Mary’s Pence at Intentional Eucharistic Communities Gathering

Margins were front and center at the fourth national conference of Intentional Eucharistic Communities: Living the Gospel, Collective Voices, which took place near the Mary’s Pence office in St. Paul, MN this past weekend.

Diann Neu at Intentional Eucharistic Communities gathering in St. Paul, MN

Diann Neu at Intentional Eucharistic Communities gathering in St. Paul, MN

Intentional Eucharistic Communities are small communities, rooted in the Catholic tradition, that gather to celebrate Eucharist on a regular basis. While some communities exist within parishes, others were created completely independently from the church structure. Each community has a slightly different model based on what feeds the people who are gathered together. These models include a variety of leaders including women-priests and lay people, as well as alternative liturgies, dialogue homilies in which many voices respond to the lessons and gospel texts, and lots of singing. Despite the diversity of models, each community shares a spirit of inclusivity, love, and justice, and a desire to share the holy meal with each other as a reminder of who and how they want to be for the world.
No wonder we met so many Mary’s Pence supporters there!

Jamie Manson speaking at the Intentional Eucharistic Communities gathering in St. Paul, MN

Jamie Manson speaking at the Intentional Eucharistic Communities gathering in St. Paul, MN

The Friday night Keynote speaker was Jamie Manson, author of Grace on the Margins, a column that appears in National Catholic Reporter. She spoke of her own painful experiences living on the margins of the Catholic Church and of society. But there was hope in her statement that that “God experiences full solidarity, in the radical sense, with those on the margins.” As I think of all of the women Mary’s Pence works with, who truly live on the margins of their societies I am buoyed to know that God is with them, that God isn’t high up or away but instead in the midst of us.
Going further, Manson exclaimed that “God’s people are hungry now and their voices are God’s voice crying out from the margins.” It is so powerful to think of the women who participate in ESPERA and who work for justice through the Mary’s Pence Grants programs and know that their voices and God’s voice are the same. When we work to amplify women’s voices in their communities, we work to amplify God’s voice, speaking out for justice.
The other speakers at the event were Roger Haight, S.J. and Miriam Therese Winter as well as a number of breakout speakers including Diann Neu, a former Mary’s Pence Board member. We also enjoyed fabulous music by Sarah Thomsen throughout the weekend.
To all of the wonderful supporters of Mary’s Pence, both new and old, that we met at the Intentional Eucharistic Communities gathering, we are so happy to have had this chance to speak with you and to be in community with you.

2015 IEC Gathering – Sarah Thomsen

Posted in News and Events | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Where Have All the Children Gone?

Reuters.LatinoPost.Aug32014 Border Guatemala and Honduras

Border Guatemala and Honduras. Reuters. Latino Post. Aug 3, 2014

Sr. Pat Rogucki, Mary’s Pence Board member, has been traveling in Central America for the past 26 years. She has an intimate knowledge of the people and culture there. In this post, she reflects on the tactics used in Mexico and the U.S. to deal with people who immigrate, not seeking better lives, but simply to live.

Last year at this time, there was a surge of unaccompanied youngsters coming across our southern border from what has been termed the Northern Triangle, referring to El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras. These countries were and are known for their growing gang violence. Honduras has been the murder capital of the world for several years now. San Pedro Sula in the north, holds that same title as a city.

An editorial writer for El Salvador’s daily, La Prensa Grafica, (June 29, 2014) describes that journey as one fraught with dangers, and the destination as one full of rejection, and the life of an immigrant without papers as one full of sorrow to the highest degree. Why embark on such a journey the writer queries? Because there is the possibility of survival. The alternative is to face certain death at the hands of the gangs in their country. Once across the border, they could tell an immigration official that they have a credible fear of death if they return home. There was hope for asylum and most of all, reunification with a parent who was already living in the U.S.

The Baltimore Sun paper recently reported that there is no longer a surge of minors crossing into the U.S. So, where are they? On a recent trip to El Salvador, my friend and I discovered that these children and adults are still heading north for the same reasons. However, due to an agreement between the U.S. and Mexico in which the U.S. promises $86 million in funding to upgrade Mexican checkpoints, roadblocks, and naval bases, there is a concerted effort for Mexican officials to arrest immigrants for deportation back to their home countries.

