Thursday, April 28, 2011

Lost in Translation No Longer: English and Poverty Alleviation in Teotitlán

By Anthony LaMesa, Volunteer, English Program Coordinator

At Fundación En Vía, we are constantly reflecting on how our programs can evolve to better meet the needs of the individuals we serve. A good example of this is the English program’s current effort to revamp its adult curriculum to better reflect the priorities of our students, who primarily work making and selling weavings in Teotitlán del Valle.

Have you ever felt frustrated purchasing a soft drink or asking for directions in a foreign country? What if your livelihood depended on that simple conversation? In Teotitlán, there are vastly more weavings available than tourists to purchase them. As a result, for our borrowers and English program students, every conversation counts – and it counts big. Living in or close to poverty does not afford one the luxury of having a major sale lost to translation.

Recognizing the challenge that many Teotitlán weavers face in communicating with English-speaking tourists – who comprise the vast majority of visitors to the small Oaxacan pueblo – the En Vía English program is now providing its students with the language tools necessary to more effectively engage with non-Spanish speaking customers.

Whereas in the past our English curriculum focused on merely translating the vocabulary of weaving from Spanish to English, in addition to teaching students the language of simple retail transactions, the improved curriculum, under development, empowers students to articulate – with details and persuasion – the tremendous amount of effort and skill that goes into each of their rugs. Such language ability will allow Teotitlán weavers to command the fair prices for their rugs that they deserve to be paid – and, at the same time, allow tourists to better understand the nuances of this fascinating craft.
Faced with the challenge of implementing this dynamic new curriculum, our volunteer English teachers are rising to the occasion. In the picture below, Volunteer Teacher Andy Healy, a veteran educator from the United Kingdom, uses color images of various weavings to engage his students in a simulated retail experience – one complete with questions such as, “How long did it take to make?” “Where was it made?” “How long did it take?” and “Is this unique?”

Simple questions requiring simple answers, but the ability to answer those questions in a convincing manner can mean the difference between a 5,000 peso sale and a tourist taking his or her money elsewhere. By empowering our students to communicate with increased clarity, confidence, and conviction, En Vía English teachers are working in concert with the lending and business training programs to alleviate poverty in Teotitlán one woman at a time.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Meet Marta!

By Samantha Wattson, Volunteer, Program Manager

Every Tuesday we head out to Díaz Ordaz and Teotitlán de Valle for our weekly borrowers meetings. Here, we dispense loans, collect money, and discuss the many questions, challenges, and successes that the women experience. It also gives us a chance to simply connect, and spend time together outside of the tours. In the last few months, I’ve met the most inspiring women and I’d like to share one of their stories with you.

Marta Rosalía Gonzales García is 29 years old with two children and a third on the way. She has received 5 loans from our program, investing them in 3 different businesses. Almost everyone in Teotitlán is a weaver; and like most everyone Marta is a also a weaver. Her husband weaves, her parents weave, and in a few years her children will learn the family trade. With so many weavers in such a small town competition is inevitable, and with it comes price erosion, community conflict, and for some the inability to sell anything at all. Realizing that competition was fierce and that the income from her tapetes (rugs) couldn’t be her only source of income, Marta decided to take a huge risk. 

Rather than invest in her weaving business, she used her first En Vía loan to cultivate beans and corn. The cultivation of these crops provided a new source of steady income during the “slow season.” Marta then used her second loan to invest in the planting of fruit trees, which will not give a return on investment for another few years. However, the earnings from her bean and corn paid back the loan on the fruit trees. Her past three loans were invested in her weaving business. She decided to focus on the growth of her weaving business after connecting with a buyer who is now placing consistent orders for her tapetes. She hopes to maximize this connection so that she can hire other women in need of work. 

In her own way, Marta is a visionary in her small town of Teotitlán. She has made investments in different areas to maximize her earnings throughout the year, and has taken calculated risks to provide a better future for her family. By diversifying her investments, Marta hopes to benefit her community and provide her children with choices and inspirations outside of the traditional family business.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

The Feeling of Being a Part of Something

By Elizabeth Macias Rojo, Volunteer, Program Manager 

Gaining first-hand experience in the fascinating world of micro-finance was an amazing opportunity for me. As a volunteer Program Manager I had the opportunity to work on various projects within the organization: I taught English and recruited volunteer tutors from around the world, I worked on marketing campaigns to spread the word about this new micro-finance organization in one of the poorest states of Mexico, I managed the organization’s financial database, and my favorite part of it all, I connected with the women of Teotitlán del Valle and Villa Diaz-Ordaz through our borrower meetings and tours.

In the six months that I have been working with the organization I have seen it grow in various ways. We increased our class attendance in our free English program, implemented a new business-training class, launched our microfinance program in a new town - Villa Diaz-Ordaz, and most excitingly, became incorporated as a non-profit in Mexico.

I feel honored to have had the opportunity to be a part of it all, but more significantly I have seen how micro-finance can help a community by empowering women and allowing them to use the skillS they have to get themselves out of poverty and improve the livelihood of their family and community. After six months of getting to know the women, I feel like they have welcomed me into their community with warmth and now, when walking around the town the women greet me with a gentle two-hand handshake and the Zapotec word for good evening, “xac shi,” and a running “hello” and big hugs from the children.

I came to Oaxaca and joined En Vía’s volunteer program looking for field experience in international development, but what I gained was much more than I expected. I was able to get in touch with my roots, learn about indigenous communities in Mexico and be a part of something great.