Sunday, November 19 , 2017, 7:22 pm | Fair 55º

 
 
 
 

SBMS Micro-Finance Project — Teaching the World to Fish By Learning to Feed the Soul

When I first arrived in Pakistan I became instantly aware of the hot wind. It swept down the street picking up dust as it came. It swirled around me dry and harsh, making my skin prickle. ... Shakeela lived in a village nestled in a little valley. It was surrounded by high out-croppings of red rock. Children ran around in the street, herding goats and chasing one another. ... I timidly approached a woman who was pumping water from a well, and asked her in my shaky Urdo, “Can you tell me where Shakeela lives?” — Emma, Santa Barbara Middle School seventh-grade student, takes a journey of imagination to visit a real-world woman whose micro-loan loan she funded on Kiva.org

Santa Barbara Middle School students just passed the one-year benchmark for their new micro-financing project and their investment work with Kiva.org, the nonprofit whose micro-finance loans change lives all over the world in an effort to alleviate poverty.

One year ago, the sixth- and seventh-grade students were each given $25 to invest in a business of their choice on the Kiva.org site, thanks to the generous support of SBMS parent Eric Sanborn. In just one year, close to 150 SBMS students have joined together with Sanborn to form a lending team, SBMS Student Microfinance Club, which has made more than 500 loans to individuals and their businesses in nearly 60 countries through Kiva.org. To date, the SBMS group has loaned close to $14,000, with many students having had their original loans fully repaid and re-invested again.

What started as a four-week educational mini-lesson last spring in a sixth- and seventh-grade social studies class, led by teacher John Seigel-Boettner and Sanborn, has now expanded to become schoolwide program that touches every SBMS student.

According to Seigel-Boettner and Sanborn, the most enduring lesson from this project is the connection that is formed between the students and the beneficiaries of their loans. To facilitate connection, they have introduced the theme, “We walk a mile in their shoes,” which has both figurative and literal components.

There are several layers to this unit of study. The students create and deliver to their classmates a keynote presentation both to introduce the person and to defend the business they have decided to fund, create blog entries in which they virtually travel to visit the person they have funded and, most recently, the seventh-grade students gathered water just before sunrise from the “well” at Mission Creek in their own homemade buckets — then walked up the hill, a mile or so, to school carrying a day’s worth of water. Many were barefoot. For extra credit, students were challenged to rely on, and only use their jug of water for the next 24 to 36 hours.

This is exactly the business model that Kiva.org banks on — pay it forward, and watch the spirit of successful, entrepreneurial ideas profit and spread across the globe.

Talking with the teachers a year later, they were asked what lessons they hoped the students were gaining from this project.

“I hope to give the kids an awareness of people in the world and the different lives they live,” Seigel-Boettner said.

“It is too easy to objectify people based on where they live, the policies of their government, or our perceptions of the religion they follow,” Sanborn said.

He wants kids to understand that giving and charity is something you do as much for yourself as for the person you are helping: “If your understanding is that helping someone else is done only to benefit them, you are going to end up disappointed or with unfulfilled expectations.”

Alex, an SBMS eighth-grade student has already experienced some impressive returns on his initial $25 investment. Inspired by his loan to Stephen, a small-business owner in Uganda, he asked family and friends to donate to his Kiva.org account in lieu of the traditional bar mitzvah gifts a coming-of-age-teen often receives. To date, Alex has loaned his initial gifts 70 times to fund 70 entrepreneurial business opportunities. Alex is only one of several SBMS students who have been moved by the impact they are making in the lives of others around the globe.

Investment strategies, currency fluctuation and delving into smart due diligence about the organizations and charities where you invest, are the fundamental business and math lessons the program teaches, yet students are finding that the return on this investment reaches far beyond financial literacy.

— Sue Carmody is a community outreach coordinator for Santa Barbara Middle School.

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