Orlando Sierra. AFP. Getty Images -Honduras Washington Post July 2

Orlando Sierra. AFP. Getty Images. Honduras Washington Post . July 2

There is such a receiving center for Salvadorans on the outskirts of the parish where we work in San Salvador, the capital of El Salvador. We saw the blue and white Pullman Chiapas buses that had arrived from Mexico that morning, three a day, filled with children and adults. Several Honduran women later told me that sometimes they get 5 a day. In fact they are now planning to build another receiving center because the space they have, although seemingly adequate, is not large enough.

A young man outside the huge black metal gates of the receiving center told of his experience. He left to find work in the U.S. He was not going to lie around on our streets or rob anyone. He just wanted to work so he could help his family. He said they were treated well in terms of being fed, allowed to shower, and given a ride back in the bus. Once they arrived, they all went inside the center to be processed, finger printed, etc. Adults are released to find their way back to their respective villages. The children, many of whom were on their way to be reunited with a parent, must wait for the bonafide in-country caregiver, an aunt or grandparent, to come for them.

What happened to the migrant’s right for survival, to seek safety? What is the cost to U.S. tax payers for this agreement with Mexico? What fate befalls the youngsters and adults once they return to the violence?

Sister Patricia A. Rogucki, SFCC

El Salvador / Honduras border, El Poy, El Salvador, 1988 Salvadoran families make their way  to the the village of Guarjila in a caravan of buses, after leaving the Mesa Grand refugee camp in Honduras. Copyright © Donna De Cesare,1988

El Salvador / Honduras border, El Poy, El Salvador, 1988
Salvadoran families make their way to the the village of Guarjila in a caravan of buses, after leaving the Mesa Grand refugee camp in Honduras.
Copyright © Donna De Cesare,1988

For more information on the U.S. agreement to help Mexico boost deportation read Mexico Deports Record Numbers of Women and Children in US-driven Effort: “Adam Isacson, a security expert at the Washington Office on Latin America, told the Guardian: ‘Migration is not a political issue in Mexico. They would not have grabbed on to it without increasingly loud complaints and prodding from the US to do something about it. Frontera Sur is only about catching migrants, and sending them back before they make it to the US.’”

http://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/feb/04/mexico-deports-record-numbers-women-children-central-america

 

Posted in ESPERA Fund and Their Voices, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Meet Mary’s Pence: Paige

Good morning donors, grantees, and other Mary’s Pence supporters! I would like to take this opportunity to introduce myself. My name is Paige King and I am excited to announce that I have recently assumed my new role as the Social Media and Communications Intern for Mary’s Pence this summer! Here’s a little bit about myself:

Blog Pic 1I am currently a senior at Bethel University pursuing a major in Business with a double emphases in Marketing and International Business and a minor in Psychology. As an International Business student, I have been blessed with an outlet to study two foreign languages of my choice: Spanish and Arabic. Upon completing my undergraduate degree in the fall of 2015, I plan to attend graduate school for an MA in International Marketing. My ultimate goal is to have a global career encompassing brand building and enculturation studies with a focus on emerging markets in Latin America, Africa, and the Middle East.

Throughout life, I have always had a passion for people and hearing their stories. It was through a semester abroad in the Middle East where I truly discovered myself and my purpose. Having the opportunity to immerse myself in another culture for an extended period of time was enriching and humbling at the same time. Because of that experience, I now make it a priority to continually make a genuine effort to look at life through a lens other than my own. Since making that decision, I have found that I feel the most empowered when I know that I am empowering others. Zig Ziglar once said, “You can have everything you want if you will just help enough other people get what they want.” As I carry out my aspirations not only as a business professional, but as a woman in the world of business, this is the attitude I want to have moving forward. There is no decision I want to make in furthering my own goals if it is not in accompaniment with putting someone else on the path they desire for themselves.

It is for these reasons that I was drawn to Mary’s Pence and their vision. I am thrilled to work for an organization with such a conviction for empowering women in their own communities. Even if the role I am able to play on the behalf of Mary’s Pence is a small one, I am enthusiastic about that role because I know I am behind an organization with a cause which is making people’s lives and communities better everyday.

