Empower women. Eliminate poverty.

Recent Posts

Rising Up: Maria’s Story

by Rachel Turner

Fifteen days after Maria gave birth to her only daughter, her husband abandoned her and their six children with a mountain of debt and no source of income.

“It gave me the opportunity to be brave and rise up for the good of our children,” said Maria, an entrepreneur at heart. She had learned to sew and design from her father and brothers as a young girl after her mother died. When her father married her off to the neighbor boy at seventeen, the new couple decided to design jewelry together and sell it. With Maria managing the business, it grew considerably. However, fourteen years later, her husband took the business and left debts.

Determined to build an independent life, Maria traveled via bus three hours from her home to build a clientele for a new jewelry business. Her neighbors ridiculed her. Others advised her not to go. She pressed on, visiting boutiques and artisan businesses showing samples of her work in a new territory. Her trip was a resounding success. She met a shop owner looking for someone to create new designs out of Colombian beads. Today, she continues to provide products for him.

During that time, she also met America Chiyal from Friendship Bridge and joined a Trust Bank.  She obtained a loan to help build her artisan business but also received moral support from the women at her monthly loan repayment meetings.  Her confidence began to build. Old clients began looking for her since they valued her integrity and the quality of her work. Little by little, her business grew.

Along with business training, and community support from other businesswomen, Maria also used Friendship Bridge’s Health for Life services, allowing her to receive preventive healthcare for free in her native language through a mobile clinic in her community.

Later she joined Friendship Bridge’s Artisan Market Access program which taught her about expanding her business, quality control, product pricing, and exporting. “I bettered my children’s nutrition so they could be healthy. They attended school, and four of them are now working while two finish school,” said Maria. “Today I employ more than 25 women, I export to the United States, France, and Colombia, and I own property where I will build a house next year.”

Today, Maria employs her two daughters-in-law and works daily with her 16-year-old daughter.  Two of her sons also work in the business.  “My life is full,” said Maria. “To get up after a failure is difficult. However, today my business is thriving, I feel empowered, and I can make my own decisions and support my community.  I’m very grateful.”

Each time you donate to Friendship Bridge, you change the world, one woman at a time. Now is your chance to make an even greater impact! A generous donor is matching donations up to $30,000 until December 9th. Take advantage and make each of your dollars go even further by donating at www.friendshipbridge.org/Maria

The Passing of Rebecca Cueto

On October 5th, we lost our dear friend and longtime co-worker, Rebecca Cueto. As it says in her below obituary, “Rebecca was a compassionate and thoughtful person committed to being kind to those around her and making the world a better and brighter place, especially for women.” At Friendship Bridge, we are humbled to have had Rebecca as an incredible advocate for our clients through her hard work, deep compassion and support. Her strength has been passed on to the thousands of women we work with who Rebecca was fiercely committed to serving. We will miss our dear friend greatly.

You can read Rebecca’s obituary here:  https://www.kasslyfuneral.com/notices/Rebecca-Cueto

Martha: How Her Success Blossomed

“I want my daughters to have better opportunities, opportunities that I did not have since my father abandoned us when I was a little girl and my mother, with tremendous effort, moved us forward. Because of her, I was able to reach the 9th grade.”

Martha is 34 years old and a mother of three children. Nine years ago she came to Friendship Bridge looking for those better opportunities. She took out her first loan, and now, 14 loan cycles later, her business and family are thriving.

“I have been able to diversify my business because I have the necessary financial capital to work. In addition, I was selected to participate in an Advanced Training provided by Friendship Bridge and I learned to make cakes. Shortly after that, I was able to buy a new stove for my cake business. Now I have a handicraft store selling wreaths. I also sell shoes and clothes, and I was able to buy my electric machine to make “Granizadas” (crushed ice with flavor and fruits on top).”

Martha also had taken advantage of Friendship Bridge’s Chanim Chanim loan and recently took our her fourth loan of this kind. Chanim Chanim means “fast” in Maya Kakchiquel language. This loan gives quick access to loan capital to existing clients with a good credit history.

Now Martha makes enough money to be able to fix her house. She also is sending all three of her children to school. Her oldest daughter just started High School.

Martha is one of the many client success stories featured in our 2018 Annual Report. Click HERE to read more about our program, clients, and how we are growing as an organization!

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!