Nathan’s Office

Nathan at work visiting borrowers of Juhudi Kilimo

“It was my first day on the job,” Nathan says with a wide grin.

“I wore a coat and tie, I looked very smart! I was going to work for a bank, sit in a swiveling chair, and swing my legs!”

Nathan and I are standing on the side of a road. The occasional share-taxi barrels past us, but mostly we are surrounded by the hush of farmland that stretches as far as the eye can see. We’re in the Southern Rift Valley of Western Kenya. Nathan is neither sitting, nor swinging his legs. We cross the road. The mid-morning sun casts our shadows long across the hot asphalt. Continue reading


The Kiva Story

As a Kiva Fellow, part of my job is to share the stories of Kiva borrowers with Kiva lenders and the internet community. I interviewed three women in Kampala who had all borrowed from MCDT, a Kiva partner microfinance institution in Uganda. Their stories are compelling. In their own words, they describe how the micro-loans have made an impact on their lives, as well as those of their families.

Make a micro-loan on Kiva today to an entrepreneur like Adella, Deborah, or Florence.

Also check out Video Blog: The Story of Lini Nanyonga.

Video Blog: The Story of Lini Nanyonga

This blog post originally appeared on the Kiva Fellows blog. Learn more about Kiva at

The original post can be found at:

The following is a video I made after talking with a woman named Lini Nanyonga in a slum in Kampala, Uganda. Enjoy!

Nila has just arrived in Kampala, Uganda after having spent six months in Zanzibar, Tanzania last year. She considers East Africa home now, and looks forward to working with several Kiva partner microfinance institutions throughout the next few months in Uganda and Kenya.

The View from the Ground

This blog post originally appeared on the Kiva Fellows blog. Learn more about Kiva at

The original post can be found at:

Sam the loan officer counting loan repayments

By Nila Uthayakumar, KF 14, Uganda

Tuesday morning. It was just my second day at Micro Credit for Development and Transformation (MCDT), a Kiva partner microfinance bank based in Kampala, Uganda. I sat at the helm of a grouping of desks in an airy room within an office building perched at the very tip-top of a hill in Kampala. What a view. Of the city, but also of the four loan officers preparing to go into the field and meet with their borrowers. I looked out of the window, and then back at the people in the room. How did I get here again?

I needed to remind myself, lest I forgot. It had been the most intense month and a half of my life. In the beginning of December I was still living in Zanzibar, Tanzania. More specifically, I was painfully packing away six months into my backpack and getting ready to visit the States. I would be home for a month and a half, (although home for me is relative at this point), and I had an expanding to-do list to address. Most importantly, I was to attend Kiva Fellows training in San Francisco in January. I, along with a group of nineteen others, was going to be taught how to be Kiva’s eyes and ears on the ground. What exactly that meant, I could not have possibly known until I got to “the ground.” Continue reading


One of the first things that struck me about living here in Zanzibar was the amount of wood and timber products that are used on a daily basis.  Within the first few weeks of living here, I ran into this sight:

Yes, that is a giant pile of logs obstructing the street.  Imagine my shock when I rounded the corner and ran into that. The logs, I found out later, were for a bakery I live next to that literally burns tons of logs a week.  Wood products are very high in demand here.

I was browsing the internet late one night and I happened upon an organization based in eastern Kenya called Komaza, which is a Swahili verb meaning “promote development; encourage growth.”  Komaza works with farmers who live in areas with poor soil to plant trees, which they eventually harvest to sell as highly profitable wood and timber products.  They loan them the seed and capital through microcredit and offer the technical know-how and services to bring their products to market.  In the interim while the trees are growing, they also loan seed for hardy, drought resistant plants that the farmers can sell to make an income, as well as use to feed their families (like mung beans).  It is a very interesting model.

This region in Kenya where Komaza is working and Zanzibar (as well as much of East Africa) have quite a bit in common, including a very high demand for wood products.  Every single one of my neighbors cooks with charcoal. Similarly, Zanzibar also faces severe deforestation, and central Zanzibar has poor, infertile soil like in the area of eastern Kenya where Komaza works.

