“A Nun on the Bus” Inspires Us to Stand with the “Least of These”

by Mary’s Pence board member, Katie Lacz

It would appear to be a complicated time to navigate what it means to be a religious sister – to be told that you are part of a dying breed, on the one hand; and yet alive enough to pose a threat to Catholicism with your “radical feminist” tendencies, on the other. For Sr. Simone Campbell, though, what it means to be a religious sister is clear, if not always easy: “We walk with people in everyday life and try to live the Gospel in that context,” she writes in her memoir, A Nun on the Bus. “This living reality gives us hearts of compassion for the struggle of our world. We strive to be faithful to Jesus’ call to love everyone.” (p. 109)

A Nun on the Bus is a vibrant history of the walk – or, in this case, bus ride – in which Campbell and her fellow sisters sought to bring the message of the Gospel to the U.S. debate on poverty and inequality in the context of the budget vote of 2012. It is a quick-moving, passionate witness of Campbell’s experiences of a woman, and a religious community, caught in an extraordinary confluence of circumstances that led to the famous bus ride; even more so, it is a reflective examination of the work of the Holy Spirit hovering over the surface of those chaotic waters.

The book is part memoir, briefly touching on Campbell’s upbringing as a Colorado transplant to California, the nudges that guided her towards religious life, and her years bringing her passion for law, policy and advocacy into play with her calling as vowed religious.  It is part insider’s view, taking the reader behind the scenes of some of the decisive moments that led to the “Nuns on the Bus” tour, Campbell’s subsequent fame, and the moving stories of the people the sisters met along the way. But the book is at its best when Campbell explores the challenge of bringing together the strands of Catholicism that have felt so divided in the U.S. in recent years, and urges both sides to a higher understanding: “I am convinced by faith that we must strive for policies that include the 100 percent and involve the 100 percent in their formulation,” she writes. Even as she jokes that she might be the “stomach acid” in the Body of Christ, she does so with an awareness that even the people she finds most annoying and frustrating are necessary members, to be loved and worked with and journeyed alongside.

For people for whom words like “progressive” and “Catholic” are not a contradiction – people like supporters of Mary’s Pence – it is encouraging to see a thoughtful defense of the Gospel call to stand with the “least of these,” and to read the journey of a woman who is walking the walk, stumbles and all. Campbell begins and ends her book with the ancient cry, “Come, Holy Spirit!”, and her book gives a glimpse at the many small ways that the face of the earth is being renewed by the efforts of ordinary people.

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Understanding the Roots of the Current Unaccompanied Minor Humanitarian Crisis

Like many of you, we have been following the growing humanitarian crisis on the border between Mexico and the United States as tens of thousands of children cross the border without a parent or guardian, ending up alone or with other siblings in deportation centers. The violence and poverty that are driving these children North affect the women involved in ESPERA and their families. They are sharing with us stories of increased insecurity.

Today we mail out our annual summer reading list. When we asked board member, Pat Rogucki to share with us a book review for the blog, she gave us a list of books to help us better understand the situation in Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador, books that help us understand why we now face this humanitarian crisis. We thank Pat for her insights into the situation and her recommendations for us to grow in understanding. We ask you to join us in praying for peace and equality. And join us in renewed motivation in our Mary’s Pence work that seeks to change the economic landscape in the region so that women and their families don’t have to face this situation any longer.

Warm greetings from sunny Central America where I arrived on June 16th. Prior to my departure, it was widely known that thousands of youngsters were crossing the U.S. border. The daily newspapers here have front page photos and stories of this crisis.

In the last seven months, 47, 000 unaccompanied (minus a parent) children have crossed the U. S. border. The vast majority are from Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras, referred to as  the “Triangle of the North” by the press ( See laprensagrafica.com on Sunday, June 15, 2014). The people refer to it the “Triangle of Death.”

You are invited to read one or more of the following books to learn the root causes of this perilous undertaking. Why the have immigrants been coming and why the children now?

