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Estefana and The Blessing

How Friendship Bridge clients like Estefana are adapting with brilliant resilience during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

When Estefana opened her bakery 25 years ago in Guatemala, she named it La Bendición (The Blessing). “I feel so happy to have this work,” she said in January. “The business is doing well and it allows me to fight and work alongside my husband.” Without question, Estefana’s top priority and motivation is the welfare of her six children. And as a Friendship Bridge client, she learned to provide for them by dividing her bakery profits into savings and business investments. She uses the rest to pay for her children’s school tuition and household services like water and electricity. “My wish for my children is that they learn from the work I do. That someday when I am gone, they will have learned something.”

Before COVID-19, Estefana and her small staff delivered bread to four small villages near her home. “People look for us because we make good bread and rolls with different flavors,” she said. Not only did she have a loyal customer base, but she also had a diversified source of income from her embroidering business and selling textiles. “I have learned to do several things and not just one. If any business is down, I can help myself with another. This is what Friendship Bridge has taught me.”

This important skill has proved useful this year as COVID-19 spread throughout the country. “COVID affected me a lot,” she said in September. “We could no longer leave or enter. All the villages were closed. We could no longer sell our product.” With strict curfews, Estefana sometimes had only a few hours to do her grocery shopping. And because local buses were restricted, she sometimes had to walk the hour-long round-trip to the market.

Since March, however, she has adapted brilliantly. Because she could not leave her home in the early stages of the pandemic, Estefana started baking bread right in her home and selling to only her closest neighbors. When Friendship Bridge granted clients a two-month grace period for their loan payments, she strategized on how to best use the extra money. “Those months of non-payment helped us to support our family. Instead of paying the loan, we bought food and household things for the family.” While at least three of her neighbors placed white flags outside their homes to indicate a dire need for food, Estefana was instead able to support her own family and remain resilient.

Things have slowly started to open and “normalize” in Guatemala and Estefana is now baking 100 pounds of bread per day. She uses a small car to travel to three nearby villages to sell her baked goods. Her children are now able to complete their studies from home using cell phones. The Blessing has lived up to its name. “The advice I give to all the women at Friendship Bridge is to keep working hard for their business,” Estefana said. “Thanks to Friendship Bridge’s support, we can continue our work.” The microloans, education, business training, and health services we provide to women in Guatemala matter now more than ever. Because of your support, women like Estefana are able to continue supporting themselves and their communities through innovation and hard work amid a global pandemic.

Get to Know Her: Angelina Roquel

When you meet Angelina, her deep-seated strength is at first hidden behind her quiet voice and calm demeanor. Since the beginning of the global pandemic, however, she has been able to support herself and her children with great determination during these difficult months. By selling her products through our online store at Handmade by Friendship Bridge, she has continued paying her microloans on time and recently purchased monthly data plans so that her children can continue their education online. We spoke with Angelina yesterday to get to know her better and understand how she is adapting during this time.

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Angelina, tell us a bit about your childhood:

I was born in Chaquijya, Solola in 1985. My mom raised my 2 brothers, 2 sisters, and me. She received the support of my grandmother who took care of us while my mom worked on the fields. She worked farming celery and lettuce, packing vegetables and sending them to bigger cities. I did not get to meet my father as he separated from my mom when I was a newborn. Overall, I had a loving mother and grandmother who made a lot of sacrifices for us. I was able to study until sixth grade.

How did you learn to work with beads?

I learned how to make beaded bracelets when I was 8 years old. I wanted to support my mom financially. Learning how to bead allowed me to bring in some money and stay at home. She did not allow me to work outside of our house. I learned how to make beaded bags when I was 12 years old. I like creating jewelry, especially necklaces and bracelets. 

How did you learn to create your beautiful handmade baskets? 

My grandmother taught me how to create baskets and embroider them. When I was growing up, she spent her afternoons creating baskets to support our family. My grandfather passed away before I was born – and the creation of these baskets supported her financially for many years. I now buy baskets from neighbors and embroider them. 

When did you get married and how many children do you have? 

I married when I was 20-years-old. Emilio, my husband, and I met when I was working in Guatemala city. When I turned 16, I moved to the capital to find work and support my family. I was working as a clerk in a neighborhood convenience store. We are both from the same area, so we develop a friendship. I have three children (two girls and one boy),  my oldest daughter studies at Maia Impact School. She is currently in 7th grade, and my other two kids are in a public school close to home.

How does your husband feel about your small business?

