Empower women. Eliminate poverty.

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Boldness for change: Education and healthcare for women and girls

Boldness for change: Education and healthcare for women and girls

Last week, 15-year-old Emelin from Guatemala spoke to the United Nations about her efforts to improve health and education for women in her rural community. When she first approached the mayor of her town two years ago and asked him to find ways to help girls stay in school and access better healthcare, he laughed and said Emelin was wasting his time.

Emelin didn’t think it was a waste of time, and neither do we.

Emelin and her friend Elba began to work with the organization Let Girls Lead, where they were taught about self-esteem, human rights and community organizing. They used these skills to bring positive change to their village.

Eventually, their mayor couldn’t help but pay attention and sign legislation to fund education and healthcare efforts for girls.

We here at Friendship Bridge also believe education and healthcare are foundational to the empowerment of women and girls. One way we promote this is through our CrediEscolar school loans. This loan product provides mothers with quick loan capital to pay for any costs associated with their children’s education – such as tuition, uniforms, or school supplies. Our social performance measures have shown that the longer a woman is a client of Friendship Bridge, the more likely she is to enroll in the program, thereby keeping her children in school.

In addition to offering our clients solutions for their children’s education, we also provide non-formal education to the more than 22,000 women we serve. This education is delivered through our hardworking loan officers. Our non-formal adult education program helps our clients build their confidence as they learn practical life skills such as maintaining healthier households and building stronger businesses. We also have an advanced education program that trains women to diversify their revenue by introducing new products into their businesses.

Like Emelin, we recognize a gap in healthcare services for women in Guatemala. We’re responding by piloting a new health services project this year. Our market research found that Guatemalan women often lack access to health information and don’t trust healthcare professionals. We’re partnering with Maya Health Alliance to provide our clients with important health information and bring quality and culturally sensitive/appropriate healthcare directly to their communities through mobile health clinics. These services will always be provided by female medical staff and in the Mayan dialect of the client.

We applaud Emelin for her boldness to promote change for girls in Guatemala. Our hope is that the combined efforts toward empowerment of women and girls in Guatemala will spark transformative social change.

Child Migrant Crisis isn’t over – What is Friendship Bridge doing?

Child Migrant Crisis isn’t over – What is Friendship Bridge doing?

by Jeanne Crump, Social Performance Intern

Although not even a year has passed, the 2014 Central American child migrant crisis has nearly been ignored in recent media. Some might assume the U.S. government and border control have since “taken care” of the issue. But the unfortunate fact remains that children are still fleeing Central America every day – either from staggering gang violence, a lack of economic opportunity, poverty, or in hopes of reuniting with family members residing in the United States. In 2014, the U.S. government reported catching 47,000 unaccompanied minors crossing into the US – 24% were Guatemalans.

Yet, this number only reflects those who were detained at the border. Hundreds or thousands more migrant children could have crossed the border successfully, only to end up in the hands of traffickers or in vulnerable positions of exploitation by smugglers. Many girls become victims of sexual violence and rape. Others could be exploited as laborers, since many children may not have family to provide shelter and stability once they arrive. Moreover, those detained and deported may face an even more dangerous road once they return to their home countries, as many are dropped off at airports or bus stations in major cities and are again prime targets for coyotes, smugglers, and traffickers.

Our staff at Friendship Bridge is deeply concerned and saddened by these events. In 2014, we responded to the crisis through our client education program — by spreading the truth about the dangers of this treacherous journey to more than 22,000 Guatemalan women. Our education manager in Guatemala incorporated information on the crisis in the August 2014 education session, including statistics of the children who had already been detained, the dangers of physical assault, sexual violence, and the risks of being abducted, kidnapped, or even killed.

We know the more economic opportunities we can provide and create for our clients in Guatemala, the less need there will be for this dangerous migration. We will continue to help build strong and sustainable businesses that provide a better livelihood for our clients and their families. In turn, this will help ensure children remain in school and work towards breaking the cycle of generational poverty.

International Women’s Day: #MakeItHappen

International Women’s Day: #MakeItHappen

by Jeanne Crump, Social Performance Intern

On Sunday, March 8, countries worldwide will celebrate International Women’s Day: A global day celebrating the economic, political and social achievements of women past, present and future. This year’s theme is ‘Make It Happen,’ celebrating women’s achievements and making a call for greater equality in the workplace, arts and sciences, and greater equality as entrepreneurs and business owners.