Through a Glass Darkely: U.S. Holocaust in Central America, by Thomas Melville, Orbis Books. This is a riveting biography of Maryknoll Father Ron  Hennessey, an Iowan farm boy who fought in the Korean War and learns the horrific truth of U.S. intervention  in Guatemala via massacre after massacre among the indigenous with whom he worked. The 600 pages cover the 36 years of Guatemala’s civil war and Ron’s inspiring struggle. He had tried to do what we are still trying to do – get the truth out to U.S. citizens. It is worth the read and you might want to do it slowly.

The Art of Political Assassination: The Murder of Bishop Juan Gerardi by Francisco Goldman who is Guatemalan and Jewish. He is a novelist and this book about truth, reads like a novel.

Silence on the Mountain: Stories of Terror, Betrayal, and Forgetting in Guatemala by Daniel Wilkinson, Houghton Mifflin Company.

El Salvador:
Gangsters Without Borders (an ethnogrophy of a Salvadoran Street Gang) by T. W. Ward, an anthropology professor in Southern California. This book chronicles the birth of the infamous Salvadoran gang, MS 13 in southeast Los Angeles. Immigration officials deported members for criminal behavior and then somewhat predicatably violence of war morphed into the unpredictable gang violence that people here try to cope with everyday.
The June homicide rate here was 10 a day when I arrived. It is now 12 and a local taxi driver told me that all murders are not reported.

Women in War by Joselyn Viterna, a Harvard Professor, covers the unspeakable suffering during El Salvador’s civil war and how women in various roles adjusted to life afterward. I am reading this now with great interest.

Enrique’s Journey by Sonia Nazaro is the unforgettable quest of a Honduran boy to find his mother in  the U. S. The author retraces Enrique´s story by traveling on top of trains, hitchhiking, and taking buses, etc. The author was interviewed on National Public Radio´s On Point in early June regarding the wave of youngsters crossing the border.

To Be a Revolutionary, an autobiography by  Padre J. Guadalupe Carney, a North American priest who is missing in Honduras. It is his deeply spiritual struggle  and “love affair” with Honduras and its people in which he comes to grips with the U.S. role in that country. He is inspired to work with the Honduran People at all costs. Harper and Row Publications, San Francisco.

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We Want to Hear From You! And Other Enhancements to Development and Communications in our 2014-2019 Strategic Plan

Over the past month, we’ve been sharing with you Mary’s Pence Fiscal Year 2014-2019 Strategic Plan. You’ve read our refreshed mission and vision and learned about the various ways we are strengthening our ESPERA and Grants programs. It is because of support and input from our donors, board, volunteers, and grantees that we can infuse this new energy into investing in women and working for a world where empowered women live in justice and solidarity.

SummerBookListPhotoAn important part of our work is outreach and conversation with you, our supporters.  In our strategic plan we’ll continue many of our outreach methods – letters during Advent and International Women’s Day, the Summer Reading List, our newsletters, our eNews, and our Facebook postings. Some pieces we’ll be improving – we’ll be making our website compatible with mobile devices, increasing our use of social media, growing our outreach to parishes and faith communities, and finding conferences to attend to reach new and diverse audiences. We also hope to connect with you, our donors, on a personal level when possible – to hear from you individually, about why the work of Mary’s Pence matters to you.

We always love to hear from our supporters about how you’d like to be connected. If you haven’t yet, sign up for our eNews, like us on Facebook, watch our YouTube videos, and check out our website. Tell us what you want to hear about from Mary’s Pence – what postings do you like or what would you like to see more of? We are always available to talk about our work and answer any questions. We do this work together, and together we can share our story of women’s empowerment and solidarity to an even wider audience.

Interested in learning more about the plan for Mary’s Pence in the next five years? Go to our blog for all four posts detailing our 2014-2019 strategic plan.

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Building Networks of Solidarity and Support through Mary’s Pence Grants: Grants Program to Include Focus on Relationship-building in 2014-2019 Strategic Plan

Mary's Pence Grantee, Sacred Valley Project, supports girls who are attending school in the Cusco region of Peru. Their support ensures girls stay in school and receive the education they deserve

Mary’s Pence Grantee, Sacred Valley Project, supports girls who are attending school in the Cusco region of Peru. Their support ensures girls stay in school and receive the education they deserve.

