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Lending leads to learning

BC-led program connects students from across the globe to fund businesses

Sixth-grade students at Bethlehem Central Middle School have been administering micro-loans in third-world countries as a way to learn about foreign socio-economics. Through a new grant, they’re also partnering with schools in other countries.

Sixth-grade students at Bethlehem Central Middle School have been administering micro-loans in third-world countries as a way to learn about foreign socio-economics. Through a new grant, they’re also partnering with schools in other countries. Photo by Marcy Velte.

— “I like to make sure the people want the money to purchase things they actually needed,” said sixth-grader Caden Lemov. “Like this one man wanted money to buy products for his store to help support his siblings, while another woman wanted the money to buy a game machine to put into her store.”

The students said they have to sort through appeals for items like new televisions, gaming systems and motorcycles, but most are for basic necessitates like food, clothing and medicine.

“I saw one person who was asking for money to buy tires for a Porsche and their picture was taken in front of their huge house,” said student Maggie Forsyth.

But sometimes those feelings were challenged when collaborating with foreign students. Oftentimes, students in Costa Rica wanted to back loans for luxury items, perhaps because they don’t own items like a big screen television themselves. Backing a bid to buy a quality of life product was a big deal to them.

Eventually, loans were granted for more essential items. Schools in India, for example, made sure their loans went to backing education and housing efforts.

All of the applications are pre-vetted by a local microloan group within the applicant’s country, so no one can lie about what they need money for. The system is also self-policed locally because if someone lies, the group could potentially pull microloan bank from their area.

Kiva boasts a 98.5 percent payback rate. Of the $2,500 loan administered last year by Bethlehem students, only $11 was lost.

“I find it really interesting to read the application because we don’t realize the types of things other people might need, because we have it already,” said student Julia Marcotulli.

Fellow sixth-grader Alexis Fisher agreed.

“This isn’t just a school project, this is real life,” she said. “We’re helping real people.”

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