Empower women. Eliminate poverty.

Category : Blog

Flor del Desierto Circle Celebrates Day of the Dead

Beautiful Alter Table DecorBy: Constancia Leshin

The Antelope Valley Country Club banquet room was transformed by members of our local Circle beginning at noon on October 24th. A four tiered altar or “ofrenda” was built on a 22 foot base and ornately decorated with bright orange paper marigolds called “cempatuchil”, tiny orange lights and flickering candles, ceramic and wood santos, fruits and sweets of all kinds, a bottle of beer, wine, coffee and tea with glasses and cups. Guests were invited to bring pictures of loved ones who had departed to place on the “ofrenda”. Thirteen large round tables for eight with black tablecloths and brightly colored napkins along with centerpieces of traditional woven bags from Aguacatan, Guatemala were the centerpieces. Each bag had brightly colored tissue paper peaking out. Ornate “papel picado” adorned the silent auction table as well as the ofrenda. With lively Guatemalan marimba and guitar music, over 90 guests entered the room at 5:30 and were offered hors d’oeuvres of papaya, watermelon, pineapple and melonsprinkled with chile and lime juice. A no host bar was set up near the tipica table. Caroline Bernal and Maru Trimmerhad designed the evening’s multipage program which included informational pages of our Friendship Bridge support Circle, Day of the Dead as well as a detailed description of silent auction items. They smoothly and efficiently checked guests in at the beginning and end of the evening.

Chice Davison and Jean Monte were very helpful at the tipica table and by the end of the evening, very little of it remained. Roxie Patterson conducted a very successful 50/50 split in which an additional funds were raised. Also contributing to the success of the evening were Vivian Kamori, Jane Zeok, Ricky Perkins, and Mary O’Malley.. Long distance members attending were Penelope Curtis, Laurie Piccolotti, Lindy Smelthurst and Sat Akal.

Guests were welcomed at 6:15 by Emcee Constancia Leshin and because the evening had been meticulously planned by event chair, Caron Trataris, there was a wonderful flow to it. A short modern dance presentation followed with four dancers from Hidden Entropy Movement Project directed by Rochelle Guardado, who wore huipiles and black tights, their faces painted in Day of the Dead theme, who presented an improvisational modern dance near the “ofrenda”. Dinner was served shortly afterwards and consisted of a South of the Border Coleslaw, Vegetarian Ceviche, Black Mole Chicken, Spanish Rice, Black Beans, Roasted Vegetables, Fresh Fruit Salad, as well as Tortillas and Salsa. The dessert was a very rich and delicious chocolate bread pudding.

After dinner, the compelling 2012 Friendship Bridge video was shown followed by a short presentation by Constancia about the latest news from Friendship Bridge. Everyone was quite enthusiastic about the anticipated emergence of Friendship Bridge branded merchandise, health insurance, savings program as well as agricultural assistance. Noted local Guatemalan artist and writer, Edwin Vasquez passionately shared his thoughts about current political and economic issues in his country of birth. Everyone was visibly moved.

Our small but mighty Circle raised over $10,000 and we are quite pleased. Many in attendance left very inspired and requested that we repeat the event in 2014. It would be our 4th Day of the Dead Fundraiser. Some inquired about future Insight Trips as they wanted to experience the organization in a more intimate manner. Still others decided to join our Circle. As for the members of our Circle, we packed everything and left the venue, very pleased with our efforts!

View the full Day of the Dead photo album.

New Circle Hosts Fiesta for Friendship Bridge


Circle members sell plants for Friendship Bridge

Plant sale at Fiesta for Friendship Bridge

One of Friendship Bridge’s newest circle’s recently hosted a wonderful Fiesta to raise money for Microcredit Plus.  Fiesta for Friendship Bridge was an amazing evening that included wonderful eats, beautiful silent auction, plant sale and more, all at Branch Mill Organic Farm in California.

