Empower women. Eliminate poverty.

Recent Posts

Gloria: An Honor Earned by Whole Planet Foundation

by Marta Julia Ixtuc Cuc

Whole Planet Foundation was founded by Whole Foods Market. They work in 77 countries around the world. The region of the Americas (including North, Central, South America and the Caribbean) has approximately 23 partners. Among these is Friendship Bridge. Every year Whole Planet Foundation recognizes the hard work of the field officers from the organizations they partner with by giving the Field Officer Appreciation Award. In the last 3 years, Friendship Bridge has nominated exceptional Facilitators (loan officers) for this award. This is the third time one of our nominees has won, and it was presented to Gloria Cholotío. The Whole Planet Foundation award committee was impressed by Gloria’s character, the quality of her portfolio, and her passion for delivering Non-Formal Education. As a result, she was recognized as one of the top three facilitators in all of the Americas!

At 41, Gloria is Friendship Bridge’s longest-serving Facilitator. She has been working for the organization for 16 years. Since then, she has built a client portfolio of over 580 women who she meets with monthly to provide education and microcredit. When Gloria first saw the vision and mission of Friendship Bridge, she said: “I was struck by the fact that Friendship Bridge supports women through credit and non-formal education.” Gloria has two daughters and one son so a commitment to women’s education is important to her. All three of her children have pursued education. The oldest is in university for systems engineering, the next oldest is a preschool teacher, and the youngest is still in school.

Gloria with JP Kloninger

During a small award ceremony on July 30th at the Friendship Bridge office in Panajachel, Guatemala, JP Kloninger, the Regional Director of the Americas from Whole Planet Foundation, highlighted different reasons why the committee chose Gloria as one of the winners. Among the many reasons he mentioned were her dedication to educating more than 580 women per month which is not only above the average for facilitators within the organization but also above the average for the entire region of the Americas. JP also highlighted the fact that Gloria’s parents put a lot of value in her education, and that she has passed on that same value to her own family and also her clients. She is a role model for many women.

When Gloria went to receive the award, she felt very excited and shared with the crowd, “Thank you very much for the trust you have in me! I didn’t expect this award after so many years in the organization! But it has been worth it because of the women.” With tears in her eyes, she said, “JP touched my soul when he mentioned my parents because everything I am is because of them. I have seen many colleagues grow up in this organization. I love and admire them. I greatly appreciate Friendship Bridge because of the many lessons I have received. I have had many clients, and I have seen them stand up, fall, and lift up again. Some have died, and for them, I dedicate this award.”

At Friendship Bridge, we feel so honored to have members of our staff, such as Gloria, who align themselves with the vision and social mission of our organization. We are proud of Gloria for her hard work during these 16 years in the organization, and we greatly appreciate the recognition of our staff by our wonderful partner Whole Planet Foundation.

 

 

Marta Julia Ixtuc is the Client Communications Coordinator in Guatemala. Based in Sololá, she continues seeking to support the development of Guatemalan women in search of their own ways out of poverty.

Maria: Success After Failure

“To get up after a failure is difficult. I had an unsuccessful marriage. However, it gave me the opportunity to be brave and to move forward for the sake of my children. I found Friendship Bridge, which not only supported me with financial resources for my small craft business but also helped me with moral support through my monthly Trust Bank meetings. Today, my business is thriving, I feel empowered, I can make my own decisions and support my community. Thanks to the growth of my business, I have been able to employ 25 people from three communities.”

Maria is one of our many success stories. Like many clients, Maria was struggling to survive on her own after her marriage ended. She turned to Friendship Bridge for support. Now in her 5th loan cycle with us, she is an employer and recently came in second place for the 2019 Citi Award as recognition of her business success! She is an example of how the tools we offer clients through our Microcredit Plus programs make a lasting difference in their lives.

Maria recently came to our Central Office with two large cakes, and a letter expressing her gratitude for Friendship Bridge’s support. Her letter is below:

Friendship Bridge,

I cordially wish you success in your daily work.
 
Through this letter, I want to thank you for the opportunity that you gave me to participate in the Citi Bank Awards. For me, it was a huge joy to win 2nd place. I learned so much and, at the same time, I was able to show my artisan products at an international level.
 
I am so happy for the support that Friendship Bridge gave me in that process. It was an unforgettable and good experience for me. I hope to continue working with you in the future. God bless and I wish huge success for all Friendship Bridge employees.
Yours truly, María
We are proud of Maria and her success! If you are interested in supporting her further you can shop some of her beautiful artisan items through our Handmade by Friendship Bridge online shop. Follow the links below!

More Bang for the Buck with Charitable Contributions from an IRA – the Qualified Charitable Distribution

by James Wood

Are you 70 ½ or older?  Do you have an IRA?  IF SO, read on:

What motivates us to give to charities?  The answer to that question is different for everyone, I suppose.  In my case, my wife and I generally look to where we think our donations can get the most bang for the buck — does the charity really need our help?  — are our dollars going to be well spent?  — what aspects of the charity earn our long-term loyalty, or cry out for some short-term support?  While our primary motivation has little to do with any tax benefits that might accrue to us, we look at the tax benefits as a way to maximize what we can afford to give away.  In this light, I wanted to share with a subset of our wonderful Friendship Bridge donors an idea that might be appealing.  As you might already know, provisions in the recent tax law change created a relatively simple way for many donors to make charitable contributions on a more “tax-efficient” basis, through something known as a “qualified charitable distribution,” or “QCD.”

If you are 70 ½ or older and have an IRA, you can make a charitable contribution directly from your IRA to a 501(c)(3) tax-exempt entity such as Friendship Bridge, and the contribution will count as part of your “minimum required distribution” for the year in which the contribution is made.  This may have some big benefits if you fall within a “sweet spot” under the new tax law.  (QCDs are limited to $100,000 each year.)

