Empower women. Eliminate poverty.

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#BreakTheBias on International Women’s Day (March 8, 2022)

International Women’s Day is a global day celebrating the social, economic, cultural, and political achievements of women. The day also marks a call to action for accelerating women’s equality. The annual observance of IWD is March 8 each year, and all 31 days of March are dedicated to Women’s History Month. This year’s #IWD2022 theme is “Break the Bias,” a call-to-action to actively call out gender bias, discrimination, and stereotyping each time you see it. Our staff and clients are striking the official #IWD2022 pose by crossing their arms to show solidarity. Will you join us? Strike the IWD 2022 pose and share your #BreakTheBias image on social media, tagging Friendship Bridge on each platform and using #IWD2022 #BreakTheBias to encourage further people to commit to helping forge an inclusive world.

IWD has occurred for well over a century, with the first IWD gathering in 1911 supported by over a million people. Today, IWD belongs to all groups collectively everywhere. This year, we invite you to celebrate the achievements of women with us at the following local and virtual events as we continue creating opportunities that empower Guatemalan women to build a better life.

Our Handmade Virtual Fair is right around the corner on Thursday, February 17th from 11:00am MST – 12:30pm MST. As an attendee of this online event, you will be able to virtually “meet” our talented and inspiring artisans. They will take you behind the scenes to show you their incredible handmade products so that you can learn about their techniques and see their skills in action. You’ll also have the opportunity to buy brand new arrivals at special, wholesale prices! Don’t miss out on this awesome event, hosted by Handmade by Friendship Bridge®.

Photo by Carlo Novoa

We’re excited to be the guests of a Live Event on March 2, 2022, hosted by our partner and friend, Carlo Novoa, from Guatemala. Based in Los Angeles, California, Carlo was first introduced to Friendship Bridge through a mutual friend of a long-time supporter and Circle Volunteer. Now a salon owner, entrepreneur, licensed prayer coach/practitioner, and motivational speaker, Carlo hosts a weekly online Live Event called, “Wednesday Women of Power” on Instagram @litfromwith. The team at Handmade by Friendship Bridge is excited to join him again!

WATCH LIVE

Chief Development Officer, Nicole Eubanks (left), and Major Gifts Officer, Jennifer Thompson (right), at the Week of Women Kick-Off Event.

Week of Women is a local initiative designed to celebrate women across Colorado and shine a light on issues impacting women in Colorado by highlighting an entire week of programming and events taking place across Colorado by various organizations and community groups. Week of Women will run from March 3 to 13, 2022, and aims to inspire and connect women throughout Colorado to get involved in their communities and learn about issues affecting women. As part of Week of Women, CBS4 is hosting a comprehensive list of events on cbsdenver.com and will highlight those key events and organizations in the weeks leading up to the Week of Women. A robust television and digital campaign will be developed to promote the Week of Women and to recognize and celebrate the leadership role that women play in business, academia, government, community-building, philanthropy, and families. Catch us at the Kick-Off Event on March 3, 2022.

LEARN MORE

Denver-based choir Kantorei will be performing an exciting new project between musicians in Guatemala and the United States using poems of respected poet Humberto Ak’abal. Music will be performed by award-winning composer Jake Runestad for choir, string quartet, and marimba, the national instrument of Guatemala. Beloved Guatemalan, Ki’iche’ Maya poet Humberto Ak’abal (1952-2019) was one of the most important poets in Central America. His poems explore the Guatemalan Civil War, the genocide of his Mayan peoples, the earth, spirituality, the importance of supporting indigenous culture, and have inspired millions across Central America and the world. Friendship Bridge invites you to attend one (or two) of their upcoming performances: Saturday, March 5, 2022 at 7:30pm @ First Plymouth Congregational Church and Sunday, March 6, 2022 at 3:00pm @ Wellshire Presbyterian Church. 

LEARN MORE

 

In commemoration of International Women’s Day on Tuesday, March 8, our team in Guatemala is hosting a special Facebook Live Event with our partners at Plan International, including a representative from our Customer Advisory Committee, to talk about how women break paradigms established by society in search of equality and empowerment.

WATCH LIVE EVENT

 

Also on Tuesday, March 8, the team at Handmade by Friendship Bridge® will share with you amazing and powerful stories from our empowered artisans in Guatemala.

WATCH LIVE EVENT

Major Gifts Officer, Jennifer Thompson (left), Chief Development Officer, Nicole Eubanks (middle), and Friendship Bridge Development Associate, Eleanor Ruth (right), at the WorldDenver Event on March 8, 2022.

Friendship Bridge is excited to participate in the in-person networking session of WorldDenver’s International Women’s Day Luncheon on Tuesday, March 8, 2022 at the Denver Center for Performing Arts in Denver, Colorado. The programming portion of the luncheon features a keynote by Elizabeth Nyamayaro, Humanitarian and UN Special Advisor. Get your ticket today and visit us at our networking table in the Bonfils lobby. WorldDenver is a nonprofit community organization that promotes a greater understanding of world affairs and cultures throughout the Denver Metro area, creating and implementing unique programs that connect Coloradans with experts, leaders, and ideas from all over the world.

WATCH RECORDING

Join women, donors, activists, and others working passionately to create change on Wednesday, March 9, 2022 from 4-7pm MST at the McNichols Civic Center Building in Denver, Colorado, hosted by Women Powering Change. This inspiring event brings together more than 1,000 community members, leaders, activists, volunteers, and philanthropists with more than 100 Colorado-based organizations to showcase what women are doing to catalyze social change locally and globally to create a better world. This will be an expo-style event where you can come meet community leaders and learn what is being done in Colorado. Be part of the conversations about sustainability, social justice, gender equity, and more. The event is free!

LEARN MORE

We are so excited to open the doors of our Friendship Bridge office in Lakewood, Colorado on Thursday, March 10, 2022. Guests will have the opportunity to:

  1. Shop our new and expanded Handmade by Friendship Bridge® showroom. All products were handmade by our talented artisans in Guatemala.
  2. Learn more about the launch of our new Volunteer Program and hear about how local Coloradoans are impacting the lives of our clients.
  3. Visit the beautiful display of museum-quality Guatemalan huipiles showcased in the office.
  4. Meet our staff in an informal open house and see our newly remodeled location.

Stay Connected!

Thank you to all of our volunteers, donors, and partners for supporting Friendship Bridge this month. You can stay connected with our work and support our mission in a number of ways:

Subscribe to our Newsletter Attend an Event Donate Now

 

Being of Service: Social Media Influencers Supporting Our Work

The influencers who highlighted Handmade by Friendship Bridge® to their social media communities last year (combined reach of 457k followers) were by no means obligated to do so. They were not going to get paid, nor were they going to receive commissions. They had no ties to Friendship Bridge, nor had they ever heard of the organization prior to receiving the initial email from the Handmade team. Still, they eagerly embraced the opportunity to partner with the program.

As was evident in their responses, they were thrilled, grateful, and enthusiastic about supporting the talented artisan women in any way they could. From Chicago to Los Angeles to Portland, Ginny, Janelle, Zeena, and Carlo each have their own, unique content and style, yet they share a passion for women’s empowerment and a desire to use their platforms to promote causes meaningful to them.

Read more about how the Handmade team established these relationships and what such a collaboration with Handmade by Friendship Bridge® entails.

 

From Market Research to Handmade Highlight

Influencer marketing made its debut in the Handmade by Friendship Bridge® marketing strategy in 2021; prior to that (and not counting the “indirect influencer marketing” that resulted from Bernie Sanders’ Swittens promotion), it had not been consistently utilized.