Mary’s Pence Grants have been the foundation of our work since we began in 1987. For over 26 years we have dedicated ourselves to investing in women’s projects that bring about empowerment and systemic change. Just like we are doing with ESPERA, because of increased donations we are able to invest in big new ways in our grants program in the 2014-2019 Strategic Plan.

In a recent survey of grantees we asked what Mary’s Pence can do better to partner in the important work they are doing. Grantees asked for more opportunities for networking, resource sharing, and the chance to have multi-year support. In short, our grantees asked for deeper relationship with Mary’s Pence.

We are planning to connect grantees to each other, to Mary’s Pence staff and to local donors, through events, conferences and gatherings. Already we have in place a joint workshop at the 2014 Call to Action Conference, “Making Moral Economic Systems,” with Vicki Meath, executive director of grantee Just Economics. Our goal is to help grantees increase their visibility and provide them opportunities to network.

Canadian Voice of Women for Peace, former Mary's Pence grantee, offer leadership development for young women building peace in their communities.

Canadian Voice of Women for Peace, former Mary’s Pence grantee, offers leadership development for young women building peace in their communities.

We also are increasing the funding pool for grantees, connecting grantees to other resources and expertise, and offering the opportunity for multi-year grants. All these actions will help build capacity and sustainability for our grantees. Small, and often start-up, organizations that are making big changes in their communities usually need all the help they can get. At Mary’s Pence, and with our supporters, we hope to do more for our grantees.

Through this discussion with donors, board members, and grantees, we’ve also decided to limit our grantees to only organizations in the United States and Canada. After a year of implementing these new initiatives, we will reevaluate expanding back to Latin America and the Caribbean. We will continue to direct increased resources to Latin America through ESPERA, while also bringing renewed focus and support to the United States and Canada through the grant process. This focus will allow us to intentionally strengthen our relationships with grantees now, so that we will be able to grow stronger in the future.

Mary's Pence funded the "Well Women Clinic" of Naco Wellness Initiative - a program aimed at providing health services to marginalized Latina women on the borderland of Arizona and Mexico.

Mary’s Pence helped fund the “Well Women Clinic” of Naco Wellness Initiative – a program aimed at providing health services to marginalized Latina women on the borderland of Arizona and Mexico.

We hope you join us in excitement about this strong approach to our grants program, as we invest in women who are working for a world where justice flourishes!

Interested in learning more about the plan for Mary’s Pence in the next five years? Keep an eye on our blog for all four posts about our 2014-2019 strategic plan.

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Investing in ESPERA is Investing in Women: ESPERA to grow in the 2014-2019 Strategic Plan

Members of the ESPERA Group,  Asociación de Mujeres Sembradoras de Esperanza, and some family members

Members of the ESPERA Group, Asociación de Mujeres Sembradoras de Esperanza, and some family members

The Mary’s Pence ESPERA model is unique in the world of micro-credit or micro-lending, which is why we refer to what we do as community lending, instead. We believe that the lending pool should be a lasting resource in a community – to be continually circulated for the benefit of all women in an area, never to return to the organization that granted it. This is an alternative way to move money. We are working hard to ensure the sustainability of the ESPERA program.

But we can do more…and we will…

Since our Encuentro gathering over a year ago we’ve been discussing how to support the women as they work to improve the sustainability of their businesses. We want to ensure that each loan a woman receives is used to its maximum potential – that each loan can help lift a woman out of poverty, increase her self-esteem, and improve her engagement in community.

Through ESPERA Mary's Pence supporters provide the monetary resources necessary for women to improve their well-being and grow in empowerment

Through ESPERA Mary’s Pence supporters provide the monetary resources necessary for women to improve their well-being and grow in empowerment.

Mary’s Pence board, staff, and supporters haven’t been the only ones thinking about how to improve the sustainability of ESPERA businesses, so have the women of ESPERA. Auxiliadora, local coordinator of the ESPERA network in Nicaragua has already begun a recordkeeping training for the women participants there. The Concertación de Mujeres de Suchitoto in El Salvador has sent us a proposal to invest in coaching individual and cooperative businesses, and explore the potential for creating new markets for their products. The women of ESPERA have great ideas about how to enhance the ESPERA program. We can’t wait to work with them on these ideas and replicate them across the region!

