By Madeleine Spencer
After four months of volunteering with Fundación En Via I´m still not sure how to adequately express my feelings towards this growing organization and the women who are a part of it. In fact it wasn't until I left Oaxaca for a two-week trip to Guatemala that I even realized how much my experience had changed the way I see things.
Sitting at a juice stand in San Pedro la Laguna, it wasn't the beautiful lake or the delicious juice I was thinking about, but how much Angelica, the owner of the stand, had paid for her two juicers, and if she had to take out a loan or if she had saved up for them. I looked at the fridge she had running with the help of extension cords and wondered how much the electricity was costing her, and if she thought to include it in her business costs as is taught in the En Vía business classes.
Juice stand, Guatamala
I asked where she bought her fruit and if she had to go to the market everyday. I listened to her and her sister speaking to one another in Tz'utujil and looked around at the messages written on her stand in languages ranging from English to Japanese. I couldn't help but to marvel at her success, and even more when my friend leaned over and told me that when he visited last summer all she had was a table with a small hand juicer on the side of the road.
This reflective experience continued as I walked down the street and encountered multiple women selling banana bread. I thought about the competition they must experience and if they were able to sell all that they made every day. When I found a women also selling cinnamon rolls, I couldn't help but wonder it if was to set her apart from the other bread makers and reflected yet again on the strength and ingenuity of the people who I have been lucky enough to meet in my time with En Via.
Each day working with this incredible organization presented something new to learn and experience. The first week I was here I went to meet the women of Teotitlán at the weekly town meeting. And after a few minutes of panicking that my Spanish had deteriorated even further than I thought it had in the seven months since I’d last been in Oaxaca, I realized I was hearing Zapoteco, a language that I would come to greatly enjoy the soft sounds of over the next few months.
Maddy with Juana and Enedina in their weaving workshop, Teotitlán.
I was lucky enough to witness a major achievement in the En Via community later that week when Teresa opened her café. And after going on my first tour and seeing first hand what I was going to be a part of, I was completely in love.
As an intern I got to experience many different aspects of En Via. I did everything from leading tour groups, to teaching English classes in Tlacochahuaya, to getting to know the amazing volunteers and visitors that make all the work possible, to the daily tasks of just keeping things organized. Each week on tour I got to meet new women and learn more of their stories. Every month we had new volunteers join us from the world-over who each brought their own ideas and enthusiasm for the project. And each day I was able to come to work feeling that what I was doing was something worthwhile.
Maddy with a group of visitors outside the church in Teotitlán.
Needless to say, it will be a hard adjustment returning home and leaving such a wonderful community. I am going to miss En Via; both the people involved and what the foundation is achieving. This experience will be one that I remember and appreciate for the rest of my life. If there is anyone out there who has thought about volunteering, or coming to visit, I’d say “go for it – you won’t regret it.” These wonderful women and the city of Oaxaca have a way of getting under your skin, and I believe, the experience will leave you a better person for it.