Normally, most or all of the required minimum distributions that you receive from your IRA will be taxable to you, but if you make a QCD, then the amount of the charitable contribution, if made directly from your IRA, will not be included in your adjusted gross income but will count as part of your minimum required distribution.  The kicker is that you can still use the new, more generous personal exemption of $24,400 for joint filers ($12,200 if filing singly), and the extra standard deduction for the aged and blind of $1,300 each for joint filers ($1,650 if filing singly) – these are all 2019 amounts.  For many of us older donors, this may fit us to a T.  Like us, maybe you’ve paid off your home mortgage by this time in your life, so you aren’t generating a lot of mortgage interest deductions.  And maybe it’s going to make more sense for you to use the increased personal exemptions instead of itemizing your deductions; this is especially true now since the deduction for real property taxes and state income taxes has been capped at $10,000.   If you happen to be in the same boat as my wife and I are in, you are going to want to stop itemizing and instead will use the personal exemptions and standard deductions.  But by using some of your minimum required distributions from an IRA to make your charitable contributions with a QCD, you effectively are getting a charitable deduction AND the benefit of the higher personal exemptions.

To boil all of this down, if you are 70 ½ or older and you have an IRA, you really ought to look into this.  Your attorney, tax accountant, or investment advisor can give you advice on how to do this and whether it makes sense for you.  It’s not complicated at all.  But it takes a little bit of planning, so don’t wait until the last minute!

 

James joined the Board of Friendship Bridge in 2011 and is now Co-Chair of the Board. He was a business law attorney at Sherman & Howard in Denver for over 42 years.  James received his B.A. from the University of Texas at Austin and his J.D. from Yale Law School. He first became interested in Friendship Bridge when he helped develop an experiential learning program at the school where his children attended; students took school-sponsored trips to Guatemala and learned about Friendship Bridge. For several years, James provided pro bono legal services in connection with borrowings by Friendship Bridge and various corporate and contract matters. His wife (Felicity Hannay) was a board member from 2006 to 2012. 

Friendship Bridge has a new brand!

Dear Friends,

We are excited to share with you important news about the evolution of Friendship Bridge. We are also delighted to present our new brand that better reflects who we have become.

Over the years, Friendship Bridge has become internationally recognized as a leader for our commitment to social impact.[1] We have built one of the highest quality microfinance portfolios in all of Central America and the Caribbean.[2] We have evolved over the past 20 years since we started in Guatemala and it is time our brand catches up.

Few organizations are as committed to women’s financial and social well-being as we are. In 1998, we were one of the first microfinance organizations in Guatemala. Now, people living in poverty have many other options to borrow money. However, we are still the ONLY microfinance organization serving 100% women and ensuring every product and service we offer is created with a gender lens, designed to meet the needs of our clients and their families. As a result, our clients recognize us as an institution that truly cares about her well-being; and we enjoy very high client satisfaction and client retention.

In the marketplace, we need our client-driven mission to rise above the rest to truly reflect our unique and impactful products and services. A new and exciting marketing strategy, along with our new identity incorporating our Guatemalan roots and a visible commitment to women, will kick off next month. This is an exciting time for Friendship Bridge!

As you will see, this exciting new brand preserves the bridge of our original logo while emphasizing our commitment to women and adding the beautiful colors and meaningful Mayan patterns that resonate with our clients.

We are so grateful that you are part of this journey!

 

Sincerely,

 

 

 

 

[1] “Truelift Recognizes Fundación Paraguaya and Friendship Bridge as Global Leaders in Pro-Poor Performance”

[2]  2018 REDCAMIF Report on Portfolio Quality.

Introducing the newest member of our Board of Directors

We would like to introduce you to Paula Gomez Farrell Ph.D. She is the newest member of Friendship Bridge’s Board of Directors. Paula’s professional background includes over 35 years of experience leading and working with nonprofit and government organizations. Her experience has largely involved work with and in organizations that served underrepresented and disenfranchised individuals and families. She frequently worked as an advocate and organizational leader for people with developmental disabilities, individuals with severe mental illness, victims of domestic violence, people who were homeless as well as adults and teens who were unemployed. In the early 90s she was Director of the Colorado Developmental Disabilities Planning Council under Governor Romer. Her mid-career focus was on the deinstitutionalization of people with disabilities and mental health concerns. She also worked in organizations focused on reducing racial disparities in income and access to healthcare. During the recession between 2007 and 2010, she was the Director of the Division of Workforce Development under Mayor John Hickenlooper.

In 2015 she became a Social Entrepreneur when she opened an art gallery to benefit local artists and nonprofit organizations. Paula ran the gallery for two years.

We asked Paula a few questions to get to know her better:

Friendship Bridge: Why did you choose the career path you took?

“I chose to dedicate my professional career to leading organizations that served people with life challenges because of my own personal challenges related to poverty and lack of natural supports as a child and young adult.,” said Paula. “I became a high school dropout. I was able to overcome many of my early life challenges by serving in the United States Air Force and earning my Bachelor’s, Master’s and Ph.D. degrees while I worked.”

Friendship Bridge: What drew you to Friendship Bridge?

“I first heard about Friendship Bridge about nine years ago through members of the Genesee Circle. The more I heard, the more I wanted to become involved. I thought it would be a good way for me to contribute my skills globally,” Paula said. “After decades of working with government and nonprofit organizations in the U.S., I thought this would be a good organization to support. The first time I saw the Guatemalan women in person and the way they worked hard, cared for their families and each other, I knew I would make Friendship Bridge a focus of the next phase of my life.”

