By Louise Branch
I came on board volunteering for En Via in January 2012 with the task of coordinating the already very successful and popular English classes in the town of Teotitlan del Valle. Thanks to an incredible group of volunteers these classes have been going strong in En Via's flagship pueblo for over two years and enjoy the attendance of an extraordinarily dedicated and hardworking student body.
From six-year-olds who already know how to say the name of every animal in the zoo, to busy weavers who always find time to come to class, week in and week out, our classes are open to all members of the community. The classes are just one part of En Via’s education initiative, which aims to support the development of our borrowers enterprises and skills. Along with our business courses and computing and Internet classes we aim to give the women we work with the tools they need to create their own success.
So, with the classes in Teotitlan going strong, and the microfinance program moving out into new pastures, it was time for the English Program to also stretch out its wings and start a new program in Tlacochahuaya. Tlacochahuaya is a beautiful pueblo on the way out to Teotitlan. Like Teotitlan it has an incredibly strong sense of community, but it is also very different. The town is less focused on artisanal crafts and tourism, and more on agriculture. In fact, it is famous for its garlic production. This gives Tlacochahuaya a very different atmosphere, and also different needs within the education program. With this new town, we have the opportunity to try out new things and develop a new curriculum with a different focus. This could be a real but worthwhile challenge!
Samantha and I went out on the first day to test the waters, not expecting any students to turn up and were a little shocked to receive 10 students for the very first class! This was a really impressive turnout, and we spent the class doing assessments and playing a few simple games with students.
Very much encouraged by this fantastic start, I went out with two more volunteers for the next session where the class had grown again despite the fact that it was the day of an important pueblo calenda. With Maria teaching the kids class and Alana taking assessments, we had a good team going. The next week was slightly more challenging, but mainly for Maria who received a huge intake of children at a beginner's level. But being a creative and very flexible worker, she powered through and has run some fun and productive classes!
Outside of our classroom we have had the chance to see (and definitely to HEAR) a beautiful Semana Santa calenda with a procession of women carrying baskets of multi-colored flowers above their heads, followed by an inter-pueblo brass band competition in the adjacent building the following week. Asking the students about these traditions have made good English conversation topics and have introduced a lot of new vocabulary, whilst also (very selfishly!) satisfying my curiosity...
So far the students in Tlacochahuaya have been every bit as dedicated as those in Teotitlan, and their community supportive and welcoming. We look forward to a great relationship and to learning lots about each other!
Photos by Kim Groves