14 September 2007

Oaxaca? Why Not-A

Oaxaca (Pronounced Wha-Hawk-Uh), an adorable little town just a 300-hour bus ride away, proved to be prime real estate for social change. We arrived on an over-night bus and immediately crashed at our charming enclosed patio hotel. Rooms were gender-coded, which left Juan Carlos and I in the only double, complete with a “bum” shower and lights that had a mind of their own, turning on and off whenever they darn-well pleased. It proved for a spectacular mid-morning roof-top extravaganza!

This being the second time we did the “ride all night, sleep half-the-day” routine, I realized just how LONG everything feels. We woke up around noon and I felt like I had been in that hotel for a week, much less 6 hours! The entourage and I immediately hit the road to meet teams! The first was a good two hours from the city, which meant some prime thinking time riding in the back seat of a red 1978 Volkswagen Beetle listening to music while zooming through the Mexican Countryside. In short, it was perfect.

The first team we met was a collective of young girls aged 14 to 19 who had started a dress-making and bread-making company aimed at developing an income generation model that would benefit the entire community. While the idea and passion was there, support from the local government was not. Apparently, the ovens they need to bake the break and the sewing machines they need to stitch the clothes are locked in government-owned buildings and the local leaders refuse to allow them to use the equipment. Mind you, no one else is using the machines and there is no bigger agenda for them, it’s just that the idea of a group of young women making their own money is not acceptable to the leaders. Such a shame! Nonetheless, the girls are pressing on and working by hand at the moment. I did some schmoosing with them while I was there, pointing to the awesome need in the community and “how impressed I was with the progressive, forward-thinking stance of the local leadership.” The whole lot of them were wearing cowboy boots and hats. We’ll see what comes of that…

From there it was a one-two-three punch of Ventures. All located within the same town, they’re working to not only grow their own projects, but support each other’s efforts as well. The first was a hair salon, where the girls had trained themselves to once again build their own income generator while benefiting the community. They charge extremely reasonable rates ($1 for cut, $5 for color) that would have blown my sister’s mind (she just completed Cosmotology school). Still, there is a great need for materials and additional skills. I’m hoping m sister can offer some ideas and support. She’s a stud.

Second was a recycling project that has literally galvanized the entire town. In just six months, the Venture has collected FOUR TONS of recyclable plastic, cardboard and paper. This in a town of just 6,000 people! Imagine how much recyclable material we could collect in Washington, DC! While started by youth, people young and old have gotten involved, gathering at the recycling site every evening at 5pm to crush the material of the day. We joined it. It was very therapeutic!

We finished our Oaxaca tour with a young woman who started a program to preserve the indigenous culture by teaching the language (which was being lost for fear of reprisal by mainsteam Spanish speakers) on a more regular basis. She is also working to document the oral traditions and history in paper form, which has been hugely successful. What I found so interesting is how four generations have come together to encourage and support her work. Great Grandma, Grandma, Mother and Daughter are working hand-in-hand to preserve an entire culture. Just amazing!

Tomorrow looks to be fairly free, so pics from that adventure to follow. WHAT-A-DAY!

Kyle Taylor

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