Solidarity at the Heart of Relationships – Bridgette Kelly

During the Mary’s Pence board meeting last weekend, one often discussed concept was that of solidarity. What does solidarity mean to us, to our everyday lives and relationships with those around us? In this blog post, Mary’s Pence board co-president Bridgette Kelly discusses what solidarity means to her.

 -Dana Coppock-Pector

Solidarity at the Heart of Relationships

by Bridgette Kellybridgette for website 2

In early October, Anna Zaros, the Mary’s Pence Development Liaison, gathered with a group of St Joseph Workers to facilitate a conversation about Solidarity. Solidarity is a big concept and has many manifestations in the world. Anna was there to facilitate a rich discussion and bring in some of the grounding work of Mary’s Pence. People shared their stories and thoughts about what Solidarity means, about what it looks and feels like. The meaning changes for each individual depending on your context, your relationships and your personal experience.

 

Board co-Presidents Bridgette Kelly (right) and Judy Molosky (left) at a gathering of Mary's Pence supporters.

Board co-Presidents Bridgette Kelly (right) and Judy Molosky (left) address a gathering of Mary’s Pence supporters.

Being involved with the Mary’s Pence board, this was not the first time I have been in a group of women and engaged in a deep conversation about the meaning and reality of Solidarity. At the last board meeting, board members shared the real importance of solidarity among the women of Mary’s Pence, and the day to day relational quality of solidarity.

 

I personally recalled the Solidarność of my elementary school days. That was the first time that I heard the word solidarity. It had a whole meaning unto itself in the early 80’s in Poland, but it is still relevant to the idea of unity: standing together in order to advance the common good, or in order to bring about real change.  I sometimes struggle with what it means to be in solidarity with those I am not in direct relationship with, but it is our mutual commitment to creating and maintaining a relationship that ultimately defines solidarity.

 

 

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Healing Central America Starts With Women by Ana Grande

Starting tomorrow, inspiring women will be pouring into Saint Paul from around North America for the Mary’s Pence biannual board meeting. As a newcomer to Mary’s Pence, most of the board are new to me, but I feel as if I know Ana Grande by reading her blog post “Healing Central America Starts With Women” featured in the Huffington Post last September. It tells about her recent trip to El Salvador with a partner organization to Mary’s Pence. Read on so that, like me, you can get to know this incredible woman of our board and the meaningful work she does!

-Dana Coppock-Pector

Healing Central America Starts With Women

By Ana Grande

Ana GrandeThroughout the summer months some media outlets focused on the high number of children crossing the border from Central America. There were many back and forth of what to do with the high number of children seeking asylum. While both sides argued what should happen to the children and Washington scurried to find a solution, none asked where the healing should begin.

Yes, the violence in Central America has escalated to levels usually seen during a civil strife. As in many cases, gang violence has a solution — but are we willing to invest in these? Educational and economic opportunities that allow children and youth to dream of a better tomorrow are integral to achieving peace. This is not to say that these are the only two solutions, but definitely part of a holistic approach to end the violence and begin the healing. Where do we start? Who do we start with?

In mid-August, a delegation of 16, myself included, ventured to El Salvador to work on a few projects, teach the children (ages 10) within the delegation that we are part of a global society, and as an organizer — to hear the stories of these afflicted communities. Our seven-day journey was more than we ever bargained and learned that the key to healing must start with women.

We found our projects with women-led co-ops through our partner organizations Mary’s Pence and SALEF. Our goal was to assess what they needed before our arrival, fundraise for these projects, and give the gift of self-sufficiency. We were not going to impose our own privilege as our desire was to replenish their wells so they could drink from them, a term and concept coined by the fathers of Liberation Theology.

Confecciones La ColoradaThe first Co-op, Confecciones La Colorada was made up of women who in order to survive their husband’s $3/day wages, decided to form a small business that could help their children succeed in life. Their co-op has raised funds to send over 10 kids to high school and a handful to college.

At La Colorada, we established a four-laptop & colored printer computer lab on their request. This would permit that their children don’t have to spend $5 to travel to the mainland and do their homework. In addition, it would become a small cyber-cafe for the locals, generating another source of income for the co-op. We ended that day by painting the co-op, breaking bread, and rejoicing in their stories of perseverance.