In the fall of 2021, the Handmade team conducted market research to identify potential social media influencers as well as small celebrities who might share values and/or support causes that align with what we do at Friendship Bridge. They then sent personalized emails to these individuals, introducing Handmade, explaining why we do what we do, and inviting them to join in this movement of empowering women.

In exchange and as a thank you to the individuals’ commitment to empowering women (this was also the subject line commonly used for the initial outreach emails), the Handmade team would send gift boxes with various handmade products, specially selected for each influencer. The influencer would then have the creative liberty to share the content however they saw fit. Some took photos, others created videos during their “unboxings” which they then promoted via social media stories. They showcased the products and information about Handmade as well as invited their followers to support the program and the inspiring women who make these products by hand in Guatemala.

 

Ginny Krosel

“Love all you do for the hardworking women of Friendship Bridge in Guatemala.” – Ginny

Ginny Krosel

Instagram @ginnypaxkrosel

ginnykrosel.com

The very first of our Handmade highlights in 2021 came from Ginny, a German teacher living in Chicago who creates content on lifestyle, motherhood, travel, hair, and more. On her website, she says, “Through my tips and stories, I hope to help just a few of you realize that you can dream bigger and make those dreams become a reality.”

Ginny not only highlighted Handmade back in 2021 and kindly told her teacher colleagues about Friendship Bridge and our mission, but she also did another awesome feature in January 2022!  

Janelle Mughannam

Coco Janelle

Instagram @cocojanelle 

TikTok

Twitter

fitwsis.com

The second Handmade highlight came from Janelle, an entrepreneur and influencer who is passionate about fitness and health and whose business, fitwsis (which she started with her sister) has the mission of guiding people toward a healthier lifestyle. She shares that fitness has made her happier, healthy, and overall motivated in life, and she hopes that these fitness plans help motivate others to stay on track and to live a healthier lifestyle. Her Instagram bio says “empowered women, empower women”, so the Handmade team had a feeling this would be a great match.

Zeena Aqel

Zeena Aqel

Watch the video here.

Instagram @zeenaaqel 

Our third Handmade highlight of the year came from TV presenter, Fitness Manager, and overall inspirational woman, Zeena Aqel. She uses her platform to speak up and advocate for what she believes in. Her Instagram bio also includes, “Empower women.” Zeena created a phenomenal video in which she introduced her 200k+ followers to Handmade by Friendship Bridge® – she provided details about the trainings and education the artisans receive, showed each of the unique gifts she had received, and reiterated her passion for women’s empowerment and encouraged her community to support these talented women.

Carlo Novoa

Carlo Novoa

Instagram @litfromwithin 

Watch the Wednesday Women of Power video with Maya here and with Indira here.

And last but not least, 2021 was the year in which Carlo Novoa, from Guatemala himself and currently based in Los Angeles, became introduced to Friendship Bridge via a mutual friend of a long-time supporter and volunteer of Friendship Bridge.

A salon owner, an entrepreneur, a licensed prayer coach/practitioner, a motivational speaker, a trainer for big corporations worldwide… and most importantly, a humble man with a deep commitment to his mission to “uplift, sustain, and maintain my fellow sisters and brothers, & remind all of us that we are all ONE #mytribe“. 

“The reason that I do this… what moves me the most is that it’s about empowering women. That’s the reason why I will continue to highlight the amazing organizations that you work for. It’s because when you empower women, women will, in turn, empower their village, empower their communities, and empower their families.” – Carlo Novoa

Maya, Manager of Handmade by Friendship Bridge® and Indira, Visual Design Coordinator of Handmade by Friendship Bridge® each had the opportunity and honor of participating in Carlo’s Wednesday Women of Power features (which are conversations about “… honesty, empowerment, vulnerability, courage, fear, trust, and everything in between”) in 2021.

Final Thoughts

Not only the Handmade team, but all of us at Friendship Bridge feel incredibly fortunate to have received the support of these inspiring, selfless, and passionate individuals. Their willingness to use their influential voices to elevate our message, to educate their followers about our mission and our work to empower women and eliminate poverty in Guatemala, truly means more than they know.

What It Means to be a Great Place to Work®


Play Video

Big news! Great Place to Work® has named Friendship Bridge one of The Best Places to Work™ for Women in Central America and the Caribbean in 2021. The award recognizes organizations whose female employees report that their workplace creates trust and supports their ability to reach their full human potential, no matter who they are or what they do. Friendship Bridge ranked second among 25 other multinational organizations that participated, including Belcorp Centroamérica and Novo Nordisk CLAT (Caribbean & Central America.)

Read Press Release

“This is an exceptional honor for us. The employee surveys prove that our impact extends beyond the reach of our client base. The women on our team are also telling us they feel supported and empowered. Even during this pandemic, we’re creating a culture of trust by providing secure jobs, a good income, and important benefits to our female staff.”

– Karen Larson, Friendship Bridge President & CEO

Altogether, Friendship Bridge has received the following rankings this year:

We are so incredibly honored to have received these awards and accolades. The recognition strengthens our ongoing commitment to creating opportunities that empower Guatemalan women to build a better life.

But what does it really mean to be a Great Place to Work®? In this post, we’ll elaborate on a few of these workplace honors.

Definition of a Great Place to Work®

It’s no surprise that when the employees of an organization are happy, those whom they serve are happy too. Numerous studies have demonstrated this very link: happy and engaged employees better serve their clients, which leads to greater client satisfaction and loyalty. At Friendship Bridge, our employees have attested to identifying with Friendship Bridge’s vision and mission, and we know that, thanks to this mission-driven spirit, we are able to achieve the social impact we seek.

Let’s take a deeper look at The Best Place to Work for Women™ in Central America and the Caribbean recognition. This award recognizes organizations based on two characteristics:

  • Their female employees report that the workplace creates trust and supports their ability to reach their full human potential, no matter who they are or what they do.
  • They have practices that are fully committed to the development of women and enable women to enhance and strengthen their skills and abilities.

To establish these rankings, the Great Place to Work® institute analyzed confidential survey feedback from Friendship Bridge staff that took into consideration female employees’ daily experiences of innovation, the company’s values, and the effectiveness of their leaders. The extent to which women are represented in the workforce and throughout management (taking into account industry trends) also factors into the rankings. To be considered, companies need to:

  • Employ at least 50 women
  • Have at least 20% of their non-executive managers be female
  • Have at least one female executive

CORE VALUES AT FRIENDSHIP BRIDGE

• Empowerment • Respect • Solidarity

• Participation • Quality • Integrity • Transparency

Friendship Bridge exceeds these minimum requirements across the 14 locations where operate throughout Guatemala. In fact, 96 of our 177 employees are women. Still, we know that gender equality goes beyond quotas. Aside from a sense of engagement with one’s work, and a feeling of support, trust, and respect – the culture itself should foster these sentiments. And at Friendship Bridge, this culture is driven by our core values. We know that unless we integrate these values into our work and create an environment where employees can benefit from these values, the aforementioned awards would not have been possible.

After all, what does a “great workplace” encompass? It is a place where employees feel empowered, they feel respected, they feel a sense of solidarity, they feel engaged to participate, they feel recognized, they receive appreciation for the high quality of their work and for their work ethic, they are treated with integrity, and they experience transparency in the workplace.

We are endlessly grateful for our staff, both in the U.S. and in Guatemala, who show such dedication, compassion, and commitment to empowering women and giving them a hand up as opposed to a handout. Thanks to them, we are able to serve the 30,000 women we do, so that they may choose their own path and build a better life for themselves, for their families, and for their communities.

