Insights from Central America: A Journey With Mary's Pence - Mary's Pence

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Insights from Central America: A Journey With Mary’s Pence

Part of Mary’s Pence team in the United States traveled to Central America last month. This is what we saw!

We met with ten ESPERA partner organizations. Three were from Guatemala, and seven others were from El Salvador. In total, we met over a hundred women in the markets we visited and at meetings in different municipalities. We want to thank the ESPERA team for planning and organizing this fruitful trip.

Our adventure started in Guatemala City, where our friends from ADISA (one of our new ESPERA partners) picked us up for our visit to the Guatemalan countryside. We would be visiting organizations in Cobán, Chichicastenango and Lake Atitlan areas. The next day, we met with the first group, Ixoc Mayaj, at the Produce Fair in Tactic Central Park in Coban. There, we met 15 women and saw their economic initiatives. They treated us to tasty local treats, and we learned more about their lives and work. 

Most of them had to travel long distances to arrive at the park at 7 am and sell their products, but they’re happy to do it because they can make some money and meet with other small business owners and share stories. Ixoc Mayaj —Mayan Women in the Mayan language— is an organization that gathers many groups from all over the Alta Verapaz department, where the city of Cobán is the capital. 

They focus mainly on advocacy for women’s and indigenous rights. They joined the ESPERA program only a few months ago, so the women are just finishing their first cycle of loans. Initially, most women wanted to avoid borrowing money because they were unsure they could repay it. With support from the ESPERA team and their coordinators, they are all successfully paying back their debts. Some are considering expanding their business with a second ESPERA loan.

Tactic Market Photos

The following day, we traveled to Chichicastenango to meet with representatives from ASCODREMCHI. They live in a very remote area that is hard to reach. When we finally made it, we met with three women and saw their economic initiatives – selling chickens and eggs and huipil weaving. Like the previous group, they were also finishing their first cycle and learning many business skills to continue growing their businesses.

That afternoon, our host, Manuela, treated us to a traditional Mayan stew called Kak’iq, which means ‘red and spicy’ in the Mayan language. The stew is traditionally made with turkey, but ours had chicken, onions, and carrots and was paired with amazing tortillas wrapped in corn leaves. It was delicious.

Manuela’s House Photos

That same day, we drove toward Lake Atitlan to meet with ADISA, our last visit in Guatemala. They invited us to an emotional wellness workshop the following morning. Women from all over the region attended the workshop, which was themed self-care, which is especially important for caregivers. The women who participated spoke Tzʼutujil, one of the 26 indigenous Mayan languages in Guatemala, and were mothers of children with disabilities. 

Emotional Wellness and Self-care Workshop at Santiago de Atitlan

After five days of exploring rural areas of Guatemala, we traveled to Suchitoto, El Salvador, our base, to visit more ESPERA partners in this country.

We spent our first weekend in Suchitoto meeting with Mary’s Pence regional team. Although we meet regularly on Zoom, in-person meetings have a unique vibe, and we enjoyed chatting and catching up with them so much.

The ESPERA team organized an Encuentro de Mujeres (Women’s Gathering), where all ESPERA partners from El Salvador were invited and represented. They set up a market in the Centro Arte Para la Paz garden so we could meet them and learn about their products and work. 

Encuentro de Mujeres Market Photos

After lunch, representatives from each organization shared some of their fundamental milestones and accomplishments. We were so happy to learn firsthand about each group and the ESPERA program’s impact on women’s lives.

Intercambio de Mujeres or Exchange of Knowledge at the Chapel of Centro Arte Photos

A day after the Encuentro, we traveled two hours to meet with CESPPO in the Los Pinos area. The Los Pinos cooperative of CESPPO has seen significant growth in women’s participation since they joined the ESPERA program in 2019, thanks to the support of ESPERA funds. Many women have utilized these resources to develop their entrepreneurial initiatives, fostering empowerment amongst other women in their community. 

One of the attendees testified to the transformative impact of ESPERA, which has created a space for women previously unavailable in the male-dominated CESPPO coffee cooperatives. This initiative has not only been a catalyst for economic advancement but has also brought about social changes. Women have gained valuable financial management skills, are part of committees, and have their voices heard whenever essential decisions are made.

Also, in Los Pinos, we visited CESPPO’s first completely organic garden built by ESPERA women with the help of an instructor and agricultural expert. The rise in the cost of chemical fertilizers and pesticides pushed women to find alternative solutions. They learned so many benefits of organic farming that they want to expand and train more women once they have mastered these new skills.

Meeting with CESPPO at Los Pinos and Organic Garden

On our last full day in Suchitoto, our partners from Concertacion invited us to march with them in demand of universal women’s rights. The march started early in the morning and gathered women of all ages. Amongst the most critical needs are public spaces free of violence, equal and free access to natural resources, especially water, reproductive rights, the country’s acknowledgment of women’s contributions to the national economy, and comprehensive sexual education in schools.

International Women’s Day March

You can learn more about our trip to Central America in our Spring Newsletter, which will be sent to everybody on our mailing list. You can join here.


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