Empower women. Eliminate poverty.

Category : volunteer

Go on an Adventure While Volunteering

Reblogged via Fearless & Framed

Balancing being a mom of three girls and growing a business makes for a pretty busy life.

But this summer I found myself with a unique opportunity – all three of my girls, 10, 12 and 14, were going to be away for 3.5 weeks at sleepaway camp. This was going to be the longest stretch of having no children around since I became a mother over 14 years ago.

I knew I wanted to have an adventure and find a way to volunteer. I have enjoyed tremendous growth in my photography business in the last couple of years. And as a way of giving thanks, I wanted to take my freedom and volunteer my photography services to a worthy cause.

So, with those two principals as my guidelines, I started looking for opportunities.

Instead of trying to find established volunteer jobs, I reached out to my friend Alicia who is involved in the non profit world. I told her I wanted to volunteer in Central America at an organization that focuses on women or children. I also wanted to find an organization with enough infrastructure that I would feel safe while I was working with them, but small enough that they would benefit from my willingness to volunteer my photography services.

Alicia immediately had a couple organizations in mind when I gave her my criteria. We quickly narrowed it down to Friendship Bridge  a non-profit that provides micro-loans, business education and health education for low-income women in rural Guatemala.

Alicia wrote an introductory email for me to Friendship Bridge explaining my background and the volunteering I was looking to do. The folks at Friendship Bridge were immediately receptive to the idea.

I told my contact at Friendship Bridge that I wanted to do documentary photography of their clients so they could use the photos for promotional use and fundraising. They loved the idea!

Soon after, we were agreeing on dates and making a travel plan.

Before this trip, I really didn’t have any Spanish-speaking skills. So I decided to start my Guatemalan adventure by signing up for a week of immersion 1-to-1 Spanish classes at the school Tecun Uman  in Antigua, Guatemala. In addition to having a Spanish tutor for four hours a day, I also chose to live with in a Guatemalan home instead of a hotel while I was in school. Shortly after I confirmed my travel plans, my husband decided to join me for the week of Spanish school.

I wasn’t entirely sure what I was getting us into when I signed up for school and the homestay, but I have to say it was one of the coolest experiences of my life. While I am certainly not fluent in Spanish in four days, I can have basic conversations and get around the country by myself with my limited vocabulary. And the homestay totally exceeded our expectations! The Mayan housekeeper cooked us an amazing three meals a day. And we loved getting to know our host and practicing our Spanish skills.

After a week in Antigua, my husband went home and I was off to Panajachel, Guatemala, to work with Friendship Bridge. Marta, the Friendship Bridge communications coordinator, contacted the clients she wanted me to photograph, organized the itinerary and hired a driver for us. Marta also went with me to visit all of the clients and acted as translator. Friendship Bridge scheduled us to visit two clients a day for four days (the fifth day of the week during my trip happened to fall on a national holiday, Military Day). Since I spent about 6 or 7 hours a day in the car with Marta and our driver, we had wonderful long chats about Guatemala, Mayan culture, and the role of women in Guatemala. I learned so much! And I had a great time photographing the country side out my window as we drove through amazing, picturesque landscapes and colorful little towns.

I met amazing women my week working with Friendship Bridge. I photographed Trust Bank Repayment meetings, where women who receive loans come together once a month to discuss their businesses, receive business and health education, and make payments on their loans. I went to women’s homes and saw where they run their businesses. I photographed weavers, farmers, tortilla makers, and small store owners. And sometimes I even got to meet their families.

I am so thankful for the opportunity Friendship Bridge gave me to meet some of the beautiful women who benefit from their charity. My experience learning another language, living in a Guatemalan home, and using my photography skills to help others was truly life changing. One of my goals is to schedule a volunteer trip at least once a year. And now I know exactly how to do it! Identify the charity I want to work with, reach out and make myself available, and make it happen!

Click here to see photos from Susan Ryan Kalina’s documentary in Guatemala.