Great People Make Us a Great Place to Work®


Being named a Great Place to Work® would not be possible without great people – talented, hardworking, dedicated to our mission, and from a diverse set of backgrounds and experiences. One way we attract these “great people” to our organization is through partnerships such as the one we have with the MAIA Impact School, located in Sololá, Guatemala. MAIA, founded by Ted and Connie Ning (who also founded Friendship Bridge) is the first female, indigenous-led secondary school in Central America offering quality, holistic academic education to Guatemalan girls. Our Talent School partnership with MAIA creates a direct pipeline for graduates to participate in our “readiness” program and to ultimately enter the growing workforce at Friendship Bridge. 

“Friendship Bridge gave me the opportunity to enter the work world and it gave me the space for a formal job as an indigenous woman. The organization contributes and cares about my professional and academic improvement.”

– Concepción

Friendship Bridge’s Education and Plus Services Assistant, Concepción, is one person who exemplifies the success of this program. Concepción is an indigenous woman of the Maya Tz’utujil ethnic group who grew up in the town of Santiago Atitlán. One of nine children, neither her father nor her mother received any formal education, and the highest level of schooling her siblings completed was the seventh grade. While her sisters dedicated themselves to embroidery as artisans, Concepción was accepted to the MAIA Impact School and even received a scholarship to attend. Particular stigmas around pursuing this kind of opportunity, however, meant Concepción did not have unconditional support, and she was discouraged by both neighbors as well as relatives:

“I had the opportunity to break stereotypes about what it means to have a scholarship. Many people said that having a scholarship is eating and living from the organizations. These paradigms initially caused my father to refuse to participate in the three activities at MAIA. But over time, he changed his mind.”

Concepción’s strong academic performance at MAIA enabled her to pursue a college degree in Business Administration. During her second year of studies, she applied for and was hired as an intern with the Human Resources department at Friendship Bridge. In this role, she received professional training and practical work experience, allowing her to become a full-time employee. She has now been an employee of Friendship Bridge for two years. Concepción feels grateful and proud to be able to participate in this impactful work and to empower women in Guatemala. She also values the comradery amongst the team, the doors this experience has opened for her, and the community of high-impact women with whom she works.

Read more about this impactful partnership here and discover how it empowered Mildred, one of our Credit and Education Facilitators, to find her calling.

Learn More

2021 Achievements

I am always filled with pride at this time of year. It’s a time to pause and reflect on all we have accomplished together at Friendship Bridge. The year 2021 proved to be even more exceptional than we expected, given the difficulties of the past two years with COVID-19 and the way it has changed how we do our work. Because of that, I am even more proud of all we accomplished and the progress we have made toward creating opportunities that empower women in Guatemala to build a better life. Together we achieved an incredible impact, in the lives of our clients, our staff, and the institution, which is why I must share some highlights from this past year.

Credit

  • Served 32,310 clients, 2,393 more than in 2020.
  • Disbursed $20.5 million in new loans, 112% of our goal.
  • Portfolio quality results were outstanding, maintaining our position as one of the best in the region and industry with full-year write-offs of 2.5%, delinquency of only 0.27%, and client retention rate of 78.2%.

Operations

  • Expanded our operations by opening three new branch offices where poverty and migration is the highest (Santo Tomás la Unión and Camojá la Democracia and Chacaco)
  • Opened a Call Center with a newly installed PBX that allows inbound and outbound calls for clients with support in several languages, and routes callers to the appropriate area of the organization to resolve client issues faster.
  • Remodeled the Lakewood, Colorado office and added a beautiful showroom for Handmade by Friendship Bridge®.

Staff + Team

  • Friendship Bridge is a Great Place to Work!! Certified as a Great Place to Work® in Central America and the Caribbean 2021-2022.
  • Achieved 2nd place as a Great Places to Work for Women in Central America and the Caribbean.
  • Advanced our commitment to gender equality with 48% of internal promotions going to women.
  • Women made up 50% of all manager positions.
  • Friendship University, our internal training program, offered 14,097 total hours of staff training, with 4,179 participants and 56 training topics.

Social Performance

  • Third-party research by our partners at 60 Decibels revealed that:
    • 97% of clients said that the quality of their life had improved.
    • 94% of our clients earn more money because of Friendship Bridge.
    • 94% of clients say their ability to plan their finances has increased.
    • View the Report (English / Spanish)
  • Launched a special COVID-19 campaign to promote to clients the importance of getting the vaccine:
    • 8,251 clients, or 35%, have received the COVID-19 vaccine, 4,503 of whom received at least a second shot, significantly higher than the rates in the rural population generally.
    • Developed and shared throughout the country three videos to encourage clients and their children to get vaccinated in three languages.
    • 98% of staff in Guatemala are fully vaccinated against COVID-19.

Institutional Achievements

Agriculture

  • 15 demonstration plots allowed for 60 Agricultural and Livestock Production Field Schools with 450 clients, as part of our Women’s Agriculture Credit & Training program.
  • Two non-traditional crops were successfully introduced in the region: watermelon and oyster mushrooms.
  • Low-cost technologies were introduced to improve crop production: drip irrigation, injection system (Venturi System), mulch padding, and colored traps for the ethological control of pests.
  • Successfully launched the AVICOLA Pilot project, educating clients about the management and breeding of farm animals. A total of 384 clients were trained in the Nebaj and Quiche branches.

Agriculture Video

Health for Life

  • 75% of eligible clients utilized the Health for Life program vs a goal of 65% because health has become a priority since the pandemic and our committed team of nurses reached 91% coverage of the program.
  • 31% of our clients chose a Family Planning method.
  • Rolled out a mental health pilot program with expectations to expand in 2022.

Health for Life Video

Non-Formal Education

  • Resumed Non-Formal Education (NFE) sessions in the field, incorporating biosafety measures and technology tools for faster and touchless service for our clients.
  • 27,988 clients participated in NFE during the year.
  • Achieved a 72% knowledge retention rate exceeding the previous three-year average of 61%,
  • Launched the E-Learning pilot project to 154 clients in the Advanced Training and Non-Formal Education with plans to expand its scope in 2022.
  • Developed and launched the Blended Learning Methodology pilot, Puente de Aprendizaje, issuing iPads to clients for their use of this new methodology. Feedback was excellent.

Non-Formal Education Video

Bridge to Success

  • Launched the Bridge to Success program in August 2021. Through this program, Friendship Bridge is serving a new segment of clients, known as Entrepreneurs, who have growing businesses and can contribute to local employment and community sustainability.
  • Golden-Globe-nominated actress María Mercedes Coroy generously donated her time to be featured in our Marketing Launch Campaign (TV/Digital channels) commercials, as part of the new Bridge to Success program launch to help recruit women Entrepreneurs for the program.

Bridge to Success Video

Handmade by Friendship Bridge®

  • Sales at Handmade by Friendship Bridge® were $100 thousand with nearly 4,700 products sold. Clients in the program employed 106 people during the year and two new online stores were launched on Etsy and Shopify.
  • Handmade by Friendship Bridge® was awarded a $100 thousand Marilyn Lone Endowment for Artisans with Friendship Bridge in honor of Marilyn Lone, a talented artisan. Annual distributions from this $100 thousand endowment will benefit women artisan clients working with the Handmade by Friendship Bridge® program. The endowment will provide ongoing support and education so they can continue to create sustainable livelihoods for themselves and their families.

