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Friendship Bridge & MAIA: A Partnership Creating Pathways for Guatemalan Women

I characterize myself as a happy, dynamic, caring person. My goal is always to serve and to be useful to people in order to impact their lives.” – Mildred

Friendship Bridge is proud to recognize one of our star Credit and Education Facilitators, Mildred Chas Morales, who recently received the Field Officer Appreciation Award from Whole Planet Foundation. During an online award ceremony, Stephanie Manciagli, WPF’s Program Manager of Latin America and the Caribbean, presented Mildred with a plaque and certificate, plus a $600 prize in recognition of the hundreds of Guatemalan women Mildred impacts at Friendship Bridge.

As a teenager, Mildred participated in the MAIA program formerly known as Starfish. MAIA was founded by Ted and Connie Ning who also founded Friendship Bridge. Mildred’s excellent academic performance at MAIA helped secure her an internship at Friendship Bridge where she quickly became a full-time employee. She’s been with Friendship Bridge for three years and manages 65 Trust Banks that together service 523 clients. Mildred enjoys enriching the lives of other Guatemalan women while earning a quality income and providing for her family. “At Friendship Bridge, I have learned that we are not only part of people’s lives, but we are also making great changes,” Mildred said. “That fills me with satisfaction.”

About Whole Planet Foundation

Whole Planet Foundation—established by Whole Foods Market—is a private, nonprofit organization dedicated to poverty alleviation. The foundation aims to empower the world’s poorest people with microcredit and specifically in places where Whole Foods Market sources its products. Since its founding, WPF has “authorized $101 million through microlending partners worldwide, funding 4.3 million microloans and over 22 million opportunities for microentrepreneurs and their family members.”

This is the 4th year that a Friendship Bridge staff member has received the award. Whole Planet Foundation invited all of its Latin American and Caribbean partners to submit nominations for their best loan officers and Mildred was a top 5 winner. Her profile demonstrated the proactive, determined, and driven characteristics it takes to be what Whole Planet Foundation refers to as a front line warrior. “We found Mildred’s performance particularly compelling knowing that she is a young mom working on her own education,” Manciagli said. “She is clearly equally invested in her own self-development as she is her clients and we applaud that.”

Mildred’s Beginnings

Mildred was raised by hard-working parents in a rural village near Chicacao, a town located in the Guatemalan province of Suchitepéquez.  “I lived the best years of my life at our farm,” Mildred said. “But we had to leave when my father wasn’t able to secure consistent work.” Left without other options, Mildred and her family moved to the center of Chicacao. As a means to support their family, her parents started beekeeping, a natural path for a farmer. And like the bees they tended, Mildred’s parents raised her and her eight siblings to work hard and respect nature.

As it is for most rural Guatemalan girls, attaining a quality education was difficult for Mildred. But she credits her mother for always motivating her to work hard in school. By age thirteen, Mildred would show strong academic performance and great leadership skills. With the support of one of her teachers, she applied for a scholarship at MAIA. She was accepted and given the opportunity to attend secondary school at one of the most progressive institutions in the country.  

Mildred at MAIA

“Like any teenager, she was shy,” said Norma Baján Balán, MAIA’s Executive Director. “But months later, she began to show a very high level of leadership. She coordinated activities with her group mates and she loved to sing. She delighted everyone with her songs and she was always well prepared and very professional. Mildred had a lot of fans here.” Balán remembers Mildred as being highly-active in MAIA’s many programs, something that made her parents proud. “I remember how her parents spoke proudly about her and everything she was achieving. She always demanded of herself and she always gave her best,” Balán said.

Through a partnership between MAIA and Friendship Bridge, Mildred attended a mentoring program where she says she first identified with Friendship Bridge’s methodology and philosophy. She was later offered an internship at Friendship Bridge where she received formal work experience and job training. Her goal was to secure a position at Friendship Bridge and when her internship ended she applied and was hired as a Credit and Education Facilitator. With her salary, she supports her family and makes it possible for her younger siblings to attend school.

Mildred’s impact at Friendship Bridge

Mildred spends the early hours of her morning with her husband and six-month-old son while she gets ready for her day. She uses public transportation to travel to her first Trust Bank meeting where she is greeted by a group of Friendship Bridge clients. Friendship Bridge Trust Banks are comprised of 7-25 women who meet monthly and where they manage their group loan and participate in Non-Formal Education programming. On average, Mildred facilitates four group sessions daily. Additionally, she manages promotional activities, new loan applications and pre-credit training.

“I am a leader and an empowered woman who seeks to achieve her goals.” – Mildred

Mildred says her clients look forward to seeing her because they always learn something new and are provided with a space where they can share their life experiences with other members of the group. Mildred also values what she learns from her clients and is passionate about empowering them to be role models for their daughters and create generational change. “I feel a lot of satisfaction when clients tell me their thinking has evolved and they are using what they learned in our education sessions to help their children get ahead,” Mildred said.

Mildred is happy to be in a position where her voice is heard and where she can have a positive impact on the lives of other women, especially with their businesses. “Any time a Trust Bank has a problem, we talk and find a solution. I always give my support through educational trainings and I love seeing women take what they learn and make changes to their businesses that can help them increase their sales, successfully repay their loans, and help their families.”

Despite her busy work schedule and time spent with her family, Mildred still finds the energy to attend classes at the university. She’s now in her final year and will soon complete a degree in Special Education. Mildred would eventually like to work as a primary school teacher or professional lecturer and she’s saving to buy land and build a home. If her past accomplishments are any indication of her future ones, we have little doubt this hardworking and empowered woman will achieve anything she sets her mind to. Congratulations, Mildred! We offer our heartfelt gratitude for all that you do for Friendship Bridge and the women who are impacted by your work. And a special thanks to Whole Planet Foundation for honoring the hard work of loan officers around the world with this incredible award.