A small portrait … Microfinance stories from women in the Oaxaca Valley, Mexico

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It's the smell of warm corn, which mostly reminds me of my time in Oaxaca, Mexico. Corn is actually woven into the structure of Mexican culture and everyday life. In rural areas of Mexico, this relationship is even stronger. Originally cultivated 10,000 years ago, indigenous cultures maintain a link to their past, such as growing herbaceous varieties and maintaining a diet full of corn in every form. Although I spent a lot of time in the past in Mexico, only when I volunteered in the Oaxaca Valley, I found out what corn is tasting as if it were fresh every day, and then pushed it into a variety of delicious meals. Tortillas were the most common, but I also eaten thrown out of the tap and even dense and warm in a chocolate drink called champurrado. But this is not the story of corn, though it has been so long with the women I met. Instead, it is the story of microfinance and the impact one organization has on empowering women to build strong businesses and prosperous communities.

Let's start at the beginning. The city of Oaxaca is a popular tourist destination and is also a Mexican state with the highest concentration of native cultures. Poverty in the country is higher than in other Mexican states, and tourism is mostly concentrated on the coast and in the city of Oaxaca itself. In recent years, many cities have begun to introduce ecotourism programs as a way to get tourism deeper into the valley – that extends tourism revenue to rural towns, towns and villages. In practice, this means that even remote villages often have clean, furnished cabanas and guide services ready to take hikes along the dry, rolled Sierra Norte Mountains. In addition to ecotourism, cultural tourism is growing. Trends change. Responsible tourism is a viable, growing industry. And travelers are now looking for ways to enjoy their vacation, but also to experience regional culture and languages.

The En Vita Tourism Model allows organizations to use resources from tourism to steer them in communities, while at the same time bringing people together with the ideas, strength and strength of women who are trying to improve their future.

Through friends and readers, I found the Fundación En Viva before I arrived in Oaxaca. And when I understood the goal and goals of the organization, I decided to dedicate myself to the work of an organization that supports education and microfinance for women in the Oaxaca Valley. More than just loving my work, I loved her Model uses microfinance and touring programs to implement. Oaxac's year-round tourism allows the foundation to use cultural tours as a source of financing interest-free microcredit for women in six municipalities east of Oaxaca. Tours take place several times a week in communities, and these tours provide credit for more than 300 women. Without En Vita, other credit programs account for up to 200 percent of interest – impossible amounts in areas affected by poverty. And yet, even just $ 80 to $ 200 of foregone money provides women with the necessary capital to expand their business, purchase items with a mass discount or even take on the risk of a new business. In addition to microcredit, women participate in seminars on various topics and have the support of their colleagues and the small En Vita team at every stage.

I loved the structure and the idea of ​​using tourism as a force for sustainable social change. So there was a way to support the mission's mission. Happy was on my side. When I came, two volunteer photographers were leaving. This allowed me to fill the gap. Once a woman borrows money, a photographer visits her to photograph her with her recent purchases. These photographs serve three purposes: provide permanent proof of how women spent a loan, provide feed for marketing and promotional materials, and photos allow organizations to remain present in these women's lives.

I spent six months in Oaxaca and during that time I dared to join the community once or twice a week. These communities are primarily Zapotec, a pre-Columbian civilization that dates back more than 2500 years (many archaeological sites remain scattered throughout the region). And although Zapotec is the first language for most of the woman I met, they all talked to me in Spanish. My job was to photograph women, but I listened to their stories even more, I crazed home-made ice cream with my children, and I laughed at my dirty Spanish. Over the weeks and months, I was deeply aware of their ambition and perseverance. Several of these women functioned as community ambassadors who welcomed me to their homes when I visited them and walked through my pipes with hot tortillas, mosquito.

Below are the stories of these female lives. When you read about purchasing microfinance and fair trade, your purchasing power affects the lives of women, such as the profiles below. I have a deep respect for the work that En Vida is doing to support women in these communities. And even more, I love how the organization offers a responsible way for tourists to learn about the fascinating native cultures and customs of Mexico.