Because of you, Friendship Bridge is able to thrive and continue creating opportunities that empower Guatemalan women to build a better life. On behalf of the entire staff, our Board of Directors, and all of our clients at Friendship Bridge, we are so grateful for your support.

 

 

 

2021 Achievements 2020 Achievements

6 Holiday Gift Guides

Handmade by Friendship Bridge

Gift guides. They showcase products, inspire shoppers, and ensure brands stay top of mind throughout the season. They promise to identify the perfect gift for everyone on a shopper’s list. They are curated, personalized, and seemingly timeless traditions in retail. Considering the ever-evolving world of retail and the ongoing shift from brick and mortar to click and order, such gift guides are continuing to gain popularity in e-commerce. It’s a gift guide, a gift of guidance, and, at the end of the day, an opportunity. An opportunity to both increase conversion as well as help shoppers make a decision. To create a more efficient shopping experience. To highlight best-selling products as well as introduce and generate interest in a brand and in the story behind it.

Handmade by Friendship Bridge is the Microcredit Plus program of Friendship Bridge which equips our artisan clients with the skills, education, and technical assistance they need to reach their potential and sell independently in the global market. The Handmade brand is only about two years old (the program was formerly known as the Artisan Market Access Program), and thus efforts to promote it, increase its visibility, and educate relevant audiences about its mission and work are ongoing. We are always seeking additional sales channels through which to promote the talented artisans’ unique handmade products and fortunately, these efforts are paying off. Just this holiday season, Handmade was featured in six different gift guides, thereby increasing sales, conversion, and overall brand awareness!

The 6 Gift Guides

Seadbeady’s Fashion & Lifestyle Blog

Handmade by Friendship Bridge artisan client, Micaela, had her Tikal Tote Bag with Leather Straps was highlighted in the “Where To Find 24 Great Gifts For Women.”

Chatty Patty’s Place

Magdalena’s Santa Catarina Agua Table Runner, Micaela’s Tikal Tote Bag, and Dominga’s Multicolor Shawl received highlights in this “Help Empower Women in Guatemala by Supporting Friendship Bridge” post from November.

HipLatina

A platform dedicated to highlighting the diversity of the U.S. Latina experience, it empowers and entertains by providing thoughtful, engaging content on the topics Latinas care about most. Handmade – and, specifically, Francisca T.’s Sunrise Shawl – were highlighted in HipLatina’s “Gift Guide: Indigenous Lifestyle Brands You Need to Shop” post from November.

Consumer Queen

A Lifestyle Blog. Handmade by Friendship Bridge, and, in particular, Ruth’s Alma Yoga Mat Carrier received a highlight in this “Holiday Guide: Christmas Gifts for Her” post from November.

Elevate Destinations

A dynamic travel company that plans unique, eco-luxury trips with a positive social impact, designed for families, friends, and organizations. Friendship Bridge, and a pair of Swittens, in particular, received a highlight in their “Holiday gift guide: Central and South America” post.

Marriott Bonvoy Traveler

An online travel and lifestyle publication featuring destination content. Handmade by Friendship Bridge received a mention in their “For Memory’s Sake: Support Local Artisans and Traditions with These 10 Travel Keepsakes” post.

From mentions to detailed descriptions about what we do at Friendship Bridge or at Handmade by Friendship Bridge, we are honored and humbled to be included on these diverse platforms and deeply thankful to be able to bring more sales to our artisans as a result. A heartfelt thanks to those who were willing to include Handmade in their guides.

And we are also deeply thankful to you. Thank you for supporting our talented artisans each time you purchase their unique handmade products. Thank you for spreading the word about Friendship Bridge to your friends and family. Thank you for keeping up with us throughout the year. Thank you for your support, for your commitment to women’s empowerment, for your desire to join us in our mission to create opportunities that empower Guatemalan women to build a better life. Wishing you and yours a peaceful, relaxing, and safe holiday season.

SHOP

The Power of Seed Capital: Catarina’s Hardware Store

Imagine you are here in Guatemala, in Catarina’s hardware store. It is a simple shop but full of activity, with customers coming in and out to buy supplies. If you were here, you would smell rubber and a hint of gasoline in the air, as Catarina happily chats with a customer, then completes yet another transaction. An order has just arrived from one of her newest customers, a wholesale buyer making a large purchase of sand and cement blocks. Catarina quickly gets to work to fulfill the order. “My community respects my work,” she says. “And many of them are our customers.”

Catarina’s store was not always so successful. Previously, she had only a few inexpensive items to sell. But little by little, the store grew more popular in her rural community of Santa Catarina Ixtahuacan, a municipality in the Sololá department of Guatemala. Although she was making some income from selling her handmade artisan goods, she needed just a little more capital to invest in her business so it could flourish and grow. This early funding, also known as “seed capital,” is a key component to the success of a business, but it is often a loan that banks will not risk lending, especially to a first-time, early-venture business owner like Catarina. Seed capital funds initial business operating expenses, such as special equipment, legal or marketing services, or even professional support. But for those without a proven track record of business success, the loan is often unattainable, even more so for women in rural Guatemala.

A Friendship Bridge client for about 15 years, Catarina was recently accepted into the new Bridge to Success program, moving her from the Dreamer client segment to the Entrepreneur group at Friendship Bridge. “My groupmates encouraged me to take this new step,” Catarina said. “I am moving forward.” Benefits of the new program include individual loans (as opposed to our traditional group lending model), a professional mentor, and advanced trainings focused on business strategy, planning, management, and leadership development. “It has been very interesting to move from a Trust Bank loan to an individual loan,” Catarina said. “The individual loan has helped me to invest in more inventory. And my mentor visits me once a week to hear about my progress and to see if I need any extra support.”

Previously, Catarina did not always have the products her buyers needed, but now she can offer a wider variety of products for wholesale, and her customers get them on time. This improves buyer retention and loyalty and, as a result, her customers continue placing bigger orders and buying more products. It is a virtuous cycle. “Ultimately, our income will help provide better opportunities for our children. This is thanks to the new financing and training received from Friendship Bridge.”

What is seed capital?

Seed capital funds a company’s initial operating expenses that are critical to its growth, such as special equipment, legal or marketing services, and professional mentoring to name a few. 

How to support.

We hope reading this blog article inspired you. Stories like Catarina’s are always inspiring because when women find their own solutions to poverty, they also learn they have a community of supporters who believe in them who know they deserve an early loan that will help them on their chosen path. Because of our donors, women like Catarina are positioned to learn, grow, and succeed. Because of this, Friendship Bridge is collecting donations through Dec. 31 that will be matched dollar-for-dollar (up to $50,00) by a generous donor. That means all gifts will DOUBLE in value if we can reach our $50,000 goal. \

What your donation can provide.

$100 supports an artisan with essential funding for business expenses, such as operations or product development

$350 the average loan issued to a first-time Dreamer client, allowing her to invest in her business so it can flourish and grow

$500 provides capital for agriculture clients to invest in agricultural technology like a ferti-irrigation system

$1,000 provides essential seed capital to a Bridge to Success program Entrepreneur client

$3,500 the average loan issued to a first-time Entrepreneur client, allowing her to expand her business in ways she never thought possible 

Donate Now

7 Days of Innovation

Today is Colorado Gives Day, the state’s largest online community giving movement, uniting all Coloradans in a common goal to strengthen the state’s nonprofits by giving to their favorite charities online. You have 3,000 Colorado nonprofits to choose from this year. Why choose Friendship Bridge?