Our second co-op, Centro de Desarrollo Infantil, in La Libertad was heart-wrenching and heartwarming all at the same time. This is a community that didn’t give up on their children and strives to ensure quality education and better living conditions. This childcare center feeds the kids two meals a day and lets them dream of a better tomorrow. Their chalkboards barely have any trace of green on them and their playground is a semi-broken metal swing set. Prior to our arrival they requested funding to build a shelter over the playground, allowing the children to play even during the rainy season. We met the children, heard from their mothers and realized that women and members of the community want to find solutions to end violence and keep families together.

Delegation w First Lady Margarita

Yes, we met with the Vice Minister of External Affairs, Liduvina Magarin, and also with the First Lady of El Salvador, Margarita Villalta de Sanchez, and those meetings were the icing on the cake. Each, in their own way, echoed the sentiment of reconstructing communities through the emerging co-ops of the country and through the many infrastructural changes they are making to improve economic opportunities, good living wage jobs, and keep their country safe.

The women at each co-op told us of the many obstacles they have overcome, but more so the brighter future they are working toward. We walked away feeling welcomed into the lives of many and embraced by their humbleness in seeking the greater good. As partners in the journey of life, we were but a stepping stone in their progress and we wouldn’t have it any other way.

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Between Privilege and Knowledge

I’ve always had trouble with spelling. Considering how much I read as a child, this never really made sense to me. I can only hope to blame it on the prevalence of spell-check in my young adult paper-writing years. Both small typos and the blatant butchering of uncomplicated words could easily be remedied by the technology I had access to in my home.

Once, in elementary school, long before I was typing school papers, I have an incredibly strong memory of getting frustrated by my inability to spell “indigenous,” and going up to my teacher to ask why we were getting Monday off for “Indigenous Peoples Day” when the kitten calendar in my room said “Columbus Day.” I knew exactly who Columbus was, and that in 1492 he sailed the ocean-blue. His was an easy name to spell, and I had no idea what an “Indigenous Peoples” even was.

When my teacher sat me down and told me about the Trail of Tears, I don’t think she was trying to scare me, but to appeal to the shock value of this tragic part of our nation’s history. Whatever it was, it worked, and while I still couldn’t spell “indigenous” I was sure to never call it Columbus Day again.

This is my first tangible memory of that rock in the bottom of my stomach that I would like to call empathy but more accurately felt like guilt. It didn’t matter that as a descendent of immigrants and Quakers, my ancestors were not directly responsible for this particular historical tragedy. Other people, just because of who they were, had suffered in a way I never would. It was an uncomfortable feeling, but one that would trouble me for years to come.

Flash forward about 15 years—yesterday was Indigenous Peoples/Columbus Day. For me, once again, it meant that I could sleep in late. For thousands of others I can only imagine it feels like a national holiday celebrating the slaughter of their ancestors, the loss of their homelands, and the long history of systemic, pervasive persecution against their people. And as I lay in my bed, I thought about this discrepancy: my own privilege, and the historical inequalities that enable me to benefit from it.

Recently, one of my closest friends reminded me to “check my priviledge.” And yes, she spelled privilege with a “d” like “knowledge.” This error is not uncommon among us of the spell-check-generation, but always struck me as an ironic combination of these two concepts that are inextricably connected: the knowledge of one’s privilege, and the privilege of knowledge.

The path of forced emigration along the Trail of Tears that relocated thousands of Cherokees to Indian Territory (now Oklahoma).

The path of forced emigration along the Trail of Tears that relocated thousands of Cherokees
across the Mississippi to Indian Territory (now Oklahoma).

 

 

My academic advisor’s favorite quote regarding empathy was: “If you walk a mile in someone’s shoes, you’ll be a mile away from them, and you’ll have their shoes.” Well, what if I am standing still, while tens of thousands of Native Americans are driven off their land in the southeastern states and forced to move across the Mississippi to “Indian territory”? What if the federal government promised that their new land would remain unmolested forever, but then keeps cutting away at it, piece by piece, until there is nothing left? What if it’s even bigger than all that? What if it’s all of the Americas, North and South? When I did a report on Hérnan Cortéz in 4th grade, I got that feeling in the pit of my stomach again, the same one I got when I studied the colonization of Africa in middle school. From my position of privilege, it is impossible for me to understand what those people went through, what their descendants still endure. Does that mean I should stop trying?

This weekend, at a Mary’s Pence event, I engaged in conversation with a woman about the differences between the two feet of Catholic social action: charity and social justice. Whether we address the present systems of injustice, or the underlying causes. Whether we help people to survive their present crisis, or work towards societal change by restructuring unjust systems. Charity is important, but justice is vital. This woman wasn’t sure young people (who sometimes need spell-check to spell “privilege”) would be able to grasp the difference. I believe we can.

