by James Wood
The Legacy Circle is made up of individuals who have made a “planned gift” to Friendship Bridge. A planned gift can be made in various ways—simply making a bequest in a will or naming Friendship Bridge as a beneficiary of a retirement plan or trust. Or, as in the case of long-time Friendship Bridge supporter Connie Newton, you can use one of the more sophisticated planned giving tools such as a charitable remainder trust. Connie established her’s in the late 90s, and has now named Friendship Bridge as a beneficiary. We welcome Connie into our Legacy Circle, and we thank her immensely, not only for this gift but also for her valuable guidance—strategic, practical, and intellectual—that she has provided to Friendship Bridge over the years.
Connie was heavily involved with Friendship Bridge when we left our early beginnings in Vietnam and came to Guatemala in 1998. She is one of our longest-standing supporters. Our directors and staff, as well as our supporters visiting our operations on our Insight trips, often have the chance to run into Connie, who is truly “in her element” in Guatemala.
When Connie and her husband first traveled to Central America by car in 1963, the houses were adobe, cell phones and TV didn’t exist, and roads were mostly unpaved…but the magic of Lake Atitlan and the surrounding volcanoes was very much alive. She fell in love with Guatemala and the people and has lived there off and on ever since.
As we here at Friendship Bridge learned about the cultural, geographical, political, and economic “footprint” of our new location, Connie’s breadth and depth of experience in Guatemala made her extremely valuable to us, and we were very lucky to have her on our team.
Connie takes great pride in getting Friendship Bridge started in the Non-Formal Education Program that has become so central to our mission. She shared with us how she began working with our nonprofit.
“In 1998 Ted and Connie Ning, the founders of Friendship Bridge, approached me. I had never heard of Microcredit before, however my sociology degree put me in the field quite a lot of the time so I knew a lot of things about the people in the countryside. This was the population Friendship Bridge wanted to become involved with. In that time almost all indigenous women had very little capital to begin a business, and had very little education. I had been learning how to educate people in Central America who don’t have formal education. This is why we call it the Non-Formal Education Program. It’s kind of like adult kindergarten. You get to play games while you learn!
Friendship Bridge heard me scream and yell saying, ‘you mean they’re just coming together to get a loan and this is all they’re doing? Look at all the things that could happen if there was just a bit of education!’ And they did find out over time that there were obvious things that interfere with people being able to pay back their loans, such as illness, or death. So the education program began by learning to use natural medicine instead of Western medicine. There were about 200 borrowers early on. One time we asked them to bring with them to the next repayment meeting a plant that grew within a couple of blocks of their house. They had to tell a story of that plant and how it made someone well, whether it be a family member or a neighbor, and they had to share what they knew about it. People came, and brought their plants, and told their stories. We found that there was a common theme of the plants that were most used, so we made a whole curriculum of the medicinal plants. We did all the teaching orally, so nothing was written down. Everybody had to pretend that they were doing a radio commercial to explain why this one plant was better to fix a machete wound or this one was better to cure your kid’s cough. That was the kind of fun that we had!
I worked on the Non-formal Education Program for quite a long time with Friendship Bridge. It made me happy and it gave me a place to be present while I could see the progress that Friendship Bridge was making. I saw how the children from the borrowers received better food, had better floors in their homes, better roofs on their houses, and the kids got to go to school. It sounds simple, but those are the basic needs being met that don’t get met any other way, particularly for people in the rural areas. So that is the very simple reason why, as I get older and I look back at it all, I think Bingo! Friendship Bridge you’ve just done it! So when I exit this life in my time I’m going to be darn sure that I leave something so that Friendship Bridge can keep going!”
Connie was there at the beginning of what we now call our “Plus Services”, which have grown to serve almost 28,000 clients per year. Her legacy is in being a founder of the Non-Formal Education Program for Friendship Bridge, and now also, in bequeathing portions of her estate in her will to be sure her legacy lives on.
We thank Connie for her dedication to Friendship Bridge and the people of Guatemala. If you, like Connie, wish to leave your legacy by joining our planned giving Legacy Circle you can contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org, and find more information on our website at here. There are multiple ways to create a planned giving strategy, and we are here to help!