Empower women. Eliminate poverty.

Category : Friendship Circles

Turning Promises Into Action: Why Our Work Matters

by Brittaney Lupo

The United Nation’s 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development pledges that no one will be left behind in the realization of human rights for all. Adopted in September 2015 the Agenda is a plan of action that contains 17 Sustainable Development Goals(SDG).  A report released February 14, Turning Promises Into Action: Gender Equality in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, reveals that without urgent action in regards to gender equality that pledge will not be able to be kept and many women will be left behind.

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, the Executive Director of UN Women, spoke to reporters at the launch of the report stating that the progress towards gender equality is moving too slow to achieve the SDGs by 2030. “Even where progress is made, it may not reach the women and girls who need it most and the ones that are being left furthest behind,” she explains.  

The women being left behind include the 330 million that live on less than $1.90 per day, a number that is 4.4 million more than men. Women in developing countries, like Guatemala, are more likely to not have access to clean water, sanitization and durable housing. Access to education is also more limited for with 15 million not ever getting a chance to read or write compared to 10 million boys.

At Friendship Bridge, we are dedicated to stepping up for these women and making sure they are not left behind. Over half of our clients fall into the criteria described above with a daily household income of $1.11 to $2.35, 0 to 2 years of education and living in homes with mud and dirt flooring. Through involvement in our Microcredit Plus program, our clients receive needed loans and education to grow their businesses and improve their incomes with 88% feeling that their incomes have increased or stabilized with 3% rising above the national poverty line. What we do is truly making a difference.

The Turning Promises into Action report shows that we cannot be content with what we are currently doing. It is not enough. We have more women to reach. We have more work to do in order to help achieve the global goal of human rights for all with no one left behind.

In order for us to keep reaching more women we need you. Here is a list of ways we need your help:


Without Firm Action on Gender Equality, Women’s Empowerment, World May Miss Development Targets | Un News


2016 Annual Report | Friendship Bridge


Brittaney Lupo is currently studying Web Design and Development at Brigham Young University-Idaho. Through her course of studies her passion for social media as a means of promoting and raising awareness for websites has grown. Currently she is interning with Friendship Bridge as the Social Media Coordinator in Colorado. When she’s not on social media she is exploring beautiful Colorado with her husband and 3 children.


Experiencing Magic and Friendship in Guatemala

by Laura Lambrecht

In February, I had the privilege of visiting Guatemala with a dozen other women who volunteer in the USA to help fundraise and get word out about Friendship Bridge, a nonprofit that focuses on creating opportunities that empower women through microcredit, education, and preventive health services.

We saw first hand how Friendship Bridge is profoundly impacting women (and their families) in Guatemala. We observed Trust Bank meetings and business training seminars. We visited villages near Lake Atitlan to meet and learn from local women artisans in Friendship Bridge’s program. Most of the artisans worked in their homes so we were welcomed into intimate settings, saw their humble dwellings, met their lively children, and saw the places where they create such intricate, colorful creations. I was awestruck to see such exceptional textiles being created by women kneeling on the floor working with their backstrap looms.

We had long bus rides, boat rides, and exciting rides in tuk-tuks (rickshaws). We also stood in the back of a pickup truck as we drove in the mountains along winding dirt roads, laughing with joy (and fear!) as we enjoyed glimpses of Lake Atitlan and the volcanoes that surround it.

However, my experience in Guatemala would not have been the same without Marta Julia. I was immediately drawn in by her caring nature, friendly demeanor, and the wealth of information she so freely gave. Every day she greeted us with her sweet smile. It was easy to tell that Marta has a deep love of her community and culture and wanted others to see the beauty in it too. There are many Maya languages spoken in Guatemala and Marta spoke several in addition to being fluent in both English and Spanish. She switched between multiple Maya languages and English without even taking a breath. Amazing.

Marta deepened my understanding of the culture. She was protective of our group and guided us through crowded markets, restaurant menus, uneven dirt paths, and social exchanges. She even shared challenges of her own about trying to balance the traditional Maya expectations of her family with her desire to seek college degrees and work in a career that was far from traditional for a Maya woman. At night when we would return to our hotel, dusty and tired from the long day’s journey, Marta would stay up late doing homework for her graduate degree. She is focused on her education and creating more opportunities for herself and her family.

Marta exemplifies Friendship Bridge’s mission to create opportunities that empower women. I have deep respect for her. There is no doubt in my mind that she will be successful at whatever path she chooses. I hope that I will get to walk with her again soon on those magical, dusty Guatemala roads.

Editor’s Note: Special thanks to our Friendship Circles who work hard to raise awareness about our critical work with women in Guatemala and who also fundraise for the organization while educating communities on global issues.  If you would like more information on how to get involved or start a Friendship Circle, click HERE.