Just Economics Executive Director Vicki Meath at an event.

Just Economics Executive Director
Vicki Meath at an event.

And it isn’t about walking a mile in someone else’s shoes—even with one day’s blisters, I will never truly understand a life I was not born into. It is about walking a mile alongside that person, and on the way listening to the story of their journey. It is about knowledge: about learning my history and theirs, even though it sometimes makes me deeply uncomfortable. It is about feeling that discomfort, recognizing my relative privilege, and using the benefits it affords me to fight for justice. This fight can be symbolic, such as the Leadership Conference of Women Religious calling on Pope Francis to formally repudiate the Doctrine of Discovery, or active, like Mary’s Pence grantee Just Economics, who advocate for living wages and systemic change by bringing together low-income people and people of privilege to advocate for the economic security of their community in Asheville, North Carolina.

Either way, it has to start with meaningful dialog. The ongoing struggles facing Native Americans, and everyone else touched by our society’s injustice, are deeply entrenched in social constructions and systemic inequality. Yet today, we have the theory and the means to speak out against it. There are always steps we can take, even little ones, once we know our direction. And beyond privilege, beyond knowledge, is action.

Dana Coppock-Pector

 

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Volunteer Spotlight: Grace

Get to know our volunteers!

We are starting a new blog series focusing on our wonderful Mary’s Pence volunteers.  As an organization, we are so grateful for all the invaluable work they do for us. To learn about our  volunteer opportunities or other ways you can get involved with Mary’s Pence, visit Action for Mary’s Pence on our webpage. And check back on the first Tuesday of next month, when we will spotlight a different volunteer.

 

Grace Garvey-Hall: Summer Communications Intern Grace Garvey-Hall

What work do you do for Mary’s Pence? 

This summer I helped design and write content for the 2015 calendar/annual report, and I also wrote a couple articles for the July/August e-newsletter. I’ve also helped on some more behind-the-scenes communications work.

How long have you volunteered with Mary’s Pence?

June-August, 2014

What draws you to the work of Mary’s Pence?  Why do you volunteer with Mary’s Pence? what meaning does it have for you?

I have done some travelling in Latin America, and that has opened my eyes to some of the economic issues and the inequality between men and women that occurs there. Upon returning home, I noticed that these same issues also exist in the U.S., albeit in different forms and to different degrees.

Also, service has always been an important part of the way I live out my faith. Mary’s Pence gave me the opportunity to use my talents to bring awareness to the wonderful ministry they do. Mary’s Pence also brought me into community with many wonderful, inspirational women who are working together to create sorely needed social change. Being part of this community makes me feel empowered to create change and hopeful for the future.

What gifts do you bring to the work of Mary’s Pence?

The main skill I’ve brought to Mary’s Pence this summer is my ability to write. But I also think I’ve brought a passion to my work, because I truly believe in the Mary’s Pence mission of creating social change through funding women. One of the best things I’ve done for Mary’s Pence is tell people about what I’ve been doing with them this summer.

What else are you up to in your life? What do you do for fun?

Travelling is one of my greatest passions but after a semester in Spain I am grateful to be at home, hanging out with my family, walking around the lakes, and reading some good books including Jimmy Carter’s A Call to Action, which was on the Mary’s Pence reading list! In September I’ll head back out to Tacoma, Washington for my final semester at Pacific Lutheran University.

 

We have many more volunteers who help with translation, data entry, writing, mailings, and so much more. Our work is possible because of your contribution of time and talents. Thank you!

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Strong Women

Dana Coppock-Pector spent the summer traveling through Mexico and Central America with Gilda Larios, our ESPERA fund facilitator, and now joins us in Saint Paul as our Development and Communications Intern. She shares with us her summer experience, and her evolving thoughts on the strength of women.

As a recent graduate from Whitman College, with a degree in Sociology and a passionate, perhaps idealistic desire to make a difference in the lives of others, I was drawn to Mary’s Pence from the tagline: “Funding Women. Changing Lives.” I was looking for an opportunity to travel, and hoped to revitalize the on-again-off-again Spanish I’ve been working to master for well over half my life. Mostly, I was looking to put my efforts into an organization aligned with my values, an organization representing the reasons that I chose to study sociology in the first place. As a young, progressive, amateur researcher, I absolutely love studying the complex, often unjust world in which we all live. Looking at what’s wrong, and trying to help fix it. Combating inequality with strength. I believe this is crucial for women everywhere as we face extreme systemic inequalities, worldwide. Although often perceived as weak, women have tremendous strength. We have to, in order to survive.

