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Settling in and Searching out the Future

The past two and a half weeks have been an exciting flurry of travel, introductions, and acclimation to Ukranian culture, the Russian and Ukrainian languages, and Nadiya (Hope) International. I feel like I learn so much new every day. Each day is filled with a new set of challenges and blessings, and ever more people to meet and stories to hear. Though I am grateful for the exitement and enamored with the newness of it all, I am also relieved to be settling in to Nadiya and to the work that I will be doing across the summer. I tend to be a creature of routine (not necessarily of habit!), so I welcome this balance of newness and routine.

I learned Friday of two major projects that I will be working on across the summer. My first project is to help the microfinance department transition their smaller, preapproved microfinance products to a more accessible mode. I will be working with Maxym and Deema to create a card system, reflective of the local banking system, that clients can access the products from. It has been interesting to learn that the banking system of Ukraine, like so many features of the economy and country's infrastructure, skipped entire generations of technology. Most Ukrainians skipped the paper banking generation and have transitioned directly to a debit/cash card system. Credit is still spotty, however, so rather than moving from a credit card system to incorporate a debit system as the US has, Ukraine is working to incorporate credit into their debit/cash system. For the poor alienated by traditional banks, Hope's move to offering microfinance products on a card system represents more accessible assistance as they strive to move out of poverty. I am excited to be a part of such a project.

The second project is something I am new to, but that I am finding incredibly fulfilling. In December of 2006, Nadiya partnered with Kiva to create client profiles of the local microfinance entrepreneurs. Essentially, this partnership helps to connect lenders with clients, to show the faces and to share the stories of lives being changed. It creates a very real, human link between lender and client. It provides a tangible connection between the two, where lenders can see the fruits of their investment and where clients can share their desires, their hopes, and their future plans. It makes the relationship more real, and I would argue, more effective for both. Requests by clients become more personal, and more of what they truly are on the field. So often, there is a disconnect between individuals in different cultures, different languages, and different lives. By helping to create these profiles, I am an instrument to help bridge that gap. As I am not fluent in Russian, my involvement in this endeavor is for now somewhat limited and dependent upon the unending patience and assistance of Olga. But I am learning that it is something that I want to be a part of throughout my life. It is incredible to hear these stories, and in some cases, to see the impact firsthand. Creating these links has been incredibly effective in expanding microfinance organizations and lending/support bases. For those interested, I strongly encourage you to visit www.kiva.org. Nadiya is listed as a partner in the Ukraine, as is Esparanza. Both are partners of Hope International.

As my work here has begun to take root, I continue to search out what God is putting on my heart for the future. I know that I have been given a passion for poverty. And I am finding that that passion is in creating bonds between people in microfinance endeavors and in making such endeavors more accessible, efficient, and beneficial for those in extreme poverty. I am torn, however, as to what that means. Travis and I have been considering PhD programs for some time now, and that certainly remains an option. International work - exactly as I am doing this summer - has been on our hearts even longer. I know now more than ever that a masters in public policy program was the right step to take, but what lies beyond this? Do we step directly into international work, or is the PhD the logical next step? And somewhere in there lies our hopes and plans for a family - for adopting our children. With the many opportunities I'm being given to visit and work in orphanages on the weekends, I know that we have searching to do in this area as well. I often jump ahead to quickly... after all, I still have a year to complete my masters program before the next step begins. But already, we are talking and planning for work and travels next summer with Hope, Nadiya, Kiva, or Esparanza. I knew going into this summer that it would be life changing - such endeavors always are... I just wonder what those changes will mean.