“My mission in life in not merely to survive, but to thrive; and to do so with some passion, some compassion, some humor, and some style.” – Maya Angelou

Blog Pic 2

 

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Humanizing Mothers & Daughters of Incarceration

This post was written by Michelle Dahlenburg, the Artistic Director of Conspire Theatre. Conspire Theatre is a Mary’s Pence Grant recipient that gives women dealing with incarceration a healing and empowering experience though theatre and creative writing. They lead weekly theatre workshops for women incarcerated at the Travis County Correctional Complex in Del Valle, Texas.

“The night before I go to prison, my children ask, ‘Mommy, when will you come home?’ The only way I can explain it is, ‘Tonight it’s going to get dark outside, and you are going to go to sleep. And when you wake up, the Sun will be out. And this will happen a lot of times, and then, I’ll be home.’” –Lauren Johnson, performer, Mothers & Daughters

Photo by Daniel Cavazos.

Photo by Daniel Cavazos.

As of 2010, there were over 113,000 women incarcerated in United States state and federal facilities. Approximately 7 in 10 women under correctional sanction had children under the age of 18. (Bureau of Justice Statistics: http://www.ojp.usdoj.gov/bjs/)

Pregnant women who are incarcerated often face stigma from officers, lack of prenatal healthcare, forced inductions, shackling, making decisions about adoption or foster care, and being quickly separated from their babies after birth. Incarcerated mothers cope with separation from their children and challenges with reuniting their families after release. After incarceration, “a formerly incarcerated woman may be treated poorly by others, denied access to housing or employment because of her criminal history, or internalize feelings of worthlessness because of the lowered expectations of those around her.” (Juliana Van Olphen, http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2685368/ )

During incarceration and after, all women need safe, supportive spaces to heal from trauma, and connect positively with communities to support one another. Scholars Alison Pedlar and Susan Arai recommend “fostering greater openness within the community, to encourage coverage of positive activities, to help balance the presentation of images and stories that deepen public fear and stigmatization of the women.” (http://www.researchgate.net/publication/262910851_UNCERTAIN_FUTURES_WOMEN_LEAVING_PRISON_AND_RE-ENTERING_COMMUNITY)

Photo by Daniel Cavazos.

Photo by Daniel Cavazos.

Conspire Theatre offers incarcerated and formerly incarcerated women a healing and empowering experience through theatre and creative writing. Since 2009, Conspire has led weekly theatre workshops for women incarcerated at the Travis County Correctional Complex in Del Valle, Texas. In 2013, Conspire launched Performing Possibilities, a new ensemble theatre program for formerly incarcerated women. Women create and perform powerful theatre pieces about their childhood, experiences in prison, and hopes for the future. Performing Possibilities uses performance to reduce internal and external stigma associated with incarceration within the communities of Austin, Texas.
In May 2015, Conspire led a development workshop and performance of a new theatre piece about motherhood and incarceration. Mothers & Daughters tells the stories of four formerly incarcerated women, exploring questions such as “What is a good mother?” “What is a good daughter?” “What’s it like to give birth while incarcerated?” “How does incarceration affect families back home?” The piece asks audience members to consider the social justice issues involved in women’s incarceration, and how they can support these women and their families.
Performing Possibilities uses storytelling to connect formerly incarcerated women to the Austin community and humanize the statistics. We challenge stereotypes about who goes to prison and why. Conspire performer Marianna Marchesini is a single mother of two sons. She says, “Like most of us who have found ourselves in jail or prison, I’ve lost a great deal of self-confidence. Conspire creates a safe space that helps me open up and tell my story in a healing way. By performing with women with similar stories, I release some of the shame. When we share our stories with audiences, it humanizes us. We’re not just numbers, we’re women with faces and names.”

Photo by Daniel Cavazos.

Photo by Daniel Cavazos.