This summer was pivotal to my own appreciation for women’s strength, and not just because I began my work with Mary’s Pence. IMG_1579Weeks before I departed for my summer travels with Gilda, my grandmother died. I saw throughout my life that my grandma was a fighter. She fought and beat breast cancer, twice. She spent the last two years of her life fighting lymphoma, including undergoing chemotherapy at 87 years old. Like many others, she grew up poor during the Great Depression, and worked hard to assure that she and her family would lead more comfortable lives. Her love and generosity enabled me to pursue the education that she couldn’t at my age. To me, my grandmother was not just a fighter, she was, and continues to be, the strongest woman I know.

Still, her illness and subsequent death forced me to redefine my idea of strength. Despite my childish inclination to think of my grandmother as a superhero, it became clear to me later in life that in reality she was incredibly, and beautifully, human. She was fiercely proud. She hated showing weakness, and hid her adversity well, stubbornly suffering, often needlessly, rather than admitting that she required assistance. This was where her close friends and family, who could see the little hints of pain or fear or exhaustion in her eyes, would have to say, “let us help you” and she would graciously, if reluctantly, accept.

In fact, I find it is impossible to talk about the strength of women struggling, without talking about the strength of women helping. Here, I look to another female beacon of strength in my life— my mother. Her kindness, her patience, the inexhaustible pool of love and support she has shown me throughout my life, she also marshaled to care for her dying mother-in-law. This is one of the most important ways that women show strength: helping each other during times of need. Now when I feel strong and independent, which is most of the time, I think of my mother, and grandmother.

I redefine strength as the small voice in my head saying that it’s okay not to do everything alone. Sometimes, it takes more strength to ask for help than to try to do it all by ourselves.

This is, I believe, the core of the work done at Mary’s Pence; women helping women—motherhood, sisterhood, and solidarity. As I spoke with women of the Concertación in Suchitoto, El Salvador, so many of them emphasized the comradery and connection they felt as a result of the ESPERA funds they received. I heard the stories of trauma from survivors of the Salvadoran Civil War, of deep wounds, new or old, that can take years or sometimes lifetimes to heal. The women spoke about economic insecurity, abuse, the fear that they would not be able to support their families. IMG_0517In the Comunidad de Santo Domingo, the women we spoke to face the hardships of poverty everyday, yet they support each other in the community. These groups are working to generate economic independence and to be powerful role models for a new generation of female leaders. Every day they fight courageously for justice and every day they create hope. Their inspiration for me, so soon after my grandmother’s death, was profoundly moving.

In going through my grandmother’s office, my mother found a poem by Marge Piercy entitled “For Strong Women” which included the words:

A strong woman is a woman who loves
strongly and weeps strongly and is strongly
terrified and has strong needs. A strong woman is strong
in words, in action, in connection, in feeling;
she is not strong as a stone but as a wolf
suckling her young. Strength is not in her, but she
enacts it as the wind fills a sail.

What comforts her is others loving
her equally for the strength and for the weakness
from which it issues, lightning from a cloud.
Lightning stuns. In rain, the clouds disperse.
Only water of connection remains,
flowing through us. Strong is what we make
each other.

Mary’s Pence is not strong women helping weak women. On the contrary, it is strong women reinforcing other strong women as they help themselves, their communities, and their futures. Mary’s Pence doesn’t just fund support — it funds confidence, creativity, compassion, and change. The organization doesn’t console women who have suffered injustice in their lives; it assertively fights to combat that injustice, to empower the women, to change the world we inhabit, towards justice and peace.

I am excited and honored to join Mary’s Pence, and the strong women who are a part of it.

Dana Coppock-Pector

IMG_0591

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Mary’s Pence Founding Board Member, Sr. Teresita, is Featured!

Be sure to read the full article, here:

Bounced from St. Catherine-St. Lucy 23 Years ago, Sr. Teresita welcomed home

It’s always exciting for us here at Mary’s Pence when wise and inspiring women are featured in the news. This article hits particularly close to home, as it focuses on our beloved Sr. Teresita Weind, one of Mary’s Pence teresitapicfounding board members! Sr. Teresita’s story was recently featured in the Global Sisters Report, an independent nonprofit source of news and information about Catholic sisters from the National Catholic Reporter.

