Finding Inspiration from Isabel - Mary's Pence

Women's Stories  |  ESPERA

Finding Inspiration from Isabel

Photograph of Isabel.
Isabel with CIS staff
Isabel (center) with female leaders of her community and members of the Concertacíon.

by Pat Rogucki, Board Member

Isabel Calderón taught me what it means to live life unafraid and with a deep sense of determination.

During the civil war in El Salvador in the 1980s Isabel survived bombs that rained down on her community. She survived being in the crossfire of bullets from warring forces. And she survived the death of “un monton de familia – ” an awful lot of relatives . But Isabel never let her spirit be crushed by violence or injustice, she confronted it.

After the war, Isabel returned to her home in Palo Grande, El Salvador, a community that had been further impoverished by the conflict, to rebuild. As an original member of the Concertacíon de Mujeres de Suchitoto, Isabel worked tirelessly organizing the women in her community to eradicate violence, increase economic justice, and gain recognition of the rights of women. That’s where I met Isabel, over 15 years ago, when I began spending summers in El Salvador working in a local parish. As a Mary’s Pence board member, I was fortunate enough to deepen my relationship with Isabel when she became part of ESPERA.

Thanks to you, and the entire community of our supporters, Mary’s Pence was able to begin partnering with the Concertacíon six years ago through our ESPERA program. Working with Isabel, and other local women leaders, we invested in the community – providing funds for a lending pool and giving support through accompaniment.

For Isabel, however, involvement in ESPERA wasn’t just about an increase in her income. She was a driving force in her community, a visionary who ensured that

a sense of solidarity and empowerment was present among the women. Isabel led capacity building workshops about successful business practices, communications, and self-esteem.

Just as strong as her dream of empowerment for all women, was her dream of an economically just society. She saw how capitalism could serve the rich and further impoverish the poor. She encouraged the women in her community to confront this problem by gaining economic autonomy.

I cannot say thank you enough, for your support of Isabel, and all the women of ESPERA. I wished you could have met Isabel. Her smile always brightened my day. Her hardworking attitude and deep humility left a remarkable impression on me.  She was a spirit-filled woman, who used every moment of her life to improve the lives of the women around her.

Isabel CardIsabel passed away last year after a long battle with cancer. She met death as she lived her life – with strength, determination, and a fearless attitude. And I share her story to offer a memorial to her life and work.

But Isabel isn’t gone. Her influence continues to ripple through her community and the lives of the women she touched. With 129 participants, the Concertacíon is thriving today. The women have used the $25,000 grant from Mary’s Pence incredibly well – they have made $90,256 in loans to numerous women-owned businesses in their community, and collectively they have earned interest of $10,770.
Sadly, the needs Isabel tirelessly sought to fulfill continue as well. The poverty, the inequity, and the injustice she sought to alleviate are still too large, too present in her community – and many like hers across Mexico, Central America, and Haiti.

Over 700 women in 9 groups are involved in ESPERA, but there are many more women who need an increase in their income, who need respect from their spouses, who need to improve their family’s nutrition, and who need to send all their children to school.

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Women of the ESPERA group, Asociación de Mujeres Sembradoras de Esperanza, in Santa Cruz del Quiché, Guatemala, stand proudly by the oven they use to make baked bread they sell in their community.

March 8 is International Women’s Day and the official theme this year is “Inspiring Change.”  This is what Isabel did every day of her life. And inspiring change is what the women of ESPERA continue to do for themselves, their families, and for each other. They set an example to the world of how empowered, economically autonomous women can confront injustice and poverty.

Thank you for your support as we continue working for Isabel’s dream of a world of economic justice and gender equity.

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