As you know, here at En Vía, we are always celebrating women and sharing stories of our inspiring borrowers. Now with International Women’s Day, we wanted to kick off a month of sharing personal stories so we can keep talking about how great women are while you get to know the team. As part of our “Women are…” campaign, we asked the team – staff, volunteers and borrowers – to talk about their female role models and what it means to them to “be a woman”.
We compiled these accounts in this publication.
Women are STRONG
– by Eda Tajuddin, En Vía’s Responsible Tourism Manager
“My mother grew up in a small town in Malaysia. She was the youngest of 5 and used to sell cookies at school without her parents’ knowing so she could buy school supplies. Thanks to a government program, she went to the USA for University. After completing her undergrad and masters degrees and returning to Malaysia for various years, she moved to the UK where she raised 5 (awesome) children, including 3 strong daughters who continue to inspire each other. She has filled my life with laughter and love, even through the hard times. Her strength and resilience have inspired me to chase my dreams, no matter how scary it may seem. I wouldn’t be here with En Vía if it weren’t for her, so thank you Mum.”
Women are CHANGE MAKERS
– by Michelle Zhang, En Vía’s Impact Assessment Volunteer
“When hearing about revolutionaries and historic movements, the narratives are dominated by men. I remember the first time I heard about Diane Nash. I couldn’t believe all that she had done at such a young age and how relatively unknown her name is. Nash was a crucial leader in the US Civil Rights Movement. She co-founded the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and organized some of eras most famous peaceful protests. She spearheaded the effort to revitalize the Freedom Riders movement when its own founders gave up, turning it into a nationwide success. She always stuck by her principles, cutting ties with MLK’s Southern Christian Leadership Conference because of it’s male dominated leadership and splitting from SNCC when they strayed from non-violence. Her legacy has inspired me to fearlessly step up for what I believe is right, especially when others won’t do so. “
Photo credit : https://goo.gl/images/31tP6Q
Women are UNITED (español abajo)
– by Mariana Wheelock, En Vía’s Operations Program Manager
“Since coming to live and work in Oaxaca a year ago, I have started to become more aware of what it means to be a woman and how it makes me feel. I don’t think I have ever been so conscious in my life of how important it is to be surrounded by women of all ages, from different places, with different personalities. I’m amazed by how confident, happy, bold and strong I feel just by being surrounded by a great team of women working with me at En Vía.
We come to work everyday to promote women’s empowerment without realizing that we are empowering each other. I feel honored to be molded by my experiences with all the women here: borrowers, volunteers and staff members. Thanks to them, I understand what “sororidad” is and I see it everyday.
The direct translation for “sororidad” is sorority. In Spanish, this concept combines the solidarity, friendship, reciprocity and cooperation among women who share the same ideal and work to achieve the same goal.”
“Desde que llegué a vivir y a trabajar a Oaxaca hace un año, empecé a ser más consciente de lo que significa ser mujer y cómo me hace sentir. Creo que nunca en mi vida había tenido tan presente lo importante que es estar rodeada de mujeres de todas las edades, de distintos lugares, con diferentes personalidades. Estoy sorprendida de lo segura, feliz, audaz y fuerte que me siento por el simple hecho de estar rodeada de un gran equipo de mujeres que trabaja conmigo en En Vía.
Nosotras venimos todos los días a trabajar para promover el empoderamiento de la mujer, sin darnos cuenta que al final del día nos estamos empoderando la una a la otra. Me siento honrada de estar moldeada por cada una de las mujeres aquí: las prestatarias, las voluntarias y las que forman parte del staff. Gracias a ellas comprendo lo que es la sororidad y lo veo todos los días.
La sororidad es un concepto que une la solidaridad, la amistad, la reciprocidad y la cooperación entre mujeres que comparten un mismo ideal y que trabajan para lograr un mismo objetivo.”
Women are ATTENTIVE (español abajo)
– by Josefina Gutierrez Sosa, En Vía’s borrower as a weaver of bags.
Josefina was very enthusiastic about participating in our “Women are…” campaign. We interviewed her and this is what she said :
“My mum inspires me for my business. From when I was a girl, my mum taught me how to weave and how to card the wool. She taught me how to make the bags. She helps with my designs and all my work. She’s always with me, helping me! When I make mistakes, she helps me, she teaches me a lot. She impresses me with her attentiveness. She really looks after her work.”