Friendship Bridge: If you could meet any female historical figure, who would you meet?

“It is hard to pick just one. As a girl, I devoured biographies about successful women. I wanted to meet Helen Keller, Harriet Tubman, Babe Didrikson, Eleanor Roosevelt, and many others. Helen Keller really struck a chord with me because, she like all of the other women, found ways to overcome many barriers and do tremendous things for other people. As an adult, I still enjoy reading about women with integrity, tenacity and a commitment to making the world a better place for all of us.”

We are happy to have Paula join the Friendship Bridge Board, and look forward to working with her!

 

Making the Guatemalan Dream come true!

by Marta Julia Ixtuc

Guatemala is a beautiful country full of hardworking people. Sadly, its political climate and several other injustices prevent families from having access to basic services and good opportunities for development. Added to these factors, the insecurity, and extreme poverty push thousands of Guatemalans to risk their lives by leaving their homes in search of the American Dream.

The US Government recently announced it is cutting all international aid to Guatemala as a way to rebuke the lack of illegal immigration control of thousands of people crossing borders to reach America—not only Guatemalan but from different Central American nationalities. This is a punitive decision that will cause more problems due to the cancellation of the cash flow to several humanitarian projects running in the country. This will force rural people further into extreme poverty and illegal migration.

For 20 years in Guatemala, Friendship Bridge has been helping thousands of Guatemalan women construct their own path towards empowerment, to make the Guatemalan Dream come true. The opportunities we provide keep families together, giving alternatives to migration with the creation of jobs and income. We teach them to manage resources and their businesses, ending poverty not only for our clients but for their communities, and ultimately reaching the Guatemalan Dream.

Ana, who lives in a rural area in the northern Guatemalan highlands, is a great example. She and her family are farmers and lived in desperate poverty. Ana’s husband wanted to migrate to the United States to support his family. However, he couldn’t make it across the border and was deported. They became deeply indebted from his journey from smugglers fees (“coyotes” charge around $12,000 per trip).

 

Ana stayed behind during her husband’s trip and continued to work on their farm. At a desperate point, she joined Friendship Bridge. Finally, she had financial support and a social help network with neighbors in her Trust Bank. With the training offered by Friendship Bridge, she became empowered, making better decisions for herself and her family. Ana soon joined the Friendship Bridge Women’s Agricultural Credit and Training Program. This program offers technical assistance teaching modern agricultural techniques for improving land use and sustainability. When receiving this support, Ana’s husband decided to stay in Guatemala without trying to return to the US. In Guatemala, their family could build a Guatemalan Dream.

Vidalia is another story of the Guatemalan Dream coming true. She had very little formal education but over the years she has built a small business for herself. Vidalia’s husband wanted to travel to the US due to the few job opportunities that Guatemalan farmers face. Vidalia, being an empowered woman, was able to express to her husband that she did not want to be alone, that they both had to work together to move their family forward. She has received Friendship Bridge’s services for more than 10 years and with it, she has managed to grow their business making jewelry, ornaments, bags, and other products. From their business profits, Vidalia was able to buy a sewing machine that her husband also uses to make new products. The business has been so successful that they now employ dozens of people in their community.

Community development does not happen overnight. It comes after several years, with the support of donations, grants, and investments from people who trust in Friendship Bridge’s vision and mission. We are bringing development opportunities that many Guatemalan families need and deserve. You are part of this effort and we need your help to create opportunities through our Microcredit Plus Program that empower Guatemalan women to build a better life. Please give today, and help us create more opportunities for Guatemalan women to make their Guatemalan Dream come true. Thank you for your support!

 

Donate  

 

Marta Julia Ixtuc is the Client Communications Coordinator in Guatemala. Based in Sololá, she continues seeking to support the development of Guatemalan women in search of their own ways out of poverty.

The Nawal of our Dreams!

In Mayan tradition, Nawals are the spirits or energetic archetypes that represents a certain day of the month. In the Mayan calendar, there are 20 days in a month, and 18 months in a year. Similar to the more commonly known European astrology, every person has a specific Nawal based on the day of their birth.

For example, actress Susan Sarandon, who endorsed Friendship Bridge last year in this video, has the Nawal of the Eagle, which signifies someone who is wise, could easily be famous and has a wide view of society. It’s easy to see how she fits this description with her fame, social activism, and charisma.

This year our Building Bridges Stay-At-Home Gala is on April 6th. This day has the Mayan sign of the Earth. People related to this sign are very great dreamers. This is perfect for the day of our celebration, as our theme for this year’s Gala is “From Dream to Reality: 20 years in Guatemala.” Not only are we celebrating our 20th anniversary of when we first brought our Microcredit Plus services to Guatemala, but we are also celebrating the accomplishments of our clients, who brought their dreams into manifestation through working with Friendship Bridge.

Candelaria is one of these clients. She has worked with Friendship Bridge for almost twelve years, but just recently joined the Artisan Market Access Program. A few months ago she came into the Friendship Bridge office in Panajachel to work with Maya Colop-Morales, our Artisan Program Manager. Maya was ending a very long, tiring day of working with clients on product development. Candelaria was the last client of the day, and Maya was exhausted and ready to be done. Candelaria approached Maya and told her “I had a dream a long time ago, that one day I would be here working with you to sell my products in the United States. Today my dream has come true! You must feel so lucky to work with women like me to help our dreams come true!” Maya was deeply touched by Candelaria’s story and felt the joy in her words. Maya also felt a renewed sense of purpose in her work, as she recognized through Candelaria’s story the important work Friendship Bridge does for women in Guatemala!

