Empower women. Eliminate poverty.

Tag : Guatemala

Honoring the Mother Goddess Through Ethical Fashion

Textile Weaving Artists in Guatemala

by Kyra Coates

In the United States we are blessed with an abundance of fashion and accessory choices from all over the world. Pants from India, dresses from France, cotton from Egypt, the product choices go on and on. As part of our Artisan Market Access Program here at Friendship Bridge,  we give our clients tools to bring their products not only further out to their communities in Guatemala but to the international marketplace as well. We offer our artisan clients this training as a way to give them further opportunities to uplift themselves, their families, and communities out of poverty and open the door for a better life. And while we are offering them this education, we too are continuously learning and changing as an organization.

The Mayans have a long and powerful spiritual history of weaving which stretches back over 2,000 years. Weaving is considered a sacred art form that is tied directly to their spiritual cosmology. Recently it has come to our awareness that the preferred term is “Artist” for clients who create traditional Maya weavings, and not “Artisan.” As I have shared this with many co-workers here at Friendship Bridge most everyone has asked me “what is the difference?” So I set out to discover this exactly. Diving into the “why” behind this has been a beautiful and educational journey. I offer you here a glimpse into the sacred world of Mayan weaving, our roles as consumers within it, and how we can further use this knowledge to uplift and support the Mayan women of Guatemala.

A Friendship Bridge textile Artist clientKatherine Zavala, from the organization Thousand Currents, who work to support grassroots groups including weavers’ rights in Guatemala, shared her perspective with me. “I was taught by indigenous women, there is a difference between the term ‘artist’ and ‘artisan.’” she said. “Naming them artists uplifts indigenous women as creators and owners of their weaving designs, history and traditions, recognizing their indigenous cultural production. ‘Artisan’ tends to have a more folklorization connotation, which does not recognize indigenous women’s art, identity or creativity.”

The Mayans have a long, rich, and powerful spiritual history of weaving which stretches back over 2,000 years. Weaving is considered a sacred art form that is tied directly to their spiritual cosmology. In their tradition, the Universe was created by the Creator God Itzamna, and his consort Ix Chel, the Great Mother Creator. Ix Chel is the Goddess of Healing, Fertility, and Weaving, and is often depicted in three forms which represent the three stages of a woman’s life- Maiden, Mother, and Grandmother.

The goddess Ix Chel in her three formsIn her Maiden form she represents intuitive knowledge and healing as well as great control over earthly forces and is pictured with a spindle and thread as she weaves the cosmos.

In her Mother form she is the Mother Goddess of fertility, the moon and motherhood. As Mother Creator of all Maya people and consort of the Creator God, Itzamna, she decides the face and sex of every person in utero.

Her grandmother form is the Grandmother Earth Goddess of the moon, rain, medicine and death. When her children, the Mayans, die, she takes their bodies into her own physical body, which is the earth.

Women pray to Ix Chel for fertility, and upon birth girls are gifted with weaving tools that they keep for life and are buried with them when they die, honoring Ix Chel and the powerful tradition of the divine feminine that has been passed to them generation through generation. The Mayan women often claim their weaving patterns were dictated to them in a dream as a gift from Ix Chel.

The weavings themselves, which are in the form of traditional Mayan clothing, such as the Huipiles shirts and Corte skirts are rich in meaning and tradition. Each woman weaves in her personal story, philosophy, and cosmology through symbolism into the huipiles, as well as larger cultural symbols based on region and group. The symbols range from the diamond which represents the universe, the orientation of the sun in its daily movement, the four cardinal directions, to representations of mountains, rivers, animals, plants, and people through geometric shapes and patterning. Similar to Scottish Tartans, each region in Guatemala has different patterns representing their communities.

As a group from the National Movement of Maya Weavers recently wrote in a statement to the Guatemalan government:

Guatemalan huipiles, sacred weavings“They (the weavings) are a symbol of our history, of the resistance that we have maintained over 500 years, which has naturally evolved, changed, been transformed. Nevertheless, they contain—and are—the essence of the people. They are the wisdom of men and women, which is translated into what we see. They are more than colors, more than symbols. They are evidence of Mayan survival and they speak of our relationship with the universe and our profound love for life.”