“¡Mi mamá ! Mi mamá me inspira para mi negocio. Mi mamá me enseñó desde chiquita cómo tejer y cómo cardar la lana. Me enseñó cómo hacer las bolsas. Me ayuda con los diseños y con todo mi trabajo. ¡Siempre esté conmigo apoyándome, siempre! Cuando hago errores me ayuda, me enseña mucho. Ella me impresiona porque presta mucha atención, cuida mucho su trabajo. “
Women are COOL
– by Kelly Williams, En Vía’s Impact Assessment Volunteer
“Luba Konowalskyj AKA Mama G
*Born to a Ukrainian immigrant family in Detroit, MI (Cool)
*Graduated from the University of Michigan – Ann Arbor, fully supporting herself financially (Cool)
*Worked for decades to make the world a better place–supporting cancer research at the veteran’s administration, youth workforce development at a local nonprofit, membership management and fundraising at a botanical garden, classroom assistance in public education, and more (Cool)
*Traveled all over the world, and did so back in the 70s without the creature comforts of the internet, cell phones, AirBnB (Cool)
*Lived in Tehran, Iran, Wellington, New Zealand, and on an ocean liner outside of Norway (Cool)
*A certified Master Gardener (Cool)
*Has volunteered more hours than many of us reading this have been alive (Cool)
*The epitome of cool. Was cool back before cool was cool. My inspiration to get out and see the world, and to know that life is for the taking. “
Women are SUPPORTIVE (español abajo)
– by Rocio Lopez, En Vía’s Loan Program Administrator
“To be a woman is the greatest and most beautiful thing that could exist, I am sure of that every time I see my mother’s smile. And now everything that I am, everything that I have achieved, I owe to her for all the support she has given us. She has taught me that women can achieve everything they set out to do and more, that although she didn’t realize her dreams because of her life’s circumstances, now I am sure that she is proud to see how her daughters have fulfilled their dreams. The most charming woman I have ever met and who has taught me that being a woman is the best thing that could have happened to me in this life, and to whom I am eternally grateful for allowing me to be by her side… is my mother.”
“Ser mujer es lo mas hermoso y bello que pueda existir, de eso estoy segura cada vez que veo la sonrisa de mi mamá, y ahora todo lo que soy, todo lo que he logrado se lo debo a ella por todo el apoyo que nos ha brindado, ella me ha enseñado que las mujeres pueden lograr todo lo que se propongan y más, que aunque ella no realizó sus sueños por las circunstancias de la vida, ahora estoy segura de que ella está orgullosa de ver como sus hijas han cumplido sueños… y bueno la mujer más encantadora que he conocido y que me ha enseñado que ser mujer es lo mejor que me pudo haber pasado en esta vida y a quien estoy eternamente agradecida por permitirme estar a su lado… es mi mamá. “
Women are UNIQUE
– by Natacha Bernerd, En Vía’s Communications Intern
“I have been trying to think of a woman who has inspired me and led me to be who I am today. I couldn’t find any. Or more accurately, I found so many!
I feel that every woman has something to offer to others. For me, being a woman cannot be qualified by a social role or a purpose in life. Each woman has her own way of being and living as a woman, and I am so glad that we are all so different.
I love meeting women from here and elsewhere, from other countries and other cultures. I love learning from them how solidarity, collaboration and support can be so strong and real. Being a woman means something different to everyone, but at the same time, it means sharing a common goal and aspiration of becoming who we want to become. Being a woman is a unique way to be understanding, respectful and sensitive. Being a woman is learning a specific way to grow, to live, and to fight. It is also a way to teach our peers how to shine.
I have never regretted being born as a girl, because I love being one. We fight everyday to be what we want to be, but we also know that we don’t have to prove anything to each other. We are capable of the best. We are impressive. We are unique. That is why we inspire one another.”
A huge thank you to Michelle Zhang for the drawing.
Women are RESILIENT
-by Joan Anyon, En Vía’s orientation guide
As a “mature” En Via guide, my experience as a woman may be somewhat different than many of our younger colleagues. I finished college in the late 1960s, and at that time it was expected that women would become teachers or secretaries. The idea of becoming a professional was not on the radar for most women. Although my uncles were lawyers, I had never seen a woman lawyer and it never occurred to me to follow that path. But with the civil rights movement and developing women’s movement, things began to change. My first job was as a secretary for a civil rights organization—no other options seemed available. My boss was a sexist and had me make phone calls for him and serve him coffee. I was not pleased. Then I saw my first woman lawyer: Eleanor Holmes Norton—not just a woman, but an African-American woman—who worked as an attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union. I was so impressed; I saw there were possibilities for women who wanted to do something to make change in society. I decided then and there to go to law school.
My law school class had more than 300 students, 5 of whom were women. The men really didn’t know how to deal with us. Were we fellow law students? Or were we to be regarded differently because we were female? There was blatant discrimination from students and professors. When I ultimately became a lawyer and started to practice, some other lawyers and judges had the same approach and looked for dates or sexual favors. It was Me Too without the Me Too movement.
Over the years, some things have changed and some things remain the same. Most law school classes are at least 50% women. Women have more opportunities for jobs and many have achieved success. But the discrimination and sexism in the legal profession and elsewhere continues. Eleanor Holmes Norton became the representative to Congress from Washington, D.C. and was influential in making change. I thank her for being a role model—my life as an civil rights and immigration attorney was a fulfilling one. And my role as an activist was developed at that time too. The women’s march and Me Too movement has been built by activist women and hopefully will continue to bring significant changes for women.
I recognize that despite any obstacles, my life was privileged. Just as I was inspired by Eleanor Holmes Norton, today I am truly inspired by the women of En Via. In the last several decades, they too have had an awakening. Women have formed weaving collectives and started businesses, sometimes facing opposition from a male-dominated culture and entrenched ideas of a woman’s role. So many of our borrowers lack financial resources and face hardships, but are passionate and committed to improving the lives of their families. They are resilient, creative, engaged, strong and independent and pursue their dreams with spirit and optimism. They truly do it all —from making the tortillas to caring for children, feeding the pigs or weaving and selling in the market. EnVia women tell us that what they appreciate most about having their own business is the independence they have achieved. Discrimination against women still exists here in Oaxaca and throughout the world, but women are determined and persistent — and we will continue to make change to better our communities and society.