The Tlacolula Valley is located east of the city of Oaxaca de Juarez. Here, beyond the roots of the Zapotec culture, are also the most beautiful weavings in Mexico, along with high poverty rates and difficulties in accessing education.
In this context, Fundación En Vía was born, a non-governmental organization founded by Carlos and a small team of volunteers. Their main objective is to promote the empowerment of women in the Oaxaca region through the funds generated by responsible tourism. The organization thus supports micro-credit projects and educational programs for women entrepreneurs in six communities of the Tlacolula Valley.
“Ironically, the Microcredit that is built around, for and with money, does not have at its core, at its deep root, nothing to do with money. It has to do with helping people realize their potentials. It is not about financial capital, but about human capital. Money is a mere tool that helps the realization of dreams, which helps the poorest and most unfortunate people gain dignity, respect, and meaning for their lives “(in” The Banker of the Poor “).
With this statement, Yunus challenged bank models and transformed the lives of millions of people around the world. Travel, besides, opening mental horizons, should serve to support projects of the local communities where we travel. Being a tour leader also means thinking about the impact we have on the countries we travel in, so traveling to remote locations and helping local organizations is something that fills our soul.
San Miguel del Valle
We begin our visit to San Miguel del Valle, a village with about 2800 inhabitants. We visited Alejandrina to learn about its homemade mole production. The mole is a dough that is prepared with a stew of meat offering a sauce of exotic flavours, has a pre-Hispanic origin and requires long hours of preparation. To prepare the mole, you need several spices and grains, including chilli, assorted chiles, tomatoes, almonds, walnuts, raisins, seeds, cloves, cinnamon, parsley, pepper, onion, garlic and a special ingredient, cocoa.
Alejandrina makes the pasta for several hours and then sells it to neighbours and at the local market, but as its mole has already become famous in the village, it is necessary to book in advance. Thanks to the support of the Fundación En Vía, Alejandrina improved her business and started producing homemade chocolate bars.
In the same village, a few meters from the church, we met Maria, who had a small production of aprons. Used daily but also in festive moments, the aprons are an icon of the Oaxaca Valley. The embroidered flowers of garish colours tell us many stories of Mexican culture. Before 1965 weaving was done by men, but due to the lack of employment in the region, more people learned to weave. In 1985 more than 200 people learned art, transforming the agricultural region into an important handicraft centre, with a special focus on weaving. On the ground floor of the house, Maria carries out the family tradition, running her father’s little shop. She opened the door to us with a timid smile, from which the people of a new world await with curiosity. The volunteer who accompanies us embraces her and, suddenly, the dialogue opens up eternal smiles and embraces.
Teotilán del Valle
We followed our trip through Teotilán del Valle, Xaguixe in Zapotec and that means “at the foot of the mountain”. A small village with about 6000 inhabitants, founded in 1465 and thought to be the birthplace of the first Zapotecs. Many children in this region have access to school but stay for the sixth year.
We entered the house of Juana, a woman of dark colour, with hands driven of the work but of a tender look that snatched us from the first second. After a typical mole of chicken lunch, we sat around her on the porch of the house, where the rays of the sun touch us with magic.
The linen, the transformation of colours with the seeds and the art of delicately pulling matter. Wisdom, simplicity, love in every gesture. It is in these places that the journey teaches us the simplicity of life and the grandeur of small things. The ambition of these women to run a small carpet business is to give their children studies and food at the table. The drought and the isolation of the region are the greatest setbacks, but the arrival of some travellers to these areas give them more than we expect, sharing ideas and goals for the future. The experience with travellers gives them a notorious pride and more courage to continue their work.
Almost at the end of the day, we spent at Trinidad’s house to put our feet in the land, where the roots of a future grow slowly. Trinidad grows its small organic farming business with the Fundación En Vía help. She produces some vegetables, herbs, plants, and honey, which it sells later in the local market. The farm is not very large, but her dedication is visible in the small details.
Mexico is a country with a giant cultural diversity, and one of the greatest rewards as a tour leader is being able to provide travellers a genuine encounter with local people, creating roots and smiles. The little that we help in this visit to Oaxaca is a deep thank you to those women who every day strive for the well-being of their family. It’s for them that this trip makes all sense!
When travelling with The Wanderlust you have a positive impact on your destination.