The 2013-2014 Common Reading, “Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide,” has sparked not only discussion and self-reflection on campus, but also action. A $2,000 grant from President Jo Ellen Parker to the Honors Program is helping first-year honors and y:1 students make microloans to small entrepreneurs in developing countries through the online nonprofit Kiva.
Kiva allows individuals to lend money to recipients around the world, with microloans starting at just $25. According to Kiva’s website, 99 percent of loans have been paid back to lenders, who can then decide to either reinvest the money or have it deposited into a PayPal account.
Students in five y:1 classes and in the Honors Program each received $25 to be allotted to a loan recipient of their choice. While y:1 classes made their decisions collaboratively, with each class proposing two initial loans, honors students each researched and picked their own borrowers.
Cathy Gutierrez, associate professor of religion and director of the y:1 program, sees tremendous educational value in this hands-on opportunity.
“The students — and hopefully the College as a whole — will better understand the lives of women around the world, the challenges that they face, and how to be a part of changing those lives for the better,” she said.
In both programs, ongoing presentations and ePortfolios are part of the deal.
“We envision this as a yearlong self-reflection — wherein the student will describe her first impressions, her decision-making process, her values [and] her self-discoveries,” said Jill Granger, who directs the Honors Program.
Students displayed their ePortfolios during a reception following Tererai Trent’s lecture in October, where they had the chance to meet the human rights activist one on one. Of the five y:1 classes, the two best presentations received funding for their loan recipient, and two students from each class were invited to have dinner with Trent and President Parker at Sweet Briar House.