One Hope Ahead

By Katherine Zavala, Thousand Currents Regional Director, Latin America

I met up with Javier and Jose, staff of EduPaz, in Comitan, Chiapas to visit community groups who are participating in EduPaz’s Economic Solidarity (Microcredit) Program. I got into EduPaz’s car, a traditional Mexican red bug, (VW Beetle) and rode 90 minutes through stunning green mountains to a community called Amparo Agua Tinta.

Amparo Agua Tinta is home to 700 families, approximately 3500 people. The area offers few job opportunities and EduPaz estimates 25% of the men have migrated to other cities in Mexico, such as Cancun, and also across the border to the United States. Those who stay grow maize and beans and raise cattle. EduPaz is the only non-profit organization working in this community.

Amparo Agua Tinta has a painful history. It was a community that was part of the autonomous municipality of Tierra y Libertad (Land and Freedom), which was dismantled by the paramilitaries in 1998. Many people were injured, threatened and some were tortured.

Families are still traumatized by this experience and find it hard to trust people, including their fellow neighbors. To build trust, a key part of EduPaz’s work has been to mediate between community members to bring reconciliation back in Amparo Agua Tinta.

One way that EduPaz does this is to encourage people who want to apply for a microcredit loan from EduPaz to do so as part of a community group, rather than as an individual. Currently, EduPaz works with 3 community groups. One of them is a 8 women-member cooperative of a grocery store within the community called “One Hope Ahead” that initiated this year.

Leonol Vazquez Mirano is part of the “One Hope Ahead” group. She is 53 years old and has 3 daughters. Together they discussed the idea of starting their own family grocery store. Leonol already had been part of a community group and had worked with Edupaz. The group had sold second-hand clothes. This experience taught Leonol about responsibility, coordination and consensus building, and inspired her to take on a new group project of a grocery store. In its first 6 months, the store is going strong and the cooperative is generating 500 to 600 pesos ($38 to $46) a day. The cooperative members are also taking the opportunity to start saving their own money by each contributing 30 pesos ($2.30) each month.

The other 2 groups are formed by members who are doing individual income-generating projects but meet once a month to share experiences on how their projects are advancing. Most of them are raising livestock (pigs, sheep or chickens).

Raul Sanchez Lopez invested his microcredit in a roadside store. His store is well situated and attracts both drivers passing through the town and neighbors. He’s done so well he decided to invest a small part of his microcredit in raising egg-laying hens as an experiment. He soon hopes to sell fresh eggs at his roadside store.

It was wonderful to meet these community members and learn more about their different projects.

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