What comes to mind when you think of Mexico? Is it the variety of vacation opportunites and beaches? Or maybe you think of coffee, chocolate, tequila or other popular Mexican exports. Or perhaps what comes to mind is the wide variety of Mexican cuisine we’ve become accustomed to here in the United States. What you’re probably not thinking about is a country where the majority of wealth is controlled by cartels, or the extreme income disparities resulting from the drug trade, or even the exceptionally high rates of poverty among rural and indigenous people.
Fundación En Via is one organization who has the dual mission of not only raising awareness of the rural poor in one Mexican state, but also of doing something about it. They’re working to eliminate poverty by empowering rural women to become entrepreneurs.
What is Fundación En Via?
Fundación En Via, or En Via for short, is a nonprofit microfinance organization that operates in the Mexican state of Oaxaca, which is located in the southern-most part of the country near the equator. En Via provides microfinance loans and English language lessons to predominately female clients in two different rural Oaxacan towns. Loans are offered to promising small businesses at a zero percent interest rate. By comparison, most conventional Mexican banks charge as much as 70% interest on their loans.
Why Oaxaca? Oaxaca is noteworthy not only for its size – it is the fifth largest Mexican state – but also because of its high populations of rural and indigenous peoples. In fact, 53% of Mexico’s indigenous population lives in Oaxaca. It is estimated that as many as 4,000 different cultural groups are represented in Oaxaca alone. Like many other Mexican states, Oaxaca relies on tourism, most of which is concentrated near the capital and coastal regions. The majority of tourists never get a sense of what Oaxaca is really like, and they rarely, if ever, come into contact with the state’s rural and indigenous residents.
En Via is helping to bridge that gap by bringing tourists to see microfinance in action. Their daylong microfinance and cultural exchange tours let people get a taste of what life is really like in rural areas. They also help people understand what the concept of microfinance really is, who the program reaches and what types of businesses the loans support. Tour participants have the opportunity to help by directly purchasing items from the small business owners, or by engaging with them through one of the English language classes. Additionally, 100% of the tour fee goes to support more loans.
Rosalia is one woman you might meet on the tour. She first used a loan from En Via to help expand her tortilla making business. Then she used the profits from the tortilla business to repair her broken sewing machine. Now she operates two businesses – one making and selling tortillas and another mending garments and creating fabrics on her sewing machine.
Lucila used a loan from En Via to buy weaving supplies and wood to make a loom. She creates beautiful indigenous fabrics, which she sells at the city market. With the money she makes, she is able to pay for the supplies and fees her two daughters need for school.
How Can You Help?
Fundación En Via may be small, but they have grown enormously in the three years since they were founded. The primary reason is because of their microfinance tours, which was named one of the top five green experiences by GreenTravelGuides.com. You can help by making a tax-deductible contribution, or by checking out one of their tours if you’re in the area.