Over the past few years, as tourism has grown in Guatemala, the Mayans have seen many of their sacred textile art patterns stolen by large corporations and used in fashion items for the US and Europe. This is essentially exploiting their knowledge and work for little to no compensation. They have seen a rise in prices for threading, with benefits given to large corporations and export restrictions put in place that hurt the small-scale weavers. These companies are making industrial machine-made huipiles, disregarding this sacred tradition and knowledge that has been passed through generations, all in an effort to increase profit. In October 2017 this weavers group went before the Guatemalan congress and won a bill giving them intellectual property rights to their weavings, though it has yet to be implemented. This is a huge step for Mayan rights within a country where they are very largely discriminated against for their traditions. But the fight is far from over, and changes don’t take place overnight.

Maya women weave huipiles as a sacred storyWe here at Friendship Bridge recognize the complexity of this issue, and the importance of supporting our clients, who are mostly indigenous Maya, and the richness of their culture and tradition. By honoring the sacred history of their art form we are honoring each women, and the inherent power she has. There is a responsibility to recognize the often unintentional neglect of these sacred traditions and philosophies. So, as a way to say Happy Mother’s Day and to show our respect for our clients who embody the divine feminine of the Mother Goddess Ix Chel, we are now calling all our weaver clients “artists,” and will no longer use the term “artisan” in regards to the textile art of weaving. Our clients from our Artisan Market Access Program who are not practicing the art of weaving will still be referred to as “Artisans”. These changes will be made across our programs, website, and communications. 

As supporters of Friendship Bridge and our almost 30,000 clients, you may ask “how can I support these sacred traditions?” One powerful way is to purchase directly from these artist clients, which you can do through the Tipica Marketplace on our website. Each item on the website has the story of each artist and artisan, and each item comes straight from the woman who made it. Every purchase goes back into their hands so you will be supporting them directly. This is the power of ethical fashion! Currently we have an amazing Mother’s Day sale happening, so it’s the perfect time to show these Mother’s your support! Check out the store today before these sale items are gone!

I’m also thrilled to announce that launching Memorial Day Weekend will be our very first Tipica Marketplace Summer Collection, featuring brand new items from some of our most talented artists and artisans. We let you know the moment the line is available!

As consumers there is a responsibility to see our purchases as ethical choices. Our money provides power and momentum to grow industries, so together we can support and uplift instead of contributing to further discrimination and unethical practices. Thank you for supporting our artists, clients, and the tradition of the Mother Goddess Ix Chel.

Kyra Coates is the US Marketing Coordinator at Friendship Bridge. She is a passionate advocate for Women’s Empowerment and has worked for years to promote equality. Outside her Friendship Bridge working hours she is an artist and gallery owner, a mother of two fierce and fabulous daughters, and a typical Colorado outdoorsy athletic girl.  

Whole Planet Foundation Selects Friendship Bridge as Partner in Guatemala

Friendship Bridge Clients make tortillas to sell. Many clients take out loans to build their businesses. The average microloan is $378 with 4-12 month repayment periods.

Friendship Bridge has opened a new office of microcredit and education services in Huehuetenango, Guatemala, with the help of a three-year grant from the Whole Planet Foundation, the charitable arm of Whole Foods Market. WPF has committed $300,000 over three years to reach 2,381 microentrepreneurs in Huehuetenango.

“Over the years we have gathered enough evidence to be confident that our programs are making a positive impact in our clients’ lives,” said Karen Larson, President & CEO of Friendship Bridge. “Opening our new branch allows us to impact even more women in Guatemala. We are honored to partner with an organization like Whole Planet Foundation who shares our vision of empowered women choosing their own paths.”

Access to credit and education in rural areas of Guatemala is a major barrier to poverty alleviation. Serving rural areas is costly and logistically a challenge. The new office will allow Friendship Bridge to provide access to credit and education to women in difficult to reach, rural areas.

For more information on Whole Planet Foundation, click here.