Over the past 18 months since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, Friendship Bridge has made major adjustments to our regular operations in order to continue reaching our clients in poor, rural areas of Guatemala. Our staff innovated and created solutions quickly to provide financial and emotional support, as well as connect each client with remote education and health resources. We invested in new technology to support the need to communicate with clients from afar and create a more efficient way to do business.

In celebration of Colorado Gives Day, we’re hosting “7 Days of Innovation” to illustrate the various ways we’ve utilized innovative transformational change to connect with our clients, support their businesses, provide access to health services, and provide opportunities to build a better life.

7 Days of Innovation

1. CALL CENTER

Friendship Bridge launched a Call Center in July 2021 to allow our clients to immediately connect with the right person to get the information they need. Clients now have easy access to Friendship Bridge during business hours, throughout Guatemala, with services offered in Spanish and the Mayan languages of K’iche’, Kakchikel, Tzutujil, and Mam. This new service differentiates Friendship Bridge from other organizations in Guatemala.

2. MASSIVE DATA UPDATES

With 23,000 clients on our roster, managing and updating their information is imperative. Our semi-annual data updates will improve our client communications and give us the opportunity to collect key information so that we can make better strategic decisions. This was recently exemplified by a survey we administered this fall asking clients about the COVID-19 vaccine. We wanted to better understand our clients’ reasons as to why they were not getting the vaccine and how we could help them make a better-informed decision. This research also allowed us to know which of our clients were fully vaccinated. As an incentive to participate, we are holding a raffle with our clients, in which the winners received gifts, like electric stoves and umbrellas.

3. AGRICULTURE TECHNOLOGY

Did you know Friendship Bridge implemented new, easy-to-install irrigation systems to support our agriculture clients with improving their crop production? Watch our video to learn about the innovative agricultural initiatives we implemented this year.

  • Ferti-Drip Irrigation System
  • Insect Color Traps
  • Agriculture Training with Tablets

4. COVID EDUCATION

Guatemala’s COVID-19 vaccination education/access plan continues to be delivered by the government in Spanish throughout the country, despite the fact that nearly half of the country’s population is indigenous and often does not understand Spanish. This inevitably results in rumors and other misinformation about the virus, which in turn exacerbates vaccine hesitancy. Committed to informing our clients about the health benefits of getting the COVID-19 vaccine, we launched an education campaign to promote this message. In their monthly Trust Bank meetings, clients received informational pamphlets and education by their loan officer on the COVID-19 vaccine in their Mayan language. Several of our staff’s children participated in making a short video that aims to encourage clients and their families to get vaccinated.
Examples of messages from the children:

  • “The coronavirus is small but real… it can do a lot of harm.”
  • “Go get the vaccine! I need you to be healthy and strong!”
  • “I already got my vaccine [against measles], and I wasn’t afraid.”
  • “Take care of yourself so you can take care of me!”
  • “The vaccine is free.”
  • “Friendship Bridge helps you sign up.”

5. BLENDED LEARNING METHODOLOGY

The onset of the pandemic and the corresponding reduction in in-person services due to safety and prevention measures forced us to quickly rethink many things, including how we were delivering our Non-Formal Education (NFE) to our clients. Our Puente de Aprendizaje (Learning Bridge) pilot, which complements our in-person NFE lessons, illustrates this adaptation. This is an online learning platform containing a virtual library of content, accessible at any time and featuring exercises that allow clients to apply the knowledge learned while helping clients to bridge the digital divide. The virtual component of this program allows Friendship Bridge to scale education initiatives for all clients, reinforce key takeaways from lessons, and encourage our clients to continue using their smartphones as beneficial tools.

6. ADVANCED TRAININGS

Through our Advanced Business Training program, our clients learn technical or advanced business skills to help improve or diversify their income. Trainings on various topics are available, including how to make cake, pizza, ice cream, piñatas, flower arrangements, balloon decor, and more. With the onset of the pandemic, the standard in-person workshop format of these trainings had to be adapted: between October 2020 and April 2021, four Advanced Trainings were delivered virtually. Clients watched instructional videos on Facebook, participated in weekly Zoom classes in which they could ask clarifying questions, and received additional support and guidance from Friendship Bridge via WhatsApp communication. Fortunately, clients had received training previously from Friendship Bridge on how to use various technologies, including Facebook, WhatsApp, and Google; this facilitated the transition to the virtual format.

7. KITS FOR CLIENTS WHO LOST BUSINESSES

With many clients inevitably losing their business as a result of the pandemic, Friendship Bridge knew that additional support tailored to clients’ needs would be indispensable. That is why we conducted research across all Friendship Bridge branches to identify all clients who had either lost their business or had to significantly change their business model in response to the COVID-19 crisis, i.e. shift from selling artisan products to selling food. The insights we acquired from the research prompted us to act:

  • We created client kits with manuals on business development for the following businesses: convenience store, grocery store, food business, fruits and vegetable business.
  • We provided clients with the option to receive additional business assistance via phone.
  • Our initial goal of assisting 3,000 clients between the months of May and June of 2021 was significantly surpassed: more than 6,140 clients benefited from these tools. The Non-Formal Education sessions we delivered during those months aligned with this trend of business transformation, featuring topics such as business continuity and new business ideas.

We hope these stories inspire you to GIVE WHERE YOU LIVE! Your donation is always important, however, this year your gift will MORE than double with the help of two separate incentives:

  1. The $1 Million Incentive Fund: A pool of dollars that increases the value of every donation made through ColoradoGives.org on Colorado Gives Day. Every donation is boosted by the incentive fund!
  2. $35,000 Match: A generous group of Friendship Bridge donors will match all donations received on Colorado Gives day, up to $35,000!

Please donate now.

Donate for Colorado Gives Day

Giving Thanks on #GivingTuesday

Our goal is to raise $30,000 by midnight on Nov. 30 for Giving Tuesday. All gifts will be matched dollar-for-dollar (up to $30,000) by a generous group of donors.

Giving Tuesday. It started in 2012 as a simple idea to encourage people to do good and has since evolved into a global movement inspiring hundreds of millions of people to give, collaborate, and celebrate generosity.

It’s a movement that harnesses the power of people and organizations alike to transform their communities, and, consequently, the world. A movement that encourages people to share their time, skills, voice, or money, not only on Giving Tuesday (the Tuesday following Thanksgiving each year), but every day. A movement that underscores the aphorism that no contribution is too small and that giving can take many different forms, including helping a neighbor, advocating for an issue, sharing a skill, or giving to an important cause.

As part of this year’s #GivingTuesday celebrations, Friendship Bridge has set an ambitious goal to raise $30,000 between Nov. 1-30. And thanks to our generous supporters, we are on our way to achieving this goal.

Giving Thanks on #GivingTuesday

Because #GivingTuesday is a day for celebrating generosity, Friendship Bridge is giving thanks to donors, partners, volunteers, our Board of Directors, staff, and clients. We reached out to many of these groups and asked why they support Friendship Bridge and what it means to them to be a part of Friendship Bridge.

Their responses moved us. Many communicated a sense of pride for being able to work for the empowerment of women who are facing challenging situations. Some stated having an appreciation for the conversations and personal connections with clients in their communities. Others cited satisfaction in witnessing empowered women transforming the lives of their whole family. And many shared their sense of deep gratitude for being able to create opportunities for these women to build a better life.  

