independent studying...

Published: April 29th 2007
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hello from maggie's world!
(sorry cameron. yes, i did copy and paste this from the email I sent you yesterday. hope you'll forgive me)

well, here i am in a town called Comitan. yep, i abandoned San Cristobal because it just wasnt working out there and here everything just seemed to fall into place. i am doing my 1 month independent study project with an organization called Educacion para la paz (Edupaz) and in particular about their Economia Solidaria program which gives microcredit loans to small cooperatives and groups. So far i've interviewed an ecotourism cooperative, a coffee cooperative , a carpintry group, a family with a chicken farm, two women with clothing sales businesses, and a man with a wood purchase/sale business - all groups that have received EDUPAZ microcredit loans. so many interesting stories between all of those, and just thinking of all the different challenges they face, on so many different levels. it reminds me a lot of my photo project with the immigrant farmworkers - after interviewing all these people i feel so compelled and obligated to tell their story and put my whole heart into doing that. the only issue here is that i have to put in my analysis too, rather than just letting the words speak for themselves...

this analysis is particularly important after hearing mexican author and intellectual Gustavo Esteva's response to my question: "What is your opinion of microcredit?" His response is best summed up in his final sentence: "Microcredit is terrible." He says that he had a microcredit program in his own ngo and that people became addicted to the credit, at times selling their cows or chickens to pay off their debt...ending up worse off than they had started. He also explained it as another mechanism to pull the campesinos into the capitalist system.

i never thought microcredit was the solution from heaven, but imagine after hearing that response how discouraged i felt...i meant this was THE gustavo esteva, in person, telling me that what i wanted to research is terrible.

ok, but then i started to think about it, and realized that, hey, thats his opinion and his experience, lets see if it holds true, lets see what the true problematica of microcredit is. and then i found Edupaz, and they were already so critical of what they do, to the point where they
indigenous ceremonyindigenous ceremonyindigenous ceremony

this was the first day of the "appropriate technologies" workshop and we had a blessing ceremony of the site. the 13 white candles symbolize our plee of pardon to the gods. the yellow candle and yellow flowers means the pillar of the universe, nature, weather, animals. The white candle and flowers signify death, the color of bone, the white barbarian northerner who always brings pain and suffering. the red candle and flowers is where the sun rises, or life begins, and the black candle (practically melted, opposite red) signifies where the sun sets and we cross over to a new life. the blue candle in the center means water, and the green, earth.
said "we aren't even sure what we are doing is the right answer". ademas, the organization itself is so much more integral than the other orgs i was looking at before. they have a traditional health program and an agroecology program. so i came here, and now i live in the apartment above the office. i've been doing a lot of transcribing, typing up my interviews today and yesterday because I did 7 interviews this week. and I also went to this awesome community called Tziscao near the Guatemalan border, where Edupaz was teaming up with Solar Energy International and IRRI Mexico to do a workshop called "Appropriate Technologies for the Developing World" about solar panels, solar cookers, water treatment, biodigestors, etc. - very cool! i translated the first day (sooo tiring!) and then just hung around a few days more, going to the lessons, and doing my interviews in the free time.

And now I'm here in the Edupaz office, analyzing and being pensive, until I have some more interviews this week with microcredit groups in a town called Carranza. The town was one of the first to receive Edupaz loans, and is still having trouble paying those loans back (some groups are 2 or 3 years behind). So it will definetly show the challenges within the microcredit program. But before I do that, I have to go to San Cristobal tomorrow to renew my visa! woohoo. Supposedly it is a very annoying process (i think i have to make a copy of EVERY single page of my passport..yep, the blank pages too). But hopefully that all works out because I don't think i'm quite ready to come home yet 😉

all my love,

Additional photos below
Photos: 9, Displayed: 9



That bulbous-like thing is a biodigestor. That balloon is full of bio-gas, or methane gas produced by a mixture of pig poop and water in a cement tank below. The woman who lives in this house uses that gas for a stove in her kitchen, freeing her from slaving over a smokey wood stove all day and having to chop down so many trees for firewood.
olla solarolla solar
olla solar

This is a Olla Solar (or Solar Pan). The lovely Lorena is demonstrating how you don’t need electricity or gas, just the power of the sun to cook rice, beans, cake, and more!

This is Bellacili. That machine on the left is an egg incubator for 1000 eggs. Edupaz gave her a $80.000 peso loan ($8,000 dollars) to buy that incubator for her family’s chicken business. The business has been going very well, I saw a bunch of new chicks running around. But her husband was robbed yesterday. They robbed $23.000 pesos ($2,300 dollars) from him in the middle of the day, in the town plaza. Then they threw a bag in his face, saying “we don’t want your ****ing money!” just to mess with his head more (they had carefully cut pieces of newspaper into the size of bills and wrapped that in a handkerchief and put it in a bag). He was going to use that money to make some loan payments to Edupaz, and to buy materials for the chicken coop. Now they have to start from zero again.
home sweet homehome sweet home
home sweet home

back in Comitan.

29th April 2007

Maggie - our girl out in the world...
Words cannot say how proud I am of Maggie, a young woman who is fully participating in Comitana and Edupaz, her world at this particular moment. One can only wonder about the ways in which this experience will impact her future and the future of those around her. All my love, Mom
30th April 2007

Interesting thoughts
I will be interested to hear what your thoughts are when you have finished all your research. Quite an interesting start to your independent project.
30th April 2007

Environmental ingenuity
Maggie: I'm so interested in the low-tech adaptations you've described that people are using to permit more efficient and less expensive ways to use energy. Rob's thinking about studying environmental engineering - with so many people thinking and trying new things, we're bound to come out better off!
30th April 2007

Fascinating response to the ills of micro credit. It sounds like a program that fits for some cash flow applications but like all credit the amount of leverage is an exposure. Your analysis should be very interesting as a guide for the grant versus micro credit question. Stay safe and happy, love Uncle Bill
1st May 2007

Wow mag! I'm so impressed by all of your e-mails, your project sounds really interesting. I would love to read it when you are done. I'll e-mail you soon to catch up- until then lots of love and good luck with your research. xoxo.. Hannah
2nd May 2007

Mags-- it will be great to compare our projects when we come back together, and collaborate over this "NGO idea" of yours. e-mail me and tell me more of what you were thinking. i am in the midst of my own research here...Argentina has its own amazing movimiento de Economia Solidaria....te cuento más pronto.
27th October 2010

I found your blog as I was researching Tziscao. I enjoyed reading your blog and wonder what came of your independent study and what you took away from your experience. My husband, three children and I are going on a service/solidarity trip to a newly developed village close to Tziscao and we may be staying at the eco-tourism cabins at the lake. Would you recommend them for kids 11-17? If we don't stay in Tziscao, we will driving back and forth from Comitan every day. Enjoyed your photos as well! Thanks, Cindy

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