Meet Grace Garvey-Hall, New Development and Communications Liaison at Mary’s Pence

I originally became involved hisp picwith Mary’s Pence last summer as the Communications Intern. I was struck by the uniqueness of a feminist and faith-based organization and the way Mary’s Pence stands on these two foundations to work with women to create lasting, systemic change in their communities. I was impressed with the way Mary’s Pence combats inequity and injustice across country and cultural borders.

After the summer, I made my final trip to Tacoma, Washington for my last semester at Pacific Lutheran University. At the end of the semester I presented capstones for both my majors, English-writing and Hispanic Studies. For my writing major I presented a lyric essay I wrote called “As Ordinary As it All Appears” that detailed my life growing up in Minnesota and my relationships with my mom and sister. For my Hispanic Studies capstone I presented a paper, in Spanish, in which I analyzed poems from Lori Carlson’s Cool Salsa and Red Hot Salsa–bilingual anthologies of poems about being young and latin@ in the United States. Now I am excited to be back with Mary’s Pence, continuing to tell the stories of the wonderful women we fund and work alongside.

During my undergrad, I had the opportunity to travel to Spain and Ecuador. Both experiences were wonderful opportunities to expand my comfort zone and immerse myself in another culture. It was during these travels that I began to reflect on what feminism means in a global context. I am excited to continue learning and working in solidarity with Mary’s Pence. In my spare-time I enjoying reading, singing in my church choir, and trying new recipes.

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ESPERA Assembly in Suchitoto, El Salvador

Mary’s Pence established the ESPERA program in 2008 as a way to create economic development and empower women by partnering with existing women’s networks in Central America, Mexico and Haiti and giving them the tools they need to lift themselves out of poverty. These networks are centered around what we call community lending pools – pools of money that the women, with the help of Mary’s Pence, use to disperse loans among themselves in order to create income generating projects such as agricultural production, or artisan crafts. The women use the money earned with these projects to pay back the loans with interest into the community lending pool, thereby creating a sustainably growing economy that equally benefits all members of their community.

It has been almost 8 years since the ESPERA program was launched, and its success inspires us to continue our mission to support women’s economic autonomy.

In March, Katherine Wojtan, Executive Director of Mary’s Pence, traveled to Suchitoto, El Salvador to attend an assembly held by one of our ESPERA groups, Concertación de Mujeres de Suchitoto. She came back excited to share her experience with the Mary’s Pence community.

The women in ESPERA group Concertacion de Mujeres in Suchitoto, El Salvador discuss economic solidarity.

The women in ESPERA group Concertacion de Mujeres in Suchitoto, El Salvador discuss economic solidarity

There were about 120 women that attended this event; 80 of them were women from the Concertación, and the rest were from other ESPERA groups in Honduras and Nicaragua. This was the first time in in two years that all the members of the Concertación de Mujeres de Suchitoto were able to meet as a whole group. During the assembly, the women broke into small groups based on the kinds of business they run. Together they brainstormed ideas to improve their business and different ways to create economic solidarity. The women then presented their ideas to the entire assembly. Some of the women also brought items they sell to show the other ESPERA women.

Despite the successes of the ESPERA program, the women of the Concertación de Mujeres de Suchitoto continue to face obstacles that hinder the growth of their businesses and their local economy. Increasingly, the women have been enduring harassment from local gang groups who threaten the women in the network in order to get the money they earn from their businesses. The women described to Katherine how the gang members ask for “renta,” Spanish for rent or income. Essentially, the women must pay a fee stop gang harrassment. This is an unfortunate reality that Mary’s Pence is continuing to discuss and working with the ESPERA women to find solutions.

However, the women in Suchitoto continue to strive to collectively improve their communities’ economic conditions. Katherine said she was amazed at the energy of the women and their eagerness to attend the assembly and to continue to grow and improve their businesses. Katherine had the opportunity to talk to some of the women about their ideas for improving the ESPERA program in Suchitoto. The women explained that they wanted to learn how to better manage their businesses by learning bookkeeping and tracking their inventory.

In September, Auxiliadora Salgado, a local ESPERA coordinator, began teaching basic accounting topics to another group in El Salvador, Red de Mujeres Nicarahualt. The eagerness of the other women to also learn accounting demonstrates the importance of the ESPERA assemblies as ways to share information, brainstorm ideas, and generate enthusiasm for improvement across and among our groups.

Keep an eye out for the Spring Newsletter in your mailbox to read more about how Auxiliadora and her accounting class have improved ESPERA businesses.