Empowering women leads to more children in school

Women are changemakers. When women are empowered, the impact extends to their families, their communities, and even their entire regions and countries. Earlier this month we shared Ana’s story – how she was empowered through Friendship Bridge loans and education to create a better future. But not only is her own future more hopeful, but with her newfound confidence and resources, Ana is empowered and equipped to change her family’s future.

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Ana’s success means better outcomes for her two children, Abner (age 15), and Nicolle (6 months). “I want my kids to live well. I want them to succeed and I want to be a good example to them,” Ana says.

Ana’s son Abner (pictured at right) says his goal is to finish his education. He says he wants to follow the example his mother has set – of hard work and providing for her family. “I want her to feel proud of me, as I do of her,” Abner says.

Friendship Bridge’s Non-Formal Education program emphasizes family care topics like keeping children in school. These trainings, along with Ana’s increased business income, have motivated and allowed her to keep Abner in school. He is currently in 8th grade, which is remarkable considering only 60% of children in Guatemala finish the 6th grade. With his education, Abner will be equipped to realize his own dreams for his future. As far as making his mother proud – well, Ana practically radiates pride when she talks about her son.

Friendship Bridge recognizes that education is a critical component of breaking the cycle of poverty, especially for indigenous populations in rural areas. To empower our clients to keep their children in school, we offer a CrediEscolar loan to offset the costs associated with school enrollment – such as uniforms, school supplies, and other fees.

Last year, more than 1,000 students were supported with Friendship Bridge CrediEscolar loans. Clients who took out the loans say they would have had to sacrifice in other areas if they had not received the loan. Remarkably, 26% of the clients who invested in education through a CrediEscolar loan had no education themselves, but through this loan are making a commitment to their children’s growth and education. From 2013 – 2014, school enrollment of our clients’ dependent children between ages 7 and 13 increased 17%. You can read more about the impact of CrediEscolar in our 2014 Impact Report.

We invest in women because they reinvest 90% of their income back into their family – prioritizing things like health and education. Investing in women and providing them loan options that fit their individual objectives means children like Abner stay in school and entire families and communities enjoy better futures. Investing in women means investing in generational change.

 

Support children like Abner in November and double your impact! A longtime supporter of Friendship Bridge believes so strongly in the power of our work that he has offered a challenge gift of $30,000 if Friendship Bridge can raise more than $30,000 in new or increased gifts through November 30th. Can you help us unlock this challenge gift by giving today?

Our Dreamer Clients: Cruz

Dreamer: The earliest stage of development on our Client Continuum. Dreamers are often new to the Friendship Bridge program. Most of them are just beginning to experience increased confidence and family decision-making. Their priorities are usually beginning to shift from basic survival to education for their children and healthier standards of living. Not surprisingly, one of the first things they do with their earnings is provide better nutrition for their families and put their children in school.

 

IMG_5534Born into a poor family of 11 children, Cruz did not have many aspirations for her life. Her father struggled with alcoholism and did not support the family, so rather than attend school, Cruz had to work every day in the fields to ensure her family had enough food to eat.

Cruz’s life followed the typical pattern of a Guatemalan woman, and she married young, at age 18. She had seven children, but two died very young. Because she had not attended school, Cruz learned to weave in order to support her family, like her mother had done. “I had to accept learning my mom’s job, and now it has become my business. I am grateful for my mother’s teachings. She fought very hard for me and my sister to become good weavers.”

However, in order to give her daughters a chance for a better future, Cruz needed more capital to grow her business. She heard about Friendship Bridge from two women in her community who were Friendship Bridge clients, and she applied for a loan and joined a Trust Bank. In addition to her loan, Cruz says the monthly Non-Formal Education sessions have been very valuable, and she has especially benefited from trainings on health, hygiene, family planning, self-esteem, and wise investing.

With her Friendship Bridge loans, Cruz has been able to grow her small weaving business and send her five daughters to school. She is proud of giving them a chance at a better future, and Cruz says her experience with Friendship Bridge has brought her much satisfaction and joy. “Thanks to my small business and my loans, I am improving my quality of life,” she says. Cruz is also proud that she and her husband have been able to build a larger home to create more space for their family and her business.

