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Education Changes Lives Cada Mes

2017 is on its way, and our clients are enjoying the beautiful weather Guatemala has to offer. They continue along their monthly journeys with Friendship Bridge, making loan payments and receiving lessons on the four pillars – women, family, business, and health.  The Cada Mes Club, our monthly donors, follows this journey closely. The Club’s support is integral in providing this life-changing education. This quarter, we feature how preventive health education is saving lives. Click here to learn how to join the Cada Mes Club.

Doña Mili receives hugs from her grandson, while surrounded by family who are also part of her Trust Bank.

by Rachel Turner

Doña Mili walked slowly to her friend’s house passing small gardens and shooing chickens away with her handkerchief. She paused briefly to wipe sweat from her face. At 9 a.m., the sun already bore down on the small southern village near Patulul, Guatemala.

Arriving at Doña Ofelia’s home, Doña Mili walked up the dirt patio, gave Doña Ofelia a cheek kiss, and settled on a tree stump under the tin awning while waving flies away with her handkerchief. The women caught up on life since their last Trust Bank meeting, and Doña Ofelia continued sweeping the dirt patio – her one-year-old in tow.

The two ladies waited for their Trust Bank colleagues to arrive one by one. Doña Ofelia, as president of the Trust Bank, had offered to host a health clinic in her two-bedroom house with permission from her husband. As the community matriarch, Doña Mili, 49, came early to encourage the ladies to receive the free health education and services offered by Friendship Bridge and their partner The Maya Health Alliance (Wuqu’ Kawoq).

Doña Mili speaks with Nurse Dina from The Maya Health Alliance about preventive health during her exam.

A few months earlier, Doña Mili’s Trust Bank learned about women’s preventive health during their monthly Non-Formal Education (NFE) meeting, and although a bit wary, most of the twelve ladies excitedly signed up to see the traveling nurses for a free exam.

“In our community, it’s a luxury to get sick. It’s too expensive to get the care we need many times when we get sick,” said Doña Mili. “That’s why I encourage my group to take advantage of this opportunity for health services. Until our NFE meeting, many of us didn’t know what tests we needed.”

In our community, it’s a luxury to get sick. It’s too expensive to get the care we need many… Click To Tweet

At the end of the day, after all the women had learned more about preventive health care, received pap smears, and glucose tests, Doña Mili sat on the same tree stump smiling and laughing with her friends and family from the Trust Bank. “This is our first time hosting a health clinic, and we had a great turn-out,” said Doña Mili. “We must continue with education – it’s so important!”

Rachel Turner is the Global Communications Manager for Friendship Bridge. Having worked and lived throughout the world, she’s excited to now call the foothills of the Rocky Mountains home. Rachel recently visited Guatemala to meet Doña Mili and other clients working with Friendship Bridge.

I’m a Dreamer, Are You?

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International Women’s Day: Francesca Shares Her Story

Francesca wears a proud smile while representing all the women who work hard every day to fight poverty.

by Brittany S. Bahk

Francesca trudged up the hill with a large basket of tortillas in one hand and her purse in the other. By the time she got to the top of the hill, she was panting heavily and trying to catch her breath.

“Pardon me for being a bit late,” she said enthusiastically with a wide smile, “It took me an hour and half to travel here, and traffic was crazy today!” Francesca plopped down her basket and gave large, motherly hugs to everyone. Although our meeting only lasted a fraction of the time it took her to travel, her bright spirit and warmth remained true throughout our time.

Francesca, a tortilla vendor, recently began her first loan cycle through Friendship Bridge. Married with seven children, she’s thankful that all her children receive formal education in school. Francesca did not have the financial support of her parents to complete her education since her father couldn’t find a stable job, so she only studied up to the 6th grade. Today one of her main goals is to support her children through graduation and help them acquire professional jobs. Her oldest child has already graduated from college with a career. She wants to make sure the rest of her children follow these steps so they won’t suffer later on in life. “Friendship Bridge empowers women like me to not only better our lives but also to help those in our community,” said Francesca. Since joining Friendship Bridge, she has felt empowered to work harder to achieve her goals She will soon start to sell fruits and vegetable in addition to her tortillas to further support her family.