You, too, can help women’s dreams become reality by joining us for our Building Bridges Stay-At-Home Gala on April 6th. You can celebrate in the comfort of your own home, or join one of the many Gala parties happening across the country. There will be videos to watch, and games to play about your Mayan sign. All ticket sales go to support our Microcredit Plus programs in Guatemala and can be purchased here. Standard tickets include a gift of handmade coasters created by our artisan clients. VIP ticket-holders also receive a beautiful Dream scarf, handwoven by Candelaria. Candelaria shared with us the intention in her design of the Dream Scarf.

“The ikat color I used comes from our nature, and the figure is a woman. For me, as a Mayan woman, we have the same rights as men. We can earn our own money with our talent that is why we have to value ourselves as women. The message of how important women are in the world is what I’m weaving in the ikat design of the scarf.”

So we ask you, what are your dreams? Have they come true? How do they relate to your Mayan sign? To find out what your sign is, you can calculate it here. We look forward to exploring our dreams further on the night of the Gala! You can purchase tickets below.

 

Purchase Gala Tickets Here

Rosa: Finding Hope at Home

by Marta Julia Ixtuc Cuc

In the rural areas of Guatemala, family members are very close to each other and it is unusual for any member to leave home unless there is an extremely important reason. However, due to the scarcity of employment and painfully low wages, many Guatemalans decide to pursue the “American Dream” and make the long, dangerous journey to the United States. Some aim to improve the quality of life of their families, to build a house, to have some savings, and then return to Guatemala to their families and start a business. Some of them succeed, but some others do not.

Rosa is someone who is living this reality. She is 39 years old and lives in a rural community in the western highlands of Guatemala. Due to the limited financial resources of her family, Rosa only attended school through the 6th grade. She married at the age of 16 and had three children. Her children are now 21, 17, and 15 years old.

Due to the poverty that reigned over their home, Rosa’s husband despaired every day. He was frustrated at not being able to make his dreams come true. He worked as a day laborer, which did not give him enough income to support his family. In addition, he only had a small house built from adobe with a sheet metal roof, with no running water or electricity services. That is why 13 years ago, he decided to migrate to the United States. Rosa recalls that it took them four years to pay off the $20,000 smuggler fees for her husband’s trip.

Rosa is a weaver and she makes huipiles (traditional blouses worn by Guatemalan indigenous women), shawls, napkins, and other various products. Two years after Rosa’s husband left, she needed financial capital for her textile business. That is when she joined Friendship Bridge. Rosa is very grateful to the organization for providing her financial capital for the past 11 years. During this time, she has faced severe challenges from being alone while caring for her three children. Rosa’s life has not been easy. When her husband left, negative rumors spread about her through the community and made it to her husband in the US. As a result, he did not send her money for three years. In this time, she worked completely alone to take care of her family. She found tremendous support through Friendship Bridge. With access to working capital and moral support in each monthly training session, she was encouraged to feel more empowered and make better decisions. Rosa was able to grow her business, keep her kids in school, and take care of the home. After three years, Rosa’s husband realized what people were saying about her were only false rumors, so he started sending money again. Rosa used the extra finances to build the house where she currently lives with her children.

Thanks to the good management of her business, she now has five employees. The Friendship Bridge Microcredit Plus Program is making a direct impact on Rosa and her family, but an indirect impact on five other families in the community. With her profits, she keeps some savings for any unforeseen emergencies, and she wishes to one day buy a piece of land.

In Rosa’s own words, “it is difficult not to have my partner to raise my children, but now I feel courageous and capable of being a role model for my children”. It takes time for Friendship Bridge members to understand this concept. This can be achieved only with empowerment. Usually, after a year or two of monthly Trust Bank education sessions, the women begin to realize that they have a voice, and they and their husbands can work together as a team.

Today Rosa’s husband is still in the US. Thanks to technology, she can communicate with him on video calls frequently. He intends to continue working in the United States until their other two children, aged 17 and 15, complete high school. He is eager to return with his family and make up time with them.

Finally, Rosa encourages every Guatemalan woman that gender, ethnicity and school level are not impediments for women who want to improve themselves through their own business and break traditional oppressive paradigms.

Friendship Bridge, with its Microcredit Plus program, seeks to support its clients’ development, along with their families, so they can make a change in their communities. Friendship Bridge offers options to families so they can have access to financial capital, to develop their small businesses, and to receive education on topics such as family, business development, women’s rights, and health. Friendship Bridge believes that education is the basis of development.

During each monthly training, Friendship Bridge facilitators educate clients with a focus on social issues that affect their family and society. For January this topic was about migration. The objective of these sessions was to raise awareness about the risks of traveling illegally to the United States. These risks include kidnappings, extortion, rape, robbery, deportation and, even more serious, death. Clients were reminded that Friendship Bridge gives them opportunities to create improvements for themselves, their families, and their communities at home. The risks for traveling to the US are continuously increasing, so facilitators encourage clients to stay home with their families, and do not let their children or husbands travel with a coyote (smuggler) in order to avoid such dangers.

According to statistics released by the Guatemalan General Directorate of Migration (DGM), between January and August of 2018, the US immigration authorities deported 34,508 Guatemalans. This was 81.56% more than the same period of 2017, where 19,006 Guatemalans who returned. These people, when returning, need to reintegrate into the society and look for ways to survive. Friendship Bridge offers its Microcredit Plus Program, which means access to financial capital for small businesses, non-formal education, preventive health program.

 

Marta Julia Ixtuc is the Communications Coordinator in Guatemala. Based in Sololá, she continues seeking to support the development of Guatemalan women in search of their own ways out of poverty.

