The Two Local Charities You’re Supporting By Taking a Oaxaca Eats Food Tour
By Amber Dunlap
Kay and Dean Michaels started Oaxaca Eats Food Tours to share with others what they love about Oaxaca — the food, history and culture — and to give back to the community that has welcomed them so warmly. A big part of Oaxaca Eats’ “give back” mission is to donate 5% of every ticket sale to two local charities close to Dean and Kay’s hearts: the Institute of Historic Oaxacan Organs and the Centro de Esperanza Infantil. In this blog post, we give you a bit of the backstory behind these two incredible organizations and why Dean and Kay decided these were the Oaxacan non-profits to support.
“There is very little in life that gives me as much joy as delivering money from the proceeds of ticket sales from our business. Frequently our guests tell us it’s the main reason they chose a Oaxaca Eats tour.” – Dean Michaels
Non-Profit #1: The Institute of Historic Oaxacan Organs
The transcendent sound of a pipe organ is one that has captivated Dean since childhood. He was the kid sneaking up to the choir loft at church just to catch a glimpse of the church organ. Today, he’s the guy in attendance at every concert or festival involving a pipe organ and a world-class musician to play it. As luck would have it, Dean and Kay’s first trip to Oaxaca was perfectly timed to overlap with the IOHIO’s biannual Organ and Early Music Organ Festival, a world-class event that attracts professional musicians and organ aficionados from around the world to play the renowned Spanish style pipe organs of Oaxaca. It was during this festival that Dean introduced himself to Cicely Winter, the co-founder and director of the Institute of Historic Oaxacan Organs (IOHIO). Two years later, when Dean and Kay moved to Oaxaca to start Oaxaca Eats, Cicely was one of the first to sign up for a Oaxaca Eats tour and they’ve been friends and sponsors of the IOHIO ever since!
The Institute of Historic Oaxacan Organs was founded in 2000 with the support of the Alfredo Harp Helu Oaxaca Foundation with the goal of studying, documenting, protecting, and promoting the restored organs (currently 11) and conserving and protecting the unrestored instruments (61) scattered all over the state. The organs are modeled on Spanish baroque instruments with the characteristic one keyboard, no pedals, and, on the larger organs, a row of horizontal trumpet pipes across the facade. Unlike historic pipe organs in many parts of the world, the Oaxaca organs are still to be found in relatively unaltered condition, due in part to the poverty and geographical isolation of the villages in which they are located. The earliest date on an organ is 1686, painted on the side of the organ’s case in the Basilica de la Soledad. Before the work of the IOHIO began, most of Oaxaca’s remaining historic pipe organs were in a state of disrepair and neglect. A majority of locals didn’t even realize or appreciate the treasure taking up space in their choir loft, let alone how to protect it for a possible future restoration. As a result, part of the IOHIO’s mission eventually came to include inspiring a newfound sense of pride in these handmade instruments, many of which were commissioned and built by the great-great-great-ancestors of Oaxacans today.
The IOHIO is an accredited non-profit organization and relies entirely on private donations to fund their work. To date, they’ve identified 72 organs across the state of Oaxaca, eleven of which have been restored to playing condition. The IOHIO was responsible for organizing the restorations of the organs in Santa Maria Tlacolula (2014) and San Matías Jalatlaco (2016) and oversees the maintenance of six others which were already restored when the project began. Cicely and her team are certain there are more organs out there to document and protect, but finding them before they disappear is certainly their biggest challenge. The IOHIO offers free organ lessons every week and their organists, many of whom are quite advanced, play the mass regularly as well as concerts periodically in various churches.
The biannual IOHIO Organ Festival continues to be a highly-anticipated event, although the next festival programmed for 2022 has been postponed until 2023 due to COVID.
To see and, if you’re lucky, hear your donation dollars at work, step inside either the Oaxaca Cathedral, La Soledad, or the Templo de San Matías in Jalatlaco in Oaxaca City or in the churches of Tlacolula or Tlacochahuaya in nearby towns, and look up to the choir loft. The pipe organs at each of these churches and more have been played and maintained by IOHIO musicians for the past 20 years.
You can learn more about this unique non-profit at https://iohio.org.mx/eng/home.htm. They even have a library of recordings from some of the festivals they’ve held over the years.
Non-Profit #2: Centro de Esperanza Infantil
The Centro de Esperanza Infantil addresses an important issue here in Oaxaca, that of providing access to education to the poorest of Oaxaca’s children and to give them the opportunity to gain the skills they’ll need to be successful and contribute to society. Few travelers to Oaxaca realize that Oaxaca is one of the poorest states in all of Mexico. While here, you will likely spot a few youngsters selling trinkets to tourists on the street. It’s a heartbreaking reality, but one that many families in Oaxaca must rely upon just to get by. For the poorest of Oaxaca’s children, attending school is but a far off dream.
Dean and Kay found out about the work of Centro de Esperanza Infantil by way of the Becari Conzatti Spanish Language School they attended when they first arrived in Oaxaca. The owner of the school, Martha Canseco Bennetts, also happened to be the Board President of Esperanza Infantil. Fast friends, Dean, Kay, and Martha quickly came to the conclusion that Esperanza Infantil was the perfect recipient to receive a donation.
Every donation contributes to the Centro de Esperanza Infantil’s ability to provide social services, school uniforms, school inscription fees, tuition, school supplies, meals, tutoring, computers, books, and some medical and dental services to the more than 700 students they’re currently supporting. These students range in age from elementary to high school and come from both the city of Oaxaca and its outlying villages. The Centro de Esperanza Infantil has also committed to supporting about a hundred or so students enrolled in technical, university and graduate school programs too.
The continuing pandemic has increased the Center’s need for donations and has expanded the level of assistance required. Typically, the Esperanza Infantil model has been to sponsor a child throughout their entire educational life. What your donation via your booked Oaxaca Eats tour does is support the general needs of the schools this charity works with.
If you’d like to do more. You can explore sponsoring a child, making an additional donation, or simply learn more about the work of Centro Esperanza de Infantil at https://oaxacastreetchildren.org/.
About the Author
Amber Dunlap is a freelance travel writer originally from the United States. Since early 2016, she’s been moving from country to country all over Latin America, but it’s Oaxaca that has ultimately captured her curiosity these days. You can follow her street-by-street Oaxaca explorations on her personal travel blog or over on Instagram at @ambergoesnative.