Mary’s Pence established the ESPERA program in 2008 as a way to create economic development and empower women by partnering with existing women’s networks in Central America, Mexico and Haiti and giving them the tools they need to lift themselves out of poverty. These networks are centered around what we call community lending pools – pools of money that the women, with the help of Mary’s Pence, use to disperse loans among themselves in order to create income generating projects such as agricultural production, or artisan crafts. The women use the money earned with these projects to pay back the loans with interest into the community lending pool, thereby creating a sustainably growing economy that equally benefits all members of their community.
It has been almost 8 years since the ESPERA program was launched, and its success inspires us to continue our mission to support women’s economic autonomy.
In March, Katherine Wojtan, Executive Director of Mary’s Pence, traveled to Suchitoto, El Salvador to attend an assembly held by one of our ESPERA groups, Concertación de Mujeres de Suchitoto. She came back excited to share her experience with the Mary’s Pence community.
There were about 120 women that attended this event; 80 of them were women from the Concertación, and the rest were from other ESPERA groups in Honduras and Nicaragua. This was the first time in in two years that all the members of the Concertación de Mujeres de Suchitoto were able to meet as a whole group. During the assembly, the women broke into small groups based on the kinds of business they run. Together they brainstormed ideas to improve their business and different ways to create economic solidarity. The women then presented their ideas to the entire assembly. Some of the women also brought items they sell to show the other ESPERA women.
Despite the successes of the ESPERA program, the women of the Concertación de Mujeres de Suchitoto continue to face obstacles that hinder the growth of their businesses and their local economy. Increasingly, the women have been enduring harassment from local gang groups who threaten the women in the network in order to get the money they earn from their businesses. The women described to Katherine how the gang members ask for “renta,” Spanish for rent or income. Essentially, the women must pay a fee stop gang harrassment. This is an unfortunate reality that Mary’s Pence is continuing to discuss and working with the ESPERA women to find solutions.
However, the women in Suchitoto continue to strive to collectively improve their communities’ economic conditions. Katherine said she was amazed at the energy of the women and their eagerness to attend the assembly and to continue to grow and improve their businesses. Katherine had the opportunity to talk to some of the women about their ideas for improving the ESPERA program in Suchitoto. The women explained that they wanted to learn how to better manage their businesses by learning bookkeeping and tracking their inventory.
In September, Auxiliadora Salgado, a local ESPERA coordinator, began teaching basic accounting topics to another group in El Salvador, Red de Mujeres Nicarahualt. The eagerness of the other women to also learn accounting demonstrates the importance of the ESPERA assemblies as ways to share information, brainstorm ideas, and generate enthusiasm for improvement across and among our groups.
Keep an eye out for the Spring Newsletter in your mailbox to read more about how Auxiliadora and her accounting class have improved ESPERA businesses.