Leaving A Legacy: Connie Newton

by James Wood

The Legacy Circle is made up of individuals who have made a “planned gift” to Friendship Bridge. A planned gift can be made in various ways—simply making a bequest in a will or naming Friendship Bridge as a beneficiary of a retirement plan or trust. Or, as in the case of long-time Friendship Bridge supporter Connie Newton, you can use one of the more sophisticated planned giving tools such as a charitable remainder trust. Connie established her’s in the late 90s, and has now named Friendship Bridge as a beneficiary. We welcome Connie into our Legacy Circle, and we thank her immensely, not only for this gift but also for her valuable guidance—strategic, practical, and intellectual—that she has provided to Friendship Bridge over the years.

Connie was heavily involved with Friendship Bridge when we left our early beginnings in Vietnam and came to Guatemala in 1998. She is one of our longest-standing supporters. Our directors and staff, as well as our supporters visiting our operations on our Insight trips, often have the chance to run into Connie, who is truly “in her element” in Guatemala.

When Connie and her husband first traveled to Central America by car in 1963, the houses were adobe, cell phones and TV didn’t exist, and roads were mostly unpaved…but the magic of Lake Atitlan and the surrounding volcanoes was very much alive. She fell in love with Guatemala and the people and has lived there off and on ever since.

As we here at Friendship Bridge learned about the cultural, geographical, political, and economic “footprint” of our new location, Connie’s breadth and depth of experience in Guatemala made her extremely valuable to us, and we were very lucky to have her on our team.

Connie takes great pride in getting Friendship Bridge started in the Non-Formal Education Program that has become so central to our mission. She shared with us how she began working with our nonprofit.

“In 1998 Ted and Connie Ning, the founders of Friendship Bridge, approached me. I had never heard of Microcredit before, however my sociology degree put me in the field quite a lot of the time so I knew a lot of things about the people in the countryside. This was the population Friendship Bridge wanted to become involved with. In that time almost all indigenous women had very little capital to begin a business, and had very little education. I had been learning how to educate people in Central America who don’t have formal education. This is why we call it the Non-Formal Education Program. It’s kind of like adult kindergarten. You get to play games while you learn!

Friendship Bridge heard me scream and yell saying, ‘you mean they’re just coming together to get a loan and this is all they’re doing? Look at all the things that could happen if there was just a bit of education!’ And they did find out over time that there were obvious things that interfere with people being able to pay back their loans, such as illness, or death. So the education program began by learning to use natural medicine instead of Western medicine. There were about 200 borrowers early on. One time we asked them to bring with them to the next repayment meeting a plant that grew within a couple of blocks of their house. They had to tell a story of that plant and how it made someone well, whether it be a family member or a neighbor, and they had to share what they knew about it. People came, and brought their plants, and told their stories. We found that there was a common theme of the plants that were most used, so we made a whole curriculum of the medicinal plants. We did all the teaching orally, so nothing was written down. Everybody had to pretend that they were doing a radio commercial to explain why this one plant was better to fix a machete wound or this one was better to cure your kid’s cough. That was the kind of fun that we had!

I worked on the Non-formal Education Program for quite a long time with Friendship Bridge. It made me happy and it gave me a place to be present while I could see the progress that Friendship Bridge was making. I saw how the children from the borrowers received better food, had better floors in their homes, better roofs on their houses, and the kids got to go to school. It sounds simple, but those are the basic needs being met that don’t get met any other way, particularly for people in the rural areas. So that is the very simple reason why, as I get older and I look back at it all, I think Bingo! Friendship Bridge you’ve just done it! So when I exit this life in my time I’m going to be darn sure that I leave something so that Friendship Bridge can keep going!”

Connie was there at the beginning of what we now call our “Plus Services”, which have grown to serve almost 28,000 clients per year. Her legacy is in being a founder of the Non-Formal Education Program for Friendship Bridge, and now also, in bequeathing portions of her estate in her will to be sure her legacy lives on.

We thank Connie for her dedication to Friendship Bridge and the people of Guatemala. If you, like Connie, wish to leave your legacy by joining our planned giving Legacy Circle you can contact us at info@friendshipbridge.org, and find more information on our website at here. There are multiple ways to create a planned giving strategy, and we are here to help!

Claudia’s Story: Empowered by Gratitude

by Kyra Coates

I’m a strong woman. I was blessed with an inherent sense of self-confidence from an early age, which has been a great gift as I’ve grown, traveled, and searched for opportunities for myself. It’s made it easier for me to face the challenges of life knowing I can count on myself to do whatever I set my mind to. I’ve recognized that for many women this isn’t something that comes as easy for them. Especially in rural Guatemala, where machismo culture reigns, and traditional family roles limit women from exploring opportunities beyond what society has assigned to them.

I was fortunate to travel to Guatemala recently and spend a week meeting with Friendship Bridge clients, visiting Trust Banks, Health Clinics, and getting an intimate view of what their lives are like. There was one client in particular who’s story touched me deeply. Her name is Claudia. Claudia is 28 years old, has a fourth grade education, and is a mother to three kids. She lives in a beautiful home with her parents, and grows flowers to earn a living for her family. Claudia welcomed us into her home on a sunny day. She had tables set-up around the room where she was putting together gifts for children in her church. I didn’t know much about Claudia before we began talking, only that her husband had left for the United States several years ago.

Claudia sat across from me, smiling softly as I asked her some basic questions about her children, her parents, and life in general. Throughout my week in Guatemala, I noticed most rural women were very timid to speak and answer questions. This was a symptom of generally having no voice of their own in their lives. However, when I asked Claudia about her husband, she began to speak with a determination I wasn’t expecting, recounting a story that hit me like a kick in the stomach.