At Friendship Bridge we celebrate the achievement of our inspirational clients every day. We couldn’t be happier to share in this international day of awareness by recognizing the amazing rural Guatemalan women we work with – women working toward equality, opportunity, independence, and a future in which their lives and incomes are stable. These strong and exceptionally hardworking women fight against generational poverty with the microloans and educational training services we provide. They are able to start and expand small businesses and transform their lives into a vision they control.

Women worldwide have incredible potential to create and participate in new market economies, run businesses, become leaders, and stop the cycle of oppression and violence so many millions of women experience daily. We wholeheartedly continue to believe in our vision: A world in which empowered women eliminate poverty. Today we’d like to let our clients know they’ve inspired us and many others  in their dedication and determination to create a better future for themselves, their families, and their communities.

Please consider joining our cause to help make global change for women a reality.


From the Field: Kiva Intern Remembers Fondly Her Time in Guatemala


Brilliant blue skies

By Amanda Schweikert, former Kiva intern

Back here in snowy Colorado, looking back at my four-month experience in Guatemala brings back fond memories of brilliant blue skies and warm people. The most vivid memories are not of life-changing events or the powerful nostalgia for the comforts of life back in the United States. What stick out in my mind the most are the at-times monotonous aspects of day-to-day life walking the streets of Panajachel, experiencing the sights, sounds and smells. The tuk tuks wind in and out of traffic and pedestrians at lightning speed, stray dogs dart across streets, chicken bus drivers load people in while yelling names of nearby destinations, women sell bananas and hand-woven textiles on the touristy streets and vendors tempt locals with fried chicken and french fries out of food carts. My daily trips to the bustling market, packed with overflowing piles of colorful fruits and vegetables surrounded by the smells of raw chicken, are thrills themselves. I learn that bargaining is truly an art. Riding on chicken buses is the definition of adventure, cramped between strangers, exchanging smiles at the craziness around us.

Guatemala to Amanda

Volcanoes looking over the lake

I recall the mosquito-bite covered legs, the spider as big as the palm of my hand crawling uncomfortably close to my pillow. I was tested during the constant autumnal rains during which I found myself trapped in a coffee shop for four hours, unable to escape, as the streets became overflowing rivers. Then I was spoiled with the color-drenched dusks in November during “sunset season” and the 70 degree temps in the middle of December. Waking up to the sight of the Atitlán, San Pedro and Tolimán volcanoes looking over the lake, protecting nearby inhabitants, gave me comfort. Realizing their permanence made the difficult days a little more tolerable and the good days all the more magical.

Above all, what I treasured and what I will try to carry with me is the warmth and spirit of the Guatemalan people. The people I met during my experience genuinely cared to listen and welcomed me into their homes without hesitation. The passion and drive of the businesswomen I met through my Friendship Bridge fellowship inspire me and further fuel my passion for non-profit work. Before leaving Guatemala in December, I received valuable advice from a mother of a student at the multicultural academy at which I taught, a woman I am fortunate to call a friend. She told me, “Lay one stone ahead of you at a time.” Making sure to plant the next stone firmly in the ground, I am looking forward to the next adventure and what I will discover along the way.

Amanda Schweikert was a field blogger providing Kiva reports for Friendship Bridge. She also taught part-time at the Lake Atitlan Multicultural Academy.

Global Partnerships Brings Supporters to Guatemala Through ‘Impact Journeys’

This past November, a Friendship Bridge investor, Global Partnerships, brought a group of their supporters to experience firsthand the exciting work we’re doing with our Guatemalan clients. On this ‘Impact Journey,’ the group attended two trust bank meetings where our clients met to repay loans and to discuss topics on managing earnings and responsible borrowing practices. The group was able to listen to client stories and experience the inspirational efforts made each day through our credit and educational services. Global Partnerships Donor Relations Office, Peter Solar, gives us some great insight and feedback on the trip in his recent blog post ‘Traveling with purpose:Witnessing impact in Guatemala.’ To learn more about Global Partnerships and their Impact Journeys, you can also visit their website.

From the Field: Atitlán Flower Trust Bank

Microloan Stove

Santiago across Lake Atitlán.

Microloan Stove

Members of Atitlán Flower Trust Bank.

By Amanda Schweikert, Kiva intern

I arrive by boat to the town of Santiago on Lake Atitlán in southern Guatemala. Santiago is a remarkably beautiful town set in a valley nestled between volcanoes, currently covered in an early morning fog. Making my way uphill and into town, I feel very comfortable as if I have been in this place many times before though it is my first trip here. In this picturesque municipality, ten women come together as part of the Flor de Azucena Atitlán, or Atitlán Flower Trust Bank. The group is made up of passionate, exuberant businesswomen that take pride in their Kakchiquel Mayan traditions while making use of modern conveniences to run their businesses and improve their lives.

