When schools in Honduras shut down for 3 months in early 2020, Sara R, a mother and owner of a small business that sold school supplies in her community, was scared. Before the pandemic hit, she recounts, she was doing very well. “I managed to pay my installments of the group loan, I could purchase new materials and was able to cover my family’s expenses.” However, once schools shut down, so did her business. “I could not cover my dues or necessary expenses and I felt desperate because I did not know what to do and the situation was not improving in my country.”
In fact, the pandemic of 2020 created challenges for many women of the ESPERA Program. Some lost their primary source of income and didn’t have enough money to feed their children; others had children in other countries that they couldn’t see because of COVID; some had conflicts at home due to confinement; and lastly, many had fears of getting sick or dying from the disease.
Gilda Larios, Eva Martínez, and Brenda Valladares, Mary’s Pence ESPERA staff in the region, recognized the significant impact these challenges were having in the women’s lives and in their local organization and saw a need to support the women in a different way. What resulted was the development of a year-long training program, “High Performance and Sustainable Impact Teams.”
Sara was selected to be one of 21 participants in the first training course. She writes, “This training came into my life at the precise moment I needed it.” Since having to close her business selling school supplies, Sara had found an option to open a ‘Pulperia,’ or convenience store, in a town an hour from where she lived. It was, in her words, a “radical change” that forced her to leave the place she had lived all her life, where all her family and friends were, and start over in a new town. “I felt full of doubts and sadness, but knew I needed to undertake something new that would be beneficial to improve the quality of life for my family.”
Abigail Martínez López, a Salvadoran psychologist, designed and co-facilitated the training with two colleagues based in Spain. The curriculum was built around a series of four modules encompassing topics like emotional self-regulation, communication, conflict resolution, and leadership. There were videos for participants to watch and practical exercises to apply new tools and techniques, all self-paced to allow flexibility for women to engage as their schedules permitted. Virtual meetings were also held monthly for participants to share applications and learnings.
- Module #1: Conflict resolution, emotional intelligence in the workplace, and teamwork.
- Module #2: Interpersonal communication skills, promotion of healthy organizational environments, and the adaptation of situational leadership skills.
- Module #3: Interpersonal relationships through teamwork, personal leadership skills, and sustainable administrative practices.
- Module #4: Application of knowledge and skills obtained during the first 3 modules to help organizations implement strategies for workplace success.
In addition to Sara, 20 other women participated in the training, joining from many countries, including Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador, Nicaragua, and Honduras. The women graduated from the program in June of 2022 and created videos to share what they learned and how the experience has benefitted them. These are some of their comments:
“I learned that a crisis will always bring us learning. [Things like] not reaching a goal, not getting this or that project, failing. We will always, always get up and we will always go on to learn from that. It’s an important teaching we must keep in mind.” (Teresa U., Mexico)
[I learned] “to work with alternative exercises, such as “tapping,” which is one of the practices that I have incorporated into my life and has helped me the most to recover my sense of personal power.” (Daniella M., Mexico)
“I’ve [improved my] understanding and managing of emotional expression, no longer feeling guilty for it…being able to clearly express what I think, want and feel.” (Sara R., Honduras)
“I really appreciated the topic of personal self-care, taking time for yourself. I’ve always had pain in my shoulders. But thanks to this topic, and those videos of relaxation exercises, my shoulders don’t hurt anymore and I feel better.” (Emperatriz, El Salvador)
A second round of the program will run this year with a new cohort of women. Katherine Wojtan, Executive Director of Mary’s Pence says “I am so thrilled with how well the women took to remote learning. The skills they learned are benefiting their organizations, and are positively impacting their personal lives. I am so glad that a second cohort of women will be recruited to participate in this training in the fall.”
In the long term, Mary’s Pence is thankful to be able to support Mexico and Central American women, not only financially through grants, but also through support that enables women to deepen the skills needed to grow themselves and their businesses. We are proud to be able to provide a way for these women to enhance skills that will positively enable their success long into the future.
“I thank God for having been selected to be part of [the training],” Sara remarks. “It has greatly changed my way of perceiving life, of valuing myself and above all valuing others… and [helped me see] that the priority in my life is to love myself in order to love others.”
Sara’s final comment regarding the training shows the importance it has made in her life: “[This training] is not only necessary for our work, it is necessary for a full life, one in which we live each day fully and deliberately.”