You might remember my moving and inspirational posts about Microfinance. Basically, I got my students to choose people for me to invest in via the micro-loan portal Kiva.org. Some of the students really got into it and lent money themselves. This act of getting others to lend money to Kiva filled me with self-satisfied smugness, my favourite feeling, and I persuaded, bullied, teased, cajoled, and annoyed loads of others into joining.
There are currently 14 in my team and in its first five months we have lent $1800, which makes us collectively amazing. (Join us!)
|Andrew Girardin's Lonely Hearts Loan Band - Total Amount Loaned|
A couple of weeks after financing my fifth set of pig babies in Cambodia, I bumped into Karamel. Karamel is a young Swiss woman of rare loveliness who, disappointed at the waste and inefficiency of charities she had volunteered for, set up her own.
They get most of their money from hand-painting and selling Christmas cards to large Swiss companies.
I casually mentioned my Microfinance exploits. It was in no way a calculated move and I hadn't spent a single second imagining a romantic trip to Africa digging wells together and shit. It didn't take her long to crush the dreams I didn't have. "I don't really like Microfinance," she said.
Annoyed, I demanded she read my blog posts and after she had, I took her to lunch.
"What's all this blab about you not liking Microfinance?" I asked.
"I don't think it's the best model for East Africa," said Karamel, delicately kissing the foam on her latte macchiato. "I dunno, maybe it's good for Asia or South America where they're more entreprenuerial and have a culture of saving and so on. But if you lend a guy in East Africa a thousand dollars, you'll never see him again. I've seen it happen many times. And even if you do help him increase his income from a dollar to two dollars a day, he'll just buy a mobile phone. He won't save the money."
Deflated, I sat there, stirring the dregs of my tea. "But I want to do something," I whined, attractively. "There must be a way."
"You can't do anything for them," said Karamel, "They have to do it themselves. I've been in this charity business for ages. The western world can't help. We should just let them get on with it. I'm serious."
I accepted this harsh truth and gave up on Kenya. In future, I'd focus my Microfinance efforts on Asia and South America.
I saw Karamel again later that day. I was a bit depressed. Clearly, if Kenya wants to improve its quality of life, Kenya needs to do most of the work. But still, it's hard to accept that there's zero contribution you can make.
"Aw," she said, pointing her exquisite face at me. "You look down."
"Yeah," I said, "I want to be able to do something for East Africa. Asking me to give up on a whole part of the world is like asking me to give up daydreaming about owning a bazooka."
She shook her head. "The only thing you can do is give them a job. Then they'd have income and self-respect and dignity and the chance to grow their skills and be an example for others in their community."
"But I'm not IBM or Shell," I pointed out, correctly. "I don't have no jobs for nobody."
But then I remembered. I do! I outsource my comics to artists and stuff! And then I remembered another thing - the Kenyan charity people paint Christmas cards and stuff! So they have artists there. Those Kenyan guys could do my comics! Karamel could connect me with her artist friends, and I'd send them my mad comic ideas, and they'd draw them, and I'd send them money. There would be enough work for a group of people. I'd modestly call it Andrew Girardin's Kenyan Comic Collective.
It was genius, and I was excited about Doing Good again. Karamel agreed that it was a genius concept that would really benefit Kenyan people, so she agreed to help me.
It was Karamel's turn to look sad. It had been a month since she'd written to the artist in Kenya. All he had to do was send me a sample of his work so we could get started. Every week she wrote to him reminding him. Every week he wrote back with some lame excuse for the delay.
She shook her head. "You just can't help some people," she said.
I knew she had been running her charity for so long that she was heartily sick of it. "You're sick of it, aren't you?" I said, saying the words that my brain had thought.
"Yes," she said. And the artist's failure to do a simple thing that could better his own life had depressed her.
But I was still positive. "Maybe I'll call it the Kenyan Komic Kollective," I said, "With three Ks. That'll be really controversial and we'll get media buzz. And then people will hear about it and we can get them more and more comic-making work. And design work, and more Christmas cards, and ...."
She smiled at me politely. She knew all about East Africa. My enthusiasm was cute - not cute enough for her to want to sleep with me - but misguided.
I hoped she was wrong.
Four months later, I realised the artist guy was never going to send me the sample. He literally couldn't be bothered scanning one of his pieces and emailing it to me.
I tried to find Kenyan artists on Deviant Art, the website for artists. I didn't find one.
So I spent the money I'd put aside for the KKK and spent it on beer. Those beer companies work hard to get my money and I'm happy to reward their effort.
I did make some loans to East Africa. Sometimes I choose people based on factors such as how much their photo or name makes me laugh. Thus I've made loans to Kenya, Tanzania, and whatever the one next to them is:
|My Kiva loan map|
I hope it does some good.