This article, written by Tom Holmes, tells the story of Sr. Teresita’s relationship with             St. Catherine-St. Lucy Church. Holmes describes the social and historical context in which she joined the parish staff in 1979 and the 12 years in which she preached, cared for the sick, and helped to foster a strong and devout community of faith. He emphasizes her spirituality, her positivity, and the lasting connections she made with everyone she touched. Sr. Teresita Weind was a “soul model” to the entire parish, regardless of race or gender. So when she was asked to leave in 1991 because a new pastor believed that a woman should not preach in the place of an ordained priest, she described: “it was painful. I regret what he did because he divided this parish and it was not divided before he came.” Still, this experience did not shake Sr. Teresita’s faith in God or humanity, but rather strengthenedteresitapic2 it. She explained, “I actually believe that you see the body of Christ in the people who are here who serve and share together.”

And so after over a decade of service, Sr. Teresita moved on. She has traveled the world, and is currently serving her second six-year term as the congregational leader of the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur. There are over 1,300 sisters in her order. The weekend of September 5-7, she returned to St. Catherine-St. Lucy  for its 125th anniversary celebration. To this day, Sr. Teresita Weind is an inspiring leader, a strong and wise woman, and a “soul model” to us all. Today, and every day, we honor her.

 

 

To read the other two stories in this three-part series, click:   Sr. Teresita listens long and lovingly and Becoming Sr. Teresita. Or check out Sr. Teresita’s bio in a past Mary’s Pence blog post.

 

 

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Mary’s Pence Welcomes Shelley and Dana

This fall, Mary’s Pence is adding two new members to our family!

Dana and Shelley hiking together in Yosemite National Park in California.

Dana and Shelley hiking together in Yosemite National Park in California.

This October, Shelley Coppock will join the Mary’s Pence board. Shelley is from Oakland California, where she recently retired after over 26 years working for the National Labor Relations Board as an investigator and supervisor. She has also worked with the American and Mexican Friends Service Committees, where she became close friends with board member Luisa Maria Rivera and ESPERA fund Facilitator Gilda Larios. As a life-long feminist and mother of two young adult daughters, Shelley is very passionate about women’s empowerment. Shelley will brave the Minnesota weather to attend the board meeting this fall.

Eagerly awaiting her arrival is Shelley’s youngest daughter, Dana Coppock-Pector, who began working as an intern in the Mary’s Pence office this September. Like her mother, Dana is a San Francisco Bay Area native. She recently graduated from Whitman College with a BA in Sociology and a passion for social justice. She spent the summer traveling through Mexico and Central America with Gilda. Dana is very excited to spend the coming year working in the Mary’s Pence office in St. Paul.

Please join us in welcoming Shelley and Dana!

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Voices from Honduras, Board Member Pat Rogucki Reports on the Situation on the Ground

Grupo Ramon Amaya Amador

Members of the ESPERA group Ramon Amaya Amador in Tegucigalpa, Honduras

Dora wife and business partner of Jose Denis Grupo Epifania

Dora, member of the Epifania ESPERA group in Tegucigalpa, Honduras

I arrived Sunday night feeling a deep emptiness, along with hunger from the long journey. In the three days that Eva [Mary's Pence ESPERA Promoter] and I met with the women and men in the ESPERA fund businesses in Tegucigalpa, and with friends from there and San Pedro Sula as well, we become filled with the trials and tribulations of our Honduran sisters and brothers. I have a burning desire to share what we have seen and heard on this visit. While these trials and tribulations have affected the success of the ESPERA fund for these once eager, content, and grateful participants, they remain committed to continuing forward and seeking success.

At breakfast, the television “woke us up” with the heart-breaking news of deported children getting off one of several buses. It was marked “Chiapas” and one little boy said that he had  parents in the US and not here. How was he going to continue to survive? The rest of the news continued with the stark themes of corruption, violence, and impunity.

As the day wore on, we became aware of how painfully true this was. The women told us about waiting in extremely long lines to buy smaller and cheaper beans. The price for a pound of the regular size is $1.50, about the same drastically high price as in El Salvador where the dollar is used. The Honduran exchange is roughly 21 Limpiras to the dollar. We were told that their money is becoming worth less and less. The cost of the basics for survival is very expensive. The women have to buy their fruits and vegetables at the big stores like Walmart and at the malls because it is safer there. The produce looks nice, but rots more quickly. If they go to the less expensive  local markets, they could face not only a knife, but a pistol. That is the price they pay for security! As all prices go up, so does the insecurity and violence. One man, who had felt very differently prior to last year´s election, said that the government is trying to suffocate the poor as the rich get more.