Microfinance Program En Via

García Garcia's leticia had a wide, welcoming smile when my group of tournaments knocked on her door in Santo Domingo Tomaltepec. She brought us into a long room and to her stove that pumped warmth and earth. The orange flames blinked as she shared her story, and hot corn spread in the air. My first performance of a photographer for En Viva meant a tour – the same tourist took a visit to women in six municipalities where En Viva is working. Though women in Tomaltepec run a number of shops and companies, Leticia is involved in the trade mark in Tomaltepec: empanadas. Empanadas are delicious tortillas wrapped around juicy sauce and meat. Every Sunday he has a busy business and sells about 150 empanads, with local residents and residents from surrounding communities who travel to Tomaltepec for food with food. With the loan to En Vita, Leticia has bought grain and wood that have reduced production costs and thus increased their profits. Everyone smiled, as several members of our group worked on Empanadas as she responded to our questions.

Carmela Hernandez Martinez teotitlan

Sometimes women had a brilliant, infectious joy. Carmela Hernandez Martinez is one of those women. When I arrived around noon, she was eleven hours ready to prepare 300 loaves of fresh bread, which she sells daily. And I can say that her sales scent is amazing. Though the baking of the day was over, the sweet, brewy fragrance of bread penetrated into the house. Last year, a team of engineering students from Mexico City Carmela compiled a large wooden furnace that cooks up to 280 little bread at a time. Besides the huge stove, there was a huge pile of wood and sacks of wheat that he bought with the previous loan. Although my official intention with every woman is to photograph them with their loan purchases, many also show the improvements they have made to their business. In this case, Carmela and her husband showed me new aspects of their kitchen – which was clean, without proof of the morning mess that had to happen when I prepared hundreds of loaves of bread. When we talk about the future, she and her husband are hoping to use their increased profit margin to start selling bread in nearby towns, which will require fuel for their cars and increased bread production. But they had a plan, so I have no doubt that I will be visiting my next time in San Miguel del Valle.

Microfinance Program En Via

For the first time, I met Eulalia Florin Ruiz Morales while driving a team of En Viva volunteers who built a garden on their estates in the suburb of Teotitlán del Valle, a city in the Oaxaca Valley, which is famous for its excellent weaving abilities. The name Teotitlan comes from the Nahuatl word for the "Land of the Gods," and I believe in this description when I long for the land it develops – it has a wonderful view of the surrounding mountains. Eulalia is a long-term debtor with a remarkable story. As the youngest daughter in her family, she cared for her aging parents for most of her life. Now that they have gone through, they use their succession of En Viva loans to create a home, garden, and weaving workshop. It has preserved many older natural colors of wool, which are in modern rare tapes, wool rugs. Besides, it has unique patterns in the Zapotec traditional models, which are also rare today. She is also quite a character planning the maximum potential for her life. She has used every En Vita program, from business classes to textile workshops to English language courses. Before I left Oaxaca, I visited Eulalia for the last time. She showed me that her composting worms – a project based on En Viva volunteering – made it into the garden in the garden on the dry land – and then we were banning bananas and talking about their plans to finish their home and continue developing their skills and business.

fairtrade seamstress in oaxaca

María de Lourdes García Ojeda, known as Lulu with her friends, has a great dream for her sewing workshop in San Sebastian Abasolo. Abasolo is a small community outside Oaxaca, and women in this small town use microfinance loans to increase their business in an area with small local opportunities. While many of them are commuting to the nearby city of Oaxaca, Lulu has used her loan to provide sewing services for women in Abasol. In front of her microfinance loans she broke and repaired the clothes for women in the city that offered her only time. But with her loans, she invested in fabrics, buttons, and even in a dummy to make clothes, skirts and shirts from scratch. By providing services and goods, it has greatly increased profits. While she once dressed in a small space at the back of her home, she moved into a sunny room overlooking the street. Everyone smiled as she showed me the color buttons, the stacks of fabrics and the stacks of zippers she had bought with her previous loan, En Viva. Now she has more items available for sale, and women order months in advance in anticipation of local holidays and holidays.