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Grantee Spotlight: Focus on Haiti

Empowering women to make changes in their lives and communities is one of the core methods by which we accomplish our work at Mary’s Pence. We’ve seen that women’s empowerment is key to helping a society or community flourish. One way we carry out this work is through our Mary’s Pence Grant program. We support organizations like Focus on Haiti that are changing the lives of women through education, health care, and microfinance.

Focus on Haiti was founded by The Sisters of Mercy of the Americas in 2011. The sisters wanted to collaborate with other religious communities in other cultures to address dire problems that affect women and children. To begin, they chose to work in a small town in Haiti called Gros Morne. Gros Morne was a focal point for the sisters because a significant number of the members in their community had at one point visited Haiti, and they always came back from their trips inspired to do acts of social justice.

The town of Gros Morne is a rural city that is in the north of Haiti. Like many rural areas in Haiti, there is no access to public water supply or sewage amenities, and electricity is scarce. Many of the inhabitants of the town of Gros Morne, especially women and children, live in abject poverty and do not have access to basic necessities like healthcare and adequate food. Life for the residents of Gros Morne became even more challenging in the aftermath of the earthquake that decimated Haiti in 2010. The residents were faced with many ills, including homelessness.

In 2013, Focus on Haiti was awarded a Mary’s Pence Grant to fund their Purse Power and Kay Pov projects. Kay Pov is a place where people in the community can come to receive meals; it is also home to 23 elderly people in the community. Kay Pov is creole for “poorhouse,” however, the residents of Gros Morne decided to rename it Maison Bon Samaritan; this is French for “house of the good.” Focus on Haiti used a portion of the grant to renovate Maison Bon Samaritan; they built a keyhole garden yielding vegetables, and they were able to hire a full-time female nurse named Lillian to care for the health needs and concerns of members in the community. With Lillian as part of the Focus on Haiti staff, along with other staff members of Maison Bon Samaritan, the health of the 23 residents has improved; they now have access to medications and nutritious meals.

The second portion of the Mary’s Pence Grant went towards establishing the Purse Power project, an initiative Focus on Haiti created to educate woman on financial literacy and business. They started with 50 women in the program and have since then expanded to bringing more women into this amazing project. Sister Dale Jarvis, one of the members of Focus on Haiti, reaffirms the goal of the Purse Power with this quote “the purpose of the Purse Power project is to develop a woman’s program that provides women with education and to initiate microfinance projects that will empower woman economically.” Like Mary’s Pence, this organization believes that women are the backbone of family and community.

Since Focus on Haiti was established in 2011, they have also developed many projects that change the livelihood of women and children. For example, for the past three years, they have been supporting the agro-forestry program in the region by providing a salary for an agronomist and his assistant. Through the agro-forestry program, the people of Gros Morne have received education concerning the importance of this work and have planted over 100,000 trees. The agronomist and his assistant also supervise the training for local Haitians in goat husbandry and a community hen project. Both of these projects have provided Gros Morne with sustainable land and food sources. Investing in the local agro-forestry business has also been another form of economic development for women to lift themselves out of poverty.

With the same tenacity and passion that Sister Dale Jarvis and the rest of The Sisters of Mercy of the Americas used to start Focus on Haiti, they are now expanding its work. The sisters are actively searching for a woman that will serve as a liaison for the organization in Haiti; they are seeking a female liaison that speaks French, English, and Creole. She will be a point of contact between members of Focus on Haiti in the US and the town of Gros-Morne. Sister Dale Jarvis says “we are looking for a woman to fulfill this position because we believe that will have more of an impact, by sustained, direct contact with the community”

Focus on Haiti is changing the lives of women in Gros Morne one woman and one child at a time.

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The Trans-Pacific Partnership and Fast Track Approval: Oppose the Damage Done by Free Trade Agreements

What is the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP)?

The Trans-Pacific Partnership is a massive free trade agreement among the countries around the Pacific Rim. Countries currently involved in the negotiations are: the United States, Canada, and Mexico, as well as Australia, Brunei, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, and Vietnam. Eventually, the TPP could include all nations along the Pacific Rim. Discussions about the TPP, a cornerstone of President Obama’s trade policy, were initiated in 2005. In his last State of the Union he expressed his desire to achieve approval of the agreement in the coming months. Although the TPP is labeled a “trade agreement” only 5 of the 29 chapters deal with traditional trade issues. It is a wide-sweeping agreement with potential to impact our federal, state, and even local policies.

