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  • Writer's pictureMelanie Vaxevanakis

Psydeh: Building Women Co-operatives

Updated: Feb 13

As part of my Churchill Fellowship, I visited organisations working to empower marginalised communities using a range of methods. One of which was Psydeh, a charity investing in rural and Indigenous women as local leaders to propel social and economic development in their communities.

I spent two days with their field team in beautiful Hidalgo learning from their programmes that empower women with rights-based training and the strengthening of personal and professional skills for the production of micro-projects, while helping them to organize themselves to lead sustainable development from the grassroots in their own communities.

It was the language of empowerment, of supporting women becoming leaders within their own community to help develop each area of work, that really excited me about this project. I was curious to understand the challenges women in rural communities faced; how and if poverty differed from the experiences of people in the UK, how strong is the sense of community in the villages and how can community spaces support those in need and support the development of an area.

Psydeh's approach reinforced the idea that we need to be working side by side with the communities in need, creating services to ensure long term impact through confidence building, skill training and community strength. 

The journey:

Starting early in the morning, with a coach from Mexico City, we made our way to the state of Hidalgo with Hannah, the sustainability co-ordinator and Diego, a visitor helping the organisations Tech for Good service. We arrived in Tulancingo and were greeted by co-founder, Jorge and a bright yellow Beetle from the 90s. With an infectious laugh and smile, he said in you get - hmmmm bearing in mind, I had my backpack I have been carrying for 5 weeks, Will who is 6ft3 and Hannah and Diego - luckily, we decided maybe best to get a Collectivo for the next 2 hour leg of the journey up to Tenango de Doria. 

Through the forest that I actually had no view of due to the clouds, we arrived at the HQ of Psydeh, a flat with 2 bedrooms and a lounge/meeting room. We met the field team, Ale... and got stuck into their Monday meeting.

First, we introduced ourselves and instead of the classic, say something interesting about yourself (yawn), asked if you were a film what would your film be called - I chose ‘Together’ because I am obsessed about bringing people together and hosting - looking back, should of chosen something bit more exciting like 'Clumsy gal loves food.'

Immediately, through this exercise I felt comfortable and like a barrier was broken. I didn’t speak great Spanish and the team, other than Hannah, didn’t speak English (rightly so) which added a layer of disconnect. However, this was made up by the warm, welcoming and easy going energy that everyone in the Psydeh team emitted. 

Quick fact: Tenango is a style of embroidery which originated in Tenango De Doria, a municipality of Hidalgo. Trust me this is important info! 

Building Women led co-operatives:

During my time with Pysdeh, I observed the beginning of the 3rd year of their 

co-operative incubation programme, Sierra Madre Network. Using a community led development model, the mission behind the network is to create an intersectional paradigm that advances social and economic opportunities in each area as well as gender equality. 

Many of the women, some of which are indigenous, face issues such as; poverty, discrimination, alcohol and drug abuse issue (this also includes their spose), domestic violence and more. With the villages also being in such remote areas, public transport is poor and often dangerous due to landslides. Sadly, many of the women may also suffer from harassment for working with Psydeh or taking part in their programmes - an issue that is due to some men and spouses disapproving of women becoming financially independent at the fear of leaving them….

The Sierra Madre Network programme adopts a form of community-based participatory research approach (CBPR). This combines the knowledge and action of researchers and community members in order to achieve social change to improve community health and reduce health disparities. It involves community residents in the full research process in order to influence change in community health, systems, programs or policies.

The programme helps build a network of 4 women led co-ops in the state of Hidalgo. Each co-op is led by women already in the community which were hired and trained by Psydeh, 6 months prior to the launch of the programme. Over the 3 year programme, women work together with the Psydeh team to:

  • Develop an agenda for sustainable development in the region. 

  • Generate income and leadership skills for members. 

  • Mobilise communities with a united economic principle 

  • Lead dynamic community impact projects 

  • Come together to share learnings at annual regional gathering. 

Working with people with lived experience is vital in creating long term impact. I have seen how helpful it has been working with a care leaver who is now a director for The MAZI Project and having a young person who used our meal kit service on our board. This approach is something I want to nurture as MAZI grows. 

With our work with MAZI, we offer an individually tailored experience to each young person, giving them choice and control in how they use our services. From the recipes they choose each week, to when they want to receive their aMAZIng Meal Box, the cooking workshops they can attend and our growing Bristol Hospitality Sector network providing employment opportunities. Using this choice led model as a basis for our way of community base 

 I hope to gain a better understanding of:

  1. How we can adopt an effective CBPR approach for The MAZI Project’s education and employment programmes? 

  2. How can we better engage with our young people? 

  3. What are the challenges and successes of Psydeh?

  4. How can we develop a collective to become food justice leaders? 

  5. What framework best measures empowerment and long term impact?

  6. The managing and logistics of numerous projects.

Below is a quick reel hinting to the amazing things we did over the two days I was with Pyseh!!

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