Eight months ago, Carolyn Casas and Lonna Crane started Las Perlas del Mar Circle (aka Central Coast Circle) and have since raised thousands of dollars to provide Guatemalan women with microcredit and education. Fiesta for Friendship Bridge was intended to be a fundraiser, but was so much more.  The Las Perlas del Mar circle also raised awareness and added seven new members to their circle during that event!

 The event drew many people who are not circle members, and they were all very excited to learn more about FB and support the women of Guatemala in various ways.  Adding to the evening festivities was a presentation by Delfina, a FB Branch Manager, and entertainment from Chris Belund, a talented artist who supported the event with the gift of music. “It warmed my heart how everything, except paper supplies, was donated so we had very little overhead.  In addition, we had several women stay late to clean up…we were all tired but working together and creating many great memories,” says Carolyn.

Both Lonna and Carolyn have traveled to Guatemala to see Friendship Bridge in action.  “I am drawn to microcredit as a development tool and after reading The Blue Sweater, which Lonna lent me, it makes sense that the best way to empower people to change their lives for the better is through microloans.  I love the idea of women helping women in other counties, too.  We have so much here and it feels good to share some of that,” explains Carolyn.  “And I agree that helping women grow and be successful helps the whole family prosper.  The education that FB gives is extra much- needed support for these women.”

Thank you Las Perlas del Mar for hosting such a great event on behalf of FB!

Dining for Women Visits FB Clients

Dining for Women is a global giving circle dedicated to helping women and girls in the developing world achieve their potential, gain equality in their countries and cultures, and overcome economic limitations and social bias.  They have over 9,000 members, have given nearly $2.8 million to programs that benefit women in poverty, and believe that all women deserve to be self-sufficient.  Friendship Bridge is one of the organizations they support and recently they visited us in Guatemala to meet FB clients and see the impact they are making firsthand.

Read about their adventures in a blog post by Rosemary McGee from Pennsylvania.  Here is an excerpt to get you started:

“We joined the 18 women of the Flor de Maria Trust Bank cooperative as they were busily tallying up payments. Brenda, from the area and their loan officer, was preparing for a lesson and discussion on good nutrition with help from photo charts. We became part of the group, as the women made room for us and pulled us into their circle with smiles and giggling. They obviously enjoyed each other and were happy to be together! It was an honor to be there!

Then it was back to Salvador our awesome driver and the van. We were followed by a swarm of very curious, giggling schoolchildren who were out on the hillside for “recess” (photo op!), next we were to visit a second cooperative closer to Sololá where the Grupo de Mujeres Izaput Cooperative meets. Their dynamic leader started the co-op of artisans 25 years ago and partnered with Friendship Bridge 6 years ago This now allows them to have inventory on hand continuously and increases their sales and income.

We saw a foot loom weaving demo in their workroom where the women work together on 4 looms while laughing, talking and listening to music. It was another joyful group of women. Of course, we did some more shopping from their beautiful array of handiwork which also included beaded jewelry and wooden masks!”

Read full post here.

Last Week to Double Your Donation

FB client benefiting from challenge grant

Client store enhanced with 2012 challenge grant

Friendship Bridge received a generous challenge grant from the SG Foundation for $15,000 (a potential total of $30,000)!  Make your gift this week and it will be matched dollar-for-dollar by the SG Foundation.  There is no additional work for donors as your gift is automatically matched.  Simply visit our donation page, select an appropriate gift amount and we will handle the rest!

What the challenge grant will fund:
Monies received from this challenge grant will provide women in the Western Highlands with the skills and knowledge they need to create a better future through our Microcredit Plus program. The Microcredit Plus program is not a short-term fix but helps to build a foundation for lasting social and economic change. Friendship Bridge clients who participate in the Microcredit Plus program also  participate more in the economy, gain confidence and benefit from the network of support a Trust Bank provides. Access to credit allows clients to expand and grow their businesses, generate more income and begin working their way out of poverty.

