Empower women. Eliminate poverty.


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