There is fear of boarding the buses and one was recently burned in their locality, the end of the line. Taxi drivers could be met with a pistol to the head requesting  a “tax” payment for protection. “We live stressed and anxious, ” said one mother of adolescents. As the children grow, life for them becomes more dangerous and to go out for social activities could be fatal. There is high unemployment and  students can study with great sacrifice to graduate, but then there is no work. The youth do not see a viable future and lose hope.

People know when you are at home and when you leave. There are “ears” here that inform. The three sources of violence include not only the gangs, but kidnappers who do so for ransom, and special groups called “cikarias” who are paid to kill people targeted by the narco-traffickers. We were told that congressional leaders are involved in this trade. Drugs enter the country from the north by water and continue  to Mexico and the US. The latter is the world´s largest consumer of illegal drugs. Central Americans tell me that they are the bridge for these drugs to reach the big Market. Another comment was that Honduras remains in violence, in  bloodshed and deaths, and the United States gets the dollars and the drugs. If they did not consume such a quantity of drugs, there would not be such bloodshed in Honduras.

Doris and Daughter, business partners Ramon Amaya Amador

Doris and her daughter are business partners in their card making business. They are members of the ESPERA group Ramon Amaya Amador

At night, from our bedroom window, Eva and I could see the huge statue of Christ on the opposite mountain, bathed in a pale pink light. It was a reminder to us of the deep faith of these people. They were grateful for the food they did have as those in the poorer south had even less. They expressed their trust in God as they were committed to continue in the daily struggle, facing lack of employment, growing insecurity and violence, drug and human trafficking, and corruption, etc.

Maria Soriano Grupo Epifania

Maria Soriano, member of the ESPERA group Epifania

Author´s notes.  In a map report from HOMELAND INTELLIGENCE  TODAY, nearly 3,000 minors coming from San Pedro Sula were apprehended at the US border from January 1st to May, 2014.  This was followed by nearly 1,000 coming from Tegucigalpa and Juticalpa, Honduras. For the second  year, San Pedro Sula has been the murder capital of the world in the country that shares the same title.

As we departed from Tegucigalpa, I counted eight US companies within a 2-block span, much more than there seem to be in Guatemala and El Salvador.

Thank you for reading and “listening.”

Pat Rogucki, Board Member

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Crossing Borders: My Journey to Global Feminsm

Grace Garvey-Hall spent her summer working with Mary’s Pence as the Communications Intern. She brought her excellent writing, design, social media, and Spanish skills to the work, as well as a deep passion for improving the lives of women. During her last week in the office, she shares with us her journey of developing this passion, and her experience as a part of the Mary’s Pence team. Thank you Grace for the capacity you brought to our work and the impact you’ve had on the lives of women. 

In eighth grade when I decided to take Spanish for my foreign language requirement, I had only one thought in my mind: getting an easy A. Later that year I was feeling pretty proud of myself after having mastered the conjugation patterns for all three types of verbs in the present tense. Then Señora R. began to talk about all the other tenses we had yet to learn. Learning another language turned out to be a lot of work.

By the time I reached my junior year in high school, I was ready to quit. The easy A I had in mind when I began had long since become a distant dream. But then I was presented with an opportunity: a two-week service-learning trip to Perú in June 2010. I didn’t know much about Perú except that I wanted to go there. After having participated in a variety of mission trips in the United States with the Immanuel Lutheran Church youth group, two things were certain: 1) service was an important way for me to live my faith, and 2) getting to know people from other cultures, religions, and life paths was something I wanted to keep doing. The opportunity to pursue these passions was more than enough motivation to improve my Spanish significantly that year.

Three of my friends from a local high school in Lima who also served at San Lorenzo school.

Three of my friends from a local high school in Lima who also served at San Lorenzo school.

In Perú I and the other girls from my class stayed with a host family. For three days we volunteered with San Lorenzo school in the poorest district in Lima. We turned a makeshift hut into a library by stocking it with shelves and books and painting it bright teal and purple. The best part was knowing we had provided these kids with materials that would eventually help them help themselves. We’d handed them books and given them the chance to better their lives.