Trading Stuff for Happiness

Photo by Marta Ixtuc. Susan Kalina photographs Friendship Bridge clients.


The last week of June, Susan Kalina volunteered to photograph stories for Friendship Bridge.  We did a Q&A with Susan to see how it went.

Q: Why did you volunteer with Friendship Bridge?

This summer my youngest daughter went to overnight camp for the first time, like her sisters. Which  means, in the fourteen years I have been a mom, this is the first time I had three and a half weeks with no children in my house. I decided I wanted to use some of that free time to volunteer for a worthy organization. My criteria was that I wanted to volunteer for an organization that benefited women or children, and I wanted to have an adventure and leave the U.S. for a non-English speaking country.

I turned to a girlfriend who is very involved in the nonprofit world and asked her advice. She recommended Friendship Bridge. We felt like the organization is large enough that I would feel safe working with them, but small enough that they would appreciate me volunteering my photography services.

Going to Guatemala was amazing! I arrived in Guatemala a week before I planned to work with Friendship Bridge. I spent the first week in Antigua staying with a host family and taking immersion Spanish classes. It was the perfect way to get to know the Guatemalan culture and work on my Spanish skills before meeting the women of Friendship Bridge.

I am so blessed to have connected with Friendship Bridge and to work with them! I learned about the value of microloans, health services, and business education for low income women in rural Guatemala. I met amazing people who work for Friendship Bridge. And I am SO blessed to have met some amazing women who are changing their lives and their children’s lives through entrepreneurship.  Through the  loans, encouragement, and support they receive from Friendship Bridge, these women are crafting a very different future than they would otherwise have.

Photo by Susan Kalina. Three generations of weavers.

Q: Did you have a favorite client visit?

I would have a hard time picking which visit was my favorite. They were all so beautiful! Our first client we met who does upholstery had the most amazing, infectious smile. I really loved seeing the pride she takes in her work. The women from the first Trust Bank (loan repayment) meeting were so sweet and had a great sense of humor. And they took pity on the poor gringa in the corner sweating bullets while taking photos! They gave me a cold bottle of water to cool down. And then before we left gave me a bag of hot tortillas off the grill and fresh cheese so I wouldn’t leave hungry. I also loved meeting the tomato farmer. She allowed me the privilege to see her home and meet her gorgeous family. The daughter and granddaughter of a cancer survivor I met in San Marcos also totally warmed my heart. And I loved meeting the weaver, her mother and grandmother in Solola. Each woman I met gave me the privilege to peek into their lives and I will forever be grateful for that honor.

Q: How did the trip to Guatemala affect you?

I will forever be changed by meeting the women of Friendship Bridge. Learning their stories. Hearing about how hard they work. Trying to understand what it’s like to be a woman in a machismo culture. Seeing their ready smiles and easy laugher. Recognizing the joy these women get from just getting what they NEED in life, not striving for all the extraneous things we want in our lives. It really reminded me to be thankful for my family, my health, a warm place to sleep at night, running water, and plentiful food. It’s so easy to get caught up in wanting more, more, more. But in reality, these women taught me that I should be satisfied with a simpler life. When you find happiness in the things you buy, your bucket is never full. I am going to be working hard the next few months to try and re-orient my family to giving back more, being happy with less, and donating the excessive clothes and stuff we have in our house!

To see more of Susan Kalina’s work in Guatemala visit: www.susanryankalinaphoto.com

Volunteerism: improving our world one idea at a time

Click to get involved with Friendship Bridge

(VIDEO) Friendship Bridge volunteer and supporter Cindy L. Rold is recognized by Carroll College with its Distinguished Alumni Award for Community Service. Click to get involved with Friendship Bridge