“Friendship Bridge has been instrumental in my journey to create a business and generate income. My entire family has benefited from my loans,” says Cruz. The loans and the education Friendship Bridge offers have increased Cruz’s confidence as a woman and given her more hope for her future, key characteristics of our Dreamer clients.

Announcing our newest branch location!

 

Committed to reaching the poor.

We remind ourselves of that every day. As part of that commitment, last month we opened our seventh branch, in the Department of San Marcos. San Marcos was chosen because of the large portion of its population that lives in poverty or extreme poverty. We’ve had a satellite office in San Marcos for the past year, and we are thrilled that it is now fully staffed and operational. Pictured below are Rodrigo (Branch Manager) and José Carlos (Facilitator) with a San Marcos client.

This is the first new branch office in more than six years, a reflection of the strength of the Credit and Operations team in Guatemala. Our 2014-2016 Strategic Plan calls for geographic expansion in Guatemala so we can reach more impoverished, rural clients. This new branch will allow us to do that, along with our satellite office in Huehuetenango, which is set to become a fully staffed branch next year. To read more about our expansion in Guatemala, take a moment to read our newly published 2014 Annual Report. Thanks for your support as we follow through on our commitment to reaching the poor and seeing empowered women eliminate poverty.

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Tomassa and Sanidad Divina

 

photos and story collected by Robert Weigel, Kiva Field Intern

The first thing you notice about Tomassa is the warmth and the pride that practically radiate from her when she speaks. As we waited for her Trust Bank meeting to begin, she welcomed us into her home as if we were long-lost friends.

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She shared a little bit of her story as we waited for the rest of her Trust Bank to arrive. Tomassa speaks little Spanish, so a translator bridged the conversation from her native language of K’iche. Tomassa is the oldest of five children, and at age 38 she herself has mothered ten children.

One by one the members of her Trust Bank, Sanidad Divina (Divine Healing), arrived at the meeting place. It was obvious the women were excited to be together at their monthly meeting. Tomassa and the rest of the Trust Bank listened intently as the Facilitator led an education session about proper family planning.

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As the Non-Formal Education session ended, Tomassa remarked that this topic was one of her favorites that she has learned about so far. “I cherish these meetings greatly,” she said, “because as a child I never experienced any type of formal education.” As the oldest child in her family, Tomassa said she had to mature quickly and take responsibility for household chores as her father tended to the fields and her mother took care of her siblings.

Life as a Guatemalan woman was difficult, she said, but it got better when she met her future husband, a hard-working boy from her village. Tomassa said she and her husband have supported and loved each through many difficult times. She smiled and said he is the love of her life.

Tomassa’s smile widened when she recounted to us how a financial and supportive push from Friendship Bridge gave her the chance to begin her animal husbandry business. She currently owns twelve animals – two pigs, four turkeys, and six chickens. It was clear she took great pride in her work.

With her face constantly beaming with joy and her voice full of pride when she talked about her business and what she has learned through Friendship Bridge’s educational sessions, we couldn’t help but get excited, too. Here was an empowered woman who was creating a better future for herself and her family, a future she could be proud of.

International Day of Families

International Day of Families

This Friday, May 15, is the International Day of Families. This year’s theme is gender equality and children’s rights. Globally, discrimination against women is often built into legal frameworks and government policies. Sometimes this can manifest itself in familial violence, whether physical or psychological. In other cases it means denial of access to education – for both women and their children. It could also mean malnutrition, little or no access to healthcare, and a host of other harsh realities.

We can’t deny these sobering facts, but we continue to be committed to changing them.

Our loan products…are promoting gender equality by giving women access to financial services. These loans help women build their businesses, keep their children in school, and invest in health.

Our nonformal education program…is giving women more confidence to build their businesses, know their rights, and care for their families.

Our Health for Life program…is bringing preventative healthcare and health education to rural, indigenous women who are traditionally underserved by Guatemala’s healthcare system.

As we reflect on this year’s of International Day of Families, we’re standing with families in Guatemala and around the world. We’re standing for gender equality, empowerment, and the elimination of poverty. Will you stand with us to help make these things a reality?