Microfinance Program En Via

Also known as Teotitlán for woolen carpets, San Miguel del Valle boasts incredible embroidery. Visitors to San Miguel will remember beautiful traditional dresses for every woman, even small girls. Reina Erica López Hernández is one of the younger seamstresses in the city and has a finger on the pulse of rising trends. San Miguel is the Zapotec traditional community, which lives 6,000 feet at the foothills of the Sierra Madres. It is located 30 minutes by bus from the main road via the Oaxaca Valley, so the community maintains a strong sense of language and culture. It is one of the few villages visited by the En Viva microfinance program. For this reason, most women's businesses serve their communities, rather than tourists. This focus allows them to survive and thrive so far away from the hiking trail. But without tourism, it also means that they have less cash available – the En Vida tour is one of the few ways in which tourists arrive in this city. Over the past two decades, Reina has explained to me that women in San Miguel have begun to accept complex apron designs full of skirts full of elaborate designs. While aprons have always been part of traditional dresses, aprons now contain flaming peacocks and carefully embroidered flowers. She watched the aprons grow more complicated and beautiful and expand her skills to match. Using the five-year Envi Workshop on Textile Design, she developed new ideas and ideas that she has become known for in her community. She explained how she was inspired by the apron from a variety of colors of nature found in corn. He even uses sequins to add a little taste to some designs. With her previous loan, she bought a second sewing machine to help her husband develop his startup business. She is sure and controlled when she talks about her goals, and she was inspired to learn about her exact plans as she maps the course for her future.

In my early days of volunteering for En Viva, I have not yet found the timeline for my appointment. In the village of Santa María Guelacé, about 40 minutes outside of Oaxaca, Mexico, I had gaps between two hours. With time to kill, I found the bench in the church in the yard and settled down with my Kindle to pass through. When one passed, he turned to me and asked me: What am I doing in this little community? One thing led to another, and he invited me to visit a festival hosted by the Mayor of the city. He has eliminated me from the six women who have prepared a great deal preserve, tasty chocolate and a corn drink loved by the Zapotec and Mixtec communities. How lucky it would be, one of the women was preparing preserve was the debtor En Via and explained the other program and why I visited their small town. After they threw me a quesadil and preserve, the host asked me to go to the festival and photograph the other women preparing for the festivities. It was a nice and happy way to hand over the clock. When I was at my next meeting, my host (who lived in the States for six years and was glad to speak English a little bit) sent me around the city and with the tip of my cowboy hat wished me a happy day. This footbridge of generosity and hospitality welcomed every city I visited when photographing women.

Mexican tortilla preparation

One of the things that brought me to the En Viva microfinance program is the organization's "whole personality" approach. Juana Pérez Martínez is a perfect example of the range of services the Foundation provides to a woman in the program. Juana lives in Santo Domingo Tomaltepec and sells fresh tortillas and tlayudas. It uses its microfinance loans to buy bulk maize and wood in order to maximize its profit potential. Her husband was injured thirty years ago, so profit is important – he has supported more than four people with his skills in the long term mosquito. En Vita uses travel fees to finance loans for these women, but through other projects – volunteers and special holiday tours – the Foundation increases funding for other projects that these women need. For Juana and her family, a new toilet was very much needed. Volunteer students from Mexico City have had a difficult job designing a composting toilet that has met the space requirements and special needs of her husband who has limited mobility. This summer, the team solved the solution and built a composting toilet that will greatly enhance the quality of life for their family.

santo domingo tomaltepec microfinance

When I first appeared in the Juana Espinoza Martinez store, I was confused, late and a little upset. A common taxi left me a mile away from the city and I had a hoof on a sunny path in the fireplace. Finally, I found my way to Juan and won me. I counted her ready smile and generous help. Juana runs a bread store with her husband. Like many En Vie women, Juana's loans enabled her to expand her merchandise and increase her profits. With microchips it is able to buy bulk baking hooks: butter and flour. Although there is competition in the city, Juana explained that she and her husband are focusing on customer service as a way of differentiating them. And I believe that. They had a lovely daughter nearby, and they kept taking care of my story. Even more, Juana and her husband took the initiative to help me in my town. At the time our interview broke down, brother-in-law Juana appeared with a big smile and a willingness to spend the next two hours as he walked around the city.