He likes it when I stay at home and work from here. I have a little convenience store and my handmade business. He supports me, but I find it hard to convince him to let me go for the artisan training. Lately, he has seen how much it has helped our financial situation, so I hope he will let me go for the coming year. 

What are your dreams for your children? 

I want them to have a professional career. I will put on the hard work to make sure my children graduate from university and have the opportunity I did not have. My youngest daughter, Heyday, just started first grade. Bryan is in third grade and Jennifer received a great opportunity at The MAIA Impact School. I know it is a long road. My husband does not support this idea of my children focusing only on school. But I am willing to support them financially until they reach their dreams. 

How did Friendship Bridge come into your life?

My neighbor talked to me about Friendship Bridge and their Trust Bank, Tablon Central. She introduced me to the rest of the members. I am very happy with my Trust Bank. We support each other and my group members are on time with their payments. I joined in 2008. My first loan was Q1000 ($130 USD), now I manage a loan of Q10,000 ($1,300 USD). Currently, I am the president of our Trust Bank. 

How has your life been impacted by Handmade by Friendship Bridge? 

I joined Handmade by Friendship Bridge in 2018. I was invited to participate in the advanced artisan trainings and I liked the topics we learned. I have been using this knowledge for the orders I create. I am happy when I receive orders and develop new jewelry pieces. I have also been developing new designs for my baskets like flowers and words. I have met many new friends, women like me that are working hard to learn new things and put them into practice. 

What was your favorite part of the artisan training? 

I liked it when we learned how to take photos of our products and all the tricks to make our products shine. I also like costing because I realized how much I am profiting. One of my favorite experiences was the fairs and traveling with all of us together to Antigua Guatemala. I met another business in the fair that I have been working with during these past months. 

How is COVID19 affecting your business?

I was working on an order for a company and it got canceled right away when COVID19 started in Guatemala. The neighbors also stopped going outside. The sales of my small convenience store decreased a lot. To expand, I started selling vegetables and fruits, as many neighbors were not able to travel to Solola’s market. I received orders from you and another business. I also learned how to create fabric carpets; I am working on developing new samples in this category. 

What are your dreams for your business? 

I would like to create new carpet designs and better the quality of my products. I also want to finish paying my loan and expand both my businesses. I dream of having a bigger convenience store and also receive many orders for my necklaces and baskets. I want to meet new international buyers that will help me expand my business. Thanks to you, I now know that my work is valued and respected in the whole world. 

Angelina’s Best Selling Products

Twilight Multicolored Playful Necklace

Missing going out to see the neon lights? These bright, saturated colors have you covered! It is sure to bring a smile to the wearer and the world.

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Forest Flower Necklace

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View All of Angelina’s Products

 

Our ‘Here for Her’ email series was developed in early 2020 in an effort to keep our supporters connected to our artisan clients at the height of the global pandemic. We hope this series gives you the chance to learn more about the women we serve in Guatemala and the many ways their lives are impacted by our programs and services.

Handmade by Friendship Bridge (formerly the Artisan Market Access Program) provides artists and artisans with trainings designed to ready them to access new markets – in particular, the global market. Trainings focus on topics such as quality of raw materials, buyer expectations, and tastes and preferences of the North American market. Clients are also trained about product pricing to ensure they receive a fair wage for their work. Learn more

Friendship Bridge & MAIA: A Partnership Creating Pathways for Guatemalan Women

I characterize myself as a happy, dynamic, caring person. My goal is always to serve and to be useful to people in order to impact their lives.” – Mildred

Friendship Bridge is proud to recognize one of our star Credit and Education Facilitators, Mildred Chas Morales, who recently received the Field Officer Appreciation Award from Whole Planet Foundation. During an online award ceremony, Stephanie Manciagli, WPF’s Program Manager of Latin America and the Caribbean, presented Mildred with a plaque and certificate, plus a $600 prize in recognition of the hundreds of Guatemalan women Mildred impacts at Friendship Bridge.

As a teenager, Mildred participated in the MAIA program formerly known as Starfish. MAIA was founded by Ted and Connie Ning who also founded Friendship Bridge. Mildred’s excellent academic performance at MAIA helped secure her an internship at Friendship Bridge where she quickly became a full-time employee. She’s been with Friendship Bridge for three years and manages 65 Trust Banks that together service 523 clients. Mildred enjoys enriching the lives of other Guatemalan women while earning a quality income and providing for her family. “At Friendship Bridge, I have learned that we are not only part of people’s lives, but we are also making great changes,” Mildred said. “That fills me with satisfaction.”