Lauren Johnson, Conspire performer and board member, and mother of three, uses the storytelling skills she developed with Conspire in her advocacy work for people affected by the criminal justice system. Her current focus is passing a bill that will help drug felons in Texas get a second chance at qualifying for SNAP benefits. In a recent profile in the Texas Observer (http://www.texasobserver.org/direct-quote-an-inside-view/), Lauren tells a story about visiting the office of a state legislator and realizing that telling her story could make a difference. She tells the staff member, “I have a criminal history and my husband does too, and this is what we went through. And it dawns on me that the people who really need this help are too busy trying to survive to be thinking about coming up here to talk to you. They’re trying to make it from one day to the next, and changing the law is something that they aren’t thinking about. So I don’t need food stamps. But I’m here to fight for the people who do.” She says, “Conspire gives us the opportunity to change people’s perceptions and to have that dialogue, to have that human connection.”

During 2013-2014, the ensemble brought eight performances and three panel discussions to over 500 audience members in the Austin area. This year, with the support of Mary’s Pence, we will continue developing Mothers & Daughters, and bring the piece to even more audiences. We hope to engage our community in a larger conversation about the issues affecting women and families in Central Texas and beyond.

Photo by Daniel Cavazos.

Photo by Daniel Cavazos.

Click the link below for a photo/audio excerpt from our new piece, Mothers & Daughters.
https://vimeo.com/129517034

-Michelle Dahlenburg

Posted in Grantees, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Why Teach Yoga to Prisoners?

Kathleen Bond, a Maryknoll Lay Missioner, originally received a Mary’s Pence Grant for her work in Paraiba, Brazil where she trained black women leaders in the areas of health, sexuality, human rights, and spirituality. Now, she does ministry in three different prisons in Sao Paulo, Brazil. As part of this ministry in one prison she runs a yoga program for women who are eager to strengthen their mental, spiritual, and physical health in preparation for healthy re-entry into society. Here Kathleen explains how yoga helps them accomplish these goals.

View from Santana Prison

São Paulo’s Santana Prison is the largest female penitentiary in Latin America with over 2,500 inmates. This is where Rosa Nascimento landed last November after being swept up in a sting operation for credit card fraud. The adjustment was tough. Rosa had gone from spending most of her days entirely outside, working as a street cleaner, to sitting in a cell for endless hours. She found herself becoming increasingly depressed until finally one day she didn’t even want to get out of bed.

Rosa’s cellmate suggested volunteering in the garden project, and slowly her spirits began to lift. On one of the transits from her cell to the garden through the sprawling prison complex, Rosa saw a sign for my yoga class. Now she is a veteran in the classes that I have shared with 10 women over the last 3 years. “Yoga has been good for me. I feel at peace going back to my cell,” she shared recently during an open space moment at the end of the weekly, 90-minute practice on a foggy morning. “Yoga changed my life in this place as it brought happiness to me.”

I am often asked “why yoga for prisoners?” Initially, my response focused on the prison school director’s request for yoga classes to help with concentration and self-discipline. Many of the women at Santana Prison have short attention spans and difficulties focusing on their studies. As a missioner and member of the Catholic Church’s Prison Pastoral, I have tried to give special consideration to requests from Brazilians, especially because so often I am asking them to be open to something I have to offer. I also felt it might be easier to do a project in the prison that some of the administrators and correction officers actually wanted.

After going through the red tape to get the project approved, the education staff boosted recruitment efforts by allowing me to give talks in their classrooms and place posters in the cell blocks. I also coordinated efforts with the prison health services to refer prisoners with emotional and anxiety issues to the yoga group and asked my Prison Pastoral colleagues to invite women they regularly visit to the class. But the best recruiting tool has often been the class participants who frequently bring me names and prison ID numbers, written on tiny pieces of paper, of cellmates they believe could benefit from a yoga practice.Edina Kathy Bond Santana prison 2013

Despite the support of the prison staff and inmates there are still set-backs. Some days I can’t get in because of security measures such as blitzes to search for cell phones, drugs, and weapons. Other days, reforms in the school or lack of organization in preparing the transits for the women to come to the class get in the way. Even when I am able to lead a class, we lack an appropriate place. The women sweep, mop, and spread out sprawls of butcher block paper on the floor before we gingerly lay down our pink and blue yoga mats which we purchased with funds from Maryknoll donors.

Throughout these frustrations, I keep at it. The reason why is my new, expanded response to “Why yoga for women in prison?”