Veteran Friendship Bridge clients are more likely to invest in their children’s education and tend to dedicate a much larger percentage of their household budget to education. The families of Friendship Bridge clients are healthier and they are better prepared to weather economic setbacks. Results of an independent evaluation conducted by FINCA demonstrated that Friendship Bridge loans create jobs for other members of the borrowers’ households and communities. The evaluation also showed that a one-year increase in time spent with Friendship Bridge is associated with a 44 percent increase in the proportion of the household budget devoted to education.

In the Western Highlands, our program is often a woman’s first exposure to education of any kind and the monthly lessons provide an opportunity to gain skills and knowledge they would otherwise not have access to. The interactive lesson plans help the women build confidence and acquire skills that help them grow as leaders.  For more information on Microcredit Plus, click here.

DOUBLE YOUR DONATION TODAY! (remember your gift is matched automatically)

Meet the Tzolojya Trust Bank

Members of the Tzolojya Trust Bank GuatemalaLocation:  Sololá, Guatemala
Members: 9
Average age of Members: 44
Average number of Children: 4.5
Average loan size: $655
Average years of education: 1.6 years

Friendship Bridge began working in the Sololá area in 1998. The area is located in the Western Highlands of Guatemala, at a distance of 140 kilometers from Guatemala City.  Sololá is one of the larger, more prominent communities near Lake Atitlan.

The Tzolojya Trust Bank, which means Sololá in the Mayan Kakchiquel language, was established about 10 years ago.  The group is comprised of nine members with an average age of 44 years old and an average formal education of 1.6 years (only two members have attended school).  Additionally, its members have an average of four children per member.

The women of the Tzolojya Trust Bank have varied businesses including: bakeries, flowers, vegetables, tortillas, snacks and concessions, owners of stores of daily consumption (convenience stores), avocados, and handicrafts. The average loan of $655 goes directly into these businesses.

In addition to financial support, the women of the Tzolojya Trust Bank also benefit from training (provided in their own language) once per month by Friendship Bridge staff.  They learn about topics such as: business and money management, over-indebtedness, how to market their products, and family and women’s health.

The women say they enjoy the group dynamics and the monthly meetings.  They participate actively in the discussions, and always offer support to each other. Last month’s lesson was about the proper uses of the loan, emphasizing strategies to avoid over-indebtedness.  The lessons are interactive and encourage discussion, giving the members an opportunity to express their thoughts on the topics.  Friendship Bridge incorporates the principles of Adult Learning Theory into its methodology, recognizing the importance of participation and drawing upon the women’s own life experiences in the learning process.

Stay tuned! We will highlight Maria Santos Samines Buch and Marta Julia Yaxon Morales, members of the Tzolojya Trust Bank, next week!

This Trust Bank is supported by a Friendship Bridge donor who prefers to remain anonymous.  Thank you for your generous support!

Tiny Loans, Big Impact

Chico Women's Microfinance Collaborative Women’s collaborative brings speaker to teach about microfinance for poor Guatemalan women.  When women in poor, rural areas receive a small loan, big things can happen.  (Excerpt taken from Chico News & Review, click here for full story)

“There was one [Guatemalan] lady … [who] had become a success, and she said, ‘Now I know that my husband doesn’t need to beat me,’” offered Katy Warren, co-founder of the Women’s Microfinance Collaborative, a loosely knit group of Chico-area donors focused on microfinance.

The woman was a recipient of a microfinance loan that she received from Friendship Bridge—a Colorado-based microfinance institution (MFI) that focuses on empowering poor entrepreneurial women in Guatemala by giving loans of usually around $300-$350. Loans are used to grow small businesses—for instance, to buy a new loom for a weaving business, or buy seeds for a small farm.

“That’s a big deal to me,” said Warren of the Guatemalan woman’s newly found strength. “She had enough power to say, ‘No, you’re not going to hit me again’ to him.”

Michelle Rasmussen, the collaborative’s facilitator and chairwoman, agreed. “Allowing women to get into a business and be self-sustaining changes not only their economic situation, but their social situation [as well].”

Microfinance—as the name implies—is the supply of small loans and other financial services to the poor, who often are excluded from traditional banks’ services because of their rural locations (making banks inaccessible), or because of their low incomes, which disqualify them for traditional loans.

