In between planning, preparing and teaching business classes or translating on tours, volunteering for En Via for the last few months has certainly been a pleasant and very enriching experience. Little did I realise how quickly time has been flying by and that it’s already been a year since I first visited Mexico as a tourist…it’s Mexican anniversary time!
Around this time last year, I found myself ‘stranded’ on a beach in Puerto Escondido (my first stop in Mexico) waiting patiently for the airline to reunite me with my misplaced luggage, whilst having to do with a make-shift outfit to tolerate the burning sun. Rolled-up denim trousers became a fisherman’s style pair of shorts and my scarf became a strapless top. Fast-forwarding to consecutive stops in Mexico, Oaxaca de Juarez was part of my independent travel route – the town which several months later is now my temporary ‘home’.
My activities here have been keeping me busy and until now I have hardly been able to sit down to write up about my volunteering experience. At the same time, I didn’t even know where to start! Which woman would I talk about? There are so many amazing, strong and determined women who form part of En Via’s microfinance programme which makes it’s difficult to choose from. So I thought, it would be right to start, well…from the start!
And my experience starts with Guadalupe…an artisan from Teotitlan del Valle, a village that is famous for its traditional hand-weaving trade. When my friend Mary and I visited Oaxaca for the very first time, we had the pleasure to go on one of En Via’s responsible tourism tours and get to meet some of the women that En Via supports through interest-free loans. These loans are used by women entrepreneurs of low resources to invest in their small businesses and tour fees aid to finance the interest-free credit that is made available to these women.
Guadalupe is one of these women. Guadalupe dedicates her craft mainly to focus on weaving lovely hand bags of different sizes and colours using natural colourings to die her wool –a process which is traditionally used throughout her village. When I met her for the first time, it was her story, her way of expressing herself, her passion, her infectious smile and the love for her children that won my heart. And it was Guadalupe who inspired me to come and volunteer for En Via later on. During that first encounter, I learnt that she had lost her husband to alcoholism and post his death she found it difficult to support her three young children alone. Having been able to set up her own small weaving business through En Via’s microfinance programme and feeling proud of her trade who she learnt from her father, Guadalupe is very happy to be in a better financial position and most importantly to be able to send her three boys to school. She told us that she was very proud of her children too who are all good students and one who even went on to earn a scholarship as a reward for his efforts.
I was delighted to visit Guadalupe again a couple of times during my voluntary translating duties on tour, where Guadalupe also shared that what matters the most to her is not accumulating material possessions but being able to give her children an education. And she is working hard to ensure that is the case…
There are experiences like this that make every tour visit an enriching one, and as a translator it is great to know that you have brought a smile to someone’s face or made someone’s day whether it is one of our lovely tourists or one of our amazing women members.
By Lucy Navas
Lucy volunteered with En Via for several months as a translator on our tours, and was also instrumental in our business classes – which our borrowers need to complete in order to receive their first loan.