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“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.
Here for Her: A Timeline of Our Response to COVID-19
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.
- 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.
- 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.