About Whole Planet Foundation

Whole Planet Foundation—established by Whole Foods Market—is a private, nonprofit organization dedicated to poverty alleviation. The foundation aims to empower the world’s poorest people with microcredit and specifically in places where Whole Foods Market sources its products. Since its founding, WPF has “authorized $101 million through microlending partners worldwide, funding 4.3 million microloans and over 22 million opportunities for microentrepreneurs and their family members.”

This is the 4th year that a Friendship Bridge staff member has received the award. Whole Planet Foundation invited all of its Latin American and Caribbean partners to submit nominations for their best loan officers and Mildred was a top 5 winner. Her profile demonstrated the proactive, determined, and driven characteristics it takes to be what Whole Planet Foundation refers to as a front line warrior. “We found Mildred’s performance particularly compelling knowing that she is a young mom working on her own education,” Manciagli said. “She is clearly equally invested in her own self-development as she is her clients and we applaud that.”

Mildred’s Beginnings

Mildred was raised by hard-working parents in a rural village near Chicacao, a town located in the Guatemalan province of Suchitepéquez.  “I lived the best years of my life at our farm,” Mildred said. “But we had to leave when my father wasn’t able to secure consistent work.” Left without other options, Mildred and her family moved to the center of Chicacao. As a means to support their family, her parents started beekeeping, a natural path for a farmer. And like the bees they tended, Mildred’s parents raised her and her eight siblings to work hard and respect nature.

As it is for most rural Guatemalan girls, attaining a quality education was difficult for Mildred. But she credits her mother for always motivating her to work hard in school. By age thirteen, Mildred would show strong academic performance and great leadership skills. With the support of one of her teachers, she applied for a scholarship at MAIA. She was accepted and given the opportunity to attend secondary school at one of the most progressive institutions in the country.  

Mildred at MAIA

“Like any teenager, she was shy,” said Norma Baján Balán, MAIA’s Executive Director. “But months later, she began to show a very high level of leadership. She coordinated activities with her group mates and she loved to sing. She delighted everyone with her songs and she was always well prepared and very professional. Mildred had a lot of fans here.” Balán remembers Mildred as being highly-active in MAIA’s many programs, something that made her parents proud. “I remember how her parents spoke proudly about her and everything she was achieving. She always demanded of herself and she always gave her best,” Balán said.

Through a partnership between MAIA and Friendship Bridge, Mildred attended a mentoring program where she says she first identified with Friendship Bridge’s methodology and philosophy. She was later offered an internship at Friendship Bridge where she received formal work experience and job training. Her goal was to secure a position at Friendship Bridge and when her internship ended she applied and was hired as a Credit and Education Facilitator. With her salary, she supports her family and makes it possible for her younger siblings to attend school.

Mildred’s impact at Friendship Bridge

Mildred spends the early hours of her morning with her husband and six-month-old son while she gets ready for her day. She uses public transportation to travel to her first Trust Bank meeting where she is greeted by a group of Friendship Bridge clients. Friendship Bridge Trust Banks are comprised of 7-25 women who meet monthly and where they manage their group loan and participate in Non-Formal Education programming. On average, Mildred facilitates four group sessions daily. Additionally, she manages promotional activities, new loan applications and pre-credit training.

“I am a leader and an empowered woman who seeks to achieve her goals.” – Mildred

Mildred says her clients look forward to seeing her because they always learn something new and are provided with a space where they can share their life experiences with other members of the group. Mildred also values what she learns from her clients and is passionate about empowering them to be role models for their daughters and create generational change. “I feel a lot of satisfaction when clients tell me their thinking has evolved and they are using what they learned in our education sessions to help their children get ahead,” Mildred said.

Mildred is happy to be in a position where her voice is heard and where she can have a positive impact on the lives of other women, especially with their businesses. “Any time a Trust Bank has a problem, we talk and find a solution. I always give my support through educational trainings and I love seeing women take what they learn and make changes to their businesses that can help them increase their sales, successfully repay their loans, and help their families.”

Despite her busy work schedule and time spent with her family, Mildred still finds the energy to attend classes at the university. She’s now in her final year and will soon complete a degree in Special Education. Mildred would eventually like to work as a primary school teacher or professional lecturer and she’s saving to buy land and build a home. If her past accomplishments are any indication of her future ones, we have little doubt this hardworking and empowered woman will achieve anything she sets her mind to. Congratulations, Mildred! We offer our heartfelt gratitude for all that you do for Friendship Bridge and the women who are impacted by your work. And a special thanks to Whole Planet Foundation for honoring the hard work of loan officers around the world with this incredible award.