The members run diverse businesses: from selling cosmetics or fresh fish to producing artisanal textiles. Each woman of the Trust Bank has two children on average and varying years of schooling, from no formal education to receiving a degree to teach primary school. During their monthly meetings, the women receive informal education on diverse topics such as health and wellness, business management and strategies to improve their sales in order to improve their self-esteem and run their businesses effectively. This month, before receiving their new disbursement of Kiva loans, the women discuss the details of the loan. They all agree to pay on time and to support each other in their business ventures.

The members of the Atitlán Flower Trust Bank are thankful for the generosity of Kiva investors. With the help of people worldwide, the women are able to work towards a brighter future for themselves, their families and the community of Santiago Atitlán.

Amanda Schweikert is a field blogger providing Kiva reports for Friendship Bridge. She also teaches part-time at the Lake Atitlan Multicultural Academy.

Giving Provides Opportunities for Grateful Clients

Petrona tablecloth

Petrona is an artisan weaver with five children – she shows a tablecloth she will set at market.

Giving is empowering and so is gratitude. In the case of Friendship Bridge clients, gratitude is the experience of being thankful for the opportunities that develop and resources that help them achieve their dreams.

On December 2, following Thanksgiving, Black Friday and Cyber Monday, #GivingTuesday will celebrate generosity on a global scale and encourage giving to benefit others. For assisting our clients in Guatemala, your act of giving could be as simple as contributing on the Donate section of the Friendship Bridge website or donate on the Friendship Bridge crowdfunding site, http://empowerwomen.causevox.com/. You could also set a 24-hour goal for December 2 and create a personal fundraising page (it’s easy – go to Sign Up in the right corner of the page, write why you want people to give, and invite your friends and family to donate)!

Giving Tuesday BannerWhen you give, you are helping clients like Petrona Churunel Noj, a 32-year-old mother of five boys who produces handmade fabrics to sell at market. Her weaving artistry with a backstrap loom creates shawls, tablecloths and blouses as well as other finished products. She lives in Chuacruz in the western highlands of Guatemala.

Petrona was unable to attend formal school, but with her Friendship Bridge loan and involvement in the Trust Bank Girasoles Chuacruz (“Sunflowers of Chuacruz”), she receives non-formal education to improve her business and reach her goals. Now she has a variety of materials to weave and is meeting the demand of her local and national clients.

The quality of her life has improved, and she is passing achievement along to her children by using a “Rapidito Escolar,” or school loan, to support her children’s education. The loan helps Petrona with school fees for three children already attending classes. Petrona can buy new shoes for her kids to walk to school and uniforms. She truly values this product because it provides both necessary and extra items that help her children develop fully and reach for better opportunities. Petrona and her husband, a laborer, plan to provide education to all five children.

Petrona is excited for the year-end holidays as she expects to sell more during this time. This will allow her to make money to prepare for the new school year starting in January, 2015.

Your generosity and support will help Petrona and thousands of other entrepreneurial women in Guatemala care for themselves, their families and communities. Please consider giving on December 2, or before year-end.


Petrona weaving

A colorful tapestry woven by Petrona, who has local and national clients in Guatemala.

Circles’ Day of the Dead Events Raise $15,000

Day of Dead Gala

Guests mingle at the Day of the Dead event in Palmdale, Calif.

Arroyo Grande

Barbara Levenson and Blaire Kilbey at the fundraising holiday event in Arroyo Grande. 


A colorful ofrenda in memory of loved ones added to the festive spirit in Arroyo Grande.

Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) is cause for celebration among Latin cultures and those who support the colorful memorials and festive atmosphere. Several Friendship Bridge Circle members used the holiday to raise awareness about Friendship Bridge and collect funds in their communities. The efforts of the Antelope Valley and the Central Coast Circle members in California raised more than $15,000 from tickets, art sales and silent auctions!

In Palmdale, Calif., a Antelope Valley Country Club banquet room was transformed by members of our local Circle beginning at noon on October 30th. A multi-tiered altar or “ofrenda” was built on a 22-foot base and ornately decorated with lights, candles, fruits and beverages. Guests brought photos of loved ones to honor for the holiday. Numerous Circle volunteers put in hours to organize the event, sell tickets and marketplace items, arrange the altar and gather silent auction items.