Francesca also emphasizes the importance of health along with education to her children. “I had horrible allergies and red spots all over my body which have scarred my face to this day,” said Francesca about her pregnancy ten years ago. “As a mother of six, I was so worried about my children and how my health would affect my ability to work. The anxiety prevented me from going outside. I was constantly worrying.”

Rashes prevented her from being in sunlight, but after seeing multiple doctors and using medicinal plants, her rashes eventually healed. Today, Francesca continues to be a very strong woman with many hopes and the determination to achieve her dreams. However, she knows that there are far more people who are in need of help.

“If our neighbor ever needs help, we are always willing to lend a hand, and now I am able to help my community more with the help of Friendship Bridge,” said Francesca. “I thank each one of those working in Friendship Bridge for taking notice of me, for helping us work, and for helping us be better community members and mothers to our children.”

To read more stories like Francesca’s you can visit my previous post about Yolanda, who shared her past with corruption: https://www.friendshipbridge.org/world-day-social-justice-client-celebrates-ten-years-friendship-bridge/

Brittany S. Bahk, Story Collector & Field Blogger Intern

Brittany is a third-year Business Economics major specializing in International Economic Development at Seattle University. She loves to travel, serve and learn from the communities in need across the globe. She is also passionate about social justice and public health. Brittany will be the Story Collector & Field Blogger intern for Friendship Bridge through March in Panajachel, Sololá in Guatemala.

Whole Planet Foundation Selects Friendship Bridge as Partner in Guatemala

Friendship Bridge Clients make tortillas to sell. Many clients take out loans to build their businesses. The average microloan is $378 with 4-12 month repayment periods.

Friendship Bridge has opened a new office of microcredit and education services in Huehuetenango, Guatemala, with the help of a three-year grant from the Whole Planet Foundation, the charitable arm of Whole Foods Market. WPF has committed $300,000 over three years to reach 2,381 microentrepreneurs in Huehuetenango.

“Over the years we have gathered enough evidence to be confident that our programs are making a positive impact in our clients’ lives,” said Karen Larson, President & CEO of Friendship Bridge. “Opening our new branch allows us to impact even more women in Guatemala. We are honored to partner with an organization like Whole Planet Foundation who shares our vision of empowered women choosing their own paths.”

Access to credit and education in rural areas of Guatemala is a major barrier to poverty alleviation. Serving rural areas is costly and logistically a challenge. The new office will allow Friendship Bridge to provide access to credit and education to women in difficult to reach, rural areas.

For more information on Whole Planet Foundation, click here.

Need Ideas for Hosting a Building Bridges Stay-at-Home Gala Party?

Our 2017 Building Bridges Stay-at-Home Gala is just around the corner, on Saturday, April 8th. Many of our friends across the US are hosting parties on April 8th to celebrate! The office in Colorado is happy to support you with extra invitations and resources to make your event a success! Please be sure to let us know if you are planning to host a party so we can send you a special artisan-made apron in appreciation for organizing an event.

Ways to support Friendship Bridge during your party

  • Welcome your guests with a brief introduction to Friendship Bridge and talk to them about why you support the organization. (See our Friendship Bridge 101 web page for talking points and to rehearse your Friendship Bridge “elevator speech.”)
  • Share the link to the online auction with your guests.
  • Have your wifi password handy for guests so they can bring their iPads and phones to make their final bids on online auction items.
  • Make sure your computer or tablet is ready to watch the short online video premiere, which will be emailed to you at 7pm MDT.
  • Provide donation forms for your guests who are interested in supporting Friendship Bridge (Click here to download and print).