Laura Lambrecht lives in Louisville, CO, with her husband and two teenage boys. She grew up in Boulder. For the past six years, Laura has owned Bella Frida, a boutique that highlights hhandmade ethical fashion in Lafayette, CO. She is currently in the process of closing her retail store and creating a new path: consulting for artisan made lines. Laura is very passionate about empowering women around the world and supporting indigenous artisans. Laura has been carrying Friendship Bridge goods in her store for the last four years and is also a volunteer for the Boulder Friendship Circle. She traveled with Friendship Bridge on the Insight Trip to Guatemala in February of 2017, and was greatly moved by the wonderful experience.

How Evergreen Learned to Give Twice (Photo Essay)

by Rachel Turner

Always in action, Friendship Bridge Circles raise awareness, raise funds, and host education sessions about global affairs. They think ahead all through the year to prepare for upcoming events.  Below, a little bit o’ winter in the summer….

Purchase Swittens

Betty Astle or ‘Button Betty’ as her Friendship Circle friends call her, smiles at another Circle member while preparing to add buttons to swittens on June 2, 2017. “I love buttons!” said Betty enthusiastically. “They’re so interesting. If I showed you my button collection, you’d go crazy. I have thousands. I like connecting the perfect button with the perfect switten.” The Evergreen Friendship Circle makes swittens (mittens made out of felted wool sweaters) all year long to sell at the Alternative Gift Fair in Evergreen. Proceeds go to Friendship Bridge. “Since many people buy swittens as gifts, we say you’re giving twice when you buy swittens,” continued Betty. “First to the nonprofit and then to your loved one.”

A tag is added to each pair as a reminder of who they benefit.” As your hand touches the swatch of Guatemalan fabric inside your switten, know that you have touched the lives of Guatemalan families by making this purchase.”



Mary Steinbrecher (left) and Ardis Strieby compile material to design the swittens. “I like working with fibers,” said Mary. “I got the idea for making the swittens from the Oconomowac Circle in Wisconsin. I visited them and learned how to felt wool and then adapted the designs to our culture.” The Evergreen Circle meets once per month to cut the material for the swittens and then they take the material home to sew. It takes about three hours to make a pair of swittens from start to finish.

Each pair of swittens has a piece of woven fabric from Guatemala sewn inside to remind buyers whose lives they’re helping.


Paula Carter cuts material for swittens while Mary Steinbrecher and Kathy Head speak to each other. Paula and Kathy design and sew Christmas stockings with wool that has become too thick to sew into mittens. “I love turning a pile of sweaters into a thing of beauty and joy for the holiday season,” said Kathy. “It’s fun!” A retired nurse, Kathy drives over 30 miles to meet with the Circle. “I love this group,” she said.


The Evergreen Circle also sells Christmas stockings made of felted wool. All the products are made from 100% natural fibers.

Ladies from the Evergreen Circle cut felted wool into patterns to sew swittens. The ladies buy used sweaters from thrifts shops and felt them by putting them in a pillowcase enclosed by a rubber band and then agitating them in a washer with hot water. “It’s not an exact science,” comments Mary Streinbrecher. “You have to watch them closely to that they don’t shrink too much, because then they will be too thick.”

Betty Astle and Barbara Voth embrace after seeing each other at the Circle’s gathering. “Barbara and I went to Guatemala with Friendship Bridge,” said Betty. “It was an amazing experience to see how hard clients work to give their children a better life.”


Swittens made by the Evergreen Circle













Purchase Swittens

For more information on Friendship Bridge Circles or to purchase swittens, please contact Ardis Strieby: astrieby@friendshipbridge.org


What’s the Connection Between Rough Roads, Persian Rugs, & Exotic Jewelry?

Karen Barker catches a ride with a Friendship Bridge facilitator.

by Rachel Turner

Sitting on the back of a motorcycle, Karen Barker zoomed through the streets of Guatemala with a Friendship Bridge facilitator (loan officer). “Visiting Guatemala and Friendship Bridge Clients is a very unique experience for all of us who are reaching out in one way or another,” said Karen about her recent trip. “One of the reasons Friendship Bridge is successful as a microcredit NGO is it serves clients in rural areas that are very challenging to get to.” Facilitators travel by foot, motorcycle, bus, and boat throughout the Western Highlands to serve clients on a monthly basis.

Karen learned about Friendship Bridge in 2004. “I became very enthused with the concept of how microcredit works and the mission of Friendship Bridge,” said Karen. “I also learned that Circles were key to the organization’s success.”

Soon after, Karen partnered with Helen Gair to begin a Friendship Bridge Circle. They quickly organized a group of highly motivated, enthusiastic women with diverse skill sets to begin fundraising to support the Microcredit Plus program, which provides non-formal education and health services to women in rural Guatemala. “As a broadcast journalist, I covered education issues for 20 years, so this opportunity really resonated with me. I could make a difference.”

