Empower women. Eliminate poverty.

Category : Article

International Women’s Day: Francesca Shares Her Story

Francesca wears a proud smile while representing all the women who work hard every day to fight poverty.

by Brittany S. Bahk

Francesca trudged up the hill with a large basket of tortillas in one hand and her purse in the other. By the time she got to the top of the hill, she was panting heavily and trying to catch her breath.

“Pardon me for being a bit late,” she said enthusiastically with a wide smile, “It took me an hour and half to travel here, and traffic was crazy today!” Francesca plopped down her basket and gave large, motherly hugs to everyone. Although our meeting only lasted a fraction of the time it took her to travel, her bright spirit and warmth remained true throughout our time.

Francesca, a tortilla vendor, recently began her first loan cycle through Friendship Bridge. Married with seven children, she’s thankful that all her children receive formal education in school. Francesca did not have the financial support of her parents to complete her education since her father couldn’t find a stable job, so she only studied up to the 6th grade. Today one of her main goals is to support her children through graduation and help them acquire professional jobs. Her oldest child has already graduated from college with a career. She wants to make sure the rest of her children follow these steps so they won’t suffer later on in life. “Friendship Bridge empowers women like me to not only better our lives but also to help those in our community,” said Francesca. Since joining Friendship Bridge, she has felt empowered to work harder to achieve her goals She will soon start to sell fruits and vegetable in addition to her tortillas to further support her family.

Francesca also emphasizes the importance of health along with education to her children. “I had horrible allergies and red spots all over my body which have scarred my face to this day,” said Francesca about her pregnancy ten years ago. “As a mother of six, I was so worried about my children and how my health would affect my ability to work. The anxiety prevented me from going outside. I was constantly worrying.”

Rashes prevented her from being in sunlight, but after seeing multiple doctors and using medicinal plants, her rashes eventually healed. Today, Francesca continues to be a very strong woman with many hopes and the determination to achieve her dreams. However, she knows that there are far more people who are in need of help.

“If our neighbor ever needs help, we are always willing to lend a hand, and now I am able to help my community more with the help of Friendship Bridge,” said Francesca. “I thank each one of those working in Friendship Bridge for taking notice of me, for helping us work, and for helping us be better community members and mothers to our children.”

To read more stories like Francesca’s you can visit my previous post about Yolanda, who shared her past with corruption: https://www.friendshipbridge.org/world-day-social-justice-client-celebrates-ten-years-friendship-bridge/

Brittany S. Bahk, Story Collector & Field Blogger Intern

Brittany is a third-year Business Economics major specializing in International Economic Development at Seattle University. She loves to travel, serve and learn from the communities in need across the globe. She is also passionate about social justice and public health. Brittany will be the Story Collector & Field Blogger intern for Friendship Bridge through March in Panajachel, Sololá in Guatemala.

Whole Planet Foundation Selects Friendship Bridge as Partner in Guatemala

Friendship Bridge Clients make tortillas to sell. Many clients take out loans to build their businesses. The average microloan is $378 with 4-12 month repayment periods.

Friendship Bridge has opened a new office of microcredit and education services in Huehuetenango, Guatemala, with the help of a three-year grant from the Whole Planet Foundation, the charitable arm of Whole Foods Market. WPF has committed $300,000 over three years to reach 2,381 microentrepreneurs in Huehuetenango.

“Over the years we have gathered enough evidence to be confident that our programs are making a positive impact in our clients’ lives,” said Karen Larson, President & CEO of Friendship Bridge. “Opening our new branch allows us to impact even more women in Guatemala. We are honored to partner with an organization like Whole Planet Foundation who shares our vision of empowered women choosing their own paths.”

Access to credit and education in rural areas of Guatemala is a major barrier to poverty alleviation. Serving rural areas is costly and logistically a challenge. The new office will allow Friendship Bridge to provide access to credit and education to women in difficult to reach, rural areas.

For more information on Whole Planet Foundation, click here.