Claudia and her husband married when she was 18 years old. They both came from very poor families, and his parents in particular had a difficult time, as his father is an alcoholic. Claudia and her husband lived with them for seven painful years, and then left after the situation became too abusive. They moved in with Claudia’s parents who lived in a beautiful home, built from money her father earned in the United States when he lived there for several years when Claudia was a child. After many years of struggling to make ends meet, her husband decided to go to the United States as well, hoping the salary he could make working on the farms there would give him a savings to finally give his young family a home of their own. Her brothers also took the journey with him, and they ended up in California.

Two months after their arrival, they had already secured work on a farm so things were looking promising. Then Claudia’s husband began to experience tremendous pain in his legs and feet. He went to the hospital for an exam and they found nothing that could explain his pain. Nevertheless, very quickly he lost the ability to walk, which was a complete mystery to the doctors. He spent the next six months in a hospital bed, completely immobile. The doctors tested him for everything they could. They even did a complete blood transfusion, thinking maybe there was virus or something they couldn’t detect. Treatment after treatment, they had no luck in discovering what was ailing him.

Claudia’s eyes glistened with tears as she told me her story. Her gaze locked with mine, unblinking, as my eyes welled up also at her words and her emotion. She didn’t turn away. Her voice didn’t falter. I put my pen down, just listening, unable to look away. She had a story to tell, and she made sure I was hearing what she had to say.

When her husband was in the hospital, Claudia learned about Friendship Bridge from her mother-in-law. She was struggling to keep her family afloat, she had no money coming in from her husband, he had outrageous medical expenses, and they were near starving. The generosity of her family and her community helped them scrape by. But Claudia knew she needed to do something. She formed a Trust Bank with her mother-in-law and used the loan money to expand her parent’s property and grow flowers. Claudia came from a family of farmers. With her loan from Friendship Bridge, not only could she support herself and her children, she could contribute to her family’s business and help everyone who helped her.

After six months in bed, Claudia’s husband woke up one day and had regained the use of his legs. He was able to take a few weak steps. They called it a miracle of God as no medical treatment had worked, and yet mysteriously he improved on his own. It would be another year before he could leave the hospital, and to this day the doctors have no idea what exactly happened to him. Now he is able to walk, but not with much strength. He works when he can, and thankfully has the company of Claudia’s brothers to take care of him. His meager earnings cover his basic expenses, but nothing is left to save or send home to Claudia. He has decided to stay another year in the United States, hoping his time here can amount to some form of financial boost for his family. .

Meanwhile, Claudia has successfully grown her business. Through her earnings, she has been able to pay for an expansion on her parents’ house, upgraded their kitchen, and has purchased more land to grow on. She is able to send all her kids to school. Her brother also purchased a property next door, and she has plans to expand her farming further on his property with her next loan cycle.

Claudia’s voice was strong and clear. “Friendship Bridge is what has sustained us. They’ve helped me with so much. And it’s by the grace of god we have been given this gift. I thought differently when I was single. Then I got married, and my husband has had so many problems. I didn’t have strength then to handle it all. But now I fight for my children and I know I’m strong. The family is the fundamental basis for society. A united family with deeply rooted values ​​will achieve bright and successful future. Thanks for being part of my life, Friendship Bridge!”

As I sat and listened to Claudia, I felt her emotion. I felt the pain and fear she had for her husband. I sensed the relief she experienced with his recovery. But above all, I felt her gratitude. Her life has been extremely challenging, yet what came across so strongly was that she felt blessed. She felt that in spite of it all, God is on her side, and everything she has is a gift. And with that gift, she found her voice, and a story to share.

Now Claudia teaches several classes at her church, because she wants her story to be heard. She wants people to have faith in God, and have faith that life can get better. She is forming a new Trust Bank in January to bring the blessing of Friendship Bridge to more women in her community. And as I left her home with my co-workers, with my belly full of the black bean sandwich she prepared for us in the kitchen she paid for, I reflected on my own life. I have a home of my own. I have my partner by my side. I have a great education for my children that doesn’t cost me much, and an amazing job with Friendship Bridge that gives me the chance to meet women like Claudia. Yet sometimes I forget to be grateful. Sometimes I whine, and feel inconvenienced by life. In those moments, I will think of Claudia and the gratitude she chooses every day for the gift of life despite the pain she has endured. The smallest step, whether it be one from a hospital bed, or one towards financial security, is one to celebrate. And I will remember that, in hearing Claudia’s strong voice, that gratitude is one of the most powerful, contagious forms of empowerment we can have.

 

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.

Giving Thanks For Open Doors

A Trust Bank meets for their monthly loan repayment in the community of Santa Clara. 

by Julia Barrero

This time of year inspires us to give thanks. This year, in addition to my health, my loved ones, my home, and my job, I’ll be giving thanks for something I realized during my summer volunteering with Friendship Bridge. This something lies at the center of Friendship Bridge’s work and has the potential to change lives. It’s the gift of empowerment.

To explain, I need to tell you a story. The story starts with América Chiyal.

América Chiyal is the Artisan Coordinator for Friendship Bridge’s Artisan Market Access Program, but when she first started in the organization, she was a client facilitator. She guided groups of anywhere from 7 to 25 women in the initiation and repayment of a shared, group micro-loan. (Learn more about how this Grameen-style model of microcredit works at Friendship Bridge.) Every month, she would meet with her group, or “Trust Bank,” leading women in a training session on health, business finances, or personal development, and ensure that each member was on track for her payment.

América (left) introducing two women (center and right) from Friendship Bridge’s Artisan Access Program to a visiting group of students from Indiana University.

One day, at the end of that month’s repayment meeting, América asked one of the women in her group if she would deposit their collection at the bank. The woman took the envelope sheepishly, and América rushed off to visit her next Trust Bank for the afternoon. Two hours later, América came back through town, passing by the bank. Outside the doors stood the same woman, holding the same envelope.