Check out this very cool video about Komaza:

What I do Here

I have lived in Tanzania for over two months now, believe it or not.  Some of you are probably wondering what I am actually spending my time doing here, besides the official answer I give.  Officially, I am here on a Rotary Ambassadorial Scholarship to learn Swahili.  Actually, I have finished my formal Swahili lessons at the Institute of Swahili and Foreign Languages, and will be starting private lessons just to work on my speaking skills.  Now, when I am not traveling, I devote most of my time to a research study on family planning and abortion in Zanzibar.

The research is being carried out by Dr. Alison Norris, who is a post-doctoral fellow at Johns Hopkins University and an MD/PhD from Yale, and I have been hired as the project coordinator and data manager.  The study is absolutely fascinating, especially since there is no published data on the use of family planning and the prevalence of abortion on the island.  According to the Tanzania Demographic and Health Survey of 2004, 43% of Tanzanian women reported that they have ever used any method of contraception.  Only 20% reported that they were currently using contraceptives.  According to the same survey, only 9.4% of Zanzibari women reported that they were currently using modern contraception.  The social scientist in me loves working on a project that so seamlessly combines deductive and inductive logic, as well as qualitative and quantitative data.  I’m also incredibly grateful to work with someone so brilliant and experienced.  My co-workers Sarah, Giselle, and Chase are also a pleasure to work with!

The reason I even heard about this project is because there is an email listserv in Zanzibar for women on the island (which men can join if they wish), called Wanawake (women in Swahili).  We on the island use this listserv as a means of keeping abreast of island events and as a networking tool.  People use it like craigslist to buy and sell things, business owners advertise specials, and residents ask for advice.  I have found it incredibly useful during my time here.  The mere existence of this listserv points to the fact that there is a thriving expatriate community here.  Within a few short weeks of my move to Zanzibar, I met many members of the community.  The Rotary Club of Zanzibar has also been a wonderful medium to meet community leaders here.  As a Rotary scholar, I attend Rotary meetings every Wednesday at 5pm at the Serena Inn.  The club here is small but it is very good at what it does.  Among other projects, the club has recently decided to help Mr. Abdullah Dowdie, who is the founder and chairman of the Zanzibar Association of Albinos.  Regarding albinism Abdullah recently said,

Abdullah receiving sun screen donated by Poppy Farrow. Photo courtesy of Poppy Farrow.

“I was so shocked when I heard that our life expectancy is only 30 years old, that means that I have only another 4 potential years of life, I had no idea the sun was so harmful to us. I am aware that I burn easily, but I didn’t realize it was so detrimental.  If I had been aware of this before, I could have protected myself better and taught others.”

He founded the association in July of 2009 with the goals of educating albinos on the island on skin protection; advocating for enabling environments for the education, employment and health care of albinos; and encouraging a good relationship between the albino community and the general society.  The last goal is important considering that albinos, especially on the Tanzanian mainland, have been murdered or dismembered.  The social stigma surrounding albinism in Tanzania is high, and education and awareness in this case is indispensable.  Additionally, the occurrence of albinism in Tanzania, where about 1 in 4,000 suffers from the genetic mutation, is much higher than in Europe and North America where about 1 in 20,000 is affected by some form of it.1 The Rotary Club of Zanzibar has committed to raising funds for a continuing supply of sun screen, assistance in producing educational materials to be handed out to the albinos on the island, and it has donated a computer for Abdullah’s office.  The project is being headed up by my friend Poppy Farrow, who is a physio-therapist from the U.K.

In addition to these activities, I am in the preliminary stages of my own research project on microfinance interest rates.  I am working on making contact with microfinance institutions (MFIs) on the mainland of Tanzania to gather data on the costs of running an MFI as they relate to their interest rates and portfolio yield (interest rate plus additional fees).  When I am not doing any of this, I am usually reading, visiting neighbors, traipsing through Stone Town, or blogging!