Words and photographs by Andrea Rodrigues
How did you hear about the En Vía volunteer program?
I had been reading about microfinance and liked the concept of providing opportunities and empowering woman through addressing the issue of access to affordable credit. I wanted to do some volunteer work with microfinance and started researching organizations, which is how I found En Vía. I thought their unique model of combining interest free microloans with responsible tourism and educational programs is a great way to help communities in the Tlacolula valley. So when I found out about their volunteer program, I knew I wanted to come to Oaxaca and be involved in the amazing work they are doing.
How long will you be participating as a volunteer?
I’ll be collaborating with En Vía for six months as the volunteer Program Coordinator. It’s a great role that has allowed me to experience all aspects of the organization from working in the office to going out to the communities where we work. Some of the work I’ve been involved in includes promoting the organization and its programs, working on the budget, updating databases or communicating with tour alumni. One of the aspects I enjoy most about the role is the opportunity to go out to the communities through my work as a tour guide for the microfinance tours that the organization runs and helping out with the loan process at the weekly meetings held in the communities.
Had you been to Oaxaca before?
I’d never been to the area before, but had heard great things about it so was keen to experience the festivals and unique food from Oaxaca.
What was your background prior to taking on this role with En Vía?
I was looking for a volunteer role in which I could use my skills from my background in project management, so this role seemed like a great fit.
What were your personal goals in making the decision to participate?
Providing opportunities and education to women has always been important to me and I felt volunteering within microfinance was a great way to support that while gaining a deeper understanding of how microfinance can help communities. With En Vía being based in Oaxaca, Mexico it was also an opportunity to experience living in a different culture and learning another language.
The staff and volunteers at En Via are a tight-knit crew – can you speak to your experience working with the people who make up this group, as well as the borrowers and their families?
From my first day at En Vía, I was welcomed into the family. Staff and other volunteers made an effort to give me tips on Oaxaca and invite me out to events. Having the network of staff and volunteers really helped me settle in and experience all of the amazing things that the city has to offer. In my first week in Oaxaca, Katie (one of the other volunteers) and I went to the town fiesta in Teotitlan to see the Danza de la Pluma – a traditional danced performed at certain times of the year. During a recent En Via outing, I had the opportunity to stay at the eco cabañas in San Miguel del Valle and go on a beautiful hike the next day.
Can you provide an example of a moment, event or result that has resonated with you as a part of this process?
One of the aspects I have enjoyed the most in my role has been the opportunity to get to know the women that En Via works with through the weekly meetings in the communities, and also through my work as a tour guide. It’s incredibly inspiring hearing the stories of these hardworking entrepreneurs and the difference the interest-free loans makes. It’s also great fun having the opportunity to just chat with the women during the weekly meetings, along with being invited to celebrate the town fiestas.
We were recently invited to the town fiesta in Santo Domingo Tomaltepec. One of the borrowers we work with had the honor of being the first female President of the fiesta, so we were excited to go along. Little did we realize that we would end up being part of the desfile (parade)! On another occasion, when I was in San Miguel del Valle with one of the En Via staff members (Mica), we ended up being invited to a fiesta for a baptism being held nearby, and so spent the day dancing and chatting with new friends.
It’s these experiences of being welcomed by the community and incredible hospitality that have been the highlight of my experience and will no doubt draw me back to Oaxaca!
Any advice for those thinking of moving to Oaxaca and volunteering with En Vía?
One of the best decisions you’ll make – a truly unforgettable experience!