A Health Appointment at Home During a Pandemic

Meet Sandra

“Free,” said the loan officer on the other line of the phone. Sandra had just asked how much a medical appointment would cost her. “You will not be charged for the health services. And the nurse will come to your home.” Sandra was surprised and delighted. She had been a client of Friendship Bridge since 2015 but was new to the Health for Life program. For years, she and her Trust Bank met once every month in Chinique, a rural area of the Department of Quiche in Guatemala. During these meetings, a Friendship Bridge loan officer travels to her community to teach her and her group about a variety of important topics, from money and business management to women’s rights and health. The loan officer also provides loans to the women, allowing Sandra to grow her business and provide food and necessities for her husband and three children.

Last year, Sandra’s loan officer announced to the group that as a benefit of being a Friendship Bridge client, they were eligible to participate in the Friendship Bridge Health for Life program. At the time, Sandra was too busy to take part. But a few months later, right at the start of the COVID-19 crisis, her loan officer called her to check-in and explained again about the health services available to her. 

When she heard that these health services would be provided to her at no cost, she automatically felt motivated to try it. She became even more compelled to participate when she learned that the appointment would be safe and could take place in her home. Due to COVID-19, the nurses in the Friendship Bridge Health for Life program have updated the operations of in-home mobile clinic visits. To keep everyone safe, they are now making pre-screening phone calls and putting new safety protocols in place for home visits.

“Thanks to the glucose test, I know that my blood sugar is a little high and if I don’t take care of myself, diabetes can develop. I thank the nurse and Friendship Bridge for considering us and caring about our health.” – Sandra

Sandra was looking forward to prioritizing her health in a safe way. For millions of indigenous women in Guatemala, access to healthcare is inadequate and the most common diseases are preventable, such as hypertension, diabetes, and cervical cancer. “I am happy with this flexibility because it will allow me to be treated with privacy and special care in my own home,” she said. When the nurse visited Sandra’s home, she spoke in Sandra’s native Maya language to explain the range of benefits available through the Health for Life program. For the first time, she heard accurate information about COVID-19 and the necessary precautions she and her family needed to take. The nurse asked questions and started a new patient record for her. Diabetes is common in Sandra’s family, so her attention was drawn to the results of the blood sugar test. Her test results were high and the nurse recommended a healthy balanced diet. She reviewed the importance of daily exercise and advised Sandra to drink purified water more often. 

“I am very grateful to Friendship Bridge for coming to my house to take these tests, which I never imagined would be useful,” Sandra said. “Now I have to take better care of myself because, thanks to the glucose test, I know that my blood sugar is a little high and if I don’t take care of myself, diabetes can develop. I thank the nurse and Friendship Bridge for considering us and caring about our health.”

Lives like Sandra’s are forever changed after taking part in our Health for Life program, showing that even in the midst of a global pandemic, Friendship Bridge has continued to meet the needs of our clients. The women we serve are facing unimaginable hardship and right now, their need for healthcare and reliable information about COVID-19 is extreme. In 2020, our goal is to reach even more clients with in-home mobile clinic visits and expanded telehealth services. Will you donate now to help us continue providing women like Sandra with important health services? 

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Since 2015, over 9,500 women in Guatemala have received health education and services in our Health for Life program. In partnership with Maya Health Alliance, we provide culturally sensitive services using mobile clinics that travel to the villages where our clients live. Each clinic is staffed by highly-trained, female medical staff fluent in the indigenous languages our clients speak. This year, the pandemic has forced us to redesign our delivery of services. This year’s Health for Life Campaign will provide support for in-home mobile clinic visits, telehealth services via the phone, and a healthcare phone hotline for our clients.

Learn More

How we plan to use technology to serve women in Guatemala during the COVID-19 crisis

 

Everything has changed. It’s true for the whole world and for the work we do at Friendship Bridge for vulnerable women in Guatemala. All our in-person operations have stopped and in just a few short weeks, we’ve turned everything around. How did we do it?

Like you, we are using technology in new and creative ways to continue providing invaluable services to our clients. We wrote 3 weeks ago about the steps we’ve taken to prepare and support them through this challenge from afar. Not only are we calling clients to address their concerns about COVID-19, we are also striving to continue regular business operations while treating staff responsibly.

We adapted quickly, but not without costs and challenges. With your help, we are now ready to take the next step and use this time to strategically strengthen our position and continue empowering Guatemalan women to build a better life.