With this energy and room for growth in the ESPERA program we plan to invest significantly more in ESPERA in the coming year! With your support, we’ll be able to achieve the following goals for the ESPERA program, as described in our 2014-2019 Strategic Plan:

Members of collective businesses that are a part of the ESPERA Group in Nicaragua, Red de Mujeres Nicarahualt

Members of collective businesses that are a part of the ESPERA Group in Nicaragua, Red de Mujeres Nicarahualt.

1. Provide access to financial resources by adding to community lending pools when appropriate and encouraging savings programs.
2. Strengthen businesses by providing intensive coaching and accompaniment to the women on the topics of recordkeeping, sustainable business practices, and understanding markets.
3. Deepen and strengthen stability of groups, member involvement, and network opportunities across the groups by encouraging joint planning and trainings, as well as supporting the groups to obtain legal status in their countries.
4. Document processes and create support materials so that the trainings and resources we develop can be easily shared with all ESPERA groups. And so that we effectively monitor and evaluate our work.
5. And finally, we plan to expand ESPERA to new groups in Central America, and potentially to South America!

In this time of planning we are again reminded that ESPERA means “she hopes” and “she waits.” We know that many of the women we work with have been waiting a long time for the necessary resources to work for their dreams. Through ESPERA we are able to provide those monetary resources, and now we look forward to doing even more to strengthen the women’s ability to use the ESPERA loans to improve their lives.

Interested in learning more about the plan for Mary’s Pence in the next five years? Keep an eye on our blog for all four posts about our 2014-2019 strategic plan.

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Mary’s Pence Releases New Mission and Vision!

About a month ago the Mary’s Pence board met at the Grailville Center outside of Cincinnati, Ohio. This beautiful setting was where we put the finishing touches on our 2014-2019 Strategic Plan. We’ll be rolling out our strategic plan over the next month right here on this blog.  And today we share with you our updated mission
and vision!

Empowered women and their communities flourish in solidarity and justice

Vision: We envision a world where empowered women and their communities flourish in solidarity and justice.
Mission: Mary’s Pence invests in women across the Americas by funding community initiatives and fostering collaborations to create social change.

Visión: Imaginamos un mundo en el cual, las mujeres empoderadas y sus comunidades, florezcan en solidaridad y justicia.                                                                                      Misión: Mary’s Pence invierte en iniciativas comunitarias de mujeres en las Américas y fomenta la colaboración para crear cambio social.

We invest in women, so women can invest in their dreams

This mission and vision reflects conversations and experiences we’ve had with our supporters and the women we partner with. More and more we’ve been reflecting on the importance of solidarity, equitable and collaborative partnerships, and investing in women. We believe that a world of empowered women is a world of justice and peace – this is a better world for all of us.  And we believe this sort of world will be created through investment in women’s dreams.

The women we work with suffer on the margins every day. Whether women involved in ESPERA, who are confronting poor economic conditions and gang violence in their communities, or women involved in Mary’s Pence Grants who suffer from low wages, discrimination, or a lack of access to education, these women know what needs to happen to create real change in their communities. By investing in these women’s ideas, traditions, and dreams we create real change.

Working in the Americas for the biggest impact

Lastly, while we want a whole world of empowered women, we know our specialty is working with our close neighbors. Our economies, histories, and futures are intricately linked. We must work here, in the Americas, for the biggest impact.

This is what we’ve heard matters to you and why you support Mary’s Pence. We are excited to work with you into the future for a world of empowered women!

We’ll release a new piece of our strategic plan every week for the next three weeks – check back with us to see the creative and impactful ways we plan to support women and their dreams over the next five years!

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Nine New Women Welcomed to ESPERA! And Other Updates from Auxiliadora

Several of the new members of the Red de Mujeres Nicarahualt with their family members. The group, who call themselves Mujer de Fe y Esperanza, asked to become a part of the ESPERA network in Nicaragua after witnessing the success women in neighboring communities were having by investing in their businesses with an ESPERA loan.

Several of the new members of the Red de Mujeres Nicarahualt with their family members. The group, who call themselves Mujer de Fe y Esperanza, asked to become a part of the ESPERA network in Nicaragua after witnessing the success women in neighboring communities were having by investing in their businesses with an ESPERA loan.