Ideas for activities

  • Friendship Bridge Video Premiere Bingo – We’ve created bingo cards with key words about Friendship Bridge’s work, to play during the short online video premiere at 7 PM MDT. Simply print out bingo cards for your guests, grab a pen, and you’re ready to play. Watch and listen to the video about Friendship Bridge’s work and mark key words and images you see in the video! See who can get BINGO first! (Click here to download and print cards)
  • Play marimba music (the marimba is the national instrument of Guatemala). Here is a link to some marimba music you can play in the background.
  • Wear or display any tipica you own (tipica is traditional Guatemalan hand-crafted items).
  • Display photos from your travels to Guatemala.

Menu Suggestions

Drinks and Cocktails

We hope you’ll join in the fun and host a party!

If you have any questions, please contact Nicole at neubanks@friendshipbridge.org. If you decide to host a party for the Stay-at-Home Gala, please be sure to let us know!

World Day of Social Justice: Client Celebrates Ten Years with Friendship Bridge

YOLANDA, 53 YEARS OLD HOLDS A GARMENT SHE MADE. SHE SELLS TRADITIONAL WEAR FOR WOMEN.

By Brittany Bahk

Every year on February 20th, various organizations across the globe recognize the needs & challenges surrounding global issues such as poverty, malnutrition, discrimination, and environmental sustainability. For Friendship Bridge, it is also a time to remember the core values rooted in their mission to create opportunities that empower impoverished Guatemalan women to build better futures for themselves and their families. In 2015 alone, over 29,500 women gained increased financial stability and self-empowerment through Friendship Bridge’s health, educational, and microfinance programs. As Friendship Bridge continues to reach out to more women every year, they find themselves empowered by the stories of their very own clients.

Yolanda in particular makes a living by stitching together beautiful, traditional Guatemalan wear for women. She celebrates her 10th loan cycle with Friendship Bridge this year. At 53 years old, she carries a bright smile and a youthful spirit—which she claims is due to the three glasses of freshly-squeezed milk she had every day as a child. However, Yolanda’s smile fades when she begins to talk about her past, before she became a member of Friendship Bridge:

“In the past I was hurting, because I fell into the hands of the corrupt, who took from me. I was hurting very much, and it took me a while to recover, but today I am empowered and thankful because of Friendship Bridge. I was even the chairwoman of my trust bank. They have always empowered me.”

Yolanda’s dream has always been to live a peaceful, healthy and happy life with her children. She says that as long as she is healthy and happy, so are her children. Although Yolanda herself only received up to six grades of primary schooling, she knows the great impact that stable education and health have on a successful life. Through the help of Friendship Bridge, Yolanda was able to successfully provide all of her children with complete schooling and stable careers.

“I thank you, Friendship Bridge, that you helped me. My children were given the possibility to study and everything else, starting even from what we had to eat. And now I feel happy because my children and I are able to have our own jobs. Now my goal is to keep growing my business,” Yolanda proudly says.

 With the support of its investors, Friendship Bridge has been able to provide continued support to women like Yolanda, and this number is still growing. To read more about Friendship Bridge’s reach & impact, you can take a look at their Financials page linked below:

https://www.friendshipbridge.org/who-we-are/financials/

 

Brittany Bahk is a third-year Business Economics major specializing in International Economic Development at Seattle University. She loves to travel, serve and learn from the communities in need across the globe. She is also passionate about social justice and public health. Brittany will be the Story Collector & Field Blogger intern for Friendship Bridge through March in Panajachel, Sololá in Guatemala.

Non-Formal Education 4Q16: Trust Bank Board Responsibilities, the Solidarity Guarantee, and the Facilitator’s Role

 A special thanks to our Cada Mes Club – Friendship Bridge’s monthly donors – for supporting our clients on their monthly journeys.

Zoila says that the topic of solidarity guarantee is very important within the trust bank. This allows the women to create bonds of trust by getting to know each other and their businesses better. Trust is key to practice solidarity during payments and to support groupmates in difficult circumstances. Each woman understands that to be a part of a successful trust bank, she must have the commitment and responsibility of payment.

