Mother and daughter, whom we met on the En Via
tour - this lovely embroidery came home with me as
a gift for my neighbors.
- Responsible Tourism
The main problem for Oaxaca's famous craftswomen (and men) is a lack of diversification and access to larger markets. They concentrate their labors in producing what they learn and know how to do well - embroidery, weaving, tin work, pottery, and painting
- all very beautiful. But they drive down prices by flooding local markets, heavily dependent on fickle tourism. And they tend to differentiate their offerings only in small, subtle ways.
En Via has developed a terrific tour, which amazingly and cleverly, is #1 on TripAdvisor's list of Oaxaca activities. Volunteer led, with both an English speaking guide and translator, it was fascinating. A trip like this is self-selecting, so naturally the people were simpatico and appreciative of all things Oaxacan and asked a million questions. Their first loans are interest-free, but as they move up the chain and borrow larger amounts, they do charge interest.
We visited about a half dozen clients and asked each what they were doing with their loans. Many of the artisans are using their loans to directly purchase materials for their craft work in larger, more economical quantities. Typically a reseller provides the materials and then buys their products, leaving them no negotiating leverage. Partly a loan helps women think out of the box, more proactively. One woman, though not one we met, is making laptop cases for a San Francisco store out of her beautiful weavings, and has hired other women to help fill orders. This makes great sense - how many rugs and tote bags can tourists buy? I want a sleeve for my laptop - hoping they can find an artisan to make one!
|Soot-covered bulb in the|
tortilla baking kitchen
En Via runs English classes (for which they recruit volunteers) in several of the villages where they work. Their client students realize it will be helpful to communicate with customers directly, and English is important for that. They recruit volunteers for this, so consider Oaxaca is you are looking for an immersion experience.
More good news. The mother pictured has two children, both in school. Mexican family size has dropped very quickly, and many more children are in school.
And the best news of all: by educating tourists and taking them on a great outing, En Via has built up a great support network, plus the net of each tour group's fees is rolled into new loans.