Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Reaching Nigeria Through Literature and

It's that time of year again, when I'm teaching Things Fall Apart to my high school students.  Things Fall Apart is the unforgettable story of Okonkwo, a "strong man" living in Nigeria on the eve of the arrival of British missionaries.  This is the fourth time I have taught this book, but this year I wanted to do something a little more meaningful, so I used to connect me with a real Nigerian who could use a hand.

I started using Kiva in October of 2007.  If you've never heard of Kiva, it is a website that makes it possible for you to make direct loans to entrepreneurs all over the globe who need capital to run their businesses.  Kiva allows you to pick an individual, read about his or her business, and lend that person money.  It is a loan, and not a donation, and 98.57% of loaners pay back their loan in full.  

The first person I loaned money to was Maria Luisa Hernandez Gomez, who is a chicken seller in San Cristobal De Las Casas, Mexico.  She needed $950 to improve her business, so I loaned her $25 to help her along.  Before long she had amassed the $950 she needed, and in May of the next year, she paid all of her debt back, including my $25.

Maria Luisa Hernandez Gomez

My original investment had already traveled from Memphis to Mexico and back, but it wasn't done there.  I took  that same money and loaned it again, this time to Vusal Khankishiyev, a 22-year-old barber in Imishli, Azerbaijan.  He needed $1200 for his business, and he got it.  In January of this year, he paid his money back, and I was again able to loan that money to another deserving businessman.

Vusal Khankishiyev

When my investment had returned from Azerbaijan, I started looking for the next business person who could use it.   The person I chose was Shem Mbareba of Rukungiri, Uganda.  He raises poultry and sells the eggs they produce to hotels in Rukungiri, and he needed a loan of $500 to buy more food for his livestock.  He recently received all the money that he needed, and is presumably hard at work improving his business.  I'm sure it is only a matter of time before he pays his loan back, and I will be able to send that money out again.

Shem Mbareba

This spring, I wanted to see if there were any Nigerians who had applied for loans.  Then I found Ese Ekuayauwe, a 29-year old woman living in Nigeria. She lives in Warri, a city of over a million people, where the average yearly income is $1,188.  Ese is married--her husband is a welder--and has four children, and she makes money by selling sarongs and bags.  She is asking for 80,000 Nigerian Naira (that's $550)to improve her business.

Ese Ekuayauwe

I decided to invest another $25 in Ese.  She still needs $400, and I am going to challenge my students to help me raise another loan for her.

Great books do more than pass the time or entertain us.  Great books tell us what it means to be a human being.  If not for Things Fall Apart, all I would know about Nigeria is where to find it on a map--maybe.  Now, however, I understand the culture, the history, and the fact that people like Ese Ekuayauwe aren't all that different from me.  


  1. We raised $9 in my third period mythology class. Just $16 to go!

  2. We raised $6 more in English class (4th Period).

  3. That is great! It is so cool to see a small donation go that far.