Greetings! My name is Carol Fendt, and I am starting my 5th year as a Board Member for Mary’s Pence. Prior to serving as a member of the board, I have been a long-time supporter of Mary’s Pence. My relationship to Mary’s Pence could be compared to a treasure buried in a field that when found, the finder does all she can to access and claim it. But it’s not a treasure to be kept to oneself.
For me, this is a story of investment. My all time favorite uncle, Uncle Benny, taught me as a teenager his gift of investing: how to research a stock, how to look at the projections, how to know when to buy or sell, and how to live with the decisions that I made. When he died, he gave his many nieces and nephews a share of his wealth. Upon receiving our shares, one of my brothers, who traveled often to Nicaragua and had heard about the work Mary’s Pence was just embarking on with the ESPERA program, suggested that my siblings and cousins use our shares of Benny’s funds to honor him by supporting ESPERA.
Benny was a firm believer in the ideas of community lending as a proven strategy for helping individuals take charge of their lives by having access to funds. We could think of no greater treasure than to invest in the lives of women. This past year after a decade of work, ESPERA engaged in an evaluation to understand its impact on the lives of vulnerable women. Here’s what we learned:
Mary’s Pence work, especially in the ESPERA program, seeks to give agency to the poor, powerless, and oppressed. Together, communities of women organize themselves around how to invest their funds among themselves and their community. They set the terms of their loans. They decide how they will utilize their loans to enrich their lives, the lives of their families and their communities.
While on the surface ESPERA talks about loans for women and small businesses, perhaps the true direct service is what happens on a much deeper level. As members of ESPERA, women say that the program improves their sense of self-worth, provides them with economic independence from their spouse, and promotes a healthy culture of thinking about and saving for the future. One woman recently told a team of ESPERA evaluators: “I learned to value myself during all this process, to feel that I mattered and that I could do what I wanted… these groups have served as a space where we can value ourselves and make us think we can do it.”
Mary’s Pence values are justice, dignity, and solidarity. We are committed to justice, and we stand in solidarity with those living in poverty and oppression through the promotion and development of women leaders. Mary’s Pence does not just fund community lending opportunities through ESPERA, but also accompanies women–helping them recognize and develop their gifts.
In fact, a common theme mentioned throughout the program evaluation in 2019 was accompaniment. One of the evaluators noted that the women talked about accompaniment as part of the overall process of empowerment, helping the women feel capable and proud of themselves. “It helps them each to learn to work” the evaluator said, “to begin an initiative and to be independent.” It is the value of the Gospel of walking alongside people — standing in solidarity with them to empower women and offer concrete ways of providing new opportunities to transform structures that have traditionally hindered their lives.
Being a board member has given me greater insights into the lives of the people Mary’s Pence serves. These past five years have been a gift — an opportunity to embrace and enact whole-heartedly the mission of Mary’s Pence.
I invite you to consider investing your time in our shared mission. Join a Mary’s Pence committee. Engage with through the Mary’s Pence Illuminating Conversations series. Consider gifting us with your time and expertise!