Click here for full story at Chico News & Review.

Health Initiatives Provide a Breath of Fresh Air

Guatemalan women learn more about new, safe stoves with Friendship BridgeHealth initiatives are part of Friendship Bridge’s commitment to the women we serve.  This has led to an exciting new partnership with HELPS International, the manufacturer of ONIL stoves and the pilot of our newest health initiative project. For centuries the Mayan’s, Guatemala’s indigenous population, have cooked using open flame fires on the floors of their homes. This traditional method of cooking is the cause of rampant medical and environmental problems including severe burns, respiratory problems and smoke-related eye complications.  In addition, these open fires use significant amounts of wood that takes valuable time to gather, are expensive, cause physical stress and have detrimental environmental effects.  HELPS International has developed the ONIL stove, which minimizes smoke and burns, and reduce wood use by 70%.  Learn how these stoves work in this short video.

Friendship Bridge is working hard to facilitate our clients’ transition to the ONIL stove.  Last week, we conducted our first ONIL stove learning session with clients.  The women are excited about the opportunity and many began to fill out applications for special micro-health loans to purchase a stove for their household.  This project helps create a healthy, lasting change for our clients, their families and communities.

Highlights from Executive Director, Karen Larson

Ag_KarenWebsiteDear Friends,

As key stakeholders who have made a considerable impact on our organization, I want to ensure you are well-informed of our activities and progress.   Friendship Bridge has hit an important milestone this month and I am excited to share the details with you, along with other important initiatives. If you are looking for more in-depth information on any of these highlights, please contact the Friendship Bridge office via e-mail or 303.674.0717.


  • Portfolio reaches historic high while maintaining excellent quality
    Friendship Bridge grew our portfolio to 30 million quetzales ($3.85 million)!  This is an exciting milestone for Friendship Bridge and I am happy to report that this accomplishment was met while continuing to maintain our excellent portfolio quality and serving nearly 18,000 clients.
  • Reducing the burden of poverty
    Our impact and evaluation work shows a clear, positive association between the length of time a client is with Friendship Bridge and their level of poverty.  Our work in reducing the burden of poverty is two-fold: (1) Clients create a more consistent cash flow and protection against shocks such as unexpected illnesses or natural disasters; and, (2) clients are using valuable information they learn during our health education programs in their daily lives.
  • Social Performance Management principles garner industry attention
    Shon Morris, Friendship Bridge staff member, was invited to present at the Latin American Conference on Village Banking for our exemplarily work with Social Performance Management, affirming our position as a leader in the field.
  • Health initiatives
    Data shows that clients appreciate our health programs and are using what they learn.  In an effort to enhance our social impact commitment to our clients, we have partnered with HELPS International, the manufacturer of ONIL Stoves, to facilitate our clients’ transition to safer and healthier stoves that minimize smoke inhalation and burns.  In addition, these stoves reduce wood use by 70%, saving valuable time, money and natural resources.

Lastly, if anyone is interested in traveling to Guatemala to see first-hand the impact these programs have on our clients, consider our next Insight Trip scheduled for November 10-16, 2013.  If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact us at 303.674.0717.

All the best,

Karen Larson
Executive Director

Salida Circle Revisits Woodstock

Salida Circle was recently featured in The Mountain Mail newspaper.

by Ericka Kastner

Twelve years ago, a small gathering of Salida women with a heart for Guatemala banded together to make a big impact on the once war-torn country, thousands of miles away.  Kathie Younghans, the group’s ringleader, has had a “long-term love affair with the Guatemalan people” that began with volunteer service in the region in 1969.  Her fervor blossomed into the formation of the Salida Circle of Friendship Bridge in 2001.

Read the full article about Salida Circle’s history and efforts here.

Read the Woodstock Revisited event follow-up article here.

Summer Events Across the U.S.

