Willing to Learn With Us

Vicki Díaz is a microfinance recipient in Chiapas, Mexico. She works with her sister, sister-in-law, mother, and daughter in San Cristóbal de las Casas and the surrounding region. The women call themselves the “Grupo Díaz,” and they work together to make and sell tortillas and other corn products, like tamales and atol (a popular local cornflower drink). They originally began to work together on a project to install low-smoke cook stoves in their homes. As a group, the Díaz women were able to raise funds to install new stoves in each of their homes.

The group took off from there. The Veredas microloan project began lending to Vicki and her partners in 2010, as they finished a three-year course in personal development and business. To date, Vicki and her partners have received two loans from Veredas at 2-3% interest, both of which they used for basic materials for their corn products and paid off within three months. “We had already started making tortillas, but the loan helped us expand our business,” Vicki said. Now, the women are looking for larger loans to allow them to expand their business more quickly: “We would like to see bigger loans, so that we can build a new kitchen and tortilla-making area. For instance, right now I have to work outside because there is not enough room in my kitchen to make the tortillas.”

Vicki and her partners also work with a few other women in a cooperative called Siempre Viva, which formed around the same time as the tortilla-making enterprise. Siempre Viva specializes in making herbal soaps and shampoos, and has also received loans through Veredas.

Vicki and her partners have learned a lot through their work. Vicki says, “I’ve learned lots of new recipes that our clients give us, and through Siempre Viva, we learned about natural remedies that we can make to sell and use for our families.” According to the women, they now grow their own beans, corn, fruit, and vegetables; have improved nutrition; and spend less money visiting the doctor than they did before.

For the Díaz women, the opportunity to work together as a family in their own business has been a blessing. All the women have their own consistent costumers for the corn products they sell, but when any of them receive a large order or have to prepare products for a citywide event, they join together to help out. Living close to each other, they explain, they can easily meet to talk through problems or conflicts. Vicki suggests that it would be helpful for other microfinance recipients to work in groups: “Clients should form a group; all members should be responsible and punctual and do what they say they are going to do. This way, microfinance can benefit the whole group.”

Vicki also has some advice for microfinance practitioners: “We would ask people involved in microfinance that there continue to be confidence in us, in our ability to do our work, to expand our business, and to be responsible. We will continue working.” She also believes that the loan officer is an important part of the microfinance experience: “A loan officer should be responsible, friendly, and understand us as human beings. Knowing about business is good, but mostly, she must be willing to learn as we go along, as part of the process.” For the most part, Vicki and her partners have had good experiences with their loan officer. She says, “We always laugh when we have our meetings with her [our loan officer]; the meetings are always friendly and relaxed, and we laugh about lots of things as we are getting our work done.”

Vicki not only collaborates on a successful corn products business; she is active in her community and she can often be found raising awareness around important issues with corn hybrids and or conducting trainings for other groups of women. With her partners, she also works at a small restaurant run by another cooperative. It’s easy to find Vicki and the rest of the Grupo Díaz at any community event in San Cristóbal, selling their renowned tamales and chatting with the crowd.

by Anita Smart & Roisin Duffy-Gideon, Veredas/Natik

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