’s groups you wish to send a lend via paypal. Once they receive the money, whether it was raised on the site, or pre-distributed by the MFI, they are set on a repayment schedule. The MFI keeps the interest and collects the payments and gives it back to Kiva, who then gives it back to the lenders. While there are many MFIs in Togo, there is also a practical reason I wanted Daniel to go through Kiva to get his loan: he can get his money up front without saving for 3 months, which is the norm for MFIs here before they give out loans.
If you go on the site and search Togo, there is only one active MFI partnered with Kiva. Unfortunately, they do not have an office in my village. They’re not even in my prefecture. The closest one is in Tsévié, which is about 45 km away. Well, Daniel had gone by himself several weeks ago and they told him they didn’t do Kiva anymore and to go to Lomé. In Lomé, they told him because he’s from Tabligbo, he has to go to the Tsévié. Furthermore, the Tsévié branch is partnered with Babyloan, which I thought was totally fake, until I looked them up. It’s a Kiva clone, only French, Euro-based, and less established.
I also checked the Kiva site to see if WAGES, the MFI, had lost their partnership; they didn’t. Turns out someone gave out the wrong information, which happens far too frequently in Togo. The truth is that WAGES divided up the branches between Kiva and Babyloan. Unfortunately for us, we were under the Tsévié jurisdiction meaning we had to go with Babyloan. It was frustrating because WAGES was willing to give him the loan given his business plan I’ve worked with him on.
I explained the dilemma to my APCD (my boss) and he suggested I go with him to the headquarters in Lomé and to see if I could get them to change their minds. He even gave me the contact of the director of WAGES because Peace Corps volunteers have worked with them in the past. Last Friday I took the dreadful 3 hour voyage to Lomé and walked for what seemed like an hour through a maze that included literally a burning garbage pile to get to the office. The marketing manager Daniel had previously spoke to was unavailable and we were given the run around by the secretaries. We wasted the morning just waiting for nothing, and I sensed that Daniel was ready to give up. As we were eating, I told Daniel I refused to leave Lomé without an answer. We went back and I name dropped the director and said I wanted to see him. This caused a panic amongst the secretaries and they told us he was in a meeting. I said we’ll wait.
I had anticipated being there all day, but we were barely sitting there for an hour when we were summoned up to him. He was very cordial and polite and his eyes lit up when I told him we were from Peace Corps. He explained they had a long relationship with Peace Corps and since Daniel is working a volunteer, he was confident that there would be no problem with this business plan. I don’t know what I said exactly; it was a bumble of French, but he granted us what we wanted. That’s all it took. Crazy. We left the office not only with what we originally wanted, but also with a hat, polo shirt, keychain, and calendars. Awesome.
Sunday I met with Daniel prep pictures and a profile. If you go to the Kiva.org site, you’ll see that each entrepreneur has a pic and profile. For francophone countries such as Togo, they have a French translation done by a Kiva volunteer. I personally think the bios for Togo are boring because they’re all done by the same person at WAGES, who extrapolates the information from a form. They’re all the same format and sentence structure. Since I like everything to have a little style and flash, I wanted to write the a compelling profile in both French and English, as well as get an awesome picture. People don’t smile in pictures here, that’s why a lot of pics have people looking frumpy in Togo. Daniel wanted me to go with him Monday, but I convinced him that he could do it himself.