América approached her. “What’s wrong?” she asked, “Why are you standing out here?” The woman explained that she had never been to the bank before, but she was too ashamed to tell América when she gave her the job of depositing the money. She made her way to the bank, but was too scared to take the next step. The doors were unlocked, but the woman couldn’t bring herself to push them open and step inside.

When América told me this tale, I realized something. I had grown up believing that I can be anything I want to be. I’ve walked through open doors without thinking twice. The woman in the story reminded me that I am not the norm, I am lucky. So many others, near and far, do not waltz through thresholds with a sense of confidence and control. They come up against closed doors, and they have to push their way through. From this story, I realized why organizations like Friendship Bridge aren’t just nice, we need them. Masses of people around the world need them.

With América’s help, that woman took a step toward empowerment, toward control, and made her first visit to the bank. Through Friendship Bridge’s work in 2017 alone, almost 27,000 women around Guatemala have been coached in health, business, and personal development lessons, giving them greater authority over their own lives.

As for América? She grew up near Friendship Bridge’s Guatemalan headquarters surrounded by examples of women with limited opportunities. They didn’t get a good education and they stayed confined to their parents’ or husbands’ homes.

América, however, carved out her own path. Now she’s got her dream job as the Artisan Market Access Program Coordinator, helping artists and artisans develop the skills they need to be independent entrepreneurs in global markets. América offers other women a different model of what’s possible.

In this way, Friendship Bridge’s empowerment work comes full circle. A sense of pride and ownership from within the organization begets the same traits in the women and the communities that Friendship Bridge serves.

I’m carrying América’s story with me this holiday season. As I give thanks, I’ll be thinking about Friendship Bridge. I’ll be thinking about the thousands of women who have gained more control over their lives. I’ll be thinking about all the doors that Friendship Bridge has helped open, both for its clients and for me.

 

Julia Barrero was Friendship Bridge’s Field Writer and Kiva Intern, traveling throughout Guatemala collecting testimonials from the inspiring women in the microcredit, artisan, agriculture, and health programs. For as long as she can remember, Julia’s favorite line has been, “Tell me a story.” She’s been chasing stories ever since. Julia graduated with a B.A. in History from Stanford University and also discovered her love of journalism on The Farm. After graduating, she combined her passion for people and stories with a knack for business as a marketer in the San Francisco startup scene. As a native Spanish-speaker with Colombian and Cuban heritage, she was thrilled to be spend 3 months in Guatemala, her first experience abroad in Central America. 

The Issue of Migration: Friendship Bridge Offering Sustainable Solutions

The Issue of Migration: Friendship Bridge Offering Sustainable Solutions

by Kyra Coates

The issue of immigration has been a heated topic over the past several months in the United States. When President Trump enacted a “zero-tolerance” policy, there was a subsequent outcry from the public over the separation of families with people taking to the streets in protest. According to a recent article in the New York Times, there are still 13,000 migrant children in government custody who either arrived at the border alone, or have been separated from their guardians. Despite these extreme government immigration policies, there still has been an increase in people crossing the border illegally in the past few months. According to data from the US Customs and Border Protection, the largest percentage of those people are from Guatemala, with almost 43,000 families being taken into custody in 2018 to date, which is a sharp increase from the almost 25,000 apprehended for the entire year of 2017.

Contrary to common belief, it is not a result of rising violence that is driving people to emigrate. Violence in Guatemala is actually at a 17-year low. It is the decades-long issue of extreme poverty that is forcing people to leave their homes in search of a better life. With a population of 17.25 million, a staggering 60% of the country lives in poverty, with the majority of those being the indigenous population of Mayan descent. 79% of the Maya population lives below the poverty line, with a child malnutrition rate of 80%, which is the highest in the Western hemisphere.

Guatemala is a country with a painful past, that now lives with a wounded present. The country has suffered a long history of poverty and war, with the most recent being a bloody civil war from 1960-1996 that included a genocide of over 200,000 indigenous civilians being killed or “disappeared” at the hands of the government. Once the war ended, life for indigenous Guatemalans only improved minimally. Extreme discrimination continues to exist for the Mayan population. The corrupt government offers substandard public services and unreliable infrastructure, including road, water and air quality. And the country began to feel the effects of climate change, having now slumped into an unending cycle of hurricanes, drought, and other extreme weather. For a country where much of the population survives on local subsistence farming, and lives in the rural areas of the country, their future is bleak.

The province of Huehuetenango, in the northern part of the country bordering Mexico, has been hit especially hard. Agriculture is the main economic activity in this region, especially coffee. Yet with a destitute economy, high unemployment, prevalent gang violence, and a highly damaged ecosystem, this western province of Guatemala has the largest number of people migrating to the United States. It also has the youngest population, with 58% of the province being under the age of 19. There are few jobs, and the ones that do exist pay little. An average daily wage in Huehuetenango for agriculture or construction work is 40 quetzales, which is equivalent to $5.19. With that wage a family can afford to eat meat once a week, but cannot afford to send children to school, or pay for a home with indoor plumbing.

Meanwhile, a treacherous high-risk journey to cross the border is appealing when there is the promise of wages that are 10 to 15 times higher in the United States. On the local radio stations you can hear advertisements from smugglers, known as “coyotes”, proclaiming that children and pregnant women are guaranteed entrance at the US border. The trip costs anywhere from $10,000 – $12,000, with no promise they will even make it. Most individuals borrow the money from local lenders at an outrageous 120% annual interest rate. This puts them at high risk for extreme poverty and even homelessness if they don’t make it across the border. But the opportunity to make enough money to send home to their family is too big of a draw, so people continue to gamble and make the journey.

