I will never forget the first time I met the women of San Sebastian Abasolo, Oaxaca, Mexico. There was a busy hum coming from the backyard as we passed by some low built homes. They were waiting for us there, 15 women, sitting in plastic chairs in the shallow shade.
As I shook each of their hands in turn, I felt as if I was being handed a different emotion in the spectrum. There were some fluttering nerves, some palpable excitement, some soft apprehension, and a great deal of bold enthusiasm. Older women sat proudly, hands folded over plaid aprons. Young women expertly balanced their papers amongst the children that climbed in their laps.
There are just over 300 homes in this particular town of Abasolo, and we had been fortunate enough to be invited into one of them in order to introduce En Via’s microfinance program to another community.
Apart from the patron saint, the town is named after the hero of Mexican Independence, José Mariano Abasolo. The town is located 21 kilometres from the city of Oaxaca, and belongs to the district of Tlacolula. Numbering at approximately 1700 inhabitants, the town´s members are principally occupied in the agricultural industry. And with the patchwork of corn, bean, chili, tomato, and onion crops, as well as flowers, blooming around us, I had no trouble believing that the area is one of the most fertile in the valley.
It soon became clear who the quiet leader was in the group, the one that had gathered and invited these woman just a few weeks ago. She was seamlessly moving through the group, making everyone comfortable and included. Juana heard about En Via’s program from a friend in the neighbouring town of Tlacochahuaya who is currently investing in her business with her interest free loan from us. Juana attended a meeting to find out what it was all about, and then took this information back to her own town and shared it with her family and neighbours.
When I asked Juana what the women’s initial reaction was to this idea of En Via´s, she said they thought it was “incredible”. That is, they simply did not believe it at first that we were offering an interest free loan paired with education programs. “The money lending services we know are nothing like this”, said one of the women, Oliveria, glancing around fondly at the women who were then busy signing their names and receiving their first loans.
I am always fascinated by the variety of businesses held by the women we work with, and that first day it was a pleasure to learn about the individual projects that would be nourished by the coming loans in this new community. Juana will use her loan to invest in her business of selling shoes. She has had the business for two years now, and has had some success in selling from catalogue orders to her neighbours.
Flor will invest her loan in her new business that involves selling a range of clothes and underwear in the town. Her two daughters, of 1 and 3 years, were with her, and it was my job to entertain them, (mostly just with the novel redness of my hair), as their mother occupied herself with organising her application.
Rosa´s plan is to put her loan towards her business of selling vegetables in the market. Olvieria told me that hers will be invested in her little café. Carmen was hopeful that her loan would be a lot of help in the running of her corner store. Domtilda was listing the things she would buy for her taco and sandwich bar. I happily noted that the initial shyness fell away from the voices of the women as they were talking about their plans and goals.
We are honoured to have been invited into this new town, and we look forward to working with these women, and in the weeks and months to come to getting to know their families and communities. Your support and friendship is present in the relationships we will build there, and for that we are also grateful.
I do not know much about Abasolo´s namesake hero of Mexican Independence, but I do know that I went away from that meeting feeling like I had just gained 15 new heroines.