microfinance tours in Mexico

As one of En Enidina's first debtors, Bazán Chávez spent several years using microfinance to develop his business. She and her mother live together in Teotitlan and expand their business through many credit and repayment cards. Like many of the women I've met, they focus not only on breaking out of poverty in the country but also on using loans to raise the whole family. The Enedina loan allowed her to build a stock. With great supply, she expanded her store and began to store things from other family members. In addition to selling their own beautiful wool rugs, tourists can buy handmade chocolate from their mother and her cousins, as well as her daughter's jewelery. Enedina and her family are not only warm and enjoyable, but they are a huge fan of the program. It's from their mix that I often organized my photo meetings (there's a delicious cafe in a mix that did not hurt). And when I could not find another appointment, someone in the family shared it and sent me on my way.

teotitlan del valle, oaxaca, mexico

Weaving is a family affair for Angela Lazo Martínez. Angela lives in a Teotitlan complex with 10 family members and they all produce handicraft crafts. They have a main place on the main road of the city and are fruitful creators! Tapetes in each color and pattern they fill their business with cotton shirts, tablecloths, blouses and more. When she was nine, Angela learned English; sees it as a real advantage in their business. She also went through the focus on her son, who also wanted to talk to me. Angela English enables her to communicate better with visiting tourists and strengthens connections that she believes encourages them to buy their items. One of the things he describes in detail for tourists is the process of hand dyeing of cotton and the wool used in their handicraft crafts. Angela and her family buy cotton and raw wool, and then commit themselves to the process of boiling colors – many of the natural resources. Like many En Vita debtors, Angela uses bulk purchases at a discounted price and keeps off-season productivity so the store has stock of goods ready for the tourist season.

the community of san miguel del valle

Of the six villages that En Vita serves in the Oaxaca Valley, Joseph Hernandez Hernandez lives in San Miguel del Valle, the least tourists. Josefa operates a store of clothes and toys imported from her sister-in-law who lives in North Carolina. And while her shop in the city constantly develops business – no one else likes it – she also keeps a lively family business in the weaving area tapes. Recently because of health concerns, her doctor advised that she should no longer weave heavy tissues. With the support of the loan, En Vida Josefa uses its sewing machine to produce shares in its shop with signature aprons, as well as handkerchiefs and other embroidered items. In cities like the outpost of San Miguel, changing professions would generally become an impossible debt. Instead, Josef continues to work and produce despite the necessary change of focus.

oaxaca family life weaving

Dolphin Contreras Mendoza enchants with spell and joy. Its house is in a beautiful location at the foot of the Sierra Juárez Mountains overlooking the Teotitlán. Dolphin is splendid tapes, carpets, several large hand-built looms that live in a house in an indoor courtyard. Her husband's carpenter's workhop was buzzing at my visit and I was lucky to have captured her two children at home. The elder worked on a huge net, while his mother showed me his recent purchases of En Viva. The youngest hung me to show off her little woolen pads, which is the first starting step when the wee children teach family business. Like many weavers, Dolphin bought woven goods in bulk and a huge variety of wool colors to expand its offerings. With several older children studying at the university, he hopes that En Vita's loans will help to develop her business and offset the high costs.

freshly stained wool on the carpet in the teotitlan del valle

Not many tourists come to the Teotitlán area, where Lourdes Mireya Jiménez López lives. So when I found myself in circles and desperately looking for the house number on that dusty road, I was not sure I'd ever find it. Fortunately, the husband and wife near the fire drank when they cooked a dark brown liquid that would stain a pile of raw wool. He needed help, I addressed and asked for directions. When I visited these cities, I always needed to recite the full name of a woman when she asked for help because there are many similar women in every community. So I went to ask when I could find Lourdes Mireya Jiménez López. The woman confirmed I was close and directed me to the next house. I served to myself and knocked the door gently. After a few seconds, the same woman responded to the door with a huge smile. She was watching me on the road, completely lost and wanted to pull my leg. We had an appointment, so Lourdes knew I was the name of En Viva, who photographed her recent purchases of loans. The only thing I could do was laugh at my shooting and we both giggled as she pulled out the accumulated dyed wool that eventually became gorgeous tapesWhich would one day provide the charming walls and the floors of tourists.