Need Ideas for Hosting a Building Bridges Stay-at-Home Gala Party?

Our 2017 Building Bridges Stay-at-Home Gala is just around the corner, on Saturday, April 8th. Many of our friends across the US are hosting parties on April 8th to celebrate! The office in Colorado is happy to support you with extra invitations and resources to make your event a success! Please be sure to let us know if you are planning to host a party so we can send you a special artisan-made apron in appreciation for organizing an event.

Ways to support Friendship Bridge during your party

  • Welcome your guests with a brief introduction to Friendship Bridge and talk to them about why you support the organization. (See our Friendship Bridge 101 web page for talking points and to rehearse your Friendship Bridge “elevator speech.”)
  • Share the link to the online auction with your guests.
  • Have your wifi password handy for guests so they can bring their iPads and phones to make their final bids on online auction items.
  • Make sure your computer or tablet is ready to watch the short online video premiere, which will be emailed to you at 7pm MDT.
  • Provide donation forms for your guests who are interested in supporting Friendship Bridge (Click here to download and print).

Ideas for activities

  • Friendship Bridge Video Premiere Bingo – We’ve created bingo cards with key words about Friendship Bridge’s work, to play during the short online video premiere at 7 PM MDT. Simply print out bingo cards for your guests, grab a pen, and you’re ready to play. Watch and listen to the video about Friendship Bridge’s work and mark key words and images you see in the video! See who can get BINGO first! (Click here to download and print cards)
  • Play marimba music (the marimba is the national instrument of Guatemala). Here is a link to some marimba music you can play in the background.
  • Wear or display any tipica you own (tipica is traditional Guatemalan hand-crafted items).
  • Display photos from your travels to Guatemala.

Menu Suggestions

Drinks and Cocktails

We hope you’ll join in the fun and host a party!

If you have any questions, please contact Nicole at neubanks@friendshipbridge.org. If you decide to host a party for the Stay-at-Home Gala, please be sure to let us know!

World Day of Social Justice: Client Celebrates Ten Years with Friendship Bridge


By Brittany Bahk

Every year on February 20th, various organizations across the globe recognize the needs & challenges surrounding global issues such as poverty, malnutrition, discrimination, and environmental sustainability. For Friendship Bridge, it is also a time to remember the core values rooted in their mission to create opportunities that empower impoverished Guatemalan women to build better futures for themselves and their families. In 2015 alone, over 29,500 women gained increased financial stability and self-empowerment through Friendship Bridge’s health, educational, and microfinance programs. As Friendship Bridge continues to reach out to more women every year, they find themselves empowered by the stories of their very own clients.

Yolanda in particular makes a living by stitching together beautiful, traditional Guatemalan wear for women. She celebrates her 10th loan cycle with Friendship Bridge this year. At 53 years old, she carries a bright smile and a youthful spirit—which she claims is due to the three glasses of freshly-squeezed milk she had every day as a child. However, Yolanda’s smile fades when she begins to talk about her past, before she became a member of Friendship Bridge:

“In the past I was hurting, because I fell into the hands of the corrupt, who took from me. I was hurting very much, and it took me a while to recover, but today I am empowered and thankful because of Friendship Bridge. I was even the chairwoman of my trust bank. They have always empowered me.”

Yolanda’s dream has always been to live a peaceful, healthy and happy life with her children. She says that as long as she is healthy and happy, so are her children. Although Yolanda herself only received up to six grades of primary schooling, she knows the great impact that stable education and health have on a successful life. Through the help of Friendship Bridge, Yolanda was able to successfully provide all of her children with complete schooling and stable careers.

“I thank you, Friendship Bridge, that you helped me. My children were given the possibility to study and everything else, starting even from what we had to eat. And now I feel happy because my children and I are able to have our own jobs. Now my goal is to keep growing my business,” Yolanda proudly says.

