Monday, October 29, 2012

The Power of "We" is Greater than the Power of "Me".

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.

Sofia with the wax she uses to make her candles.


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. 



Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Learning about Culture: En Vía Enjoys a Celebration in Teotitlán.


Text and Photos by Heather Hutcheson

Most people know Teotitlán del Valle as a place to buy colorful wool rugs and as a place to learn about weaving as an art form, but there is much more to know about the rich and important cultural traditions in this Zapotec region of Oaxaca. Recently a group of En Vía volunteers had a great chance to experience some of these traditions for themselves.


Like most of the pueblos surrounding Oaxaca, Teotitlán has a governing structure where administrative duties are performed by citizens as a type of voluntary community service, including serving as leader of the pueblo and as part of a sort of civil mentoring force.  We saw some of the “officers” during the fiesta; a local explained that their role is to correct people if they are acting badly.  People also volunteer to ring the church bells, to bring fresh flowers and candles for the church, etc.  It is an honor for community members to serve in any way, including landscaping and cleaning.



Teotitlán has a museum called Balaa Xtee Guech Gulal (a Zapotec phrase that means "in the shadow of the old village"). The museum features three main areas, one dedicated to the pueblo’s archaeology, one to crafts, and one to weddings and traditions associated with weddings (including the concept of Guelaguetza).  Guelaguetza (in addition to being one of the largest exhibitions of folkloric dance in July) is a way of keeping a record of who brought what to a fiesta.  For example, at my wedding I will ask those who can to bring specific items: a cake, flowers, napkins.  I will reciprocate at future events.  This is how the people share their blessings and contribute to the communal celebration. 

Teotitlán del Valle has several annual fiestas propias (celebrations that are their own). October 7, the first Sunday in October, is the Fiesta for Saint Rosaria.  Held at the Preciosa Sangre de Cristo Church, the event was a stunning display of the dancing talents of the young men who commit three years of their lives, and more, to the dance of the Danza de la Pluma.


 A man sitting next to our group of English teaching volunteers said the fiesta was scheduled to start around four, but he suggested the rehearsals and preparations were equally riveting; he was right. We could tell by the costumes (children in military uniforms, waving Spanish flags and plume dancers in their Zapotec dress) that we were seeing some sort of a re-enactment. There was also a man in a black mask; we learned he depicts a spirit that protects the Zapotec soldiers/dancers. This re-enactment demonstrates how the Zapotecs united with the Spaniards to defeat the Aztecs from Tenochtitlan.


As a slight breeze picked up, we could see that the headdresses the men wear are not only ornate and large, but they are also quite heavy. One even had to hold on to the plumes as he continued spiralling around the others.



As we were heading out, just after six o clock, this joyous commemoration and celebration was amplifying. After assessing the fruit, beer, and soft drinks the community members had brought to share, some of the elders began pouring mezcal.

Sincerely grateful for the opportunity to learn from the kind people of Teotitlan, we headed back to Oaxaca Centro.


Monday, October 8, 2012

Towards Health and Wellbeing: Clinica del Pueblo visits En Via.


In the last 2 weeks we have had the great pleasure of offering the women in our program the chance to participate in a special health education workshop.

We invited the doctors from Clínica del Pueblo, to meet with the women and give an informative talk on menopause. The project, financed by Fundación Pfizer México, is called, Prevención y Atención Oportuna de Padecimientos Asociados a la Menopausia: Osteoporosis y Síntomas Vasomotores. Its focus is on giving information about particular health issues that are relevant to women who are approaching or experiencing menopause, such as preventable and serious medical conditions like osteoporosis. 



The Clínica del Pueblo is a Civil Association whose aim is to provide medical services to those people that are often marginalized from established health systems, and to improve the quality of life of Oaxacans. Their doctors, nurses, and dentists, attend to more than 1,800 patients each month, some travelling from up to six hours away to reach the clinic. The clinic operates under an open-door policy, providing services to anyone who needs them.

The past week’s health workshops were held in the towns of Teotitlán, Tlacochahuaya, and Abasolo where En Via works. It was open to all the women in our program and the communities to attend, and there were a total of around 40 women who participated in the sessions.

Doctor Berenice was the doctor from the clinic in charge of these sessions, and she was quick to develop a good rapport with the groups. I particularly liked the way she included herself in the conversation with the women. She wasn’t talking about something abstract that was going on; she was talking about things that “we” all share as women.



These health workshops fall under En Vía’s commitment to working directly with the women in our program to provide them with educational opportunities that they want and that will be valuable to them. The women showed a lot of interest in the topic. It was a pleasure to see the small conversations starting up between the women as they filled in questionnaires and reflected on the information.

Juana and Rosa compared notes about what menopause meant to them. Magdalena and Carmen discussed something quietly regarding different experiences they have each had.

Along with the very important medical information that was provided, there was even a chance to laugh. Yes, “irritability” is sometimes caused by changes in hormones, the doctor said, but of course there are some other very good reasons to get irritable when managing the day to day workings of the house hold and businesses. No one needed to say more about what those reasons might be! 


I certainly learnt a great deal. Did you know that even if you have a lot of calcium in your diet, that you still need to get regular exercise and sunlight in order for it to be properly absorbed into your bones and to avoid osteoporosis? I didn’t.

The clinic very kindly offered the women in En Vía, as well as their family members, access to free consultations with doctors and specialists in the coming months. Many have already take advantage of the opportunity to invest in their health.

We sincerely thank the Clinica del Pueblo for the professional collaboration and services. We are delighted to be able to support the women in this way. We respect them for being the mothers, the grandmothers, and the guardians of these towns and communities, and we hope that this workshop can be a help in ensuring that they can enjoy good health for years to come.