“They help us to see the world differently so we can improve ourselves and offer our children better opportunities.” – Fermina

We also spoke with clients and received their heartfelt testimonials. We heard from our client María, who, thanks to Friendship Bridge, has been able to buy compost, seeds, and fertilizers for the crops of her flower business and, as a result, support her family. We heard from our client Gloria, who is thankful for Friendship Bridge for trusting her and for providing loans with manageable interest rates. We heard from our client Angelina, who appreciates the trainings and medical check-ups she receives. We heard from our client Fermina, who values the expansion of her horizons and for the hand up as opposed to hand out.

“After a difficult time, I am now rebuilding my business. Thank you for the moral support through different trainings, and financial support through the loans.” – Lidia

Our client Juana is thankful for the easy access to the financing she needs as well as for the variety of educational topics she is exposed to. Our client Ruth talked about how the trainings have opened her mind and eyes to new things and how she shares what she learns with her family. Our client Lidia values her newfound resilience and confidence.

These and other messages remind us that we are making strides in our work to eliminate poverty in Guatemala by empowering women. They also remind us once more of how fortunate we are to have nearly 200 dedicated, compassionate, and committed employees who are united in our mission to create opportunities that empower these women to build a better life, and united in our vision of empowered women choosing their own path.

“Satisfaction is seeing the triumph of each woman.” – Otilia

A message from Otilia, who has been an Education and Credit Facilitator with Friendship Bridge for 12 years, embodies this mission-driven spirit and underscores one of the main recurring themes from the staff testimonials; namely, that it is an honor to be a part of this:

The women we serve live in rural areas of the country. Many of them faced difficulties and limited opportunities for development growing up, yet they have positive outlooks and feel fortunate for the skills acquired which empower them to build better futures.

We are constantly inspired by our clients’ motivation, entrepreneurial spirit, and resilience. They are finding their voice. They are experiencing not only business development, but personal development. We are constantly inspired by our staff’s innovation, passion, and commitment to learning, growing, and improving our programs. 

And last, but certainly not least, we are constantly inspired by our supporters. Your generosity enables us to impact and empower 30,000 women in Guatemala. It enables us to innovate, implement and scale new programs and services, ensuring that we are serving the women we serve as best as we can.

So, on this global day of generosity, we want to reiterate that we could not do this without you, and we are endlessly grateful for your support. You can join us in our mission by making a donation today that will help us grow and improve women-led businesses, reducing household vulnerability and increasing resilience and empowerment for thousands of women in Guatemala, as well as their families.

Thank you for your support!

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Women’s Entrepreneurship Day is Nov. 19

Entrepreneurship: the development of new businesses to meet the needs of the population, allowing for productivity increases that lead to greater levels of employment and growth of the economy.

Today is Women’s Entrepreneurship Day, a day recognized by the United Nations to economically empower women and alleviate poverty worldwide. The organization that spearheaded this day, Women’s Entrepreneurship Day Organization (WEDO), states, “When women are elevated financially, communities and countries prosper. It builds a global blueprint to alleviate and eradicate poverty.”

We could not agree more.

At Friendship Bridge, we see every day that when the women we serve in Guatemala experience success, they invest beyond themselves and give back to their children and their communities. But we also see how gender inequality remains a significant limiting factor in women’s ability to thrive economically. Across the globe, women still participate in paid economic activities less often than men.

Entrepreneurship by both men and women is vital to Guatemala’s economic and social development, and it will be a priority in the country’s quest to prosper after the pandemic. By definition, entrepreneurship involves the development of new businesses to meet the needs of the population, allowing for productivity increases that lead to greater levels of employment and growth of the economy. Still, the ability for such businesses to emerge in the first place, and then thrive, is dependent on the environment they are in. 

Entrepreneurs in Guatemala face widely-known structural challenges, like:

  • lack of formal education
  • poor access to capital
  • lack of accessible information (e.g., business skills)

But women entrepreneurs experience some or all of these additional limitations:

  • social norms and practices inherent in a culture that is still characterized by machismo (e.g., lack of autonomy, lack of access to collateral)
  • limited legal provisions in place to prevent the discrimination of women (e.g., equal access to financing, labor)
  • lack of adequate public policies
  • lack of investment supply
  • limited access to networks
  • gender-based violence against women, and more

Despite these obstacles, the entrepreneurial spirit is alive in Guatemala. One in six Guatemalans is an entrepreneur, according to a report from the World Economic Forum, and the country ranks fourth in the top 50 with the greatest number of women entrepreneurs. Harnessing their motivation and innovation, however, can only be achieved through a conducive environment, one in which these determined individuals have access not only to the necessary financial resources but also to the knowledge required to start, manage, and scale their enterprises successfully.

Bridge to Success

In order to support the motivations of our women entrepreneur clients, Friendship Bridge launched the Bridge to Success this year. This unique and comprehensive program, backed by a $1 million, will empower more than 1,000 additional women entrepreneurs in rural Guatemala by 2025 and provide them with:

  • Intensive business development trainings
  • Individual loans and other seed funding
  • Technical assistance
  • Connections to peer networks
  • Access to new markets

Additionally, some market insertion services are offered, such as brand generation, formalization services, business networks, fairs, and awards recognition.

“The new Bridge to Success program will be excellent. I will invest my loan more securely because I know there will be buyers and connections. This will bring more orders and more work.” – RUTH, a Friendship Bridge client, pictured right

The program was formally rolled out in August of 2021 and has already hosted business training workshops in the following locations: Quetzaltenango, Huehuetenango, Santo Tomas la Union, and San Marcos. It is expected to expand to all Friendship Bridge branches in 2022, and grow significantly over the next five years. This will result in increased income for these entrepreneurs and employment generation in Guatemala’s rural communities, where it is most needed; these are also the main success indicators of the program.

The combination of intensive business and leadership training with personalized support, both in terms of financing and technical assistance, tailored to the needs of each entrepreneur, is what makes this program unique in Guatemala and what differentiates it from other alternatives. And we expect the impact to extend beyond one Entrepreneur client and will reach their families and a larger community.

The impacts we expect to see for Entrepreneur Clients:

  • Create jobs and quality employment
  • Increased income and/or assets
  • Contribute to community sustainability
  • Increased leadership at home, in her business, and in her community

Women are important agents of change, and harnessing the potential of women entrepreneurs – and the noteworthy entrepreneurial spirit amongst women in Guatemala – will be crucial for the sustainable and inclusive recovery of the country’s economy post-COVID. On this special celebration of Women’s Entrepreneurship Day, we remember the value and importance of having programs that help to improve the living conditions of communities and families in developing countries like Guatemala, providing tools and opportunities to the most economically vulnerable sectors.

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Caroline Rodriguez: Another Unforgettable Insight Trip

“Our Strategic Plan felt very alive.” – Caroline Rodriguez, Friendship Bridge Board Member

Taking in majestic, breathtaking views of Lake Atitlan and surrounding volcanoes. Riding in tuk-tuks (open air taxis) and lanchas (water taxis) to get from point A to point B. Admiring Day of the Dead decor. Shopping in bustling, colorful markets. Indulging in delicious Guatemalan foods. And, most notably, visiting Friendship Bridge clients and seeing first-hand how they are building better lives for themselves, their families, and their communities. 

These are just a few of the memorable moments shared between the participants of this year’s Insight Trip a few weeks ago. Insight Trips are hosted by Friendship Bridge to give our supporters the opportunity to meet the women we serve and see the impact of our Microcredit Plus programs. The experience never fails to leave a lasting impression on those fortunate enough to attend. The culture, beauty, and uniqueness of Guatemala are unforgettable.

Caroline Rodriguez, who has served on Friendship Bridge’s Board of Directors for six years, documented her trip, recounting the details of the sights she saw and the moving stories she heard each day. We invite you to read the documentation of her journey. She kindly has given us permission to use her content for this piece. Slight edits have been made for clarity.