 With the support of its investors, Friendship Bridge has been able to provide continued support to women like Yolanda, and this number is still growing. To read more about Friendship Bridge’s reach & impact, you can take a look at their Financials page linked below:



Brittany Bahk is a third-year Business Economics major specializing in International Economic Development at Seattle University. She loves to travel, serve and learn from the communities in need across the globe. She is also passionate about social justice and public health. Brittany will be the Story Collector & Field Blogger intern for Friendship Bridge through March in Panajachel, Sololá in Guatemala.

Friendship Bridge Featured as Standout Institution

Friendship Bridge Featured as Standout Institution

In a special edition of the SPTF Spotlight, social performance management industry leader, Social Performance Task Force, highlighted several standout intuitions with strong social performance management practices – including Friendship Bridge.

Read more about Friendship Bridge’s social performance here.

Friendship Bridge named as CO Impact Days and Initiative Finalist – One of 60 to Participate in First of its Kind $100 Million Marketplace for Impact Investing

CO Impact Days and Initiative announced last week the 60 social ventures that are invited to meet face to face with investors in order to seek millions of dollars of “impact investments” at CO Impact Days Social Venture Showcase on March 4, 2016. Friendship Bridge was one of just 60 finalists chosen from more than 280 applicants.

The 60 ventures will convene at the Ellie Caulkins Opera House at the Denver Center for the Performing Arts (DCPA) for the first of its kind, statewide marketplace for impact investing.  The chosen social ventures will have the opportunity to showcase their work and their ability to provide both a financial and social return to more than 200 accredited impact investors.

“This is the first time in the U.S. that 200 accredited impact investors will come together for a statewide marketplace, where they can connect with each other, learn, and have intimate access to social ventures representing projects, for profits, nonprofits, and funds at any stage of growth,” said Dr. Stephanie Gripne, Founder of the Impact Finance Center and creator of CO Impact Days and Initiative. “This is a first for impact investors and social ventures.”

The goal of CO Impact Initiative is to catalyze $100 million in impact investments into Colorado social ventures in the next three years, and it is kicking off with CO Impact Days on March 2-4. CO Impact Days encourages a new breed of impact investors and community members to Learn. Connect. Invest.

“Colorado Impact Days is providing a perfect opportunity for Friendship Bridge to showcase our work to so many significant socially minded investors,” says CEO, Karen Larson, “We are excited to share our investment opportunity with local, like-minded investors and likewise, learn what is important to them. What a great community event!”

Among the more than 200 accredited impact investors, foundations, and family offices participating in CO Impact Days and Initiative are Gary Community Investments, Colorado Health Foundation, The Denver Foundation and Innovest Portfolio Solutions, along with Linda Appel Lipsius, Andrew C. Currie, Rich Hoops, Jim and Melanie Davidson, and Jenn Vervier.

“Impact investing allows me to support both for profit and nonprofit social ventures using my experience as an agency president, skills as an entrepreneur, and resources from my success,” says Melanie Davidson, President & COO of Fruition, a Denver based marketing agency. “Where else in the U.S. can I come to meet 200 other leading philanthropists and investors, learn from the best national and regional leaders in this space, and get the first look at Colorado’s top social ventures?”

CO Impact Days’ innovation is uniquely possible here because Colorado is home to a number of national leaders in impact investing and a thriving and collaborative community of social venture entrepreneurs in both the for profit and nonprofit sectors, philanthropists, and investors who are committed to growing Colorado’s economy and creating good jobs while ensuring our state remains one of the best places to work, live, and play in the U.S.

Wildflower Hike to Cataract Lake


By Sandie Godsman, Friendship Bridge volunteer

(Sandie is a member of the Evergreen Circle. She has been involved with Friendship bridge for 15 years and has visited Guatemala on an Insight Trip.)

The 2015 Friendship Bridge Wildflower Hike with John Fielder was a tremendous success! The hike raised $2,000 at Friendship Bridge’s Gala in April, and 20 people participated in the hike this July. We all met at the stunningly beautiful, wildflower-filled Cataract Lake area, north of Summit County at the East end of the Colorado Gore Range. We began our intimate gathering on the lake’s edge, with John sharing fascinating stories about his many hikes in the Colorado wilderness.