tortilla maker in the microfinance program

The warm, earthy smell of roasted corn darkens my memories of Emiliano Antonio Miguel. When I met Emiliana for the first time, she was overseeing the team of volunteers who traveled from Minneapolis to build a stove for those women who needed it the most. Every day he produces hundreds of tortillas, and En Viva has endowed her with her own stone plate designed for her needs. The stove had three curved hobs, called a mosquito, and a place to cook water. Everything stood in her waist, allowing her to cook more tortillas at one time, shortening the time to spend cooking each morning. Emiliana uses her En Vita loan to buy large sacks of corn (shown behind her). Every time she saw me passing her home, located in the very center of the city, she handed me a fresh, hot tortilla. This has become an ideal fuel when I rocked and blew through steep paths. If you've never had a big warm tortilla that would be warm mosquito, then it's an item on the list of blades – the taste is unlike the tortilla you can buy in the store.

Teotitlan del Valle

Although weaving is the most popular handicraft craft in Teotitlan, a handful of families specialize in making candles. While her sister taught the cooking class above, Sofia Ruiz Lorenzo showed me her workshop. Beautiful candles in different states finished each corner. Candles are of great importance in this area of ​​Mexico – religious ceremonies and indigenous rituals use large, elaborately decorated wax candles with flowing wax ribbons and colored wax flowers. Sofia also explained that men, before proposing, would present the family to their future fiancee with a complicated candle. With so many events unfolding on this skill, it is no wonder that it is well connected and respected in the community. Sofia began to produce candles when she was only nine years old; her father's grandmother died and the family needed to complete the work she had started when a huge church even appeared. With a natural talent, Sofia undertook this task and has since continued to design and build candles. Sofie has two young daughters, and while she plans to teach her craft, she has also emphasized school attendance and her dream of having a choice in future work. Her credits enabled her to reduce the significant cost of producing candles by purchasing 50 kilograms of wax. This was once a huge cost when buying kilograms per kilogram. It is thanks to these new opportunities that Sofia hopes to build a better future for its daughters.


Over the many months I have spent in Oaxaca, my time with women is in the En Viva microfinance program that most deeply shapes my memories of this beautiful part of southern Mexico. I traveled through many other parts of Mexico, from Yucatan to my small beach town on the west coast. This time, however, I left Mexico with a gentle look at peoples and cultures. It's through a deep connection with other people I found in the most transformative way. These women have welcomed me to their homes. They shared food, stories and laughter. I can only hope I could come back the same way they offered me.

~ Shannon

Visit En Vina in Oaxaca, Mexico

What: Fundación En Vita offers tours for visitors who are interested in having a look at rural life in Oaxaca, Mexico. Tours last most of the day, and each tour deals with four women in several communities supported by Eniva's microfinance program. At each stop, tourists chat with one of the borrowers, get acquainted with her craft, trade, or traditional food preparation. The whole a travel fee is used 2.5 times to finance micro-loans for women. Once it is borrowed and repaid twice, for the first time 50% of the fee goes back to the loan and 50% is paid for a handful of staff who run the foundation.

Where: En Vita's main office is located in the central part of Oaxaca. If you book a tour, you can travel from Oaxaca to the Tlacolula Valley where women live.

When: The organization operates guided tours twice a year all year round and offers extraordinary trips during the high season.

Volunteer: En Viva accepts long-term volunteers in a number of specializations. Those who fluent in Spanish can act as guides. Basic knowledge of Spanish is required for volunteers in the field of photography. The foundation runs English language courses for children in two cities and always needs teachers. And those who have other skills can e-mail and discuss whether there is a chance to work with a special capacity program (I've met volunteers with specializations in health, construction, computers, etc.).

This Travel Story (Small Portrait … Microfinance Stories from Women in Oaxaca Valley, Mexico) first appeared on Travel with little enemies
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, thank you for the trip. 🙂

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