Yes, I went on a tour! Envia Foundation offers half-day excursions out to villages where their borrowers live and work. I say borrowers because Envia’s primary goal is to offer microfinancing — interest-free loans — to women entrepreneurs who want to start or expand a small business. Responsible tourism is part of that.
We visit borrowers to see the improvements they have been able to make with Envia’s financial help and to hear their personal stories about how funds and educational support programs have made a difference.
To qualify for an Envia loan, you must form a group of at least three women and promise to make weekly repayments of at least 20 pesos and on time. Each woman is committed to each other to make this happen. The first loan is for 1,500 pesos, which translates now to about $80 USD. Once this is repaid, the women can qualify for the next level loan. The largest loan is 7,500 pesos, or about $400 USD.
Envia lends to women because data show they will keep the funds in the family and they are more accountable for repayment. There is a 99.8% repayment rate. In Mexico, the cost to borrow money (interest rates) ranges from 75% and 200%. People are never able to get out of debt if they follow this path.
The women present a simple budget to Envia to apply. For most, Spanish is their second language. They speak Zapotec. They don’t need to speak Spanish, though, to receive a loan. They must attend a basic business education course before the funds are given. About 10% of the borrowers have completed middle school (8th grade), and 60% have completed elementary school to the second grade. The loan gives them a leg up to buy materials and supply such as yarn if they are weavers, thread or a sewing machine if they are embroiderers, a stove if they run a small diner (comedor).
We might think these needs are simple. To many, a small loan can make a big difference.
We started the day at Envia headquarters at Instituto Cultural Oaxaca, boarded a van and headed out to San Miguel del Valle, a village in the hills above Tlacolula de Matamoros on the way to the Sierra Norte. Here they are known for both their elaborate embroidery and weaving.
We first had a fantastic homemade lunch at Comedor Teresa. She calls herself the Alma de la Casa, the Soul of the House. We had a choice of chicken or vegetarian dishes: chile relleno, tlayuda or tacos dorados. All delicious.
We then walked to the house of a 25-year-old embroiderer who makes elaborate aprons that must pair with a matching or contrasting under-dress. She gave us a demonstration and we were in awe of her handiwork. She does not sell at the Tlacolula Market. All her customers come to her house.
We next walked uphill to a house near the church, then climbed down a steep stairway to the courtyard of weavers Petronia and Minerva, who now buy their own dyed wool instead of being supplied with a piecework order from a big house in Teotitlan. This gives them more independence, a bit more profit, and saves materials and travel costs. Every little bit helps.
We arrived in Teotitlan del Valle in late afternoon to visit the house of Sofia and her sister Sara who make traditional beeswax candles, some dyed with natural plant materials and cochineal. Just stunning work.
In the same courtyard, we meet family member Ludivina Vasquez Gutierrez who dyes wool with natural plants and cochineal. Her husband is the weaver. They do the entire process by hand, carding, spinning and weaving the Churro wool they buy from the Mixteca region of Oaxaca. We were taken with the quality and very reasonable prices. Perhaps only a dozen weavers work in natural dyes here, though most can give tourists a dye demonstration using cochineal.
The tour, which began at 1 p.m. returned the group to Oaxaca after 7 p.m. The cost is 850 pesos which includes transportation and lunch.
Being a tourist on this tour can’t be beat!
Thanks to Jacki and Ida for being the best tour leaders and translators of language and culture.