Thursday, January 31, 2013

Superwomen of En Via: Homemakers, Entrepreneurs, and Role Models

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What plans do you have for tonight? What did you do last weekend? When is your next vacation?

 For most of us, these are questions we hear and ask quite frequently. We expect to discuss plans to go out after work, to travel, or to relax at home. We assume that at some point, everyone has a bit of free time to spend as they please. But for many of the women of En Via, this is simply not the case. If you were to ask one of these women about her plans for after work, you probably won't get the answer you were expecting.


 I'm constantly amazed by the discipline and work ethic that our borrowers possess. Over the last year and a half I've spent working with En Via, leading tours and teaching classes, so many women have expressed to me that their work never ends. The more I learn about their lives, the more I realize how true this really is.

Most of the women's businesses are extensions of their homes. The weavers in Teotitlán prepare their wool and make their rugs in the home, stopping only to make lunch or dinner for their family in the next room over. The leatherwork in Santo Domingo Tomaltepec is also done at home, and many women have comedores (small restaurants), or shops in the front room of their houses.


Many of us in the Western world enjoy the benefits of working from home, and even more probably wish that they could. But as most of us who have that opportunity soon discover, combining work and home life can be exhausting. We have to set boundaries and adhere to a schedule so we don't go crazy working too much (or working too little, whichever type you are!).

The women of En Via don't have these boundaries. For a woman that owns a shop, her lunch is interrupted if someone comes by for a box of milk. Even after closing hours someone may stop by and knock on the door, looking to buy something. When there is finally a break from work, there is the cooking, cleaning, and raising of the children to attend to. It is normal for women to wake up at four thirty or five in the morning to begin work, and it is commonplace for them not to stop until they go to bed.


The luxury of free time that most of us cherish so much, to read a book or watch TV, simply does not exist in these villages. We, the children of the nine to five workday, probably would not last a week with the workload of the women of Fundación En Via. And if we did, can you imagine the vacation we'd need afterward?

 I personally have two jobs that I'm able to do at home, and I'm fortunate in that it allows me to live comfortably in Oaxaca and still devote much of my time to En Via. However, I definitely fall into the category of people who have difficulty separating work and home life. The discipline of our borrowers and the positivity and happiness they maintain sets an inspiring example for me, and I genuinely hope to achieve their work ethic one day!


As I think about my plans for the evening, the weekend, or my next vacation, I for one will remember not to take my bedtime reading for granted, and to remember the hardworking women of En Via the next time I'm dreaming about a week at the beach.


Thursday, January 24, 2013


By Hannah Aronowitz

Photos by Jorge Solis

San Sebastián Abasolo is a small agricultural community located about 30 minutes east of Oaxaca that I have had the pleasure of getting to know since I began volunteering with En Via three weeks ago. You arrive there by following a dirt road out of Tlacochahuaya, passing through fields of garlic, alfalfa and chile de agua (water chilis) along the way.  Abasolo, with about 2,000 inhabitants, is a sweet, sleepy town centered around the church, with an elementary school, one paved road and houses made from adobe, cement and brick.


Normally, I travel to Abasolo bringing tour groups to meet the women whom receive our loans, or to attend a business class. Strictly business. This Sunday, however, this sleepy town was pure fiesta, as the entire community celebrated the day of their patron Saint Sebastián. Festivities occurred throughout the week but climaxed on Sunday with a very special mass and a traditional indigenous dance followed by feasting, music and dancing.


The danza de las plumas, or “feather dance,” is a performance piece unique to this area that has roots in pre-Colombus indigenous culture. Young men bedecked in bold yellow, red and green sequined costumes support huge feathered disks upon their heads while they dance, stomp and shake rattles in the courtyard outside the church.


While it probably originated as an Aztec ritual dance to communicate with their gods for rain, sun and corn, now the dancing depicts the Spanish conquest, and heralds the survival of indigenous people and their culture. A local band with an impressive brass section, including a thundering tuba, as well as drums, flutes and clarinets, accompanied the dancing.  


Everything was red and yellow; the tent under which we danced, the streamers adorning the church and the roses in little pots that all the women receive as a memento. Upon arriving to the party, I was ushered in to sit with a group of grandmothers, all with incredibly beautiful brown faces deeply creased with lines and eyes shining with amicable curiosity. They were all so proud to share their traditions with me, the only gringa in the town.


A couple of men wandered around pushing Coronas on anyone with an empty hand, or offering micheladas (beer with salt, lime and chili) and mezcal (the local drink made from the maguey agave cactus).


Young girls bearing delicious bowls of beef bone soup and simple tacos made the rounds to feed the masses and then just as quickly cleared the tables so the space could be used for dancing. The banda (brass band) played into the night and the dancing continued, couples, old and young moved around the floor in small circles or in simple line dances.