He shared stories of his adventures hiking into hidden places to take photographs of areas that were unknown and unseen before he published his books. He said that sometimes an elk or a bighorn sheep would stroll into the site as he was photographing. The animals seemed curious about his being there, would stare at him, and stay right there for some time while he took more photos. He decided to keep the many poses of the animal in his photos. John has a passion for preserving the wilderness, and he believes, “People need to be healthy, happy, and prosperous to be able to care for the environment.” Friendship Bridge can appreciate that health and prosperity of their clients is a priority, too.


Each group had 75 minutes to hike with John and hear many techniques about taking great photographs using the cameras that they brought on their hike.  One participant said, “John taught me to take a photo with three parts: a close up, middle distance and far distance. That one idea really changed the way I take pictures now.” Some of the hikers shared that they had taken over 200 photos using John’s suggestions and the critical view he taught. While one group was with John, the other group was able to hike with Deborah Kramer, our Evergreen Circle Chef.  She did a great job of sharing fascinating wildflower facts and answering any questions the hikers had about the huge variety of colorful wildflowers they were able to see at Cataract Lake. After both groups were done, the participants were delighted to see an incredibly colorful presentation of the gourmet lunch spread, provided by the Evergreen Circle volunteers:

The lunch included seasoned roasted beef; pasta salad with arugula, fresh basil, and cherry tomatoes; balsamic marinated roasted vegetables; orange honey mint marinated fruits; white dinner rolls; chilled white wine; red wine; and rich chocolate butterscotch bars.

One participant said, ” I learned more about how to take better photographs in 10 minutes with John Fielder than I have in my whole lifetime of taking pictures!”

Note from Friendship Bridge: Sandie has volunteered to lead another Wildflower Hike next year in Vail! Stay tuned for more information!


Announcing our newest branch location!


Committed to reaching the poor.

We remind ourselves of that every day. As part of that commitment, last month we opened our seventh branch, in the Department of San Marcos. San Marcos was chosen because of the large portion of its population that lives in poverty or extreme poverty. We’ve had a satellite office in San Marcos for the past year, and we are thrilled that it is now fully staffed and operational. Pictured below are Rodrigo (Branch Manager) and José Carlos (Facilitator) with a San Marcos client.

This is the first new branch office in more than six years, a reflection of the strength of the Credit and Operations team in Guatemala. Our 2014-2016 Strategic Plan calls for geographic expansion in Guatemala so we can reach more impoverished, rural clients. This new branch will allow us to do that, along with our satellite office in Huehuetenango, which is set to become a fully staffed branch next year. To read more about our expansion in Guatemala, take a moment to read our newly published 2014 Annual Report. Thanks for your support as we follow through on our commitment to reaching the poor and seeing empowered women eliminate poverty.



Non-Formal Education: Motherhood and Women’s Rights (Summer 2015)

A special thanks to our Cada Mes Club – Friendship Bridge’s monthly donors – for supporting our clients on their monthly journeys.

Each month the members of Friendship Bridge’s nearly 2,000 Trust Banks travel, most likely by foot, to their designated meeting place to make payments on their loans and receive a Non-Formal Education (NFE) lesson in their native languages. These lessons focus on four educational pillars – women, family, business, and health. Here’s a glimpse into what clients learned in April, May, and June.

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April – Mi Negocio Hoy (My Business Today)

No lesson was given in April. Instead the women completed the Mi Negocio Hoy survey. Mi Negocio Hoy is our most comprehensive survey in terms of client reach. Last year we surveyed 10,000 clients. It is also our longest standing survey. It has been completed annually since 2012. As a result, we now have three years of data on which to analyze trends. As the name implies, questions center around each woman’s business – the type of business she manages, the tools she uses to manage her trade, the number of employees she has, her expenses and her income. Results become part of our annual Impact Report on Social Performance Management goals. Watch for its release in early September.