Salida Circle presents Woodstock RevisitedThis summer is filled with wonderful events hosted across the United States to benefit Microcredit Plus at Friendship Bridge. Don’t miss the chance to support Friendship Bridge while purchasing a new piece of art, enjoying an organic farm or groovin’ it up at Woodstock!

Woodstock Revisited Hosted by Salida Circle, Colorado

Thursday, August 15
Suggest Donation $25 – proceeds benefit Friendship Bridge

Join us at the Community Center (corner of F and 5th) in Salida, Colorado to celebrate the anniversary of Woodstock and raise money to provide microloans and education to women in Guatemala.  The event will feature food, drinks, a live band and a showing of the movie, Woodstock.  In addition, we will have door prize drawings and time for socializing with old friends.  Dress as you please but feel free to wear your best Hippy Garb!

Annual Summer Tent Sale Hosted by Oconomowoc Circle, Wisconsin
Saturday, August 17 & Sunday, August 18
10a.m. – 5p.m.

Oconomowoc Circle of Friendship Bridge is please to host their annual tent sale once again benefiting Friendship Bridge.  This event takes place in the town of Oconomowoc, Wisconsin on Oakwood Avenue (next to Fowler Park).  Among the many other wonderful items offered at this sale, this year you will be able to find the infamous “swittens” with coordinating headbands for sale.  In addition, artistically painted wooden chairs, created by local high school artists, will be featured.  This is the same weekend as the Oconomowoc Festival of the Arts in Fowler Park so please mark your calendars to enjoy both activities!

Fiesta for Friendship Bridge Hosted by Central Coast Circle, California
Sunday, October 13

Central Coast Circle is pleased to announce Fiesta for Friendship Bridge at Branch Mill Organic Farm in Huasna, California on October 13th from 2-6.  The Fiesta will feature a silent auction with appetizers, drinks and music under the oaks at this lovely organic farm.  We are excited to announce that Delfina, a Friendship Bridge employee from the Quiché branch in Guatemala will be joining us for the festivities!  The silent auction will include a variety of local items including art, gift certificates, gift baskets and even plants! Proceeds will benefit Friendship Bridge’s Microcredit Plus program.

Dining for Women Awards Grant to Friendship Bridge

Dining For Women Presents Check to Friendship Bridge

We at Friendship Bridge always enjoy welcoming guests into our offices.  Today we received an extra special surprise at the Lakewood office when Betty, a volunteer from Dining for Women, stopped by with a $15,000 grant check to show DFW’s support for Friendship Bridge programs (Betty is pictured with Karen Larsen, Executive Director and Michael Allen, Development Director).  Thank you Dining for Women!  This grant will support many clients in our Microcredit Plus program where women receive both loans and education.

DFW is an educational giving circle whose members meet monthly, learn about featured and sustained programs, and donate to DFW.  All of this allows DFW to support grassroots international programs empowering women and girls living in extreme poverty. They fund programs that foster good health, education, and economic self-sufficiency in developing countries.  They are devoted to educating and inspiring individuals to make a difference and fight global poverty through the power of collective giving, so you can see why Friendship Bridge and DFW make a perfect pair!

Sweet Success with Microcredit Plus

Client teaches daughter chocolate skillsMarta Cristina Pérez Carrera lives in Quetzaltenango, the second largest city in Gutemala. Several years ago, Marta Cristina took her three young children and left an abusive marriage. She struggled in the beginning just to meet her and her children’s basic needs.

It wasn’t until Marta Cristina found Friendship Bridge, and took out her first loan of $192, that life started to change for the better. Marta Cristina invested her first loan in a chocolate-making business. She had learned the craft from her mother-in-law but was struggling to earn enough to buy the raw materials to make more product. Though Marta Cristina still has to travel to use her mother-in-law’s chocolate making machine once a week, the loan has allowed her to produce more chocolates. She now sells the chocolates in three different markets.

One of Marta Cristina’s goals is to buy her own chocolate machine so she doesn’t have to rely on her mother-in-law. While she is earning enough income now to keep her children in school, she hopes to return herself to school on the weekends and eventually earn a college degree.