Mental health tends to deteriorate rapidly in penitentiaries with many sufferers of anxiety and depression housed in close quarters. Yoga, especially breathing exercises, can offer powerful stress management tools in chaotic environments. A vigorous Yoga sequence requires no equipment and little space, which is particularly convenient in the small cells. I often tell the participants that they are cheating themselves if they only practice with me. I share many pose adaptations, which allows wider participation as the women are at varying levels. A basic rule is that if it hurts, stop. We work intensely on self-awareness, knowing our bodies and recognizing and respecting limits, which lays a foundation for positive change from the inside out. Classes focus on grounding poses such as the warrior series to promote centeredness.

There is often a gender component to female incarceration. Many of the women who have shared their stories with me are imprisoned in part because of relationships with men involved in crime. Trauma is the thread that weaves through most of these stories. Many have been abused as both children and adults. Some have become abusers themselves. Mike Huggins, founder of the Transformation Yoga Project stated in a recent article in the Huffington Post, “Most prisoners suffer from some form of complex trauma. Trauma may result from a lifetime of events including abandonment, domestic violence, sexual, drug and alcohol abuse. The effects are magnified when there are also other acute traumatic events, such as watching or participating in violent acts. Being in prison is itself a traumatic event! Unresolved trauma becomes the root cause of anger. What we resist persists. By opening a pathway for developing a mind/body connection, self-acceptance DSC09663and self-worth, mindfulness becomes an essential tool for developing awareness of our feelings and emotions. This is why mindfulness can provide courage for an inmate to stay out of a fight, to resist the urge to retaliate and to go inward.”

When I ask participants in my sessions how they feel after practicing yoga, the most common response is “at peace, with myself, with this place.” Yoga is beneficial for the difficulties of being in prison, but is just as critical for the mental preparation, self-regulation, impulse control, and stress management necessary for successful re-entry into society. Mind-Body work is a pathway to an attitude of surrender to the moment while maintaining hope and optimism for the future.

Kathleen Bond, April 20, 2015

Posted in Grantees, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Community-based Solution to Trafficking

In Seattle between May 17-20, Mary’s Pence sponsored events that aimed to start conversations about and find community-based solutions to the global problem of Human Trafficking. Elise DeGooyer, a former Mary’s Pence board member, writes about the power of these events.

 

Our May events in Seattle and Tacoma, WA, succeeded in bringing community leaders together to explore our global problem of human trafficking. Four events in different venues highlighted the perspectives of our esteemed guests from the Philippines, Sr. Mary John Mananzan and Dr. Imelda Villar, and Dr. Valli Kalei Kanuha from Hawaii.
Mary’s Pence supporters, including former grantees, companeras, and donors, were present at each of the four events. Mary’s Pence was a key sponsor of the events along with 21 other community groups. More than 220 people attended the community forums, academic lectures, and group conversations. We are grateful to all our partners in this work to end human trafficking in our own backyards and across borders through policy advocacy, implementation and compassionate responses.

At University of Washington Women’s Center event (from left): Dr. Imelda Villar, Sr. Mary John Mananzan, former Mary’s Pence board member Elise DeGooyer, Sister of Providence Charlene Hudon, Mary’s Pence Companera Kay Van Stralen, and former WA State Representative Velma Veloria.

At University of Washington Women’s Center event (from left): Dr. Imelda Villar, Sr. Mary John Mananzan, former Mary’s Pence board member Elise DeGooyer, Sister of Providence Charlene Hudon, Mary’s Pence Companera Kay Van Stralen, and former WA State Representative Velma Veloria.

Dr. Kanuha presented the history of colonization and cultural trauma as creating fertile ground for trafficking and abuse; in her work against domestic violence in Hawaii she brings the whole community together for restoration for both victim and perpetrator. Sr. Mary John described the Philippine context of human trafficking and especially how patriarchy has created fertile ground for both sex and labor trafficking of women and children, illustrating with stories from her work at the Women’s Crisis Center in Manila. Dr. Villar, Executive Director of the Women’s Crisis Center and neuro-linguist, spoke of the long process of healing for victims of abuse and human trafficking.
Respondents and attendees brought their perspectives from their own contexts. Small group discussions at both the Filipino Community Center in Seattle and Catherine Place in Tacoma began to address next steps for communities to take, including ways to support the victims and hold traffickers accountable, proposing and implementing public policies, and changing the religious and cultural norms that contribute to the problem.

