Empower women. Eliminate poverty.

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What’s the Connection Between Rough Roads, Persian Rugs, & Exotic Jewelry?

Karen Barker catches a ride with a Friendship Bridge facilitator.

by Rachel Turner

Sitting on the back of a motorcycle, Karen Barker zoomed through the streets of Guatemala with a Friendship Bridge facilitator (loan officer). “Visiting Guatemala and Friendship Bridge Clients is a very unique experience for all of us who are reaching out in one way or another,” said Karen about her recent trip. “One of the reasons Friendship Bridge is successful as a microcredit NGO is it serves clients in rural areas that are very challenging to get to.” Facilitators travel by foot, motorcycle, bus, and boat throughout the Western Highlands to serve clients on a monthly basis.

Karen learned about Friendship Bridge in 2004. “I became very enthused with the concept of how microcredit works and the mission of Friendship Bridge,” said Karen. “I also learned that Circles were key to the organization’s success.”

Soon after, Karen partnered with Helen Gair to begin a Friendship Bridge Circle. They quickly organized a group of highly motivated, enthusiastic women with diverse skill sets to begin fundraising to support the Microcredit Plus program, which provides non-formal education and health services to women in rural Guatemala. “As a broadcast journalist, I covered education issues for 20 years, so this opportunity really resonated with me. I could make a difference.”

As a broadcast journalist, I covered education issues for 20 years, so this resonated with me. -Karen Barker #empowerwomen Click To Tweet

They created fundraisers (like selling Persian rugs and exotic jewelry) that would generate interest with those who had no idea about Friendship Bridge. “And through them, we were able to translate why these efforts were important to a country that had little relationship with the U.S. at the time,” said Karen. Through the years, these fundraising activities have raised tens of thousands of dollars in funding to expand Friendship Bridge’s programming and outreach.

Karen and ladies from her Circle pose with the Persian rug salesman during a fundraising event.

However, beyond fundraising, the Circle also incorporated an educational component into their monthly meetings. “This has been one of the reasons for our success,” said Karen. “We host speakers to talk about a variety of global issues to expand our knowledge base as well.” Becoming more educated about women’s global issues has helped the Circle build relationships and to share with others their common interest to empower women.

Since 2004, their Circle has grown and national issues such as immigration challenges have given more relevance to reaching out to a country like Guatemala. “We’re providing the basic resources that reflect what they need to mitigate their impoverished situation – a financial hand up, not a hand out – to create a better path for the women and their families.”

We’re providing a financial hand up, not a hand out to create a better path for the women and their families. -K. Barker #microcredit #empowerwomen Click To Tweet

Karen continues to use her journalism skills to share non-profit stories, and she has become an ambassador for Friendship Bridge’s annual Salud-a-thon, motivating her friends and family to commit to their health for the month of September each year. She is an empowered woman building a better future for many.

Click to join a Circle in your area

 Click for Karen’s video about Friendship Bridge’s history

Click for Karen’s video about her 2017 trip to Guatemala

Click for Karen’s video about Friendship Bridge Circles

Rachel Turner is the Global Communications Manager for Friendship Bridge. Having worked and lived throughout the world, she’s excited to now call the foothills of the Rocky Mountains home. 

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