Ashland University Course Connects Students to Women in Other Countries

For the last three semesters, Ashland University professor Nancy Udolph’s International Perspectives on Women course has extended microloans to women from other countries through Kiva, a non-profit organization that connects lenders to borrowers to improve living conditions and alleviate poverty.

Udolph, associate professor of social work and chair of the social work department, specializes in international social work, and she connects students in the course with Kiva to help them see principles of microfinance in action.

“Kiva defines this as a general term for financial services to low-income individuals who do not have access to typical banking services,” Udolph said. “It’s also their idea that low-income individuals are capable of living themselves out of poverty if given access to financial services.”

According to Udolph, several themes emerge among the women around the world who receive this assistance through Kiva.

“If women have their own money, it increases their respect in their families and communities,” Udolph said. “It helps students see how a small amount of money can really help someone in another country.”

Each semester, the AU class chooses a woman and a loan through Kiva’s website, which provides information about the borrower such as family size, occupation and yearly income as well as how the money will be used and how receiving the loan will make a difference in the borrower’s life.

“This semester, the students chose to sponsor Zhuzhanna, a woman in Ukraine who requested a loan to repair her home and improve her family’s living conditions,” Udolph said. “I credit the decision to provide Zhuzhanna with a loan to the students’ understanding of the impact of living conditions on overall quality of life, a concept studied in the course.” 

Udolph said that in previous two semesters, students have opted to invest in and follow the journey of two women in Uganda, Betty and Annette. They each sought a loan to expand their business and improve their economic situation.  

“The use of Kiva allows students to connect with a real person and to see how the concepts in women’s and gender issues affect real people,” she said. “It also provides an opportunity for students to not only observe the impact of microfinance on economic stability but to be a part of that impact.

“By investing in women around the world through Kiva, students can be a part of the concepts they’re learning about. They watch it in action. They own it,” she said. “So much that students still ask about Betty or Annette semesters later. Several students wanted to know about the progress of the loan. They e-mail me and ask for updates.”

The AU course, International Perspectives on Women, is a core social sciences and Global Passport Strategies course and is offered each semester.

Ashland University, ranked in the top 200 colleges and universities in U.S. News and World Report’s National Universities category for 2013, is a mid-sized, private university conveniently located a short distance from Akron, Cleveland and Columbus, Ohio. Ashland University (www.ashland.edu) values the individual student and offers a unique educational experience that combines the challenge of strong, applied academic programs with a faculty and staff who build nurturing relationships with their students. ###

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