Each month the members of every Trust Bank travel, most likely by foot, to their designated meeting places to make payments on their loans and receive a Non-Formal Education lesson in their native languages on one of the four pillars – women, family, business, and health. During the below three education sessions, building group structure and trust are key components to a healthy support system and Trust Bank.

October – Board Responsibilities

The Trust Bank’s elected President, Secretary, and Treasurer face the group and kick off the meeting! They are the topic of discussion this month. To get the women thinking about leadership, they are asked to recall a leader they admire greatly and to come up with some characteristics that describe that person. Next they are read the story of a perfectly run, fictional Trust Bank, whose board does everything required in a friendly, respectful manner. The meeting ends with each board member reading a pledge of the duties she commits to perform during her term.

November – The Solidarity Guarantee

Each member of a Trust Bank commits to paying the entire loan even when one member defaults. This is called the solidarity guarantee. The concept of solidarity is made real to the women when they are asked to visualize how they feel and what they do when they learn a member of their community has experienced a birth or a death. Reciprocity, responsibility, empathy, respect, and common experience are ideas that come to mind. Since those feelings are made stronger the better known the affected individual is, the women are reminded of the importance of getting to know one another. As a final application of the concept, the women are asked at the end of the meeting to produce 20Q of their own money. Of course, not everyone will have it. The lack or possession of the money produces a set of feelings towards themselves and one another that should give them something to reflect on.

December – The Facilitator’s Role

A Facilitator at Friendship Bridge has a very big job. They assist in the formation of new Trust Banks, prepare for and teach a new lesson each month to dozens of existing groups, travel, often by foot, to remote areas to meet with clients, and they do all this in the rain or shine! This month the Trust Bank members are asked to describe their experiences meeting their Facilitator for the first time. At the end of the meeting, they discuss among themselves what medal they will award their Facilitator… gold, silver, or bronze… and why he/she deserves the medal received. It is intended to be an opportunity for the Facilitator to gain feedback on the important work they do.

 

Friendship Bridge Featured as Standout Institution

Friendship Bridge Featured as Standout Institution

In a special edition of the SPTF Spotlight, social performance management industry leader, Social Performance Task Force, highlighted several standout intuitions with strong social performance management practices – including Friendship Bridge.

Read more about Friendship Bridge’s social performance here.

Non-Formal Education: Trust Banks, Budgets, and Food

A special thanks to our Cada Mes Club – Friendship Bridge’s monthly donors – for supporting our clients on their monthly journeys.

Each month the members of every Trust Bank travel, most likely by foot, to their designated meeting places to make payments on their loans and receive a Non-Formal Education lesson in their native languages on one of the four pillars – women, family, business, and health.

July – Building a Strong Trust Bank

Each Trust Bank is comprised of women, voluntarily organized, who support each other in the receiving and paying of loans to be invested in each woman’s own business enterprise. A strong Trust Bank requires that all members understand and maintain their responsibilities to one another. In July, after the women were reminded of these responsibilities, they were asked to compare the health of a Trust Bank to the health of a tree…. which parts are the trunk, the roots, the fruit? How could they make each part stronger? The discussion was followed by a reminder of the duties of the Trust Bank’s Board of Directors.

August – Creating a Working Budget

In August, the women learned how to create a budget for the second time this year. This lesson was originally delivered in January. However, a survey revealed that budget creation was the one lesson that clients struggled to remember. It was taught again to reinforce the topic and highlighted the importance of measuring information retention of our clients.

September – Understanding the Food We Eat

Food security, or permanent access to nutritious food, is a luxury for the poor. September’s lesson sought to teach the appropriate food to prioritize when money is scarce and how much each of those items costs. The women warmed up by playing a musical chairs type of game called Fruit Basket. Next they were shown a chart covering the nutritional benefits and risks of eating different foods: meat, fish, soft drinks, fruits/vegetables, sausages, junk food, and salt. The meeting closed with each woman compiling pictures of a typical day’s menu and then identifying the cost associated with each menu item. By doing so, the women saw what they spend on food in a day and how they might make economical and nutritious substitutions.

