Inspired by a summer reading book, students in Paul Gustafson’s AP English Language class are helping to empower women in the developing world with their loose change.
Mr. Gustafson, who chairs the English Department, started the Kiva microloan project last year after students read the book Half the Sky and learned about microlending. A jar featuring the word “Kiva” on it allows students to deposit their loose change if they want to contribute to the ongoing initiative. Thus far, classes have raised $220 that in turn enabled six loans to be made – two of which have already been repaid.
“These loans help women to start or to develop small businesses. Often the obstacle to developing a business is not a lack of skill or ambition. What stands in the way is a lack of capital or access to credit,” explained Mr. Gustafson.
For senior Victoria Yi, both the book and the project have been inspirational.
“I highly recommend all students to read Mr. Kristof's novel as it would open your eyes to see how women can overcome their obstacles,” she said.
Half the Sky was written by Pulitzer Prize winners Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn and is described as “a passionate call to arms against our era’s most pervasive human rights violation: the oppression of women and girls in the developing world.” The book offers stories of “extraordinary” African and Asian women and the struggles they encounter. On page 252, readers are offered “Four steps you can take in the next ten minutes” with an introduction to Kiva and microlending.
“I like the Kiva project for a few reasons,” said Mr. Gustafson. “It connects students to the developing world and opens their eyes to the struggles that people face in these countries. But, it also gives students an opportunity to make a small impact on people’s lives and shows them that even a modest contribution, when joined with the contributions of others, can make a difference.”
As an example of the tangible outcomes of their contributions, Mr. Gustafson noted the results of a $75 donation to help a primary school in Pakistan.
“We knew that we had improved the education of the kids in this school. They would no longer have to sit outside on the ground for their classes – our contribution helped to put a roof over their heads,” he said.
Currently, Hamden Hall students have four active loans: a small farmer in Kenya, a dry goods shop owner in Cambodia, a food stall in Jordan run by a Syrian refugee, and an educational loan for a cell phone so that a child in Indonesia can attend school virtually during the pandemic.
“Students have been involved in reviewing case files on the Kiva website and selecting people to lend money to.
And as loans get repaid, we find new projects. Each year we plan to grow the fund to broaden the impact of the class from year to year,” said Mr. Gustafson.
Furthermore, according to Mr. Gustafson, the project also speaks to a central value in the AP Language course.
“We talk a lot about how to make effective arguments, but towards what end? I believe that a good argument should aim to make a tangible difference in society and in people's lives. The Kiva project reminds students of the relationship between argument and action and reminds us of the importance of benefiting others.”