Friday, December 23, 2011

Learn Authentically by Giving with KIVA.org

Editor’s note: If your children receive money this holiday season Christeil Figuroa Gota has a great suggestion for how they may want to consider spending some of it while they learn many significant life lessons.


by Christeil Figueroa Gota

People are always talking about bringing education to life, literally, by living their lives and letting their children learn the ins and outs of living in our modern world.  Home Educators and Unschoolers are expert at this.  Those in the conventional education world are sometimes incredulous that simply living ones life is enough of an education for children.  So, I thought I'd take some time to illustrate our paradigm with just one example - Being KIVA Lenders.

 

My husband and I got involved with KIVA in 2006.  KIVA.org is a non-profit that networks worldwide to provide micro-loans for business and housing.  That sentence alone started a conversation with my children about micro lending and the state of business and housing in the world.  To be a lender, one can start with as little as $25.  You can connect with a borrower anywhere in the world.  Simply log on to Kiva.org and browse by loan type or country.

The loans you give are interest-free and will be paid back to you by each borrower.  No other guarantee is made.  We started with $100 to lend and have added more money to our account each year.  Although you can lend anonymously, we can correspond with the borrowers and they can send messages to lenders.  Their stories are posted as well as updates on their loan repayments and progress. As the loans are repaid, we have an opportunity to re-lend as many times as we want.

Each Christmas, my kids receive a certain amount of money through gifts.  By watching our example, the kids have chosen to lend some of their own gift money on Kiva.  We sit with each child and choose the borrowers that they would like to lend to.  They also follow their borrower's progress periodically throughout the life of the loan.  Lending is a cornerstone of the world's economy and our children now have a firm understanding of the consumption economy from being micro-lenders on Kiva.  

Last May, my 10 year old son chose a borrower named, Esther Gire, from Sudan.  Esther needed a micro-loan to stock her general store.  My son contributed $25 of his money, and along with other Kiva lenders raised the $425 that Esther needed. We tracked Esther's progress online and can see that she is able to repay her loan in increments of $25 per month.   However, this past October, Esther missed her last scheduled payment and is now delinquent for the remaining $10.12 of her loan balance.

Seeing this, my son became curious about the economic climate of Sudan to see if he could determine why Esther is late on her payment.  This led us to discover the awesome, albeit tragic history of Sudan.  At the tender age of 10, my son not only grasps the complexities of micro-financing and world economics, but has now also gained an appreciation for the struggles of families in Southern Sudan, the plight of refugee children and how he has a direct impact on the life of one Sudanese woman trying to rebuild from war.

Of course, one could teach all this math, geography, world history, culture, economics, business and altruism with a few worksheets and a couple hours of homework a day, but I doubt it would have the same staying power.  Plus, my 10 year old in that class would have lost interest in 3 minutes and moved on to get himself in some kind of mischief.  Kiva lending is the alternative that my children chose on their own and with their learner-led interest in the endeavor have gained knowledge and been enriched with the experience.

This month, my son is interested in lending to people with businesses in Jordan and Palestine.  Sharia (Islamic Law) prohibits the inclusion of interest or fees when lending, so we are now also exploring the Islamic Banking System.  A subject increasingly relevant, yet hardly covered in formal higher education, let alone elementary school.  

Let me conclude by saying that although my kids are exceptional for their age in their knowledge of economic systems, it is not something we intended to be so lofty when we started out as Kiva Lenders.  My children simply absorbed mine, and my husband's enthusiasm for lending from our many conversations, and huddles around the computer gazing into the faces of entrepreneurs around the world.  My children love to be lenders because it is something they can do.  Of course they do spend some of their Christmas money on video games and toys, but I can honestly say that lending gives them no less pleasure.

http://www.kiva.org

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Christeil Gota is mother of 4 boys and unschooling in California. The family is happily embarking on their 4th year of home education, following their passions and playing.
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