My Volunteer Journal: Episode 38 – My Money Volunteers for While I Sit On My Couch and Regroup

african-farmerRecently, I’ve had a number of planned volunteer activities fall through. I was going to help baby turtles in Florida, but the nests got washed away in a storm. Tragic. Then another rescue group moved their event from November to possibly January. Then I tried to go read poetry at a retirement village, but the administrator stopped me with an application and orientation process that rivaled Ivy League college admissions. 

Not going to lie - I was bummed. How was I going to complete this project with only three months left? Finding, contacting and scheduling with each charity takes more time than I’d like to admit. Plus, now that I was in the final throws of this volunteering madness balancing my personal life, work, and this project was becoming a bit impossible.

It’s easy to understand the people who write me and say that they like what I’m doing, but between kids, work, and trying to find some personal time they don’t have any time to volunteer. Agreed. Preach on. I’d be the first person to tell you that some charities don’t exactly make it easy to help them, but perhaps more on that subject when I finish this…

I needed a project that I could do without asking permission or filling out an application. Something I could do from the comfort of my own ratty sofa with a bowl of ice cream in my lap. I wanted to do an activity where I didn’t have to learn anything new or get emotionally involved, because, at that moment, my brain was fried.

After searching the Internet for a few hours with little luck I almost banged my head against the coffee table when I remembered OF COURSE! Kiva. I’ve wanted to help them for months anyway. Perfect. is this brilliant organization that lets you lend money to the working poor to help alleviate poverty across the world. It’s the world’s first person to person micro-lending website. Kiva partners with existing micro-financing institutions to find the entrepreneurs. For those of you concerned about giving away your hard earned cash – you are lending money – so in all likelihood you will be repaid. Also loans start at the low price of $25 dollars and you can pay through Paypal - so go sell something on Ebay and then you can make a loan.

I started by going to the site and looking through the entrepreneurs under the lend tab. You can narrow it down by region, business type, even gender. Anybody with a God complex or control issues will like this activity as you literally hold the future of someone’s business in your hands. This responsibility made me nervous so I probably spent way too much time and thought going through the applicants to find someone I thought would be really successful. My disturbingly anal-retentive thought pattern went like this:

“Well, I want to lend to a woman or group of women because research shows that women will invest their money back into the well being of their family and education more often than not. Okay, probably don’t want to lend to anyone in a fishing industry as scientists pretty much agree that fish stocks are collapsing so these people will be in the same boat they are now in 25 years. Charcoal production can be destructive to local environments…MMmmmm. Stop being so picky! I guess used clothing is good because it keeps textiles out of landfills, is a cheap resource, and there seems to be a never ending supply."

My thoughts seem a bit cavalier when written down, but when you're reading through the names and stories on the Kiva site it’s hard not to get invested in each case, and wish that you could help all of them. You just have to find your own ways of narrowing the field down until you find someone you want to help.

I finally decided to lend to a group of women selling used clothes in Uganda. I picked them because of what the lending institution said about the leader of the group, “She wants to be an independent lady and, even if she gets married, not leave everything to her husband.” Smart woman. Once I had made the decision of whom to loan to I filled out a brief one-page form online, and then clicked lend. That was it. My money (the miniscule amount I had made off TheGoodMuse in fact) will now do my volunteering for the next 6 to 12 months until the loan is repaid and then I’ll lend it out again.

You would think that a small entrepreneur who only needs $350 would be guaranteed a loan on a site such as Kiva, but many loans only had 1 or 2 days till collection ended and they weren't anywhere near fully funded.

It's pretty hard to find a volunteer activity easier than Kiva.  Not only that, but you're not losing your money - it's a loan. I wish I could find more organizations as easy to work with as Kiva.  The search for more non-profits begins anew tomorrow.  Only 12 activities to go and a little less than three months...Keep your fingers crossed.