How Friendship Bridge clients like Estefana are adapting with brilliant resilience during the COVID-19 pandemic.
When Estefana opened her bakery 25 years ago in Guatemala, she named it La Bendición (The Blessing). “I feel so happy to have this work,” she said in January. “The business is doing well and it allows me to fight and work alongside my husband.” Without question, Estefana’s top priority and motivation is the welfare of her six children. And as a Friendship Bridge client, she learned to provide for them by dividing her bakery profits into savings and business investments. She uses the rest to pay for her children’s school tuition and household services like water and electricity. “My wish for my children is that they learn from the work I do. That someday when I am gone, they will have learned something.”
Before COVID-19, Estefana and her small staff delivered bread to four small villages near her home. “People look for us because we make good bread and rolls with different flavors,” she said. Not only did she have a loyal customer base, but she also had a diversified source of income from her embroidering business and selling textiles. “I have learned to do several things and not just one. If any business is down, I can help myself with another. This is what Friendship Bridge has taught me.”
This important skill has proved useful this year as COVID-19 spread throughout the country. “COVID affected me a lot,” she said in September. “We could no longer leave or enter. All the villages were closed. We could no longer sell our product.” With strict curfews, Estefana sometimes had only a few hours to do her grocery shopping. And because local buses were restricted, she sometimes had to walk the hour-long round-trip to the market.
Since March, however, she has adapted brilliantly. Because she could not leave her home in the early stages of the pandemic, Estefana started baking bread right in her home and selling to only her closest neighbors. When Friendship Bridge granted clients a two-month grace period for their loan payments, she strategized on how to best use the extra money. “Those months of non-payment helped us to support our family. Instead of paying the loan, we bought food and household things for the family.” While at least three of her neighbors placed white flags outside their homes to indicate a dire need for food, Estefana was instead able to support her own family and remain resilient.
Things have slowly started to open and “normalize” in Guatemala and Estefana is now baking 100 pounds of bread per day. She uses a small car to travel to three nearby villages to sell her baked goods. Her children are now able to complete their studies from home using cell phones. The Blessing has lived up to its name. “The advice I give to all the women at Friendship Bridge is to keep working hard for their business,” Estefana said. “Thanks to Friendship Bridge’s support, we can continue our work.” The microloans, education, business training, and health services we provide to women in Guatemala matter now more than ever. Because of your support, women like Estefana are able to continue supporting themselves and their communities through innovation and hard work amid a global pandemic.