Empower women. Eliminate poverty.

Here for Her: Our Response to COVID-19





“The local market closed April 4, 2020. We do our shopping in small stores in our neighborhoods. The daily consumption products went up in price. We are weavers and embroiderers. Now we have nowhere to sell our products. I have finished 3 huipiles already, but I cannot leave my neighborhood to go deliver to my clients because there are police who are watching. I am positive and I know that this situation will pass but we don’t know when.”

– JESSICA, Friendship Bridge Client, June 2020

Since 1998, Friendship Bridge has stared down multiple crises while standing steadfast alongside the women we serve in Guatemala. We persevered through those challenges and emerged more resilient on the other side. The COVID-19 crisis is no exception, even as the virus continues to spread and present unknown risks to all.

With the health and safety of our community, staff, and clients at the core of our decision-making, Friendship Bridge is responding proactively and compassionately to support, educate, and inform our clients. Read the timeline below detailing our response in  2020 to see how we have continued fulfilling our mission to create opportunities to empower Guatemalan women to build a better life.

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Here for Her: A Timeline of Our Responses in 2020

March 2020
Guatemala reports its first case of COVID-19. All our direct work with clients in rural areas of the country is put to an abrupt halt. With the potential for COVID-19 to spread, the government closes all schools, offices, non-essential businesses, and public transportation services, plus imposes curfews to restrict movement throughout the country. Our 73 facilitators, who each work with an average of 330 clients, can no longer travel to rural areas where they previously facilitated group Trust Bank meetings, including our NonFormal Education programs and loan repayments. These containment orders have a direct and negative impact on our clients’ ability to earn income and make their loan payments to Friendship Bridge. In an effort to provide accurate health information and emotional support, staff members immediately make thousands of phone calls to our clients in their indigenous languages and Friendship Bridge initiates Distance Learning.
April 2020
Friendship Bridge offers a two-month grace period to all clients for loan payments to ensure no woman has to choose between feeding her family or paying her loan. Our mobile Health for Life program pivots to a telehealth model so that clients can connect with a nurse via phone to discuss symptoms and receive COVID-19 information and treatments as needed. Artisan clients start making hundreds of face masks for staff in Guatemala and to sell in our online store at Handmade by Friendship Bridge. Meanwhile, virtual technical assistance is provided to our Women’s Agriculture Credit and Training clients.
May 2020
New intranet communications tool, Mi Puente, launches to allow staff to collaborate more effectively while working from home. Employees complete hundreds of customer service training programs via our online learning platform in order to better serve our clients until they can return to the field.
June 2020
Friendship Bridge staff return to work in our branch offices with adjusted safety procedures in order to provide clients with information and support as needed. In addition to telehealth services, our Health for Life mobile clinics begin again, giving clients the ability to receive health services in their homes administered by our trained nurses.
July 2020
Emergency Food Relief Program launches to support clients facing acute hunger due to the effects of the COVID-19 lockdowns and travel restrictions. A total of $120 thousand in cash and in-kind donations is secured to deliver 3,300 packages of food and sanitary supplies to more than 15,000 people facing severe hunger.
August 2020
First Virtual Insight Trip is held to connect supporters with clients in Guatemala. As we have always known, our clients remain strong and resilient and Friendship Bridge reports a loan repayment rate of greater than 90%. Watch Virtual Insight Trip Videos
September 2020
Friendship Bridge is awarded a $1 million grant to design, pilot, and scale up Bridge to Success, a new business development program specifically designed to serve our Entrepreneur client segment – a major component to our 2021-25 Strategic Plan.
October 2020
We plan for our work in the future with a clear path forward in our 2021-25 Strategic Plan. Our four main goals will be: Responsible Growth, Innovation & Technology, Bridge to Success, and Social Impact.
November 2020
We start the careful process of reinstating our in-person services at full capacity as economic restrictions slowly ease in Guatemala and a “new normal” sets in. Internal surveys show that many clients are reshaping or restarting their business activities to continue making income. However, many continue needing support, especially as infrastructure remains limited.
December 2020
Friendship Bridge receives $20 thousand worth of donated items from United Way Guatemala and Procter & Gamble to disperse to clients affected by the hurricanes in Nebaj, Quiche, and Huehuetenango. The items include hygiene products like shampoo, toothpaste, and toothbrushes. We make deliveries to 200 of our clients’ families, along with Emergency Food Kits, to sustain them during this difficult time.

Main initiatives:

TECHNOLOGY

When COVID-19 initially began spreading, Friendship Bridge immediately started offering clients the option to restructure their loans to include grace periods, prepayments with no penalties, and reduced interest rates. We also started using technology in new and inventive ways to continue providing invaluable services to them despite their hardships.

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  • Telehealth Services: We began calling our clients in Guatemala to provide quality health services by phone to discuss symptoms, provide healthcare education, and direct women on treatments as needed. When reliable and trustworthy information is scarce in Guatemala, our clients continue to have access to accurate healthcare information.
  • Intranet: We launched our new intranet communications tool to allow staff to collaborate more effectively while staying safe by working remotely from home. We are also using this time strategically to take advantage of remote learning opportunities during restrictive shelter-in-place orders. With the use of an online learning platform, staff are being trained on customer service, emotional intelligence, and responsible loan collections practices from the safety of their homes.
  • Phone Calls: Although Guatemala is a poor country, many clients own a cellphone. Our calls in mid-March gave us real, on-the-ground information regarding the level of knowledge, clients have about the situation and their concerns. Facilitators and Loan Officers continue to call clients on the phone to address their concerns, show care, and provide comfort during a time of uncertainty. Our calls are helping prepare clients to confront the situation, demonstrate our commitment to them, and get feedback on what might be the best solutions or interventions in response to the crisis.

EMERGENCY FOOD RELIEF PROGRAM

In June 2020, some of our clients were starting to face hunger due to the effects of the COVID-19 lockdowns in their communities. Through regular communications by phone, we estimated that 55% of them were in need of immediate food assistance. To address this urgent need, Friendship Bridge launched an Emergency Food Relief Program to immediately provide essentials to our most vulnerable clients in rural Guatemala during the COVID-19 crisis.

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  • Within 30 days, we formed a task force to develop strategic partnerships with food suppliers, NGOs, foundations, and even our own in-country staff to feed as many women and families as possible.
  • With the help of our generous supporters, we raised nearly $62,000 to purchase and deliver 3,000 packages of food to Friendship Bridge clients and their families. Each delivery provided enough food to feed a family of 5 for one month. Altogether, we estimate that we supplied nearly 15,000 vulnerable people with essential nutrients during the COVID-19 crisis.
  • We also delivered an additional $45,000 worth of in-kind donations of personal hygiene products with our partners in Guatemala.