Many women in Rwanda, Colombia and Cambodia face two choices: Accept a life in poverty, or strive for a brighter future. Merlys, Francoise and Lun chose the brighter future.
Hoping of building businesses, the fledgling entrepreneurs reached out to Kiva lenders and received loans from people half a world away.
Three Kiva Fellows—volunteers sent to witness the impact of microfinance—met these women and were deeply inspired by their spirit and resilience.
March 8 is International Women's Day—a day to celebrate the achievements of women worldwide. Here are the incredible stories of Merlys, Francoise and Lun.
Merlys María Mejía Velásque—Colombia
"Merlys has the drive and attitude to succeed," Kiva Fellow, John Gwillim tells TakePart.
With the help of Kiva loans, Merlys started a baking business a few years ago. John says, "She genuinely cares about bettering her life and has an amazing outlook on life despite some hard setbacks in her past."
In 2002, Merlys and her family were uprooted from their home in San Pablo. Her husband, Manuel, was pressured to join guerilla rebels. After he refused, he was told that he and his family should leave within 24 hours, or be killed.
They fled to Barranquilla, a town on the coast and started over.
Merlys completed a training program for people displaced by violence. With the help of microfinance institutions, Fundación Mario Santo Domingo and the Panamerica Development Foundation, as well as Kiva lenders, she built her baking business.
Lenders supplied funds to purchase flour, eggs, sugar and spices. Little by little, her business grew. Today, she regularly delivers her tasty treats to 10 stores. Merlys makes sweet and savory baked goods and can whip up some mean sugar cookies, fruit pastries and pizza bread.
Because of her business, she was able to pay for her daughter's education in Bogota. Merlys says she has achieved everything in her life because, in her opinion, people "don't lack strength, just willpower."
Kiva Fellow Adam Cohn knew right away that Francoise was a "firecracker."
Francoise lives in Rwamagana, Rwanda, and became her family's breadwinner thanks to a few key purchases—first some bananas, and second, a cow.
Francoise bought and sold bananas for a few years. When she had enough funds, she bought a plot of land for a general store. She secured a loan to buy a cow, paid back the loan with profits from her store, and now plans to start a farm.
Adam was impressed by "her determination and ability to manage her business and huge household." Francoise has six children. She pays for primary school for her older children and cares for her little ones, the youngest being less than 1 year old.
Since Adam has been in Rwanda, he has fallen in love with the people and the culture.
The country has come a long way from 1994's brutal genocide and Adam says, "Rwandans have a great positive outlook on life and approach work with spirit and humor."
Francoise in particular, Adam says, is such a superwoman that she should "wear a cape to work."
When Stephanie Sibal, a Kiva Fellow in Cambodia, arrived in the country, everything was "dizzy, bumpy, dusty, sweaty and confusing." She learned a language she had never spoken, tasted food that had unfamiliar provenance and was thousands of miles from home.
Once she settled in, she says, "Cambodia changed from a country that confused me to a country that intrigued me with its simple beauty."
She experiences the Cambodians she meets as "some of the most resourceful and happy-go-lucky people I have ever encountered."
One of these people was Lun, a Kiva borrower. "Everything about Lun is electrifying," Stephanie says.
Lun and her husband live in the Kandal province. Through Kiva loans, Lun has established a mango-selling business and meatball shop. The 53-year-old and her family earn $3.00 per day selling mangos and $3.50 a day selling meatballs.
Lun won over Stephanie right away with "a boisterous laugh and a great personality. She even showed off her manicure as she picked a mango from her orchard."
Every gesture and smile of Lun's, to Stephanie's eyes, expressed gratitude for her microloans.
When you loan to a Kiva borrower, Stephanie says, "You’re doing more than funding a business. You’re also developing an entrepreneur’s belief in themselves and their capabilities."