Cayala, a very upscale outdoor mall. Beautiful architecture and art, shops, and restaurants.

Day 1: Oct. 25, 2021

Six years serving on the Board of Directors of Friendship Bridge, making annual visits to Guatemala. But this is the first time I have spent quality time in Guatemala City, visiting museums, mercados, and textile shops. Things that impressed me: every place we’ve been, from the Grand Central Market to the upscale Oakland Mall, has had a consistent protocol in place for using hand sanitizer and performing temperature checks before admitting people to public places. Even Uber drivers are following the safety protocols and almost all businesses are open, some even thriving, contrary to the belief that businesses were closing due to the pandemic. Restaurants give you bags in which to store your mask while you eat. There seems to be a consistent behavior of sanitizing hands, mask-wearing, and maintaining a physical distance. Cleanliness standards are high and restrooms for handwashing are easily accessible. Great job, Guatemala for encouraging these great hygiene and safety habits!

 

Day 2: Oct. 26, 2021

Last day in Guatemala City: We visited the zoo, garment district, the National Palace, the Cathedral, and enjoyed delicious typical Guatemalan foods. Our Insight Group is now complete. Everyone arrived, and we are ready for our journey to Panajachel and Lake Atitlan.

Learn More about Insight Trips

 

Day 3: Oct. 27, 2021

The trip to Panajachel from Guatemala City is always a long one. Photos always help capture the amazing experiences and sights from the day’s journey. Our first stop was at a tiny village named Vuelta Grande, located in between Guatemala City and Antigua. We visited Maria, a Friendship Bridge agriculture client who grows a variety of flowers and fruits. She and her two sisters manage the family farm and travel to Antigua to sell in markets there. The ladies were eager to show us their crops and expressed gratitude for the training and support of Friendship Bridge that they receive in addition to the loans for their agricultural activities.

Next stop: Xeatzon, another tiny mountain village near Lake Atitlan. Here we witnessed a Trust Bank meeting. This is a monthly gathering of a group of local women clients in which they get trained on various topics and make their loan payments. Our Friendship Bridge staff Facilitator does a fantastic job of teaching subjects that are relevant to the women’s business and economic conditions. This month’s lesson: the concept of budgets. With the help of visuals and interactive facilitation, clients learned about income versus expenses, the importance of saving for emergencies, and the evaluation of the impact of cost reduction. The meeting was efficient. The lesson and loan payments took less than an hour total. Great job Friendship Bridge Operations teams!

Above: Seven clients make up this Trust Bank; they co-guarantee each others’ loans as a form of social capital.

Day 4: Oct. 28, 2021

Waking up to Lake Atitlan and volcano views is truly magical. Our group is bonding, sharing meals and personal stories. Today’s highlight was our trip from Panajachel to Quiche to visit client Fermina. Fermina is a 29-year-old single mom who found herself in need of additional income during the pandemic, as her main business took a dip. She told us about her experience, and about how she took advantage of an online training offered through Friendship Bridge on new businesses. Fermina learned how to make special decorations and thus started another small business focused on popular home goods and decor for the various cultural holidays, rituals, and celebrations in Guatemala. We met her mother, Gregoria, and 7-year-old daughter, Diana. Three generations working together on the core business of spooling natural dyed thread and weaving.

These ladies were so proud to show us their kitchen, and little Diana demonstrated the spooling technique. Fermina told us that Diana attends school, which is on break at the moment. They graciously served us the seasonal drink of corn atole as well as corn cakes! Such warm, hospitable ladies. After this filling snack, we had the energy to shop in the famous Chichicastenango Marketplace. The market was busy, not to mention challenging for the first-timers among us when it came to responding to the aggressive vendors trying to sell their products. We survived and left with stories to tell and memories to cherish from extraordinary experiences in the Quiche and Chichicastenango departments.

Day 5: Oct. 29, 2021

Ruth showed us her supply room. She explained how she uses her loans to buy corte (fabric) from local weavers, as well as huipiles (the very detailed woven and embroidered blouse panels that she uses for many different designs)We were impressed with her supplies – until she brought us into her sewing room. Woah! A mini factory here.

Friday! First, we traveled to rural Solola to visit an artisan client, Ruth. Ruth is in her 16th loan cycle with Friendship Bridge. The first things one notices upon entering her home are the slab floors and cinder-block walls. It is a home much larger than average. There is enough space for a sewing room, pattern room, and supply room. She is truly an entrepreneur, supported in her business by both her entire family, as well as others. She makes clothes for local Mayan women, combining traditional corte and huipil pieces with modern beads, embroidery, and other trims.

Ruth has established a business that is large, in comparison to the average business of our 22,000 clients. Her husband, daughter, and son are all very proud of Ruth and the very impressive workspace they have in their home. Ruth spoke to us with such poise about her personal journey. She is a member of Handmade by Friendship Bridge and develops and sews beautiful products through this Microcredit Plus service of Friendship Bridge. Our group took great joy in purchasing items directly from her! And so can you! Read her story here and discover her products at the online store.

Left: This is Miriam. She’s amazing! A rising star artisan and businesswoman. Two years ago I saw these Frida beaded earrings while on a trip in another country. I sent a pic to Maya, our Handmade by Friendship Bridge Manager, who showed the picture to Miriam. About two weeks later, Miriam found me on Facebook and showed me a prototype… and the rest is history!

We returned to Panajachel to visit our office. There, we reunited with some clients I had known from years past: Miriam, Lidia, and Angelina. I love their artisan work, and so did our Insight Trip group. Lots of purchases from these artisans! TukTuk rides up and down Calle Santander, the main drag in Panajachel, gave our group a taste of this treasure of a tourist spot. Our evening ended with a fabulous dinner at Hotel Atitlan. Beyond the delicious food we laid our eyes on our first Ofrenda (an ofrenda is the offering placed in a home altar during the annual Day of the Dead celebration). The hotel staff were busy putting the finishing touches on it. Dia de los Muertos is upon us.

 

Day 6: Oct. 30, 2021

The Lake has been teasing us for days. Finally, we get to take a water taxi across this magical body of water to San Juan La Laguna.

We were given a presentation from the daughter of one of our clients who was practicing her English. We learned the whole process, from planting, to harvest, to fermentation, to roasting, and finally the many ways a cacao bean can be used in products.

Next stop: more learning, as we visited a client, Elena, who gave the group a presentation of natural dyes. After the presentation, she walked us down to a storefront where she and her Trust Bank of 12 women weavers sell their products. These women fill the store with a variety of products they make themselves by spinning cotton, dying thread, and weaving the threads. You really can appreciate the time, many steps, and the precision of designs these artisans dedicate to each product. They each take turns operating the store. Very impressive group. And of course we shopped ‘til we dropped!

As I reflect on all the women we met this week on this Insight Trip, my perception is that they have made it through this global pandemic resiliently. They vocalized gratitude for the support they received, enabling them to conquer a tough year. Despite it all, they are optimistic, continuing to dream for themselves and their children. It’s been wonderful to spend time with Marta Julia, Friendship Bridge Communications and Public Relations Coordinator, who has helped us see and understand how our staff has weathered these last 18 months, supporting our clients in rural Guatemala. They are my superheroes. Amazing work, Friendship Bridge staff.