Painting the new library at San Lorenzo school in Lima, Perú

Painting the new library at San Lorenzo school in Lima, Perú

 

When I got back from my trip, one of the youth leaders at my church asked me “what did you learn about the U.S. while you were away?” He had me stumped.

I’d learned so much about the culture of Perú, and of course I’d naturally compared it with the United States: most people lived in apartments not houses, children lived with their parents well into their twenties, they put carrots in their spaghetti. And, of course, I’d confronted my own privilege. But to be honest, it wasn’t anything different than what I’d already learned from trips with my church. I was blessed and therefore had a responsibility to help, though what form that help would take wasn’t entirely clear yet.

But what had I learned about the U.S.? It’s a question I have reflected on often since, and a question I challenged myself to answer again when I travelled for a month to Quito, Ecuador in January 2013 as a college sophomore.

Photo taken at Cuy Cocha lake outside Quito, Ecuador

Photo taken at Cuy Cocha lake outside Quito, Ecuador

By this time, I had a year and a half of liberal arts education at Pacific Lutheran University in Tacoma, WA under my belt. I thought I was pretty savvy because I’d traveled to South America before and I had the subjunctive tense basically mastered. I was ready.

Actually, I was totally unprepared. In Peru we’d spent so much time as a group that culture shock hadn’t been much of a concern. I had been able to more or less observe the culture without having to actually immerse myself in it. In Ecuador, I spent much of my time completely alone with my host family, on the bus, or walking to and from school.

It remains the only time I’ve entered a space and been the only person with white skin. But my experience, though amplified by my race, was really defined by being a woman. Ecuador is a machista society and as a woman I was often treated as less-than, weak, an easy target, in ways I had never experienced in the United States. I have never felt more powerless or afraid.

Immediately after returning to the United States, I felt relief. It was much safer to be a woman in the United States, more comfortable to be me, than it was in Ecuador. I was angry and I looked down on Ecuador and Perú because of how many of the people in their country treated women.

But the United States is not blameless.

My experience in Ecuador didn’t just open my eyes to the plight of women in Latin America. Though it took a while, I became more aware of the difficulties faced by many marginalized women in the United States. In the United States I personally was less affected, but that didn’t mean other women weren’t. I had never before considered before how it might feel for an immigrant, for example, to enter a public space and be treated differently simply for acting, dressing, speaking, being how they are. My experience had lasted a month. Most immigrants never get to go home. Second or third generation immigrants may live their entire lives feeling outcast from and objectified by the mainstream culture of the country they call home.

I learned that the United States is culpable. And the mistreatment of marginalized persons in my own country is neither different nor unrelated to the oppression of those in other countries.

Hiking outside of Granada, Spain with my roommate and our two best friends from Granada.

Hiking outside of Granada, Spain with my roommate and our two best friends from Granada.

A year and a half later, as I was finishing my semester abroad in Spain, these issues continued to weigh on my mind. I had a lot of knowledge and experience built up. And the question of my own responsibility was really nagging me. How was I going to utilize my experiences and skills to better women’s lives?

To me, Mary’s Pence is part one of that answer.

As a woman who has interacted with women from other countries and cultures, my feminism is a global feminism. It has to be. I’ve seen the way that women of all different nationalities, religions, and economic statuses, have suffered. And, thanks to Mary’s Pence, I’ve seen how they have overcome.

Through my role as the Communications Intern at Mary’s Pence, I interacted with so many of the inspirational women in the Mary’s Pence community. Through the process of creating the 2015 calendar and July/August E-News, I connected with all of our Mary’s Pence grantees and Gilda, our ESPERA coordinator, as they shared photos and stories of women who are passionately working for justice. Though the grantees individually focus on specific issues, and the ESPERA women all own and operate different businesses, together we are fighting for a common goal of women’s empowerment and equality. Every single day in the office the staff and volunteers discussed issues affecting women across the globe. Katherine would always ask: “ok, so what can we do?” It’s a question we can never stop asking.

The work we do really works because part of our strategy is making sure we hear the experiences of individual women. Understanding, respecting, and directly responding to these experiences makes our work more effective. It might seem surprising that as a Lutheran I’m working for a Catholic organization. But to me, it makes perfect sense. Only when we cross borders, seek out commonalities, ask questions and work together to find answers can we ensure peace and justice for all women. When one woman is stronger, we are all stronger.

Grace Garvey-Hall

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