Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Investours- Microfinance Program

On Friday I went on a very special tour sponsored by the school. They have started a microfinance effort called Investours, working in the village of Teotilan del Valle, long famous for weaving, especially of wool rugs, colored with natural dyes. The program provides micro loans of 1200 pesos, about $100 USD to women who are trying to establish a new businesses or expand existing ones. Tour groups are taken to the village to meet with the woman and hear their business plans. Each group of applicants includes three woman who apply as a unit, not in the same business but more as a support system for one another to encourage repayment of the loans, and success in their efforts.

Each participant on the tour contributes $50 and at the end of the day, the tour group must decide which group of three women will receive the loans. It was a wonderful opportunity to see how people are living out in the pueblo, which is still extremely simple and traditional, limited water, scruffy dirt yards, filled with chickens and the acrid smells of animals close by. Piles of corn and squash were drying in the sun, fences made of rusty wire bed springs, everything being utilized to its fullest.

Our first group included two women who had market stalls selling fruits and vegetables and who wanted the loans to buy more produce to fill their stands, offering greater variety and improving the look of their tables.

The third woman in this group was working with her son who was extremely enthusiastic about sustainable agriculture and permaculture. He was in the process of transforming their rocky courtyard into an inter-connected system of plants, animals and aquaculture. Their proposal was to sell organic honey, coffee, and amaranth.

Our second group included a mother who was making tortillas in this tiny tin shack.

She wanted to buy a second comal and more fire wood in order to double her production. I fell in love with her instantly for her beaming smile.

Her daughter is a weaver and selling to the US, she needs money to buy more wool to fill her existing orders.

The third woman in the group is also a weaver and also needs to buy more yarn. She was very thrifty, using the scraps she cut from the arm holes of vests to sew small purses, wasting nothing.

Our tour group decided to award the loans to the second group of three as they seemed a bit more ready and in need of supplies to expand already growing businesses. It was really enlightening and felt great to see where our money was going, without much overhead. We were able to ask questions and see how much hard work goes into the textiles which are sold quite cheaply (about 400 pesos for a 2x3 foot rug) considering the amount they must pay for materials (about 200 pesos) and the time it takes to weave each one (6 hours).  These ladies are industrious and working hard to improve their lives, their marketing and their merchandise.  If you visit Oaxaca you should take advantage of this unique experience.

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