It’s been over a year since this trip to Mexico, but I really wanted to make sure I write about this tour as it was such an amazing experience.
Fundación En Vía isn’t your average day tour around Oaxaca. Run as a non-profit, the tour is one part of a program helping provide interest-free microloans to women living in the many small towns in the region, enabling them to start or improve their own businesses. The women attend business education and English workshops, with the final step before increasing the loan amount being a presentation to a tour group. The cost of the tour goes towards these loans and the running of the organisation and education programs.
I love that the focus is on empowering women and giving them the opportunity to be entrepreneurs – not the flashy, #firstworldproblems kind of startup, but things that can improve their lives, preserve their culture and help their community. Our guides said that one of the reasons the decision was made to focus on women was because it seems to have a larger positive impact on the community, with women supporting each other with their ventures and saving money to give their children a better education. Women also apparently have a better track record with paying back their loans!
Our first stop was San Miguel de Valle, a town known for the beautifully embroidered aprons the local women wear over bright dresses. Here we met Teresa and her daughter, who make traditional hot chocolate by grinding the cacao beans by hand on a stone slab, mixing with spices and sugar into solid discs, then brewing on a stove in a traditional pot with a special wooden whisk.
Teresa used the money from her loan to catch a bus into a larger town and buy ingredients in bulk giving her a better profit margin when she sells her drinks at local markets and in her town. Like many of the villages in the region, her first language is Zapotec, although everyone also learns Español. After a demonstration, we were all treated to a cup of hot chocolate and a sweet pastry.
We visited three more women – an owner of a general store, a family of weavers, the maker of tortillas, a pair of leather workers, and a restaurant owner. Their loans were used for things which might sound simple but are difficult to save up for – better materials, a stove with proper ventilation, a toilet that flushes, an extra loom. The women were all proud of what they had made, even if they were shy in their presentations.
It was a really inspiring and heartwarming experience, which I really recommend if you travel to Oaxaca!