It was March 2020 and the coronavirus pandemic was beginning to hit El Salvador. The media and official communications in the country were issuing alerts encouraging the population to stay at home.
Knowing that government-imposed quarantines were imminent and anticipating economic difficulties for both ESPERA partners and the women in their communities, the ESPERA team wanted to act quickly to provide as much assistance as possible. The question was: What could they do to most effectively respond?
From the onset of the pandemic, one of the greatest difficulties facing people in El Salvador was the ability to purchase basic supplies. To address this problem, ESPERA staff Gilda Larios, Eva Martinez and Brenda Valladares decided to support local tiendas owned by ESPERA women that could serve as supply centers for their communities. By stocking their tiendas with essential goods, it would eliminate the need for customers to travel farther away to larger markets.
The ESPERA team developed a distribution plan that would eventually work with 5 tiendas owned by ESPERA women in 5 different towns. The plan provided each woman with a $300 interest-free loan from ESPERA to purchase the most essential supplies to meet the demand of people quarantined to their homes.
Initially the program supported 2 tiendas located in La Mora and El Sitio Zapotal in alliance with Concertación de Mujeres de Suchitoto, an ESPERA partner in Suchitoto, El Salvador. The 2 women who own the small stores created a list of products they needed to best serve their communities’ needs, and ESPERA helped to obtain the most urgent items to stock the women’s tiendas. Soon after, a third tienda was added to the program, this time in El Aceituno. The 3 ESPERA participants – Carolina Martínez, Mirna López and Aída Castro – worked to keep close administrative records and share their experiences of implementing the distribution plan.
As a result of the program, people in the communities could rely on the tiendas to buy their supplies locally. They didn’t have to venture far from their homes to purchase essential supplies, which allowed them to respect the enforced quarantine measures and avoid an increased risk of contracting COVID-19. In addition, they spent their money locally and the increased sales at the tiendas provided a steady income for the ESPERA women and their families.
Eventually 2 more tiendas owned by ESPERA women joined the initiative. Ofelia Velázquez and Lourdes Castellano each received interest-free loans to purchase more supplies for their stores. They followed the same guidelines that the ESPERA team set forth to benefit the tienda owners and their communities. ESPERA staff continue to communicate with all of the participating small business owners.
The loans from ESPERA have done much more than provide steady incomes and fully stocked shelves for owners; they have offered new opportunities and created stronger communities in times of hardship.
In the spirit of accompaniment and solidarity, Gilda, Brenda and Eva set aside time to talk with ESPERA women and learn about the reality of their struggles. Despite the anxiety and uncertainty ESPERA women are experiencing, they stand in solidarity with one another, confident that together they can create better opportunities for everyone.
Story written by ESPERA staff Eva Martinez and Brenda Valladares with interpretive translations by Mariana Amescua, Treasurer of Mary’s Pence Board of Directors.