 What is Fast Track Approval?

Congress traditionally has authority over trade deals. However, fast track gives this authority to the President, thereby allowing him to sign a trade deal, after which the deal goes before Congress for a yes/no vote with limited debate and no amendments. Fast track was created in 1973 by President Richard Nixon, and has only been used 16 times in the history of our nation, often to approve controversial trade agreements, including NAFTA.

 Why Does Mary’s Pence Oppose the Trans-Pacific Partnership?

Free trade agreements (FTAs) have a history of harming people already suffering from economic injustice. Agreements such as NAFTA and CAFTA have led to the off-shoring of jobs for citizens of the United States, while also undercutting profits of local farmers in Mexico and Central America with the import of cheap foods. This contributed to an increase in use of sweatshop labor and the increase in migration, as individuals felt forced to leave their homes to provide for their families. While trade agreements may improve labor standards and the quality of life for people around the world, those who have analyzed leaked parts of the TPP say that it replicates many of the provisions that allowed previous free trade agreements to wreak havoc on good paying, stable jobs around the world. Thus, we are worried that the TPP will replicate the policies of previous FTAs and have a huge impact due to the expansive size of the agreement. In short, the TPP could drastically increase economic injustices both at home and abroad – economic injustices that the women we partner with are already struggling with. Other concerns include the possibility diminishing banking, environmental, and health regulations that protect individuals.

We are concerned that such a massive trade agreement, with the potential to impact so many women’s lives across the Americas, is being negotiated in secret and with little oversight through the fast track process. Allowing fast track approval means that the agreement will not be properly debated according to our country’s democratic principles. We echo the Interfaith Working Group on Trade and Investment when they state in their letter to Congress that allowing fast track approval for the TPP: “privileges the views of powerful global corporations in defining the terms of trade agreements, while excluding voices of those adversely impacted. This impedes progress towards a more just world.”

Who Else Opposes the TPP and How Can I Help?

Organizations that we trust, and many that we partner with, are mobilizing against the TPP, including Network – a Catholic Social Justice Lobby, Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR), Sisters of Charity of New York, Franciscan Action Network, and Maryknoll Office for Global Concerns. You can see the full list of members of the Interfaith Working Group here.

If you’re concerned about the TPP you can learn more by reading about the TPP on the following websites: Public Citizen, Network, Citizens Trade Campaign , and the Cross-border Network Against the Trans-Pacific Partnership (Information for this article was gathered from these websites). You can also find events, actions, petitions to sign, and talking points on FlushTheTPP.org, CitizensTrade.org, and TPPXBorder.org. Sr. Simone Campbell of Network predicts that the TPP will be a hotly debated issue between March and September of this year, with the President calling for fast track approval any day. Your action is needed now!

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Celebrating International Women’s Day with Mary’s Pence

Tere, an associate of the metal working cooperative, Yolitzli, displays the patterns used to make handicrafts for sale.

Tere, an associate of the metal working cooperative, Yolitzli, displays the patterns used to make handicrafts for sale.

The global theme for International Women’s Day 2015 is “Make It Happen!” And this is exactly what the women of ESPERA and Mary’s Pence Grants are doing. Everyday they make their businesses happen, they make improving their lives happen, and they make working for justice in their communities happen.

In our International Women’s Day letter we shared the story of one particular group of women who “Make It Happen.”

ESPERA participants in Cuentepec, Mexico meet to discusses the challenges and successes of owning and growing their business.

ESPERA participants in Cuentepec, Mexico meet to discusses the challenges and successes of owning and growing their business.

The women of the Red de Mujeres Morelenses have a diversity of businesses – some grow agricultural products, others have small stores sellng food or clothes, while others produce and sell handmade crafts or health products.

The women shared with us that they participate in ESPERA and work hard to improve their businesses, because they believe in building small, independent economic initiatives, which offer them sustainable alternatives to many of the unjust, low-wage, long hour options around them. The women of the Red de Mujeres Morelenses, along with all the women we partner with embody this International Women’s Day theme!

You know who also “Makes It Happen?” You!

Wendy, with her son, stands proudly in her store where she sells hand painted crafts.

Wendy, with her son, stands proudly in her store where she sells hand painted crafts.

Your support ensures that the women we partner with have the resources they need to make the changes they want in their lives and their communities. Thank you!

We invite you to donate today – in honor of International Women’s Day, of the women who “make it happen” in your life, in honor of the women of ESPERA and Mary’s Pence Grants, and in honor of all the women around the world who build justice. Your support ensures that the women we partner with can continue to “Make It Happen!”

