Monday, November 19, 2012

Piggy Banks and Mattresses - It's time for a savings workshop!

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By Charlotte Newman

A few weeks ago we held a special savings workshop for the women borrowers in Teotitlán. Saving is a topic that we discuss in the business classes which make up an important part of the loan process. The additional workshop offered a space to focus more on the issue and provide another tool for the borrowers on how to best manage their money. Some of the women say they are able to save, while others express that they find it difficult to regularly put away money that can immediately be used for day to day expenses and necessities.

Very few people in the town trust banks. This may seem strange tomost of us, who have never had any cause to doubt that our bank would safely guard our money until the moment in which we choose to withdraw it. However, in Teotitlán they have a reason to be suspicious. Not too long ago, many families put their savings into an informal savings service, with the same confidence that we have depositing into our banks. This “bank” promised to protect the money of the townspeople. Then, one day, it disappeared. Many families lost years of savings that will never be recovered.


Understandably, the people of the town now prefer to keep their savings under mattresses or in some hidden nook in their homes. Of course this method is not completely secure either—I once had a woman in business class who told me that a friend of hers had put her savings in a coconut and buried it under a tree. Seems pretty safe, right? Well, she left it there for several months, and it happened to be a particularly rainy year. Sadly, when she went to dig up her coconut savings, the rains had moved the dirt and the coconut was nowhere to be found.

With these important concerns in mind, En Vía organized a workshop to present a new and safer savings option to the women and to encourage them to put their trust in a chosen formal financial institution. They could benefit from having their savings safely guarded and from avoiding the temptation to spend the money hidden in their houses. Once we had discussed the idea with them and dispelled a lot of the existing mistrust around banking, (“how much will they take out of our deposit? Are you sure they won’t take money out of our accounts?”) the women began to see that it could be a really good opportunity. They couldn’t believe that they would actually be paid interest on their deposits in a bank. There was genuine enthusiasm about opening accounts.


The workshop was a success in presenting new and safer options for saving with formal institutions, and many of the women have since opened accounts. The fact that they trust the bank to guard their money means that they now have a safe place to deposit their savings. As more women have good experiences with the bank, they will tell their families and friends, which will hopefully encourage others to begin trusting banks again as well. These women are intelligent and they recognize the benefits of formalized savings, even as they are wary not to be taken advantage of again. I have confidence that they will use this new tool as best they can and that we will be amazed, as always, at the things they can do with their strong motivation when given the access to fair services. 

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Day of the Dead in Oaxaca

By Kim Groves

Firecrackers from the churchyard hurtle over-head with the intention of scaring away evil spirits while ghosts, ghouls, and devils dance in the streets. The Cathedral is piled high with flowers. Candles burn bright for every prayer and memory of loved ones. Skeletons dangle candidly from second storey windows, and tiny yellow petals are crushed underfoot.


Somewhat ironically, the week of the Day of the Dead is one of the liveliest times in Oaxaca. As a tradition and a festival, it is a favourite for locals and visitors alike. Colourful and vibrant, sombre and sweet; you will find the atmosphere to be unlike any you have ever experienced.


With the belief that the spirits of the deceased return to the living world on the day of the 31st of October and the 1st of November, Oaxaca is completely transformed in anticipation and reception.



From the intimate moments spent gathering and talking by gravesides, or around family altars, to the boisterous parades accompanied by music and mezcal, the people of Oaxaca take this opportunity to embrace all that is life, including the acknowledgement of its end.


It is a time to eat. Giant sweet bread loaves spilled over counters, ready to be dipped in steaming hot chocolate or mole. It is a time to be out on the streets. Dance and theatre performances, art and music appeared in every plaza and corner. It is a time for family and friends. Get into the spirit, invite around everyone you know, and then some, greet neighbours, and embrace your community.  Most importantly, at this time especially, remember that life is to be shared.