When the river runs dry
By Sally Bolton, KF11, Mexico
Once upon a time in Oaxaca, Mexico there was a fine river which flowed below Jicaltepec. Nowadays the fish are gone and the earth is dry. Young children are wide-eyed at their parents’ stories of playing and swimming in the river as children themselves.
It seems impossibly dry in the Costa Chica, a region on the south coast of Mexico a few hours east of Acapulco. Straddling the states of Guerrero and Oaxaca, the villages of the Costa Chica are far removed from the decadence of the famous resort town.
The hills are tinderbox- dry, and at night fires dance on distant ridgelines. People confidently tell me that the rains will come in May or June, but last year it didn’t rain until October and then only for one month. The town of Pinotepa Nacional has run out of water, and there are tensions over the licenses to truck in water for those who can afford to pay for it.
As the river has dried up so has the farming sector. Fields which were once farmed now lie fallow. Pedro, the manager of the Fundacion Realidad (FRAC) office in Pinotepa, tells me that many peasant farmers have left the region in search of opportunities in El Norte (the United States). With them has gone much of the knowledge of traditional farming in the area.
In the village of Jicaltepec, high up in the hills above Pinotepa Nacional, the evidence of the exodus is clear. Large, multi-storey houses built with money sent back from the US are in stark contrast to the otherwise simple homes in the village. Even more unsettling are the half-finished houses, construction on hold since the money from El Norte has slowed to a trickle.
Remittances to Mexico have been falling for over a year as migrant workers struggle through the economic crisis. Times are tough both for families who directly rely on remittances to get by, and for communities who benefit from the economic stimulus that remittances provide.
So where does microfinance fit into the picture? Thanks to a Kiva loan the Jicaltepec Group have been able to continue with their businesses, but sales are slow as people in the village have less money to spend on food and snacks. Ofelia Sumano Marin says she is just getting by, earning enough money to keep her food businesses going and support her family. She says without the loan she would really be struggling.
She is thankful for the support of Kiva lenders, and grateful that FRAC, Kiva’s field partner, is making microloans available in Jicaltepec, a Mixtec community where most people speak an indigenous language. Despite an abundance of microfinance institutions with storefronts in nearby Pinotepa, FRAC is the only organisation which has ventured up into the hills to offer and service loans in the village.
After a 14 hour day of climbing up and down hills and in and out of countless trucks and kombis, I am exhausted. I’m also incredibly happy for ice-cold drinking water and a piping hot shower to wash away the dirt and dust. Simple pleasures or luxury items? I guess it all depends on perspective.
To support entrepreneurs in Mexico visit the Kiva website to find loans in Mexico that are currently fundraising or join a lending team such as Para Mexico, Friends of Fundacion Realidad, Friends of CrediComun and Increibles de FVP.