Gathering at Tacoma Dominican Center 5-20-15

Gathering at Tacoma Dominican Center 5-20-15

Our conversation circle in Tacoma perhaps best reflected the Mary’s Pence style of gathering–hosted jointly by Catherine Place, a former Mary’s Pence grantee, and the Tacoma Dominican Sisters and Associates who are deeply involved in the issues of human trafficking. Sr. Mary John, Imelda and Elise arrived after witnessing and calling police to help a woman poised to jump off a roof nearby. We entered the evening keenly aware of the fragility of life and the unmet mental health needs in our communities. We gathered in a circle of prayer and lively conversation, and ended with Sr. Mary John leading us in the healing movements of Shibashi, (which some like to call eco-feminist qigong.)
Bringing smart women and supportive men with grassroots experience together for community-based solutions—this was our goal and our achievement. This is the deepening of relationships and building women’s strengths that Mary’s Pence has been promoting for 27 years, through our Mary’s Pence Grants in the U.S. and Canada, and through ESPERA in Mexico, Central America, and Haiti. Now we will know each other as allies in our work to address our global problem of human trafficking.

-Elise DeGooyer

 

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Meet Mary’s Pence: Nadine

We are excited to start a new series of blog posts in which we will be introducing you to the Staff and board of Mary’s Pence. These are people who are integral to the work that Mary’s Pence does. We hope these blogs will give insight into to dedicated, passionate, highly skilled, and mulch-faceted individuals that make up the Mary’s Pence community!

Meet Nadine!

Nadine, Mary's Pence's fabulous bookkeeper!

Nadine, Mary’s Pence’s fabulous bookkeeper!

Nadine Sehnert, Mary’s Pence’s Bookkeeper, is an altruistic woman who enjoys working in non-profit organizations because “the people you serve are the main focus.”

Nadine is an artist who studied theater at the University of Minnesota. For 13 years she worked for General Mills in Finance and Information Systems. She went on to pursue her passion for serving people and love of the arts as the Program Director and then Executive Director at Young Audiences of Minnesota, a non-profit that brings different artists into schools for art education. “Young Audiences, was a wonderful organization. I really enjoyed working with artists and kids” she stated eagerly. Nadine ultimately left to explore other non–profit work, going on to work for other organizations like Community Celebration of Place, an organization that collaborates with communities to use music, performance, art and oral history to unite elders and children.

Throughout her life, Nadine never believed she was limited because she was a woman, and it was with this attitude that she came to Mary’s Pence in 2011. She was especially attracted by our organization’s roots in Catholic Social Teaching and feminism – a combination you don’t see very often! She brings lots of energy, creativity, and passion to the Mary’s Pence team.

Outside of her work life, Nadine loves to travel. She has been to India, Europe and Australia, and even lived in Amsterdam for about six months. “It’s amazing to learn about other people and their cultures,” she said, showing her enthusiasm for learning about other cultures and communities. She continues this passion for learning about others by being a Couchsurfing host.

Nadine is also deeply involved in her community in Minneapolis, Minnesota. She is currently a member and the chair of the Programs committee for The Women’s Club of Minneapolis, a frequent volunteer at her local parish, St. Albert the Great, and is also a career mentor for Project Diva, an organization that mentors young girls in North Minneapolis. On top of that, she and her husband manage the Twin Cities Board Games Meetup group which advocates for building community through playing board games. Nadine is also currently fulfilling her love of art by writing two books loosely based on her life experiences.

We feel deeply grateful and honored to be in community with Nadine through Mary’s Pence!

Posted in Our Founding Story and Founders, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

What One Bequest Can Do!

A heartfelt—if posthumous—thank you to Johanna Vanden Berg! Because of her bequest to Mary’s Pence earlier this year, we were able to move forward with a long-held dream: to help the women involved in our ESPERA loan pools improve the financial and marketing skills necessary to ensure the success of their small businesses.

ESPERA Facilitator, Gilda, addresses a group of women from ASMUR, ESPERA Network

ESPERA Facilitator, Gilda, addresses a group of women from ASMUR, ESPERA Network

Our ESPERA lending pools have enabled hundreds of women in Central America and Mexico to start small businesses, many for the first time and, therefore, to increase their family income. For some this means a more nutritious family diet; for others, the ability of children to attend school.