Maria Ramoz is 28 years old with two children, ages six and nine. Her husband worked for several years for a local fast food chain, Pollo Campero. He had taken out a loan with the company a few years ago to help cover some family expenses. Then his mother fell gravely ill and they could not afford to pay her medical bills. Because he is an only child it was his responsibility to take care of her. After contemplating the journey to the US for several years, he was offered a job in the United States and travelled there legally, but decided to stay after his three month visa expired to continue paying for his mother’s treatment and pay down his travel loan to the United States. He now works in a nail factory in Illinois and sends money home monthly. He plans to stay there for another three years.

In the meantime, Maria is left alone with their children. She suffers emotionally since he left, and says that some people try to take advantage of a woman whose husband has left. If she goes out with a friend or does her hair, gossip spreads that she has moved on, or has a new boyfriend. Although the worst part for her is that her young children are growing up without a father. “You cannot recuperate their childhood,” she says.

With poverty at such an epidemic level in Guatemala, what options are there?

Friendship Bridge is working in Guatemala to give opportunities to these same families so they can make a better life in their own country. Our organization has identified key factors that can help alleviate the burden of poverty. First, we offer Guatemalan women financial opportunities through microcredit. We have recognized that women, on average, invest 90% of their income in their families and community. In Guatemala women see high rates of domestic violence and discrimination. According to the United Nations, two women per day suffer a violent death there, as Guatemala is considered one of the top-ten most dangerous countries for women in the world. The illiteracy rate for women has hovered around 65% for years. By offering women opportunities to improve their lives and have financial independence we know we are not only investing in them, but in their families and their communities as well.

After her husband left, Maria joined Friendship Bridge and took out a loan to start a business selling jewelry. “I have two babies, I’m 28 years old, but I want to go to university, I want to be a dentist. It’s very expensive, but it’s not impossible. It takes you ten years studying, but it’s not impossible!” Maria says. After her third loan cycle she is happy to say she now has financial stability, and is even studying to get her High School diploma as her first step to earn a dental degree down the road.

A Friendship Bridge monthly Trust Bank education session

Every Friendship Bridge client also receives education. When a woman takes out a microloan, instead of needing collateral to guarantee her loan, she forms what is called a Trust Bank, which are groups of 7-25 women in her local community that come together to co-guarantee each other’s loans. These Trust Banks meet monthly with loan facilitators who offer them training on a range of topics, from business management, health, family issues, and domestic abuse. On average our clients have only three years of education, so this gives them the opportunity to gain skills and knowledge they wouldn’t receive anywhere else and apply them in their businesses, their families, and their community.

Once a woman reaches a certain level in the microcredit program she is eligible to receive advanced education through three different programs. Our New Skills Training Program gives women opportunities to diversify their income by learning new trades. The Artisan Market Access Program gives artisans training on how to access new markets, develop products, and eventually reach an international market. And the Women’s Credit and Agriculture Training Program teaches farmers modern agricultural practices in order to increase yields and mitigate risk of extreme climate disasters such as drought and flooding.

Ana and her family.

Ana married her husband when she was 16 years old, and had their son one year later. Their young family struggled to make ends meet. Seeking more opportunity in the United States, Ana’s husband tried to emigrate. Doing so required taking out a loan, one that he knew he could pay off with a job in the States. However, after an arduous journey he never made it across the border, and the loan quickly turned into a financial nightmare. As if matters couldn’t get any worse, their son got into a serious accident, and they couldn’t afford medical attention.

After weeks of rest and many nights keeping vigil by his bedside, Ana’s son made a full recovery. That gave Ana the strength she needed to carry on for her and her family. She looked at the ten acres of land they had and knew she could make something of it. In 2016, she joined Friendship Bridge, attracted to its Women’s Agriculture & Credit Training program. Today, Ana works with the on-staff agronomists in a demonstration plot on her land, while she maintains her own traditional techniques on another plot.

“With one pound of my seeds, I can only cultivate one acre,” she says. “With their new techniques, I can cultivate three acres. These different techniques matter. By the acre, we used to harvest 18 sacks of medium-sized onions and now, we’re harvesting 22 sacks of high-quality onions and getting a better price at the market.”

Friendship Bridge has been in Guatemala since 1998. We are happy to say that though the national poverty level continues to climb, our clients increasingly see a decrease in poverty. Huehuetenango is a newer area for us to work in. We began offering our services there two years ago, and are in the process of expanding. We expect to see similar positive results and, now especially, create opportunities for families to stay in Guatemala and not feel the need to leave for the US to find a better life.

We do recognize the problem of migration is complex and influenced by numerous factors, and what we offer is not the solution for everyone. However, as we see an increase in need we will focus our attention on addressing these issues by offering opportunities for women and their families to build financially sustainable and healthy lives, and hopefully, have the resources to stay together.

 

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.

 

References:

https://www.npr.org/sections/parallels/2018/04/04/598803531/how-a-guatemalan-villages-fortunes-rose-and-fell-with-u-s-migration-and-deportat

https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/national-security/hunger-not-violence-fuels-guatemalan-migration-surge-us-says/2018/09/21/65c6a546-bdb3-11e8-be70-52bd11fe18af_story.html?utm_term=.401f716f1b71

https://www.npr.org/2018/09/19/649300559/a-guatemalan-village-tells-the-story-of-immigration-to-the-u-s

https://www.npr.org/2018/09/18/648903895/despite-dangers-intimidation-guatemalans-still-seek-a-better-life-in-u-s

https://www.nytimes.com/2018/09/30/us/migrant-children-tent-city-texas.html

https://www.stripes.com/news/us/faced-with-migration-crisis-us-border-chief-finds-no-easy-fix-in-central-america-1.549811