We began gathering over 2 days – 70 women from 6 countries – for an ESPERA Encuentro / Gathering / Encounter in La Palma, El Salvador.
First the women from Honduras arrived by bus to San Salvador, where a driver picked themup and brought them to Suchitoto, where a dinner of pupusas, a traditional Salvadoran meal, awaited them.
The next day the 4 women from Morelos, Mexico came by plane, where they met up with Mary’s Pence board members from Mexico and from the U.S. at the airport in San Salvador.
Two women from Guatemala arrived later that day by bus. All were picked up by a driver that brought them to Suchitoto.
The same day the women from Nicaragua came, 13 in all. Their travel took them by two buses across Nicaragua, though Honduras, and then to El Salvador, taking almost two days to complete – delayed by stops at the borders of Honduras and El Salvador and heavy traffic. They were greeted by rain but were provided with food and a comfortable bed.
Together, the next morning, we began the last leg of the journey – a bus ride to La Palma. Along the road we stopped at communities surrounding Suchitoto and picked up additional women. And two hours later we arrived at our destination, a hotel in La Palma, at the same time a van arrived with ESPERA women from another part of El Salvador.
This group of 70 represented members of ESPERA’s 11 partner organizations including women from 5 countries, as well as ESPERA Staff, members of the Mary’s Pence board, and Mary’s Pence Executive Director.
All were happy and excited to be there! Some knew each other from previous Encuentros, others knew each other from a yearlong virtual training on leadership skills that they participated in together, and others from serving on an ESPERA advisory committee representing the groups in El Salvador. Many wonderful hugs were exchanged! They are a community!
The agenda for our four days included sessions on emotional wellness techniques, and workshops on business skills such as making a sales pitch and creating a plan for business growth.
We said a sweet farewell to Gilda Larios who led the ESPERA program for 14 years. Words of thanks and gifts were showered on Gilda – so well deserved. We said a warm welcome to Mabel Martinez Arriaga, the new ESPERA Program Lead; Gilda passed the baton to Mabel (a broomstick – does this say something about Gilda or ESPERA?) and representatives of each country said words of welcome. It wouldn’t be ESPERA without ritual!
Following the Encuentro those that could stay gathered again in Suchitoto, to share their experiences of ESPERA – from the beginning, middle and present state. They talked about the impact ESPERA had on the strength of their organizations, on the economic initiatives of their members, and on the lives of the women. Some of the things they said –
- Honduras – Epiphania, in Honduras, is celebrating its 10th anniversary as an ESPERA partner. Women have tiendas, sew curtains, sell furniture, prepare and sell food, and sell clothing and cosmetics. They say “We are not the women we were 10 years ago – We didn’t think we could do it.”
- CEPROSI has been an ESPERA partner since the beginning. They shared how they create an annual plan, with a timetable for the year, and how they keep records and record payments. They have participated in and organized training on participatory leadership, peace culture, and assertive communication. They say of ESPERA “I feel like this is a home, and you receive us.”
- A big focus of Concertación de Mujeres de Suchitoto is reducing violence against women. They say “Violence against women is still an issue, but more women are now reporting it. The income generation allows women to leave a violent situation. We have to keep supporting women even if they don’t leave the first or after many times. Women say I’m just a housewife – but they have green gardens, they go to the field. They don’t recognize all the work they do, all the tasks they perform.
- A group out of a Paroquia / Parish in El Salvador says that the priest is conseervative and didn’t want them to come to this meeting, but they came. One woman said “I thank Mary’s Pence because they have left a footprint on my life.” Another says “My dream is that within the techniques of dairy products and meat I have been learning processes. But I want to innovate – I want to make goat milk yogurt. We have duck sausages, and rabbit sausages.” She proceeded to ask others if they knew of sources of rabbit, so she could meet demand when her business grows.
The whole gathering had a tremendous positive energy. Women were happy to see old friends and make new friends. They were excited to learn new things and share their progress. And they had fun; one night was karaoke night – women from each country singing a song! And yes, they made Katherine, Executive Director, and Nancy, a Mary’s Pence Board Member represent the U.S. and take their turn (‘If I Had a Hammer’ written by Pete Seeger and Lee Hays in 1949 as a protest song).
The women left as they arrived, over several days, as travel options dictated.
On the front end of the visit those that arrived early were able to visit a market in the community of Ichanquezo. Ten women of the community had committed to having a daily market – making it appealing to customers who know it will be open every day and will have a variety of products. One woman sold fish she raises in a tank – she sells them alive, cleaned, or cooked. They are about 1 inch when she receives them, and about 8 inches when she sells them. The Honduran ESPERA women were intrigued. At the market we also enjoyed fresh pasteles cooked over a wood fire.
Those that left latest were able to take a trip to the ocean before their journeys home, an opportunity enjoyed by all.
Together ESPERA has built something special – a place of learning and growing, and relationship and trust. Our ESPERA partners trust us to listen to them – as a group and as individuals, to support their needs and goals. And they trust we will be there over time – a rarity with many nonprofits – 14 years and counting.