But the loan money is only the first step. Few of these women have any business experience; some are illiterate; most are unfamiliar with budgeting or a business plan. Our dream as a Mary’s Pence board has been to provide the critical next step: education and technical support for sustaining and growing their businesses.

Our board voted unanimously to use Johanna’s entire bequest to jumpstart this effort by paying the salary, travel and other costs associated with a new ESPERA Business Facilitator position for the first year.

We are confident that we will be able to sustain this effort over time through increased grants from ESPERA partners and increased support from Mary’s Pence supporters who believe the ESPERA initiative is a life-changing opportunity for the over 900 women involved to date. I know I believe this!

And Johanna must have believed it, too! Unfortunately Mary’s Pence knew very little about Johanna until her bequest arrived and we saw the obituary published by a Flushing, Mich., funeral home. Of Johanna and her previously deceased husband the obit said:

Johanna and her husband, Bob

Johanna and her husband, Bob

Jo and Bob lived a frugal life, faithful to God, church, and their family, but not everyone knew of their great compassion for the poor and downtrodden. Only at the time of Jo’s death did others learn that she and Bob had been quietly supporting nearly 40 charities. They truly lived what they believed.

We are so grateful—and humbled—to be one of those organizations.

I hope that others will consider remembering Mary’s Pence in their

will or estate plan once they realize what a bequest like Johanna’s can mean to Mary’s Pence and the women we serve. For more information about making a legacy gift, contact Mary’s Pence by phone (651-788-9869) or email (inbox@maryspence.org).

—Karen  Hurley, member of the Mary’s Pence Board

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Carmen’s Goodbye

For the past few months Carmen has been working as the Communications and Development Intern at Mary’s Pence. Next week she will graduate from St. Catherine’s University with degrees in International Relations and French. Carmen’s passion and energy have been wonderful additions to the Mary’s Pence community. We are sad to see her go, but excited for her future!

 

My journey at Mary’s Pence is coming to an end and I am saddened that I have to part ways with this empowering organization. When I was hired in February as the Communication and Development intern, I was beyond ecstatic. I was filled with joy because Mary’s Pence had made a choice to invest in me so I could learn and acquire skills that I can utilize in the field of international relations, which is my major at St. Kate’s.

Prior to accepting my intern position at Mary’s Pence, I was applying for many internships because I wanted to be in an environment where I was being challenged to think critically, especially about women in developing nations.

Carmen poses in a necklace made for her jewelry and handbag collection, Cartik.

Carmen poses in a necklace made for her jewelry and handbag collection, Cartik.

Being part of the Mary’s Pence team has been the highlight of my senior year at St. Catherine’s University. Throughout my time at Mary’s pence, I’ve learned skills such as how to write a grant, how the structures of a non profit institution like Mary’s Pence function to change the lives of women across the Americas, and last but not least the strength and resiliency women from all different walks of life have. This I learned through Katherine Wojtan, the Executive Director of Mary’s Pence. I had a chance to sit down with Katherine when she came back from the ESPERA assembly in Suchitoto, El Salvador. She shared some highlights with me about the women in the ESPERA program and I was in awe about how strong these women were during times of trial and tribulation. Some of the stories she shared with me symbolized bravery and they were a reminder of my own mantra that the struggles in life are only temporary, and nothing is ever permanent.

In two weeks I will be graduating from St. Catherine’s University with a Bachelor of Art in International Relations and French.  My college education has been a journey that has made me the woman I am today. I’ve become bolder, more confident, and I’ve acquired critical thinking skills that I’ve been able to apply here at Mary’s Pence.

After graduation, I plan on growing my business, Cartik, that I mentioned in my previous blog. Cartik is a brand that I started a year ago selling purses made from African Prints. My goal is to turn Cartik into a source of economic development for women and Artisans in my country Togo, Ghana, and other parts of the African continent.  I’ve seen the Mary’s Pence model for the ESPERA Program and I plan on utilizing some aspects of it in my business.

Models posing with Cartik items at a fashion show.

Models posing with Cartik items at a fashion show.

