It’s the scent of warm corn that most reminds me of my time in Oaxaca, Mexico. Corn is intrinsically woven into the fabric of Mexico’s culture and daily life. And in the rural areas of Mexico, this link is even stronger. First cultivated 10,000 years ago, indigenous cultures keep a link to their past as by cultivating heirloom varieties and maintaining a diet filled with corn in every form. Although I’ve spent a fair bit of time in Mexico in the past, it’s only while volunteering in the Oaxaca Valley that I discovered just what that corn tastes like when it’s ground each day fresh, then pressed into many different tasty foods. The tortillas were most common, but I also ate it shaved from the cob, and even thick and warm in a chocolate drink called champurrado. But this is not a story of corn, although it framed so much of my time with the women I met. Instead, it’s a story of microfinance, and the impact one organization has on empowering women to build strong businesses and thriving communities.
Let’s start at the beginning. Oaxaca City is a popular tourist destination, and it is also the Mexican State with the highest concentration of the indigenous cultures. Rural poverty here is higher than some other Mexican states, and tourism is mostly concentrated on the coast and in Oaxaca City itself. In recent years, many towns began implementing ecotourism programs as a way to pull tourism deeper into the Valley—this spreads tourism income into rural cities, towns, and villages. In practice, that means even remote villages often have clean, furnished cabanas and tour guides ready to lead hikes through the dry, rolling Sierra Norte mountains. Beyond ecotourism, cultural tourism is also growing. Trends are changing. Responsible tourism is a viable, growing industry. And travelers now look for ways to both enjoy their vacation, but to also experience a region’s indigenous cultures and languages.
En Vía’s tourism model allows the organization to leverage resources from tourism and direct them sustainably into communities, while connecting people to the ideas, strength and power of women working hard to improve their future.
Through friends and readers, I found Fundación En Vía before I even arrived in Oaxaca. And as I came to understand the organization’s mission and goals, I decided to give my time to the organization’s impactful work supporting women in the Oaxaca Valley with education and…