Giving Provides Opportunities for Grateful Clients

Petrona tablecloth

Petrona is an artisan weaver with five children – she shows a tablecloth she will set at market.

Giving is empowering and so is gratitude. In the case of Friendship Bridge clients, gratitude is the experience of being thankful for the opportunities that develop and resources that help them achieve their dreams.

On December 2, following Thanksgiving, Black Friday and Cyber Monday, #GivingTuesday will celebrate generosity on a global scale and encourage giving to benefit others. For assisting our clients in Guatemala, your act of giving could be as simple as contributing on the Donate section of the Friendship Bridge website or donate on the Friendship Bridge crowdfunding site, http://empowerwomen.causevox.com/. You could also set a 24-hour goal for December 2 and create a personal fundraising page (it’s easy – go to Sign Up in the right corner of the page, write why you want people to give, and invite your friends and family to donate)!

Giving Tuesday BannerWhen you give, you are helping clients like Petrona Churunel Noj, a 32-year-old mother of five boys who produces handmade fabrics to sell at market. Her weaving artistry with a backstrap loom creates shawls, tablecloths and blouses as well as other finished products. She lives in Chuacruz in the western highlands of Guatemala.

Petrona was unable to attend formal school, but with her Friendship Bridge loan and involvement in the Trust Bank Girasoles Chuacruz (“Sunflowers of Chuacruz”), she receives non-formal education to improve her business and reach her goals. Now she has a variety of materials to weave and is meeting the demand of her local and national clients.

The quality of her life has improved, and she is passing achievement along to her children by using a “Rapidito Escolar,” or school loan, to support her children’s education. The loan helps Petrona with school fees for three children already attending classes. Petrona can buy new shoes for her kids to walk to school and uniforms. She truly values this product because it provides both necessary and extra items that help her children develop fully and reach for better opportunities. Petrona and her husband, a laborer, plan to provide education to all five children.

Petrona is excited for the year-end holidays as she expects to sell more during this time. This will allow her to make money to prepare for the new school year starting in January, 2015.

Your generosity and support will help Petrona and thousands of other entrepreneurial women in Guatemala care for themselves, their families and communities. Please consider giving on December 2, or before year-end.

 

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A colorful tapestry woven by Petrona, who has local and national clients in Guatemala.

Education Teaches Clients Concepts for Success

Education Teaches Clients Concepts for Success

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Two clients review a handout during non-formal education in a trust bank meeting.

Non-formal education (NFE) is a lifeline for more than 22,000 Friendship Bridge clients. In addition to the monetary resources Friendship Bridge clients receive for their businesses, topics like “empowerment,” “avoiding over-indebtedness” and “children having children” speak to the realistic environment of women in rural Guatemala. While the training for clients is considered “non-formal,” the curriculum for how to facilitate learning on key topics is quite strategic and specific.Country Director Astrid Yerlin Cordona Morán de Paiz said the program teaches the women about what it means to be respected, financially wise and healthy, as a woman, as a wife, a mother and a business owner.

Topics are developed two years in advance to provide strategic direction but the timing of delivery is flexible according to client surveys. Timely topics that are immediately applicable to clients, such as the real dangers of child migration to the U.S., are pushed to clients as quickly as possible. Reports indicate that 80 percent of clients attend sessions of 45 minutes to an hour during their monthly Trust Bank meetings. Trust Banks are solidarity groups of seven to 30 women who co-guarantee the loans of their fellow members.

A flip chart with pictures and an accompanying training guide for the facilitator are the main tools used to lead the conversation. The Learning Network, a group of facilitators who represent one of each of the six Friendship Bridge branches, meets monthly to rehearse topics a month prior to deployment in the field. This group then replicates the activity within their respective branches so that all facilitators are trained on how to deploy the next month’s topic and can anticipate client concerns and dynamics. After the topic has been introduced in the field, The Learning Network relays client and facilitator feedback to the Education Manager for future revisions.

