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Giving credit where credit is due

in Featured/View From The Mainland by

Isn’t it a bit crazy that as soon as the hallowe’en decorations come down in the stores, its just a few mere weeks later and they start decking the halls with jingle bells?  At least most places still have enough respect for the public to wait until after Remembrance day. But I swear, the 12th of November it all started happening. The Americans are marginally more lucky than us, they only get plodded to overspend after their thanksgiving, a thankful  week or two later.

Now I’m not a full on, “pinko commie perv” (like I was accused by one of my soon-to-be-favourite professors at MUN) or nothing. And I don’t have anything against people giving their kids more than they ever had. And I’m certainly not against spending good, quality time with your family around the solstice to celebrate the return of the sun, or feasting for Passover or whatever it is that your religious or community calling is.

But I do take issue with overly conspicuous spending

Especially when there’s so much need in the world (and at home). According to our (now departing) Governor of the Bank of Canada completely agrees. Household debt has risen “163 per cent in the second quarter of this year. Canadians are now more indebted than either the Americans or the British.” Yes b’ys, ‘n the holiday spend fest hasn’t even struck yet [unless you agree with the Boney M Christmas music playing in the stores (I secretly like that album)] What gets me the most, is that we don’t even WANT, let alone need, a lot of the holiday junk that we blow our future spending power on (credit).

Anyway, now that that stuff is out of my system (forgive my bah-hum-buggery – it is both inherited and also my last chance until after the holidays to bore you with it due to column release dates). Like I said and wrote before, I’m all about the spirit of giving, community, and making this time of year a time of reflection and growth. Last year’s ‘seasonal’ column was about food banks and hidden homelessness, still important so here’s my plug – cuz I’m lazy.

Gifts that keep on giving

I know we hear about those, see them in commercials or joke about them. But I truely believe that there is room for giving donations to needy organizations at this time of year, to mom/dad/that friggin uncle that you can’t think of ANYTHING to give to. Or, even more revolutionary, to kids. Because when you get kids to think outside the small world that we intentionally cradle them in (for their own good, right) their already brilliant imaginations start conceiving of better worlds, or whatever.

I don’t know how to gently segue into this topic, so I’ll just jump off the end of the wharf: (spoiler alert – don’t tell my uncle Scotty) all I’m giving people this year are donations in their name or micro loan credits. Now you don’t have to be a lunatic like me, but please at least look into giving a micro loan, er, credit to someone for their stocking stuffer, or for the curious mind, or as one of those emergency secret-unlabelled-upstairs-in-case-you-get-a-gift-from-someone-but-forgot-to-get-one-for-them, presents.

What’s change to you is change for them

I mean, I’ve been giving micro loans through this group called www.kiva.org for a number of years, to see what it’s like and to do something good with my spare allowance money. How it works: basically you can loan in increments of $25 to Kiva. You go through their listing of individuals, or groups, all over the world who need seed money to start, or maintain small businesses. You can fully support, or pool your money with other ‘loaners’. From crafts, to agriculture, to yup, even bars and concessions or whatever the enterprising (no illicit drugs, probably) apply for dozens to thousands of dollars.

Loans are delivered, monitored, and payments are collected through partner organisations in the home country. On average, these loans are paid back at a rate of 98%. Better than your average canuk I might add. You get your money back in your Kiva account and you can pull it out, or re-loan it – your call. Its pretty friggin neat because you are helping grow economies. They help the neediest, often women and children abandoned or widowed. The neatest part of these gifts is that most of these people would never qualify for a big bank loan, even if a big bank existed in many of the regions these loans are given out, because they have no collateral.

You can actually see the progress

One of the coolest things I’d get from one of my travellin’ aunts was weird cash from around the globe. Well I mean, its perfectly normal for Equadorians to use Sucre. But it totally blew my mind growing up in Labrador that there actually existed places like that. I mean, I knew they existed, but this made it real somehow. Anyway. Imagine the kiddie getting a Kiva credit and actually being a change agent in the world, that s/he can see. And they get to play with money, so who knows, maybe they could grow up as economists and work for the World Bank and eventually screw all those people – but that’s a different story.

It’s not just a hand out. So even the conservative-minded kiddies out there can still enjoy this present! I mean people still need aid, and that will likely always be the case until we invent warp drives and replicators and so on. But this really helps put food on people’s tables, and it actually helps supplement subsistence or bartering economies get needed outside goods like, say, health care and so on.

And it’s certainly not the traditional debt cycle – merchants give credit so people can buy supplies to farm/fish/fur/etc which the ‘buyers’ then work all year to sell the fruits of their labours to those selfsame stores at a loss (like those dastardly merchants from St. Johns or the beloved HBC did to our Aboriginal people). No. It’s a loan, cash. That they can pay back, and no one is gonna break their legs, or cut off their food.

So why not here?

Since the first time I ever heard of micro loans being introduced in developing economies, I thought, jee, why don’t we do that here? Not everyone needs a massive loan to buy the necessary means to produce enough money to pay back the loan and get rich trying, a la ACOA, or whatever the provincial equivilant is now called. Most certainly many people in this province (or country) have regional crafts or trades they can ply, had they only the start-up money to buy the roofing shingles or the yarn, etc.

I’m not saying we are so destitute here that we need to dole out credits to people to maintain our impoverished lifestyles or whatever (in case you were thinking I was thinking that). No. What I’m saying is there are a heck of a lot of crafty folks. And there are a heck of a lot of communities that could certainly use some hard cash instead of relying solely on bartering  (I would NEVER suggest we get rid of that, that’s an important part of Labrador communal heritage). Sadly our governments are slowly legislating our traditional barter economy away (like being able to give some firewood to an elder – off topic again, future column I swear).

The interweb is a powerful tool

Recent immigrants have had access to micro loans for some time now, for the very reasons I think we need them in Labrador/Aboriginal and rural regions of the province (and the rest of Canada) – namely, lack of strong collateral, good skill sets, lack of credentials, strong barter system but need of cash. Think about it: if Auntie Jane and her friends could get a small loan for supplies to make hooked rugs, or Billie could get some cash to buy soapstone for carvings, or Uncle Dennis could buy the materials to build boats, they could sell their wares in the community, in online auctions, or sites like Etsy.ca et al.

There’s lots of money to be made out there, and for lots of our communities there’s only one or two main sources of income for the entire community. Besides, there’s a growing body of thought suggesting we should be doing this very thing at home in Canada.

What’s more, continuing the craft-making means we get to continue passing on our physical cultural heritage(s).

Probably have a yarn while we’re at it.

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