May – Motherhood

In May, in observance of Mother’s Day, the women celebrated motherhood and explored the different roles a mother must perform in order to nurture her relationships with her children, all of which are easier when financial burdens are lessened. To start off the lesson, the women listened to songs on YouTube that paid tribute to mothers. They were asked to share their reactions to the songs and their own experiences being mothers. In the end, they created paper “flowers” depicting symbols of motherhood – hearts, flowers, hugs – that fit in a “vase” made from a used container they had brought from home. This activity introduced the idea of creatively reusing common household items in alternative ways that might be resold.

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June – Women’s Rights

In June, the NFE sessions focused on women’s rights. The goal was to make clients aware that human rights – equality, freedom, and dignity – belong to women as well as men. Additional rights belong to women simply because of their ability to have children. To encourage a dialogue around the topic, the women started the lesson by cutting pictures out of a newspaper that represented the rights of women. Once they identified some women’s rights, clients made lists of the first rights they can remember having won and the first rights they remember losing. Finally the women cast votes by crossing an “I agree” line on the floor for the rights they thought most important – health vs. right to life, marriage vs. freedom from violence, food vs. voting/election, among others.

Our Non-Formal Education program is the backbone of our Microcredit Plus program, and one of the Plus services that we feel truly empowers our clients. Thanks again to our Cada Mes Club for helping support this program! You can find more information about joining the Cada Mes Club here.

Here are a few client reactions to June’s session on women’s rights:

  • “It is important that we are aware of all women’s rights. It is good to share it with other ladies and not remain silent. We are worthy and DSCN8520important.” 
    - Carmen,age 56

  • “The women’s rights session helped me remember how valuable I am. This topic and all the topics taught and discussed among our group help us grow and value ourselves as women.” 
    - Alba Alicia, age 39

  • “This specific training encouraged me a lot, and it came at a perfect time, as I separated from my husband recently. It was hard to make that decision but he was unfaithful, and out of my own dignity I decided to move forward alone with my six children. I now understand the value of women and the need to enforce our rights. Thanks, Friendship Bridge, for reminding us of that.”
    - Juana, age 33





Tomassa and Sanidad Divina


photos and story collected by Robert Weigel, Kiva Field Intern

The first thing you notice about Tomassa is the warmth and the pride that practically radiate from her when she speaks. As we waited for her Trust Bank meeting to begin, she welcomed us into her home as if we were long-lost friends.

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She shared a little bit of her story as we waited for the rest of her Trust Bank to arrive. Tomassa speaks little Spanish, so a translator bridged the conversation from her native language of K’iche. Tomassa is the oldest of five children, and at age 38 she herself has mothered ten children.

One by one the members of her Trust Bank, Sanidad Divina (Divine Healing), arrived at the meeting place. It was obvious the women were excited to be together at their monthly meeting. Tomassa and the rest of the Trust Bank listened intently as the Facilitator led an education session about proper family planning.

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As the Non-Formal Education session ended, Tomassa remarked that this topic was one of her favorites that she has learned about so far. “I cherish these meetings greatly,” she said, “because as a child I never experienced any type of formal education.” As the oldest child in her family, Tomassa said she had to mature quickly and take responsibility for household chores as her father tended to the fields and her mother took care of her siblings.

Life as a Guatemalan woman was difficult, she said, but it got better when she met her future husband, a hard-working boy from her village. Tomassa said she and her husband have supported and loved each through many difficult times. She smiled and said he is the love of her life.

Tomassa’s smile widened when she recounted to us how a financial and supportive push from Friendship Bridge gave her the chance to begin her animal husbandry business. She currently owns twelve animals – two pigs, four turkeys, and six chickens. It was clear she took great pride in her work.

With her face constantly beaming with joy and her voice full of pride when she talked about her business and what she has learned through Friendship Bridge’s educational sessions, we couldn’t help but get excited, too. Here was an empowered woman who was creating a better future for herself and her family, a future she could be proud of.