 

Day 7: Oct. 31, 2021

Happy Halloween! We said goodbye to the magical Lake Atitlan and the town of Panajachel and made our way to Antigua. We broke up the long drive with a visit to Iximche, the first Guatemalan City and a pre-Columbian Mesoamerican archeological site in the western highlands, now known as Tecpan. It was the capital of the late post-classic Kaqchikel Mayan Kingdom. It’s always a mind-blowing experience for me to realize a civilization of people who once lived on these grounds 600+ years ago. 

We made it to beautiful, calm Antigua. It was good to see this gorgeous city again, although COVID restrictions have definitely prevented the usual All Souls Day, All Saints Day, and Dia de los Muertos festivities. Despite the restrictions, this charming Spanish colonial town surrounded by volcanoes never disappoints.

 

Day 8: Nov. 1, 2021

Our final day as an Insight Trip group in the beautiful city of Antigua. Our Historico Hotel Eterna Primavera and the delicious Bistros embody the charm this town is known for. A little more education was on the itinerary today: a visit to the old textile museum in San Antonio Aguas Calientes, not far outside of Antigua. What a great museum and demo of weaving techniques. Great way to spend our morning, sharpening our groups’ eye for the mass textile shopping back in Antigua’s artisan markets!

Thank you again to Caroline for allowing us to accompany her and the others on this Insight Trip. We are incredibly thankful for your generosity.

Meet Jamie Alpert: Friendship Bridge Donor + Volunteer

We are pleased to congratulate Jamie Alpert, the winner of our special, Health for Life donation prize for our Health for Life Challenge 2021! Every donor who gave to this year’s campaign was entered into a drawing and one person was randomly selected to win a 2 Night Stay at the Stanley Hotel in Estes Park and a $75 Visa Gift Card. Learn more about Jamie and why she is so passionate about our work at Friendship Bridge.

Q&A with Jamie Alpert

Tell us about yourself! Where do you live, work, and what do you do for fun?

I live in Golden, Colorado. In Genesee, actually, just down the way from Laurie Dolian. Laurie has been quite active in Friendship Bridge, and in addition to being a former board member, she has been instrumental in getting at least four more women on our street to join Friendship Bridge. Last year during September in order to support Health For Life, the Genesee Circle broke up into pods, and I chose to learn to play pickleball. It was the perfect activity during the summer of COVID-19. We could play outside and still be safe. It may have saved my sanity! In addition to pickleball, I love to read, watch movies and spend time with my family and friends.

How did it feel to be selected as the winner of our drawing?

What a thrill it was to be chosen as the winner of the Stanley Hotel drawing! This summer, my husband John Brown and I celebrated our 20th anniversary with a dinner out.  We didn’t get away, as it seemed like everything was booked up early, but now we will take a belated anniversary trip. We’ve never stayed at the Stanley before, so this will be a treat for us.

How did you hear about Friendship Bridge and why did you get involved?

I learned about Friendship Bridge from Laurie Dolian. I was a Spanish teacher at Cherry Creek High School for over 20 years. When I retired and moved up to Genesee full-time, Laurie pointed me toward Friendship Bridge. It was a natural fit. I have always loved Guatemala and had even studied there for two weeks one summer during my teaching years. I believe it’s very important to support the most vulnerable – and that would be the women of Guatemala.

Why did you decide to donate to this year’s Health for Life campaign?

With COVID-19, more than ever, we believed that helping those in need was crucial. We’ve supported Friendship Bridge for the Building Bridges Gala, the Emergency Food Relief Program, the Health for Life Challenge, and on Colorado Gives day. It seems that we like to donate just about quarterly, which makes it easy to help out. Women’s health is important, so that makes it a perfect match.

How are you involved with Friendship Bridge?

I am an active Circle Member and a former Circle Leader. Plus, in 2017 a number of us from our Circle participated in an Insight Trip to Guatemala. What an impactful experience it was to meet some of these entrepreneurs who are supported by Friendship Bridge! And I also love to talk to my friends and family and tell them about what a great organization Friendship Bridge is.

Why is our mission important to you?

I love the fact that by supporting these women, we are helping them build a business and thus, helping them to support their families. These women invest 90% of their income in their families and communities, and they help their kids stay in school longer. Plus, these women are role models for their young daughters.

What do you wish people knew about Friendship Bridge who do not yet know about us?

Migration to the US is something that impacts all of us. The people who trek to the US in search of a different life often risk all sorts of danger (rape, robbery, death.) Organizations such as Friendship Bridge offer these women a chance to improve their lives and those of their families.  Through microcredit loans, education, and now Health for Life, the women in Guatemala are offered a chance to provide for their families, learn how to run a business, and become more resilient. This empowerment of women is something I want to support. Wouldn’t everyone?

Thank you, Jamie!

Why Manuela Got a COVID-19 Vaccination Shot

In the highlands of Guatemala where Manuela lives, most conversation about the COVID-19 vaccine is fueled by rumors. Some people claim the vaccine will leave you with only two years left of your life and others claim it robs women of their ability to have children. But Manuela knows the rumors are false. As a Friendship Bridge client and Health for Life participant, she received numerous phone calls during the height of the pandemic from our facilitators who taught her how the virus spreads and what safety precautions she and her family needed to take. “Friendship Bridge called me many times repeating the health measures against COVID-19,” Manuela said. “This has helped me not to forget to wear my face mask, to wash my hands constantly, and to maintain social distance. I use these tips in practice every day.” 

In August, she met in person with other Friendship Bridge clients during her monthly Trust Bank (group loan repayment) meeting, where she learned that the vaccine was safe and it would help prevent her from getting sick. Just a week after her training, she got her first COVID-19 vaccination shot. “Nobody forced me to get vaccinated,” she said. “I did it because I wanted to and because I want to stay longer with my family. Currently, the disease is attacking stronger and that is why we must take care of ourselves.” 

For millions of indigenous women like Manuela, inadequate healthcare and misinformation about preventable diseases affect their daily realities. Misconceptions and lack of access to culturally appropriate services can limit their potential and prevent them from building a better future for themselves and their families. Our Health for Life program is designed specifically to counter the healthcare challenges that rural, indigenous women face in Guatemala so they can take ownership of their health and make educated decisions. 

To address COVID-19, Friendship Bridge is teaching all clients about the importance of getting the vaccine during their monthly Non-Formal Education sessions. We are handing out flyers that address commonly asked questions and we provide a specific phone number that allows women to reach a staff member at Friendship Bridge who can address their doubts. If clients are interested in being vaccinated, Friendship Bridge can help with the registration. And we are so proud to announce that 92% of our staff in Guatemala have received at least their first vaccine since we were designated as front-line workers. 

Support Health for Life

After a year of operating under constraints such as lockdowns, travel restrictions, and reduced capacities, Friendship Bridge is experiencing a 27% increase in participation in our domiciliary Health for Life program clinics, and fields more questions than ever regarding preventive health services. Additionally, misinformation about the COVID-19 vaccine has become widespread and access is unattainable for individuals with literacy limitations and lack of internet access, both necessary for registering for a vaccine on the government website in Guatemala.

With the re-opening of markets and the beginning of a tiered vaccination effort in Guatemala, Friendship Bridge is aiming to not only regain full nurse and health program capacity in 4 of our branches but also to help facilitate a rebound for our clients by providing COVID-19 vaccine education and registration assistance.

Your support will allow us to continue this important work in rural areas of Guatemala as we prepare to expand our services to reach an even greater number of women with our products and services. All funds will support us in reaching more women like Manuela with COVID-19 vaccine education programs and support with registering and receiving a vaccine. Every gift provides potentially life-saving services, just like the ones Manuela received. 

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