One family in the community is tasked with throwing the big party to hire their patron saint. They must hire a banda, cook the food and provide the beverages. The party costs about $35,000 pesos, or about $3000 USD, which is a huge cost for one family to shoulder, but a huge point of pride as well.


When darkness fell and I had to return to Oaxaca City, I left the party, which was showing no signs of stopping. I caught a three-wheeled moto-taxi back to the highway and during the ride the driver, Santiago and I got to chatting and he mentioned that his wife wants to start up a little shop in their home but didn’t have the capital. I told him about En Via and he animatedly took down my contact information for her. I left feeling more connecting to a community that I will be working with over the next three months and excited to have to chance to help women, like Santiago’s wife, grow their businesses, support their families and strengthen their communities, one loan at a time.




Saturday, January 5, 2013

Hard work and Heart’s Desires: New Year’s at Las Cuevitas.

By Kim Groves.

The year 2012 was a wonderful year of growth and success for the women of En Vía. Many have seen real changes for the better in their businesses and positive effects on their families.

Elodia, from the town of Tlacochahuaya, is proud to reflect on what has happened these last 12 months. “I have fixed my kitchen this year, and built my new oven, and have money to invest in my tortilla business for the New Year.” Perla, also from Tlacochayuaha, reports that “in 2012 I opened my business; my own beauty salon.” She is also thankful for the good fortune her family has had, acknowledging that “my little daughter has been healthy.” Garlic seller Lucila in Abasolo reports that due to the loans this year she has been able to buy her produce up-front instead of on credit from the producers. “I feel more powerful when I go to market with my garlic, because I know it belongs to me outright”.

All the women in the program are looking ahead to an even better year in 2013, and you can be sure that they have big plans. After a year recovering from health complications, Angela, in the town of Teotitlán, is excited to be using her new loan to start reinvesting in her artisan business in 2013. Anabel in the town of Diaz Ordáz is saving for a special refrigerated display for her cakes that she bakes and sells. “Maybe if I put aside enough I can use my savings along with a loan to buy it in 2013.”

In Teotitlán a very special tradition exists to mark this idea of looking ahead and asking for a better year. On the 1st and 2nd of January the people of the town make their way up to a place at the foot of the hills; a place called Las Cuevitas, or little caves. You might call it a cave, or a grotto, that has seemingly been carved from the water that now trickles slowly from the mountain. Here it is said that a Virgin appeared, and was named La Virgin de la Natividad and became one of the most revered in the local church.



I had never been there before, but soon I started seeing familiar faces. Sara and her sisters Sofia and Ludivina were making memelas on a big comal and smiling out at us from amongst their neighbours. We were suddenly gifted freshly made tamales with yellow mole by someone passing by. It was a real party of sorts! On the path, Carlos and I stopped to be embraced and were wished a happy new year by   by a handful of women and their families.



We stood for a moment by a small ojito, or eye of water, that seemed to spring from the very rock at our feet. “At midnight”, Eugenia said looking down, “the edges of the water are said to shine with their own light”. I could only stare in astonishment and delight.

 “People come here to this place to ask the Virgin for many things”, another firend, Josefina, told us as we made our way carefully down the incline. “Some ask for success in business, some ask for new houses. Some couples who can’t conceive come and ask for children”.

At the base of the cave, men and women stood with their hands out, tenderly taking hold of the old outcrop of stone. I saw lips move and heads bow as they asked their heart’s quiet desires. Around them, tucked into the crevices of the rock, I noticed curious objects. Little plastic animals and people, toy cars, paper money bills, ribbons, candles, crosses; all symbols of the new years’ wishes.


The air was buzzing with the sound of it; there were so many different wishes, and prayers and hopes for the future that were flying out around that little pocket. Small fires gave welcome warmth to the hillside as the sun retreated further and further back into the long valley.  Above my head bright sparks exploded haphazardly, and I had to jump over quite a number of firecrackers that had been tucked into the cracks in the rocks underfoot by little boys.


On the slopes around the caves, piles of rocks and sticks had been gathered up, and whole families sat beside them talking and eating. Taking a closer look at the stones, you would find that they were actually little houses, constructed with the intention of building up a physical representation of the things that are important; a roof overhead and a safe place for family. Little pebbles were placed about them, in the form of wishes for sheep or a new donkey, or perhaps a strong corn crop. Similarly, by the banks of the stream people had drawn figures in the sand. With my own little stone I knelt and carefully added another.

Las Cuevitas is indeed a place of miracles. Even if you do not believe in the appearance of Virgins, or in the granting of prayers, it is impossible not to feel the tangible energy that comes from the gathering of family and friends to reflect on a year spent and give hope to a new start. Perhaps there is real magic in the sincere visualization of aspirations for the New Year, as well as the true commitment to both hard work and faith, that the people in communities like Teotitlán carry with them every single day of the year.