Thank you again!

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Meet Carmen – Mary’s Pence New Communications and Outreach Intern

10906160_10200116586514516_4859741636333633618_nIn February, Carmen Attikossie joined the Mary’s Pence team as our new Communications and Outreach Intern. She brings a passion for empowerment, experience in social enterprise, and loads of great energy and ideas! Welcome, Carmen!

My name is Carmen Attikossie; I am a senior at St. Catherine University studying International Relations with a minor in French. I am the Communication and Outreach Intern for Mary’s Pence. I came across the work that Mary’s Pence does through the St. Kate’s Career Development office. I did a little bit of research on the organization and I was really touched by the work they do with women in various parts of the Americas. As an International Relations major, my courses are filled with research and discussions around Economic Development and empowering women globally. With such a background I was easily drawn to apply for the Communication and Outreach Intern position.

In my spare time, I like to travel and learn about different cultures and people. Last year I studied abroad in Ghana, West Africa. While I was there I would volunteer at an organization called Future Leaders. Future Leaders teaches children the basic foundations of education for free. During my stay with Future Leaders I taught science to 5th and 6th graders. I also helped developed a Micro-Finance initiative for women in the region. This Micro-Finance initiative included teaching women how to make everyday products like soap that they can sale to earn an income. In addition to that, the women were also learning how to grow vegetables that they can also sell.

I also have a business that I started about a year ago selling accessories made out of African Prints. The name of my business is Cartik. While I was studying abroad in Ghana, I would travel to Togo, which is right next to Ghana, and also my birth country. While I was in Togo I would help my aunt pick out a variety of Vibrant African Prints for her business, she inspired me to start Cartik by sketching some ideas for purses. By the end of my trip in Ghana and Togo, I came back to the US with 30 purses and jewelry that I sold out within 2 months. By the Grace of God I have increased my inventory from 30 to 200 purses.

I am really excited to begin this journey with Mary’s Pence because I am eager to learn everything this organization has to teach me about the work they do, and I am more than happy to contribute in anyway that I can.

 

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Social Justice: A calling for Sister Patricia Ann Hurley.

Hurley--PatriciaAnnRTwebEngaging and dedicating our lives to social justice can be a true calling. It’s a calling that can take the form of using education as a platform to educate children, or serving our communities to the best of our abilities. This was exactly what Sister Patricia Ann Hurley did throughout her life. On January 2, 2015, at the Dominican Life Center in Adrian, Michigan, God called her home.

Sister Patricia Ann Hurley holds a special place in our hearts here at Mary’s Pence. She served as a bookkeeper and clerk for Mary’s Pence for many years. She was loved by many including Karen Flotte, the former Executive Director of Mary’s Pence. Karen states that “she was an amazing woman. If you look back in the old archived financial records, you will see her work, all done by hand on bookkeeping paper with amazing clarity and precision. She was the steady, quiet rock who created a foundation in the home office so Maureen (Mary’s Pence foundress) could do her amazing work organizing, speaking, meeting — ever tilling the fields across the country.  Together they built the legacy we all inherited. The beautiful statue of the kneeling woman was given to Mary’s Pence by Pat.  She is the one who first put a prayer altar in the office– a tradition we carried from Chicago to Metuchen — donor slips, letters, etc. were all put there recognizing the sacred commitment our donors were making through their offering.”

Sister Patricia Ann was born in Detroit and graduated from St. Theresa High school in Detroit. She went on to receive a bachelors degree in English from Sienna Heights college in Adrian, Michigan. For 38 years she ministered in elementary education in Cleveland, Ohio and in Illinois. She served as an assistant principle from 1978 to 1987.  Sister Patricia Ann, will forever be part of our Mary’s Pence community and her contribution to social justice will continue to be reflected in our organization.

You can view her obituary here.

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Exploring Economic Injustices: Guest Reflections on Visiting ESPERA Groups in Mexico

David in Mexico City

In January I tagged along with my wife, Anna Zaros, Mary’s Pence Development and Outreach Director, on her trip to visit ESPERA groups in Mexico.  I had the opportunity to visit with and photograph groups of women who received loans from locally owned ESPERA lending pools, pools Mary’s Pence helped create in partnership with local women’s groups. I heard stories about how the loans, and the accompanying support of ESPERA staff and coordinators, have been affecting their economic and social livelihoods.  Gilda Larios, ESPERA Facilitator, was our tireless guide and connected us with people who had much to say about their lives.  It was a unique opportunity for me to learn about the realities of people living in Mexico.

