Thursday, after Spanish class, I went on an En Via tour. It started out at the restaurant of a loan recipient who used the funding to make a concrete floor, put a roof on the shop, and make other improvements. Our next stop was at the beautiful church in Teotitlan del Valle where we met one of the women who’d received a loan in the past and was looking to get another in July.
The program has an incredible one percent default rate. Much of this is due to the process they use. Women must form a group of three (they can be different businesses or parts of a business; they can be family or friends). The point here is accountability and support. The women also must attend a series of business workshops and pay back the funds in small increments on a weekly basis. The starter loan is 1300 pesos (just over 100 dollars); this money needs to be paid back in installments of 130 pesos per week for ten weeks. Four-thousand pesos is the highest loan someone can get without interest, and the loan must be to a woman and must be used to support business.
Currently, thirty percent of the businesses involve artisans (such as the weaver who met us at the church – and her mother-in-law), thirty percent are working in food-related businesses (such as the lunch spot), twenty are working in agriculture, and twenty are in other types of businesses.
In Teotitlan de Valle, the three people we met were weavers of rugs. They showed us the process of making these works of art, from making the dyes to running the loom to the role of kids in the process (typing the ends). Hungry to sell us a rug, they told us stories about the difficult economy and how hard it is, now, to sell even one carpet.
After visiting the three women, we headed to the beautiful church in Tlacochahuaya: El Templo Ex-Convento Siglo XVI de San Jerónimo Tlachochahuaya. This church is known for its beautiful colors and its pipe organ which is nestled above the congregation in a room accessible only by going through an Alice in Wonderlandesque door and ascending a tightly spiraling staircase (which is way more fun to go up than to descend).
At the church, we met a woman who sells tortillas and cheese out of the front (back) of her house. She was delighted that the store that had been across the street from her was out of business, but she lamented that the slow season (mid-July to mid-September, when Mexicans typically vacation) was careening into her business soon; she called these sad times. Across the street, her partners (a mother and a daughter) had their businesses. The mother is a vegetable broker who buys onions, chile de agua (the chiles used in chiles rellenos here) herbs, and garlic to resell in markets all over the valley and in the Sierras. She talked about how hard it is to schlep all of the produce and refered to relying the help of the “pequeño diablito,” her expression for a hand truck or dolly. Her daughter has a beauty salon on the same property and estimates that, only working afternoons, she does fifty haircuts a week. Her loan helped her to broaden her selection of hair dyes. She is looking forward to another loan to beautiful the rather drab space. One of the women on the tour offered to send her beauty magazines and posters so clients will have more selection as they are considering a new hair-do.
I have been on these tours in the past, ad I have worked with many of the women who have received loans, but there is something almost magical about hearing the successes and seeing the steps they have been able to take. Small amounts of money make a tremendous difference in these women’s lives and in the communities we visited.
If you come to Oaxaca, take a tour, the 650 peso fee gets turned around next week into a loan to the women we visited today.