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Helping hands around the world

The Internet has made giving to those less fortunate easier than ever.

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So we chose to help Helena Tawiah in Ghana. The website told us that she had six children, one of them in school, and that she cared for two grandchildren. "Monday through Saturday," the website said, "Helena wakes up at 4:30 a.m. to cook for her children and prepare for her workday. Usually she arrives at her plastics kiosk by 6 a.m. so that she completes a full work day before her children return from school around 4 p.m."

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"In Ghana," the website continued, "buying in bulk requires a large amount of working capital that many small business owners do not have."

Helena had apparently had an earlier loan; that made her seem loan-worthy. With her Kiva loan, she stocked items she'd never carried before – coolers, thermoses, and a larger selection of bowls and buckets. She had attracted new customers and had significantly increased her weekly take to 100,000 cedis, the Ghanaian currency. Still that amounted to less than $11, and our hearts went out to her. "...Helena keenly reinvests 100 percent to restock her business," the website assured us.

The loan would be administered by the Kraban Support Foundation, a local organization whose "ultimate aim" is "...to enhance the access of small-scale entrepreneurs to sustainable financial services."

Kiva posted Helena's request for a $750 loan on April 10, 2007. Two days later, 17 Internet contributors had funded it, some of them supplying no more than $25, but still contributing to overseas development. The website gave their first names, some photos, and where they came from. Three were from California, and two each were from Colorado, Massachusetts, and New York. Three were couples, and one was a family from Utah (complete with baby photo).

What this array of investors says to me is that there are a lot of good people out there who'd be happy to give at least $25 to help someone less fortunate than themselves. To me, that represents the best of America.

There are other nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) doing similar things – although without the contributor having so direct a connection with the local entrepreneur. We've contributed for several years to FINCA. Also to Pro Mujer. They're microfinance NGOs, with Pro Mujer specializing in helping Latin American women. We've also supported TechnoServe and Children International.

There are dozens of similar organizations making it possible for well-intentioned people in developed countries to help others who are less fortunate. I have a friend who is convinced that it is these organizations – not governments – that will move the world beyond the conflicts of the day.

Some weeks ago an e-mail flashed on my screen: contactus@kiva.org. It let us know that Helena had repaid her loan. I feel strangely proud of her and of the 17 of us who helped her.

I reinvested the $100 in Kiva. This time, we are supporting 16 "lionesses" (so they call themselves) who prepare and sell food in Bolivia, where we've visited. They sought $4,850 to provide fast, local food to tourists during festivals. That's more than Helena asked for, but the loan is being administered by Pro Mujer, and we know some Pro Mujer people. So we feel confident about our money helping women get ahead. We wish the lionesses well!

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