Auxiladora didn’t talk much about herself at first. We’d walked up the block to grab coffee and chatted for about an hour about the ESPERA program before she shared details of her own experience. Despite the fact that those details included close calls with men and guns, vehicles weaving speedily through occupied streets, people being rushed into hiding, Auxiliadora told me that when she gathers with ESPERA women and they tell their stories, she considers herself blessed.
Auxiliadora was an ESPERA program coordinator in Central America who is working out of the Saint Paul office of Mary’s Pence for the summer. When I asked her why she’s here, she talked about the hope and gratitude women feel because of the support offered by Mary’s Pence through ESPERA. “Personally, I would like to tell people here how important the program is to the women there. Mary’s Pence is providing resources, but also accompanying women on different kinds of issues, not just about business and the economy, but other issues like emotional wellness.”
The emotional wellness part of the ESPERA program ends up being a big part of our conversation. In a nation where loyalties are sharply divided–not just between political factions, but also gangs–and where opposition could result in prison, disappearance, torture, or death, it’s hard to know who to trust. For her own safety and that of her loved ones, a woman must closely guard her thoughts and opinions as well as her stories and experiences. It’s a lot for one person to hold onto. But through ESPERA, women share the burden. Auxiliadora says women not only gain financial stability through the program, but also support, friendship, and a sense of not being alone in all of it.
So this summer, as Auxiliadora visits Twin Cities Rotary Clubs, Progressive Women’s groups, book clubs and churches, she carries these women with her in the form of their stories. She tells Minnesotans about women like Marcela, Santos and Maria Elena. She relays the concerns they have for their children’s safety, how they worry about whether they’ll come back from school and how they’ll navigate corruption. But she also celebrates their creativity. She tells stories of women in isolated, rural areas who have almost no academic experience but who share with her their remarkable business innovations and wisdom as they engage in occupations as diverse as dying fabric, needlework, growing corn and beans, crafting cosmetics or medicine, and raising chickens and goats.
As Auxiliadora talks about the women in the program, it’s clear she wishes to impart to an audience the dignity and honor these women deserve. But she also wants people to understand the reality of the circumstances people live in: Violence, joblessness, hunger, poverty, political turmoil and narcotic trafficking saturate the daily lives of men, women and children living in Central America and make them feel (we play around with Google translate to come up with exactly the right word) desperate. Auxiliadora says, “People don’t have many options. It’s hard to keep a clear head. People are making the best decisions they can under those circumstances. For many, that means seeking security in the US.”
The timing of Auxiliadora’s visit seems significant as public debate around human migration, particularly from Central America, is center stage. Auxiliadora and I discuss what it means for her to bear witness. She is one woman speaking about what she’s seen, but as her stories reach the ears of audiences a continent away from her home, they have the power to shape not only opinions, but policies as well. It’s hard to distance oneself from the plight of women in Nicaragua when one is sitting in your living room in St. Paul. As Auxiliadora visits, she welcomes us into the ESPERA circle. As we listen to their stories, we are invited to walk with these incredible women who do so much to hold their families, communities, and nations together. By joining the work of Mary’s Pence, you can accompany them as they build stronger, more peaceful communities.