The unseen side of Guatemala: Chicken Buses

The unseen side of Guatemala: Chicken Buses

By Robert Weigel, field intern

Robert is a Friendship Bridge intern in Guatemala for the summer. He is a great asset to both the U.S. and Guatemalan teams, as he has been traveling throughout Guatemala collecting client stories and photos. We’ll be sharing some of Robert’s experiences this summer on our blog. Stay tuned for more close-up looks at Guatemala!

I have been in Guatemala for a short 3 weeks and each day has been a unique adventure. So far I have been to 15 towns, written 6 stories, taken 923 photographs, and met an uncountable number of friendly people. I have been repeatedly pinching myself to make sure that I am not sleeping, because this had been such a surreal and wonderful experience.

The long trips I have taken – some requiring me to wake up at 4 a.m. – have given me the opportunity to slip into deep, meditative thought while also getting to see the beautiful countryside. To my surprise, the majority of the main roads are very smooth and well built. This does not mean that the rides themselves are smooth, however. The vessel of transportation that you will take is determined by how much you want to spend and where you want to go. Typically, I find myself riding the famous ‘chicken buses.’ Let me tell you more about them.

In the United States, it is law that a school bus may not be driven for more than 10 years. After that, the buses are not usable in the United States, so many are sent down to the US – Mexico border, where they are auctioned off to the highest bidder. From the border, those headed to Guatemala are then driven directly south until they reach the country. There, the buses go through somewhat of a “Pimp my Ride – Guatemalan Edition” – the exteriors are brightly painted, head racks are installed, loud speaker systems are hooked up, and at times, TVs are installed that play nonstop reggaeton. It’s a boisterous ride.

I could write an entire book about what an amazing spectacle the chicken buses are, but I will save that for later. Thank you all for your interest in both Friendship Bridge and my experience with them this summer. I will continue to photograph and document my travels so that you may all share this experience with me.

Combating Gender-Based Violence in Guatemala

Combating Gender-Based Violence in Guatemala

Earlier this spring, gender-based violence in Guatemala came to the public’s attention…again. Unfortunately, such violence is not new to Guatemala, and it is a reality many of our clients face.

According to a 2012 Small Arms Survey, gender-based violence is at “epidemic levels” in Guatemala. The survey ranked Guatemala third in the killings of women worldwide. According to the United Nations, an average of two women are murdered in Guatemala each day.

There are many reasons women face such high rates of gender-based violence in Guatemala. One of the major contributions is the legacy of violence left in place after Guatemala’s 36-year civil war. Throughout decades of war, numerous atrocities were committed against women, who were viewed as the lesser gender. This patriarchal view persists today, manifesting itself in a culture of machismo and acceptance of violence against women.

Most of those who disappeared or were killed during Guatemala’s conflict were indigenous – like most our clients. And even in the years after the war, women and indigenous populations are still victims of violence and terror. Extreme poverty, coupled with this legacy of violence and weak law enforcement and judicial systems, means Guatemala still has one of the highest rates of violent crime in Central America.

Our mission is to empower women in Guatemala to create better futures for themselves, their children, and their communities through microcredit and education. One of the pillars of our nonformal education curriculum is women’s rights. Through these education sessions, we bolster women’s self esteem and increase their knowledge of their basic rights. We want our clients to feel empowered to challenge harmful social norms and become engaged as role models of positive change.

Otilia Margarita Sánchez López (in photo above, on left) is a Friendship Bridge client who faced abuse and neglect from her father when she was a young girl. Today, through the loans, education, and services Friendship Bridge has offered her, she is a successful, empowered entrepreneur. Otilia is even serving as a role model for her sister, who has recently exited a psychologically abusive relationship.

Gender-based violence is a pervasive issue, but it can be eliminated. We empower women to stand up against violent crimes against them and advocate for positive change in their communities and nation.