Women's Stories  |  ESPERA

In Depth with ESPERA: Different Life Stories, One True Collaboration

Women in Tonacatepeque, El Salvador

Through the In Depth with ESPERA series, Mary’s Pence will be sharing the history and stories of each ESPERA partner organization, one at a time.

Women Joining Together Across Differences

In May, Katherine Wojtan traveled to El Salvador and visited with an ESPERA partner group in Tonacatepeque.  She heard about the difficulties in women’s lives and the support they provide to one another.

Every month about 15 women meet in the local parish in Tonacatepeque, El Salvador, some coming from as far away as two hours.  This small group is one of our newer ESPERA partners. It was formed when two smaller groups interested in loans came together to participate in ESPERA.

ESPERA group gatheringThese women came together across social barriers: one group is from the local Catholic parish, and the other is a feminist group working on women’s rights.  They don’t always see eye to eye, but they have each other’s back. They came together to support each other as they formed businesses, and as it turns out they also support each other in life.

The morning begins with a circle and a check-in. The energy is positive and supportive, but the stories of the women’s lives are heavy.  Several women speak of health issues that they or family members struggle with. Quite a few talked about the threat of gang violence in their communities.  Recruitment by the gangs is omnipresent; many escort their teen sons to and from school daily in order to avoid the gangs. This is a heavy burden on top of all their work caring for family and earning an income.  As one woman says, “I have learned in life not to complain.”

A particularly difficult situation happened recently. One member of this group, from the church community, helped a young neighbor who was raped by a gang member report it to the police.  For weeks she lived in fear of retaliation. But she is not alone – she has an open invitation to stay at the home of an ESPERA participant who is part of the feminist group. These women come together to heal each other.

ESPERA woman and her storeDuring the meeting, the women provide updates on their businesses. One woman, Sonja, sells nonprescription medicines. Her loan allowed her to buy in bulk, reducing the cost of her product.  By talking with Mary’s Pence staff members Eva and Brenda, she learned additional things that bring people into her small store, such as shampoo and toothpaste, and a service for charging people’s phones. Natural medicines are popular. She says income is slow, but very important; it helps pay for her father’s medications and specialist, which cost a lot. She wants to begin selling products that other women in the group make or sell. She thinks the wine sold by Marian or the sweets Marylyn makes out of tamarind and coconut would sell well.

The group has been gathering for 2 years, using their loans and providing moral support to each other.  Now they are embarking on a greater commitment to working together. With some financial support from Mary’s Pence they are renting a building in town that will serve as a gathering space, a place to sell their products, and a place to hold classes for the women and for the youth in the community.  The space has two large rooms opening out onto the street, a nice porch on the back, and a yard for relaxation and for growing things.

We congratulate the women on the growth of their businesses, and their growing partnership within their community!

Learn more about the ESPERA Program.

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