I visited the home of Letty in Cuentepec, a small indigenous village in the rural outskirts of Cuernavaca.  It was the feast day of St. Sebastian, the patron Saint of their town, and following their custom, each family welcomed us with an edible feast of chicken mole with all the trimmings.   Walking around their property I saw a huge pile of dried corn that partially filled the room used for cooking.  I asked if they grew the corn for consumption or sale, and they told me “We grow it for consumption, because we can’t really get a good price for it if we try to sell it.”

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Lupita, another participant in the ESPERA program in Cuentepec also hosted us for mole during San Sebastian’s feast day

Later on in the visit we met Gilda’s longtime friend and colleague, Liliana.  She told us about one of the economic barriers currently facing the Mexican working class.   If a person, say Fulana Lopez, wants to sell her handmade crafts to a wholesaler or retail outlet they must sell them to a Coyote, who is basically a middleman in the supply chain.  Coyotes are granted exclusive domain in a particular municipality, so Fulana can only sell her goods to one buyer, who pays her a very low price.  If she tries to sell to another buyer for a better price, Fulana is threatened with violence.  The government of the municipality does not intervene because they receive payment from the Coyote, to maintain their purchasing monopoly over the situation.

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Some of Letty’s corn, dried and ready to start the tortilla making process.

So in the end, the Coyote wins with a substantial markup in the selling price of goods, the politicians get a piece of that profit, but the producers of the goods are paid unfairly, perpetuating their struggle to advance themselves economically.  It seemed clear that for a producer, the ability to sell ones own goods directly to consumers would provide a significant advantage in this system.

 

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Letty shows us her store

Many of the women who received loans from the ESPERA Fund were doing just that.   Letty, for example, may not sell her corn, using it instead for her family’s consumption, but she used an ESPERA loan to start a small store in her community.  A store she has control over – a store that bypasses the coyote system.

This is what the ESPERA program does – in the midst of unjust economic systems it provides opportunity for women to create economic initiatives that bypass these injustices – initiatives that provide a true benefit to women, their families, and their communities.

David Hong

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At the Intersection of Gender and Economy

By Eva Martinez-Menjivar, ESPERA Promoter, and Anna Zaros

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Eva Martinez-Menjivar, ESPERA Promoter

Between July and December of last year, Eva, ESPERA Promoter, participated in a certification program on Gender and Economy. The certification was led by economics faculty from the Universidad Nacional de El Salvador, along with female teachers and feminists from various women’s organizations in the country.

Eva was the only woman who was accepted to participate from the Concertación de Mujeres in Suchitoto, El Salvador. She told us that, “This certification is a great opportunity for women to improve their academic and intellectual knowledge, and this serves to empower women and to help us acquire our autonomy.” Topics included the caring economy, globalization and its impacts, the economic rights of women, patriarchy and capitalism, and social movements, among others.

Eva summarized her experience: “It was a very good and interesting experience. It allowed me to obtain new knowledge, and otherwise learn about the economic reality in which women live, and to reflect upon it. It allowed us to learn more about the realities of other women…and above all, that our gender is not separated from the economy, we are a whole, and the economy affects all types of work that human beings do. [W]e can appreciate the economy from another point of view, that it is not just through capitalism.”

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Just one example of women’s work, Felipa, who lives in Cuentepec, Mexico, makes these artisan handicrafts, in addition to her agricultural production and animal husbandry work.  Photo Credit: David Hong

She wrote about how women contribute to the economy, especially poor women who work hard through agriculture production and small market sales, but that this contribution is invisible to the population and to the government. Often those who work the most difficult and essential jobs get paid the least, they are disregarded. “…[P]atriarchy has made us believe and feel that the women do not contribute to the national economy, and other women are unaware of their economic rights, and for this we demand the recognition [of women’s contribution to our economy].”

With regards to her work with ESPERA: “I have learned to analyse small details of the situation of women, observing new concepts which serve me on a personal level [in my own work]. I have become familiar with the data and statistics regarding women in the economy, and how we contribute to the country’s economy.” For Eva, the certification provides more inspiration to continue her work because as she says, on the micro-economic level the connection between gender and economy “has to do with the poverty and wellbeing of…women.” Improving the status of women in the economy, improves women’s overall wellbeing.