Constancia Leshin emceed the event and recording artist Stephane Deriau-Reine provided dinner music. Guests watched the compelling Friendship Bridge video, “Poverty Meets Hope” and heard from Friendship Bridge Development Director Michael Allen to end the evening.

In Arroyo Grande, more than 200 people turned out for their Day of the Dead celebration art sale. The Las Perlas del Mar Friendship Circle, which supports Friendship Bridge in the area, sold plants, handmade crafts from Guatemala, vintage Latin American items, and art from some of their members. A Day of the Dead altar, decorated with images of loved ones who have passed, was itself photographed by David Johnson, a local professional, who offered to sell the image to benefit Friendship Bridge at a future event.

Carolyn Casas, leader of the Central Coast Circle, said there was great support in the area and extended her thanks to Meg and David Johnson who hosted the event and all the artists who contributed a portion of their sales to Friendship Bridge.  A special thank you to everyone involved in these events!

Education Teaches Clients Concepts for Success

Education Teaches Clients Concepts for Success

Trust Bank education

Two clients review a handout during non-formal education in a trust bank meeting.

Non-formal education (NFE) is a lifeline for more than 22,000 Friendship Bridge clients. In addition to the monetary resources Friendship Bridge clients receive for their businesses, topics like “empowerment,” “avoiding over-indebtedness” and “children having children” speak to the realistic environment of women in rural Guatemala. While the training for clients is considered “non-formal,” the curriculum for how to facilitate learning on key topics is quite strategic and specific.Country Director Astrid Yerlin Cordona Morán de Paiz said the program teaches the women about what it means to be respected, financially wise and healthy, as a woman, as a wife, a mother and a business owner.

Topics are developed two years in advance to provide strategic direction but the timing of delivery is flexible according to client surveys. Timely topics that are immediately applicable to clients, such as the real dangers of child migration to the U.S., are pushed to clients as quickly as possible. Reports indicate that 80 percent of clients attend sessions of 45 minutes to an hour during their monthly Trust Bank meetings. Trust Banks are solidarity groups of seven to 30 women who co-guarantee the loans of their fellow members.

A flip chart with pictures and an accompanying training guide for the facilitator are the main tools used to lead the conversation. The Learning Network, a group of facilitators who represent one of each of the six Friendship Bridge branches, meets monthly to rehearse topics a month prior to deployment in the field. This group then replicates the activity within their respective branches so that all facilitators are trained on how to deploy the next month’s topic and can anticipate client concerns and dynamics. After the topic has been introduced in the field, The Learning Network relays client and facilitator feedback to the Education Manager for future revisions.

To continually improve the quality of the education sessions, all Friendship Bridge facilitators will take a 60-hour module developed by Freedom From Hunger, a long-time partner. The course will end with a certificate of completion for each unit, which covers information related to health, nutrition, business and managing money.

From the Field: Loans Help Tortilla Shop Owner with Business, Family

Boiling Dough

Maria’s daughter pours the mix into a pot for boiling.

Microloan Stove

Tortilla shop owner Maria uses the stove she purchased with a microloan to make tasty black tortillas.

black corn tortillas

Maria’s black corn tortillas are popular with her customers.

By Amanda Schweikert, KIVA intern

María lives in lovely Santa Cruz del Quiché in southern Guatemala. Until recently, she owned and operated a tortilla shop and a small restaurant. Her grueling daily routine involved rising at 5 a.m., making tortillas and helping her daughter and two spirited granddaughters prepare for their days. Then she would return to rolling out the dough for tortillas, baking them and selling them. At 3 p.m., she would eat lunch, clean the house and spent time with her family until 6 p.m. when she would again make and sell tortillas in the market until midnight. Her long day would end with dinner and bed around 2 a.m.

When María turned 63, she became very sick and took on fewer responsibilities. She now just operates the tortilla shop where customers stop by to purchase delicious black corn tortillas and lunch made by her daughter. This motivated woman is healthy once again, and enjoys caring for her family and operating her business. After 58 years of experience, running her shop comes very natural to María. Her adept hands form and flatten the dough and the perfectly shaped tortillas of all the same size are truly artful.

Through her business, María has been able to provide an education for her five children. Two of them manage their own businesses in the capital city of Guatemala, two are finishing polytechnic school and the eldest daughter helps her mother in the tortilla shop. A bright smile lights up Maria’s face whenever she speaks of her children, clearly proud of their success and the opportunities they have had.

