By Kirsten Leikem
The En Vía community is a reflection of the larger community that exists in the towns we work in. After observing, listening, and conversing with the women of En Vía I realize that tour fees and loans are not the only virtuous circle that exists. A virtuous circle of relationships is also evident between the staff, volunteers, visitors, and women of En Vía.The women in the program have taught me what community really means. When I visit the women, I see a life of reciprocity and solidarity; A life where the power of we is greater than the power of me.
As part of my University trip to Oaxaca in January of 2012, I went on my first tour with En Vía. I remember how I hesitantly stepped over the thresholds to enter the homes of the female loan beneficiaries. It was if I had found a secret passageway; it dawned upon me that I was privy to a world rarely seen by tourists. The natural healer who shared her methods with us fascinated me. The proud owner of a flour tortilla business was a single-mother that inspired me beyond words. I never imagined that in 7 months, I would be the tour guide leading visitors to the welcoming hearths of the amazing women of En Via.
Volunteers Kirsten and Kim on an En Via tour.
Values of Reciprocity
Every visit has taught me something valuble, but I would like to share a few special stories. These women exemplify the values of reciprocity and show what it means to be a community.
On one of my first tours to Teotitlán, I met Elvira. At age 22, Elvira owns her own tapete (rug) business and is a single-mom to her beautiful daughter. With her contagious smile and laugh, Elvira answered questions and explained how the loans have helped her create her own inventory and boost her business. Elvira’s daughter observed us while clutching her baby doll. The clean crisp rugs with unique designs and creative color combinations made Elvira stand out; she is clearly an expert. Elvira puts much time, thought, and energy into her tapetes and her pride in her work creates a palpable excitement that engages others and spurs action. Elvira motivated me that day, and I am sure she has made her daughter and other people in her community feel that they are capable of achieving their goals.
Elvira at her loom.
However, such expertise is not solely earned, it is learned. This fact is manifest in the strong traditions that are carried throughout generations. Elvira learned to weave from her father. Another woman in the town, Sofia, learned how to mold and create velas (candles) from her grandmother. Sofia was the only one, of over 20 grandchildren, who took an interest in the craft; She is not working only for herself, but is honoring the work and utilizing the values that were taught to her by previous generations.
Within the communities whole families are working together. Arriving at Estela’s home, the first thing one notices is the amazing view of tranquil blue mountains and green valleys. Then you meet Estela and her family and forget all about the view. In a room full of colorful tapetes, Estela and her husband Carlos tell the group about how they have been gradually expanding their business and making improvements to their home. Their children, Lucy and Carlitos are proud to show us how they help thier parents with the preparation of the wool every day after school. It is obvious that family and friends do not have to think twice before offering a helping hand; because when the time comes they know their help will be reciprocated.
Estela and her family.
Part of Something Greater
The greatest gifts are intangible. By visiting the women of En Vía I have learned what it means to be a community. We are part of something greater when we are there for our neighbors, friends, and family. And we thank you, our friends and supporters for being part of the greater En Via community that we value so much.
A group of visitors with Estela and family.