By: Michelle Zhang
Michelle is from Massachusetts and is currently on a gap year between high school and university. She volunteers as an impact assessment intern and tour guide with En Vía.
In San Miguel del Valle, I met with Tereza who joined En Vía in 2015. She runs the town’s only comedor (like a restaurant but more casual) in front of the sunny courtyard of her home. She has one daughter and two young grandchildren who we often see running around and playing in the house when we go to eat. Prior to this business, she spent five years selling food to-go on the weekends in Tlacolula, 20 minutes away, and taking orders for events like weddings or baptisms. The same year she joined En Vía, Tereza hosted a Project Tour group who helped her build a stove. She uses it to make the essentials—tortillas, beans, and coffee—and cleans the smoke pipe every eight days to prevent clogging. Tereza told me that it was actually because of the stove that she could transform her former business to her current comedor! It not only let her make more food, more quickly, but its location towards the front of her house allowed her to welcome customers while cooking. Tereza explained that now she has a more steady income because she doesn’t need to wait for events. To prepare certain foods like tamales or barbecue, she still cooks where she did before, upstairs in the back of the house, so she hopes one day she will have a full kitchen downstairs.
Two years after starting her comedor, Tereza hosted another Project Tour group who helped paint her storefront. She prepped the wall with a base and chose the design and colors herself—yellow because it stands out against the blue next door. She tells me it was a pleasure hosting the group and remembers cooking a meal for them which they loved. San Miguel is a small, close knit community, so municipal workers and teachers on lunch break would eat at Tereza’s comedor before, even if it looked like a regular house from the outside. Now with the storefront, she additionally gets visitors from Diaz Ordaz and Tlacolula (nearby pueblos) and sometimes even foreign tourists!
Note from Eda Tajuddin
(Responsible Tourism Program Manager)
As the Responsible Tourism Program Manager, I get to interact with the community regularly, whether it’s through collecting loan payments, organizing tours or facilitating conversations between tour participants and our borrowers. However, our 5-day Project Tours provide an especially immersive and rewarding experience. Staying out in the communities and working so closely with the women and their families is a definite highlight of my job. Getting to witness and even be part of the exchange and collaboration between Project Tour participants and our borrowers is particularly heart-warming. For those of you who have already experienced one of our microfinance tours and can appreciate how intimate and unique half a day with En Vía can be; it doesn’t take much to believe that our Project Tours take you on a deeper immersion.
What’s more is that your impact on the Project Tours goes much more beyond your 5-day stay. Not only do we complete projects that enhance our borrowers’ businesses and in many cases, also improve their wellbeing; but throughout the 5 days, we feed economy directly into their communities. And of course, just like our normal tours, we use all profits from our Project Tours to finance and grow our microfinance and education programs. Our Project Tours are an integral part of our responsible tourism model, which is so important in making En Vía self-sustainable and allowing us to provide the programs and services that help our borrowers run successful businesses.
It is also essential to note that we tailor our tours to the group, no matter the make-up. Although some activities may sound strenuous, they really don’t have to be (unless you want a good work-out)! Our Project Tours welcome people of all ages and abilities. So come on a holiday with a difference and leave your lasting impact. Sign-up for our Summer Project Tour (July 15th – July 19th) will close mid-April.