Kettles and Cameras in Karasu, Kyrgyzstan Rachael Mather, First Micro Credit Company

When my friends and family pictured my life in Kyrgyzstan, they imagined I’d be working “in the field”. My day to day life is quite different though. I work as a Research and Product Development Associate at First Micro Credit Company’s (FMCC) head office, located in the second largest city in the country, Osh. While the work I’ve been able to accomplish from behind a desk has been meaningful, it was a real treat to visit some of our clients as part of the annual Quality of Life Interviews.

Given my weak Russian and Kyrgyz language skills, my role during these insightful visits was photographer and observer; to personally gain a better understanding of the clients that we serve. On a foggy day in October, we drove through the Karasu region, passing herds of sheep and cows, as we wove through the mountains. We had the chance to meet with four micro credit clients that day, each with a unique story of how our loans have impacted their lives.

Perizat and Liliya.

I enjoyed meeting all four clients, but my favourite was Perizat, a 35 year-old mother who kindly invited us into her living room for the interview. While my supervisor, Liliya, conducted the lengthy interview in Kyrgyz, my colleague Rahat took detailed notes. I was the photographer on duty and quickly made friends with two of her daughters Burulay and Nurpary. Like any other 5 and 8 year-olds, they were fascinated by the camera and so our photo shoot began. We posed with our best goofy faces and both the girls loved being behind the lens. These were truly happy kids.

Although they materially had much less than the average Canadian child is afforded, they had an undeniable abundance of love and joy in their lives. In fact, it is only now upon reflection, that I can register these material differences, because at the time, it was their contentment that overwhelmed me. It is a beautiful reminder that ‘gizmos and gadgets’ cannot generate happiness. Rather, it is the loving relationships in our lives that are the true source of joy and fulfillment.

In line with the infamous Kyrgyz hospitality, as soon as the formal interview was over, the kettle was put on the stove and a table cloth was brought out along with chai, honey, and homemade naan. As we sipped on hot tea, Perizat was curious to know my story and was pleased to learn how much I enjoyed living in her country. We chatted for a while before having to excuse ourselves and move onto the next interview.

Once we were back in the car, I got to learn more about her story. Perizat is now on her 6th loan with FMCC and her family is thriving because of the opportunity the funds provided her, and a lot of hard work. As a newlywed, her first loan was the equivalent of $950 CAD. Her and her husband used this money to finish building their first family home. Once she made her final repayment on her first loan, she took out an agricultural loan followed by four animal husbandry loans. With each consecutive loan, she was able to buy more livestock. The cows she acquired allowed her not only to provide dairy products for her children, but also to provide a sustainable income by selling the dairy products and the cows she raised. Her livestock assets grew, which eventually enabled her husband to buy a small truck. As a result, her husband is now a self-employed lorry driver, bringing in a consistent source of income for the family. Perizat is not only an incredibly hardworking and kind woman, but also a shining example of how microfinance has the ability to improve lives.

Perizat, holding naan she was going to bring to her neighbours, myself and Nurpary.

In that same conversation, I also learnt that Perizat’s relative had asked to borrow money and she had generously given him half of the money from her 3rd loan. The Kyrgyz culture is a collectivist one, where community and family needs are paramount to individual needs. Requests from friends or relatives are almost always fulfilled, regardless of inconvenience or notice. This is why it is often challenging to accumulate savings, because there will always be someone who needs something, and declining to help is not really an option. For this reason, when I learned he had asked Perizat for such a large amount, I was not so surprised. However, what is incredible is that despite her relative moving across the country without ever repaying her, Perizat never missed a payment. This is resilience and further proof that when given the opportunity, women can accomplish just about anything.

My interactions with each client that day were limited, but I am grateful for the opportunity to have met each of them. Back at my desk just a few months later, these visits still influence the marketing proposals I draft and colour how I analyze our client satisfaction data. Microfinance is not the answer to all of the world’s problems, but I have witnessed it helping many hardworking Kyrgyz people. For these families, it has made all the difference.

Rachael Mather was part of the 2016-2017 cohort of the International Youth Fellowship Program. She was placed with First Micro Credit Company in Osh, Kyrgyz Republic.

Since 1989, Aga Khan Foundation Canada (AKFC) has been helping to develop young Canadian leaders in the field of international development through its International Youth Fellowship Program.


Rachel Mather

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