Reflections on my experience as a Friendship Bridge intern

by Cole Folwell, Treasury Intern summer 2016 IMG_0481

I grew up in the People’s Republic of Boulder and loved the sheltered, inclusive, and safe environment. When choosing colleges I thought that seeing another part of the country would be enlightening and intellectually riveting. For that reason, I chose Northern Indiana and for those who have not been blessed with the opportunity of laying eyes on this beautiful region, I’ll provide some insight. The regions elevation change is about as consistent as its weather forecast. The gloomy clouds, lack of mountains and the invigorating town of South Bend were all great reasons to hit the books extra hard. In general, Indiana is a most modestly impressive state and if it weren’t for Notre Dame (which is pretty much in Michigan), there’s a good chance Mike Pence could have been out of the job. Despite my opinion of the crossroads of America, I had a fantastic first-year at Notre Dame and learned so much. I am looking forward to going back this fall as a more knowledgeable, curious, giving and driven person thanks to a wonderful experience as a Treasury Intern at Friendship Bridge.

Working alongside Treasury Manager, Rebecca Cueto, my experience at Friendship Bridge was predominantly focused on the financial component to the organization’s operation. Whether that was monthly liquidity reports, monitoring currency risk, or analyzing economic data, it all had an impact on the thousands of clients Friendship Bridge serves.

I’ll admit that sometimes it’s easy to forget the actual impact of my work when focused on a spreadsheet containing masses of data. However, every number has a story behind it, importance to it and a purpose going forward. Capital markets have always fascinated me and I find that versus appreciating their ability to move capital to where it is needed, people simply write it off as a useless mechanism, wrought with peril and moral hazard. I cannot completely remove myself from my Boulder beginnings so here is a quote from Karl Marx about capital’s importance: “Capital is money, capital is commodities. By virtue of it being value, it has acquired the occult ability to add value to itself. It brings forth living offspring, or, at the least, lays golden eggs.” Microfinance brings together people and business that are seeking capital with those who have it. After being with Friendship Bridge, I definitely have a greater appreciation for the ability of capital to create positive change in a world that can easily be dismissed as hopeless.

Anyway, I am not usually that deep and down to earth (must be the Boulder in me I tried to kill off) so I’d like to get back to what I did for Friendship Bridge. I worked on several large projects throughout the summer such as a state of Guatemala report, a presentation on Friendship Bridge’s currency exposure and risk management that would be used at a conference in Italy, and an indicators board to help us benchmark our performance against other Microfinance institutions using a platform called ‘Mix Market.’

The state of Guatemala report was a comprehensive summary and analysis of all major political and economic events that had recently transpired in Guatemala. As you have seen already, I have a fairly elaborate and inefficient way of summarizing something that could be said in maybe a sentence or two. This gift of mine helped produce a 23-page report that was downright excessive (I learned a lot though). Fortunately, Rebecca helped me cut down that mountain of information into a very detailed and concise boulder (sincere apologies, I have an endearment for particularly terrible jokes). As my internship progressed I became more efficient in boiling down information into the essentials. An invaluable skill I hope to keep with me well into the future.

Overall, my internship was a positive experience as I learned an extensive amount about the interworking’s of Friendship Bridge’s operation. Some things I did were as simple as updating economic indicators and others as complex as understanding the implications of an increase in remittances on the quetzal and how that might impact Friendship Bridge’s liquidity going forward.

Over the course of my internship I also decided to participate in the weekly Spanish class, which was a humbling experience. However, much of the class was in jest and I managed to pick up some of the language while having fun. I also decided that my self-proclaimed wit was perfect for a morning email updating staff on current U.S., Latin American, and Guatemalan events. Thus, ‘Good Morning Guatemala’ was born and I know for a fact that it made me laugh while providing relevant news (did it make others laugh? Not sure). My experience at Friendship Bridge was rewarding, educational and enjoyable.

Here is a random parting hair-pulling thought from me that Rebecca and I attempted to solve on one of our daily commutes:

“There is a single light-bulb in a windowless room that cannot be observed from the outside. On the outside of the room there are three light switches. You can enter the room only once to observe the light bulb. How do you find out what light switch controls the light-bulb?”

Good Luck. Go Irish. And thank you for the opportunity and experience Friendship Bridge.