Social and Institutional Ratings from Microfinanza

by Cole Folwell, Treasury internLOGO_microfinanza_rating

This year, Friendship Bridge made a strategic decision to have MicroFinanza Rating, a third-party microfinance rating agency, conduct social and institutional ratings for the purpose of gaining insight into our practices. Since its founding in 2000, MicroFinanza has conducted over 900 ratings on various microfinance institutions. Their rating process is extremely thorough and involves a desk review in addition to an on-site review of operations. The complete review process allows MicroFinanza to appropriately assess all aspects of Friendship Bridge’s institutional and social performance. The ratings provide an external look at Friendship Bridge, which can be used to understand strategic areas of opportunity, benchmark against peers, and provide impartial insight into operations.

Friendship Bridge’s previous rating was conducted in 2012, and we have used those results to grow and improve, which was confirmed by the most recent rating. The final social rating improved from a B minus in 2012 to an A minus in 2016. The new rating reflects good social performance management and client protection systems. It is also indicative that Friendship Bridge’s social mission is likely to be achieved. Similarly, the institutional rating improved from a B minus in 2012 to a BB plus in 2016. We hope to use the new ratings as we have in the past to improve and expand.

Friendship Bridge’s social rating was in general very positive and noted areas where we have excelled such as outreach, client protection and retention, and the quality of our non-financial services. We continue to reach out to areas with below-average national poverty levels and lower education rates. The rating notes that we treat our clients in these regions fairly and respectfully, which can be materially seen in our retention rate and client protection systems. This combined with Friendship Bridge’s quality non-financial services were all contributors to our strong social rating.

Friendship Bridge’s institutional rating noted our credit policy and methodology, internal controls, staff productivity, product offerings, and governance as strong components of the organization. The positive factors of the report were a result of well-formalized policies, quality management of non-performing loans, and geographical diversification of loan operations. Additionally, the ratings report found that the Board of Directors is well aligned with the mission and is well equipped to help Friendship Bridge achieve its objectives.

The report provided Friendship Bridge with additional information on areas where we have opportunities to grow as an organization. For the social rating, there were two primary opportunities – loan transparency and environmental responsibility.

Friendship Bridge uses a flat interest rate, primarily because our clients can easily understand it. Our clients are given a payment schedule that includes the interest and portion of the principal they will pay each month. As a result, the effective interest rate our clients pay each month is higher because they are amortizing the principle while paying interest. The practice is standard, simple, affordable, and clear to our clients. Yet, MicroFinanza would prefer that MFIs include the percentage of principle paid back each month in addition to the nominal interest rate when listing the loans. Mandatory disclosure of the effective interest rate a client would pay would be a tremendously progressive policy microfinance regulators should consider. The policy would ensure that all MFI loans are easily comparable for interested clients and there is increased transparency across the entire MFI landscape. Despite regulatory shortfalls, we as an organization believe that using this analysis of our lending transparency can greatly improve our operations.

The second area for improvement is Friendship Bridge’s commitment to environmental protection. MicroFinanza believes that Friendship Bridge should adopt an environmental policy that can be implemented in its lending activities. The quality of Friendship Bridge’s non-credit activities such as education and health services are high. Adding an environmental component to the organization’s work would certainly be a bonus to the already established and effective social work.

Friendship Bridge’s institutional rating found transparency, financial projections and targets, and reliance on donations and grants as areas of opportunity. By industry standards, our reliance on donations and grants suggests we have not reached full sustainability. However, non-credit activities such as education and health are integral parts of Friendship Bridge’s mission and the nature of the activities is inherently capital intensive. The result is an increased reliance on donations and grants.

Overall, while the MicroFinanza rating shows that Friendship Bridge has some areas of opportunity to grow, the ratings largely showed that the organization is on a very stable trajectory and continues to work towards its strong social mission.