As a broadcast journalist, I covered education issues for 20 years, so this resonated with me. -Karen Barker #empowerwomen Share on X

They created fundraisers (like selling Persian rugs and exotic jewelry) that would generate interest with those who had no idea about Friendship Bridge. “And through them, we were able to translate why these efforts were important to a country that had little relationship with the U.S. at the time,” said Karen. Through the years, these fundraising activities have raised tens of thousands of dollars in funding to expand Friendship Bridge’s programming and outreach.

Karen and ladies from her Circle pose with the Persian rug salesman during a fundraising event.

However, beyond fundraising, the Circle also incorporated an educational component into their monthly meetings. “This has been one of the reasons for our success,” said Karen. “We host speakers to talk about a variety of global issues to expand our knowledge base as well.” Becoming more educated about women’s global issues has helped the Circle build relationships and to share with others their common interest to empower women.

Since 2004, their Circle has grown and national issues such as immigration challenges have given more relevance to reaching out to a country like Guatemala. “We’re providing the basic resources that reflect what they need to mitigate their impoverished situation – a financial hand up, not a hand out – to create a better path for the women and their families.”

We’re providing a financial hand up, not a hand out to create a better path for the women and their families. -K. Barker #microcredit #empowerwomen Share on X

Karen continues to use her journalism skills to share non-profit stories, and she has become an ambassador for Friendship Bridge’s annual Salud-a-thon, motivating her friends and family to commit to their health for the month of September each year. She is an empowered woman building a better future for many.

Click to join a Circle in your area

 Click for Karen’s video about Friendship Bridge’s history

Click for Karen’s video about her 2017 trip to Guatemala

Click for Karen’s video about Friendship Bridge Circles

Rachel Turner is the Global Communications Manager for Friendship Bridge. Having worked and lived throughout the world, she’s excited to now call the foothills of the Rocky Mountains home. 

A Look Back and Forward: International Women’s Day

IntlWomensDayBy Jelica “Eli” IselyEli is a member of the Foothills Circle that supports Friendship Bridge.  She has served as President of the Women’s Organization of Skopje (the capital of Macedonia) and has traveled throughout the world learning more about women’s rights.  The Foothills Circle is hosting an event to celebration International Women’s Day, for more information, click here.

I’d like to share with you a little bit of the history of International Women’s Day. It is an official holiday in twenty-seven countries and has been observed since the early 1900’s.

Although New Zealand was the first country to officially give women the right to vote in 1893, here in the US, women got their first chance in 1756. Ms. Lydia Taft, from New Jersey, was the first lady to vote.  Unfortunately, in 1807 that right was revoked and it wasn’t until 1869 that Wyoming gave women a voting right in the U.S. again. Utah followed suite in 1870.

Initial movements:
In 1910, Clara Zetkin, a Leader of the Women’s Office for the Social Democratic Party in Germany, started promoting the idea of an International Women’s Day. It was then announced in Europe, in Austria, Denmark, Germany and Switzerland.

Unfortunately, in 1911, 140 working women were killed in New York because of unbearable working conditions. This disastrous event drew significant attention to working conditions and labor legislation in the U.S., which became a focus of subsequent International Women’s Day events.

In 1912 the world saw women’s Bread and Roses campaign  in Lawrence, Massachusetts, when women marched for better working conditions and pay.

In 1917 Russian women started a strike for Bread and Peace in response to more than two million causalities in the war. The Czar abdicated and the Provisional Government gave the women a right to vote.

It was 8th of March.

Then in 1920, the U.S. it was officially added as an Amendment in Constitution. Women had their right to vote!  But it wasn’t until 1975 that International Women’s Day was recognized by the United Nations.

The day of honoring women, their equality and emancipation.

The unfortunate fact is that women are still not paid equally for the same jobs, women are still not present in equal numbers in business and politics, and globally, women’s education, health and violence against women is worse than that of men.  We must fight that!

However, great improvements have been made; we do have female astronauts, prime ministers, and presidents of countries.

Hillary Clinton’s speech in China, nine years ago, was titled Women’s Rights are Human Rights. Yes they are!  In her speech, she underlined the necessity of women coming together and sharing our aspirations, concerns, and plans for the future of our children, family, and our businesses.  Women who join together to give their children access to education, health care, jobs and credit, a chance to enjoy basic legal and human rights, and participate fully in the political life of the country.

We will gather in Golden to celebrate International Women’s Day and raise funds for Friendship Bridge.  We are homemakers, teachers, nurses, doctors, lawyers, policymakers, businesswomen, from so many different fields. Still each of us is building a good life for our families.  We can make our families flourish. And then the whole society will flourish!

Let us create a world in which every woman is treated with respect and dignity, every child is loved and cared for equally, and every family has the hope of a strong and stable future.

Let’s celebrate 8th of March with new victories for total equality!

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!

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.