As part of a Trust Bank, or accountability group for loan repayments, María was able to use loans to buy stoves for her business and increase production. The Friendship Bridge Trust Bank is a supportive community to help her expand her business and gain self-confidence when making financial decisions that impact her family’s future. her determined spirit impacts everyone María meets and has provided a better life for her and her children.

Amanda Schweikert is a field blogger providing KIVA reports for Friendship Bridge. She also teaches part-time at the Lake Atitlan Multicultural Academy.


From the Field:  Piñata creator combines art, work, love

From the Field: Piñata creator combines art, work, love

PinantaClientIt’s 8:30 am and the chicken bus rolls into Quetzaltenango, the second largest city in Guatemala and my destination for the day. Doña Teresa is a member of the Trust Bank “Robles” here in Xela, as the locals fondly refer to the city. For eight years, Teresa has been making piñatas by hand in a studio in her home and selling them in her nearby shop. She learned her craft from a private teacher in the capital, Guatemala City. She now employs two young ladies who have been working for her for three years. They are both attending school on Saturdays thanks to the income they make working in Teresa’s shop.

Creating beautiful, detailed piñatas seems to come naturally to Teresa. As she bends and shapes structures out of nothing but wire, Teresa’s creativity and imagination shine through. She forms the designs that her assistants then cover in newspaper, recycled printer paper and finally colorful tissue paper. Most of the paper is covered in math problemPinantaTRexs, simple poems and scribbled notes, clearly recycled from schools in the area. Seeing pieces of the local children’s education reused to provide a sustainable income that empowers Teresa and her family is inspirational.

Before the piñatas are complete, Teresa adds the final touches, affixing eyes, teeth, clothes, etc., to the piñatas to make them come to life. She designs popular children’s characters including Winnie the Pooh, Barney, Dora the Explorer and minions from “Despicable Me,” as well as adorable bunnies, t-rexes and elephants. She then hires people to deliver piñatas in the surrounding towns.

In addition to creating piñatas and running her store, Teresa cares for her family at home. Her daughter, a 28-year-old passionate primary school teacher, lives with Teresa, as do her mother and brother. She daily cooks the meals for the family with the help of her mother. People sweeter and more welcoming than Doña Teresa and her family are hard to come by. From the start, I was graciously accepted into their home and treated like a member of the family. It is inspiring to be in the presence of someone with so much motivation and love who has discovered her own self-worth and instills a sense of empowerment in everyone she meets.

Amanda Schweikert is a field blogger providing KIVA reports for Friendship Bridge. She also teaches part-time at the Lake Atitlan Multicultural Academy.
From the Field:  A KIVA blog

From the Field: A KIVA blog

By Amanda Schweikert, KIVA intern

A loan officer asks a question during a Trust Bank meeting

A loan officer asks a question during a client meeting.

After two and a half hours of travel on three different chicken buses, I make it to Santa Cruz del Quiché, a bustling town in southern Guatemala. In a quieter neighborhood, seven businesswomen partnered to create a Friendship Bridge Trust Bank called “Laguna Las Garzas” or lagoon of the heron. They are all Maya Kiché and show off their cultural pride with beautiful traditional costume in bright colors and patterns.

All of the women are extraordinarily welcoming. The members are curious about me—asking where I am from and how is my life in Guatemala, all while wearing giant smiles on their faces. Because these ladies average two years of formal schooling, the education they receive along with the loans as part of the “Microcredit Plus” program is highly valued. Though I can’t understand the majority of their talk in the traditional Mayan language Kiché, it is obvious that they are very invested in improving their futures and that of their families.

Lucia in particular stands out. The president of the Trust Bank, Lucia is a clear leader in her community, offering help to those around her and conversing with new friends as she walks to the Friendship Bridge office. She is married and has one child, a 15-year-old. After attending school for three years thanks to family contributions, Lucia was forced to discontinue her education and began to work. Therefore, she is very pleased that her son is currently in school and will have more opportunities than she received.

Lucia runs a restaurant, which she has owned for 13 years, and serves the residents of Quiché as well as several customers from outside of the town. She employs a young woman to assist her in the restaurant. This very motivated woman would like to broaden her clientele, publicizing her restaurant to attract people from other towns in the region. She has learned to dream for more on the foundation of skills, education and loans from Friendship Bridge.

Amanda Schweikert is a field blogger providing KIVA reports for Friendship Bridge. She also teaches part-time at the Lake Atitlan Multicultural Academy.