To continually improve the quality of the education sessions, all Friendship Bridge facilitators will take a 60-hour module developed by Freedom From Hunger, a long-time partner. The course will end with a certificate of completion for each unit, which covers information related to health, nutrition, business and managing money.

From the Field:  A KIVA blog

From the Field: A KIVA blog

By Amanda Schweikert, KIVA intern

A loan officer asks a question during a Trust Bank meeting

A loan officer asks a question during a client meeting.

After two and a half hours of travel on three different chicken buses, I make it to Santa Cruz del Quiché, a bustling town in southern Guatemala. In a quieter neighborhood, seven businesswomen partnered to create a Friendship Bridge Trust Bank called “Laguna Las Garzas” or lagoon of the heron. They are all Maya Kiché and show off their cultural pride with beautiful traditional costume in bright colors and patterns.

All of the women are extraordinarily welcoming. The members are curious about me—asking where I am from and how is my life in Guatemala, all while wearing giant smiles on their faces. Because these ladies average two years of formal schooling, the education they receive along with the loans as part of the “Microcredit Plus” program is highly valued. Though I can’t understand the majority of their talk in the traditional Mayan language Kiché, it is obvious that they are very invested in improving their futures and that of their families.

Lucia in particular stands out. The president of the Trust Bank, Lucia is a clear leader in her community, offering help to those around her and conversing with new friends as she walks to the Friendship Bridge office. She is married and has one child, a 15-year-old. After attending school for three years thanks to family contributions, Lucia was forced to discontinue her education and began to work. Therefore, she is very pleased that her son is currently in school and will have more opportunities than she received.

Lucia runs a restaurant, which she has owned for 13 years, and serves the residents of Quiché as well as several customers from outside of the town. She employs a young woman to assist her in the restaurant. This very motivated woman would like to broaden her clientele, publicizing her restaurant to attract people from other towns in the region. She has learned to dream for more on the foundation of skills, education and loans from Friendship Bridge.

Amanda Schweikert is a field blogger providing KIVA reports for Friendship Bridge. She also teaches part-time at the Lake Atitlan Multicultural Academy.

Friendship Bridge Announces New Country Director

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Dear Friends,

I am happy to report that Friendship Bridge has seen tremendous growth and success over the last few years because of our team’s strong commitment to the 2011-2013 Strategic Plan. These successes have laid the foundation for our next phase of growth outlined in the 2014-2016 Strategic Plan “Expanding the Bridge”.  To achieve these goals, the time has come to create a new position at Friendship Bridge, the Country Director.  I am very excited to announce that Astrid Cardona will be promoted to this new position effective immediately.

Astrid joined Friendship Bridge five years ago and has worked closely with me, as a member of the leadership team, to successfully grow Friendship Bridge to where we are today.  She worked alongside other members of the leadership team to create the institution’s foundation, stability and focus that now allows us to expand even further and achieve our mission.

Astrid’s new team will include the Credit and Operations Director, Social Performance Manager, Education Manager, Human Resources Manager and Finance Manager (a new position at Friendship Bridge).  I am confident in Astrid’s leadership and with this new team. Together we will embark upon the 2014-2016 Strategic Plan under their leadership.  Astrid and her team will be instrumental in achieving the ambitious and exciting goals we have set to improve the lives of our clients.

Thank you for your continued support of Friendship Bridge.

Karen Larson
Executive Director

Technical Training Creates New Love for Floral Arranging

Guatemalan women in technical trainingFriendship Bridge is continuing to make huge strides with our advanced education and technical training initiative.  To date, over 700 women have participated in a technical training to help take their business to the next level.   Through a variety of strategic partnerships with key organizations in Guatemala, we have sponsored courses on topics ranging from pastry making and canning to improved agriculture techniques and flower arranging.

Recently, a handful of our clients completed a training dedicated specifically to the art of flower arranging.  This skill is versatile as it can give clients a variety of opportunities including:

1) Store owners can create a new stream of income

2) Allows women to start a second small business

3) Presents an opportunity for women who really enjoy the art, to move from their current career into a new one

In addition to enhancing their businesses, the women in these technical trainings report that they love to get out of the house, form new relationships and the new skill boosts their confidence levels.