One thing I’ve learned about Mary’s Pence that I didn’t realize before was that Mary’s Pence supports other organization through their grant program. Prior to applying for my position, I had no idea about this. I was under the impression that Mary’s Pence’s main focus was the ESPERA program.  I think it is amazing that an organization led by women is able to positively impact the lives of so many women not only in our country but also around the globe.

I came into the Mary’s Pence environment open and eager to learn.  I will forever be grateful for this wonderful opportunity that was given to me by Mary’s Pence because in life, one must always be a learner who is willing to learn and acquire knowledge that will contributes to one’s intelligence and growth.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Violence in the Northern Triangle

Sr. Pat Rogucki, Mary’s Pence Board Member, has been traveling in Central America for the past 26 years. She has seen firsthand the ongoing violence inflicted upon the people, land, and economies in Central America by past free trade agreements. Here she shares some of her stories, what gives her hope, and what concerns she still has.

Sr. Pat Rogucki visits the ESPERA Network in El Salvador.

Sr. Pat Rogucki visits the ESPERA Network in El Salvador.

Our Q’eqchi speaking sister parish in Guatemala told us about the negative impact of years of nickel mining in the local villages. Even before CAFTA, Canadian companies were looking for metals and minerals there. In the the past few years, the mining companies have become more aggressive, evicting these Q’eqchi communities from their lands, raping women, and killing men. There is presently a case in court to try a military officer for killing one of the villagers. A case going to trial is rare.

Bishop Ramazzini received death threats when he took the side of the indigenous against the gold mining companies in his former diocese of San Marcos. Now, he is working on similar issues in Huehuetenango.

In El Salvador, the Canadian Pacific Rim Company and U.S. subsidiaries have filed a lawsuit against this tiny nation, which is the size of Massachusetts. The Church, the people, and the government have been against the this company’s use of water-intensive cyanide ore processing in the basin of El Salvador’s largest river, the Rio Lempa.

This El Dorado Mine is located in the San Isidro region of the department of Cabanas. I have been there several times to hear the people of ADES explain the many negative envrionmental impacts of the mining efforts. Marcelo Rivera, a teacher, was the first to lose his life for this cause. He was kidnapped, tortured, and his body was found in an old well. Others were shot and killed.

The government finally voted for the company to suspend further mining efforts. Since the shareholders could not be paid, the company is suing El Salvador for millions in court. The laws of these trade agreements take precedence over a nation’s laws, even those that protect its environment.

A farming issue in El Salvador has been the use of genetically modified seeds. Monsanto owns the seeds, and farmers have to buy new ones for each planting season. If they should blow onto a neighboring farm, that owner can be sued. A small group of farmers began their own seed business. Last year, the U.S. was willing to give the Millennium funds to the government only if the farmers allowed foreign companies like Monsanto to have a stake in their business. Overwhelming support came from outside solidarity groups and that effort was defeated — a big victory for the small farming business!

Honduras is the poorest of the Central American countries. There are 21 Lempiras — the local currency — to the U.S. dollar. It is also the Murder Capital of the World. In the capital, Tegucigalpa, many big U.S. food corporations sell pizza, hamburgers, sandwiches, and fried chicken. Other corporations include U.S. hotel chains and gas stations.

The women business owners in Tegucigalpa who participate in our ESPERA Program have told me about the dangers they face when they go to the local market to buy fruits or vegetables. They are often threatened with a pistol or a knife. For safety, they must go to Walmart or a mall for their produce. They said that it looks nice, but in a day or two it is rotten.

The violence in all of these countries is further fueled by the drug trade which is headed north to the “big market.” It may appear that these multinationals create some jobs at the local level, but huge amounts of money and resources go to the corporations, leaving the countries altogether. Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras, known as the Northern Triangle, suffer in a cycle of exploitation and violence while U.S. corporations reap the profits.

For more information you can visit these sites:

www.rightsaction.org,

http://www.maryknollogc.org/article/el-salvador-struggles-continue-around-mining

http://ecoviva.org/farmer-cooperatives-not-monsanto-supply-el-salvador-with-seed/

 

Posted in Reflections, Spiritual, Theological, and Otherwise, Uncategorized | Leave a comment