Through the support of our donors, Mary’s Pence provided the resources for Eva to register for the course and travel to Suchitoto to attend. To our donors, Eva says, “Thank you…for offering me the opportunity to attend this course, and providing me with the time and resources.”

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Reflections on Traveling with the Women of ESPERA

Eva, ESPERA promoter, takes a picture of my traveling in the truck on one of our visits to an ESPERA group. ESPERA coordinators Eva and Auxiliadora, called this part of my "Central American adventure!"

Eva, ESPERA promoter, takes a picture of me traveling in the truck on one of our visits to an ESPERA group. ESPERA coordinators Eva and Auxiliadora, called this part of my “Central American adventure!”

Just last week I returned from two weeks of visiting ESPERA groups in El Salvador and Mexico. It was a great adventure of bumping around in the back of trucks, getting some sun in the middle of a Minnesota winter, and eating an infinite number of warm, fluffy tortillas. But most of all the experience was deeply inspiring – in the moments women opened up to me about their personal economic difficulties, the cultural sharing, and the pride each woman had as she shared her name and what her business does. We’ll be sharing so many stories, videos, and photos over the next few weeks, but I wanted to highlight here some of my impressions after these two weeks of learning!

ESPERA Loans Provide Access to Economic Goods

Overall, the need for continuing community lending pools and Mary’s Pence staff visits is so apparent. It is also clear that we could continue to expand our program to meet need. Women clearly can improve their lives with the credit they receive from the ESPERA fund – most can’t get a loan from a bank, or afford the high interest rates.  In almost every ESPERA group I visited, the women told me that they use the loan to buy raw materials – these are expensive and the ESPERA loan is often the boost the women need to get their business started.

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Myrna stands proudly near her herd of cattle!

For example, I met Myrna and Marta in the community of Aguacayo, outside of Suchitoto, El Salvador. They worked together to buy cattle – which is rare for women to do in El Salvador. They have used Mary’s Pence loans to invest in a growing herd of cattle, thereby gaining more income. They have been so successful that they even have been able to buy their own land – also a rarity for women in El Salvador!

 

ESPERA Responds to the Needs of Women in Central America, Mexico, and Haiti

Mary’s Pence is working hard to expand our ESPERA program in order to improve the support women have as they start and grow their businesses. We want to ensure that each woman has the skills she needs to grow a sustainable business. There were many questions in each group sharing I attended about market analysis, recordkeeping, and business competition, among many others. We have listened to what the women are struggling most with at this time, and we are responding.

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In Cuentepec, Mexico, a rural, indigenous village, the women who participate in the ESPERA program gather to discuss what is working well with their businesses, and what they need more support with.   Photo Credit: David Hong

For example, I met Letty in Cuentepec, Mexico, an indigenous village in the state of Morelos. She recently used Mary’s Pence funds to open a little store. The costs for running a refrigerator for cold drinks is high so she diversified her products from just selling Coca-Cola to selling all sorts of refrigerated goods. And she even loans out part of the refrigerator to others who may not have this access. Letty is a strategic business thinker and it has served her well. These are seemingly small business choices that can make the difference that helps women get ahead. We want to help other women think strategically about their business with our new business development project.

ESPERA Creates Women-Led and Women-Owned Spaces

We talk a lot about the impact of the loans themselves – the businesses our women create, the increase in their income, the savings they acquire. But I was deeply moved by another aspect of the ESPERA program, provided by the regular meetings with Gilda, the network-wide assemblies, and the casual exchanges among ESPERA women from different countries. These exchanges serve a real, ritualistic purpose. They bring women together. In many contexts women don’t even have the opportunity to simply be together as women – to converse, to share difficulties and joys. This in and of itself has value, in terms of solidarity. So much of our world is drawn with a male-dominated lens – especially the economic sphere. It is clear that outside of the concrete, monetary support, our staff and organizational support creates a feminist answer to our male-dominated world.

The ESPERA network, ASMUR, met for their first ESPERA assembly, in January. Thelma is a member of ASMUR.

The ESPERA network, ASMUR, met for their first ESPERA assembly, in January. Thelma is a member of ASMUR.

Thelma, a member of the ESPERA network ASMUR, in Bajo Lempa, El Salvador can summarize my thoughts better than I can – when I asked her what it meant to her to be in a women’s network she said, “It means a lot, because it helps me to feel more free, more independent… And there are a lot of women in bad situations, who aren’t treated well by their spouses, I can help them, I can explain where they can get help…[we learn many things, participate in trainings and meetings, and] like this, many things teach us how to feel like birds that can fly free.”

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