As the success of women participating in ESPERA grows – so does the number of women involved!

Recently, nine new women approached the ESPERA network, Red de Mujeres nNicarahualt, and asked to be included in the ESPERA program. These women belong to a village named Nindiri Masaya in Nicaragua.

The women had seen the success of ESPERA participants in the nearby communities that make up the Nindiri region. In particular they had witnessed two collectives, named “Delicias de Mi Tierra,” and “Sol de Vida, Pan de Vida,” whose businesses were seeing strong returns on investment. After hearing about the women’s experience with ESPERA, the women of Nindiri Masaya wanted to be involved.

The local ESPERA coordinator, Auxiliadora Salgado, recently met with the group to explain the requirements of being in the ESPERA program, as well as the process for initiating their participation. The Red de Mujeres Nicarahualt has set up an application process for new groups to join the network. This process will take three months, during which Auxiliadora will help them prepare to responsibly circulate an ESPERA loan pool.

Many of the women already have plans for their loans. Elizabeth is planning to sell clothes. Emelína wants to make and sell enchiladas and tortillas. Reyna wants to sell cheese and chicken. María Auxiliadora and María Emérita will make improvements to their small tienda.

After the application process is complete the women will receive $1350 from the Red’s community lending pool. This will give each woman an initial loan of $150 to pursue their goals. To begin the process the group of nine women named themselves Mujer de Fe y Esperanza (Woman of Faith and Hope).

Auxiliadora reports that the women are very excited to be a part of the Red de Mujeres Nicarahualt and the Mary’s Pence ESPERA program. Join us in welcoming these nine new women to the ESPERA program!

ESPERA Women Learn Recordkeeping Skills to Improve their Businesses

Encuentro Guatemala 2013 329

Auxiliadora, center in blue, works with the women of ESPERA

Auxiliadora also shared with us updates of her recordkeeping training. Auxiliadora has a university degree in accounting and, over the last few months, she has been traveling to the groups that compose the Red de Mujeres Nicarahualt to train the women on how to keep good records. She is helping the women understand how to track the cost of parts and labor, so they can adequately price their products. She is also teaching them how to keep records of their cash flow, what they produce, and what they sell.

While some women admit this is a tedious process, others have said that keeping good records has improved the success of their businesses. In her visits, Auxiliadora works to build rapport with the women in a way that builds their confidence. She encourages the women to share their difficulties and joys, thereby creating a space for them to be in solidarity in their struggles, and to motivate one another by celebrating successes.

After initial meetins with groups, all of the ESPERA women in Nicaragua have made a personal commitment to participate in the recordkeeping trainings and follow through on the learnings.

Over the coming year Auxiliadora will be replicating this training with other ESPERA groups across the region. This is just the first step in our goal to enhance the sustainability of the women’s businesses. Keep an eye on our blog – soon we’ll be sharing more news about this goal, and our entire strategic plan for the next five years!

Visit our YouTube channel and listen to powerful stories of women’s experiences in the ESPERA program, and their journeys of self-empowerment and community building.

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Mary’s Pence Community Works Together for Empowerment and Economic Autonomy

Empowerment and Economic AutonomyOne year ago at this time we gathered ESPERA women in Guatemala and we spoke about our common goals of empowerment and economic autonomy.  In March, over International Women’s Day, we opened that conversation up to you.  We’ve brought all ideas together into a definition that will certainly evolve over time.  Thank you for participating in this process.

Empowerment is having the knowledge, confidence and freedom to direct my own life. Fully being empowered includes using my power:
•    individually or in solidarity with others
•    to benefit myself or  my community – locally or globally
•    to create a just and peaceful community
And it is a process of growth – changing and deepening over time.

Economic Autonomy is having financial security – my needs and the needs of my family are taken care of – through my own efforts and with the support of my community. It includes:
•    making my own financial decisions – how to earn, spend, save and share my money
•    making decisions based on my own values, not based on a culture of consumerism
•    knowing I can take care of myself even in times of uncertainty
•    having the opportunity to participate in a just and sustainable economic system.

Click on the image above to see how your support makes empowerment and economic autonomy happen for the women participants of ESPERA.

*These definitions were also published in our Spring/Summer 2014 Newsletter

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