 

Friendship Bridge is seeking to raise $30K to support women in Guatemala through technology solutions. A group of generous donors answered our call for support and together are offering a match on all donations up to a total of $30k until May 8th 2020. Thank you to Christy and Geoff Hoyl, Katie Kitchen and Paul Kovach, and Brandi and Dave Mason for providing Friendship Bridge with this generous match. Double your gift today. Donate now to help us carry out our plan to use technology to solve the problems this crisis is creating.

 

• Although Guatemala is a poor country, many clients own a cellphone. When our facilitators call clients, they can continue their relationships with women who may be afraid and worried about how they will earn money. They can offer exemplary customer service, provide information that is accurate, show care, and comfort our clients during a time of uncertainty.

• Our calls in mid-March gave us real, on the ground information regarding the level of knowledge, clients have about the situation and their concerns. The calls gave us the opportunity to prepare clients to confront the situation, demonstrate our commitment to them, and get feedback on what might be the best solutions or interventions in response to the crisis.

 

 

 

  • We have 11 nurses in our Health for Life Program who are ready to provide telehealth services to our clients to keep them safe and informed.
  • In partnership with Maya Health Alliance, our nurses will be able to call clients to discuss symptoms, provide healthcare education, and direct women on treatments as needed. When reliable and trustworthy information is scarce in Guatemala, our clients will have access to accurate healthcare education and share it with their communities.

 

 

  • We have over 170 staff in Guatemala who will begin using our new INTRANET, our new internal communications tool, to receive timely, imperative, and streamlined organization-wide communications from Friendship Bridge online.
  • We are also using this time strategically to take advantage of remote learning opportunities during restrictive shelter-in-place orders. With the use of an online learning platform, staff will be trained on customer service, emotional intelligence, and responsible loan collections practices from the safety of their homes.

 

 

As you know, Friendship Bridge works with the poorest of the poor. We have a proven record of helping women and their families climb out of poverty and the need for microcredit will be greater than ever once this pandemic is behind us. To weather this storm, Friendship Bridge needs your help now.

Can you make a donation today? We’ll put it right to work by being Here for Her through technology solutions.

 

 

Giving Tuesday: #GivingTuesdayNow is a global day of giving and unity that has been moved up and will now take place on May 5, 2020 as an emergency response to the unprecedented need caused by COVID-19. Join the movement and donate to Friendship Bridge today.

CARES Act Charitable Giving Incentive: Includes a new above-the-line deduction (universal or non-itemizer deduction that applies to all taxpayers) for total charitable contributions of up to $300. The incentive applies to contributions made in 2020 and would be claimed on tax forms next year. The bill also lifts the existing cap on annual contributions for those who itemize, raising it from 60 percent of adjusted gross income to 100 percent.

ReFUND Colorado: Now you can give some or all of your Colorado State income tax refund to Friendship Bridge. Choose Friendship Bridge with registration number 20033005126 in the “Donate to a Colorado Nonprofit” line on your Colorado state income tax return or software. You may also share this information with your tax preparer.

Here for Her.

 

Since 1998, Friendship Bridge has stared down multiple crises while standing steadfast alongside the women we serve in Guatemala. We persevered through those challenges and emerged more resilient on the other side. Now is no exception, even as the virus responsible for COVID-19 continues to spread worldwide, presenting unknown risks to all.

Because this crisis will be especially dire for our organization and our clients, we are more committed than ever to being here for them and their families now and, most importantly, after the crisis. The health and safety of our community, staff, and women in Guatemala are at the core of our decision making. In an effort to ensure the safety of all our stakeholders, we are being proactive, compassionate and thoughtful in our response to COVID-19.

Below is an update on the situation in Guatemala and a list of just some of the measures Friendship Bridge has implemented thus far, rooted in our core values.

 

When this was written on March 24, 2020, there were 20 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Guatemala and testing for the virus has been extremely limited. Testing is only available in the nation’s capital, Guatemala City, and health experts believe the number of cases is much higher and will only continue to climb as testing becomes more available.

Honduras and Guatemala are the countries most susceptible to a large-scale outbreak due to the poor quality of their health systems. The Guatemalan government understands this and they are implementing measures like closing borders, canceling all Semana Santa activities, and closing restaurants and schools until further notice.

Guatemalan economists believe that the country is already losing nearly $128 million every day to lost productivity. Also, remittances from the U.S. (which represent nearly 13% of Guatemala’s GDP) are a vital source of income to families across the country. Although they have remained steady up until now, economists predict they will soon plummet as the economic calamity becomes widespread and intractable in the U.S., which will disproportionately affect migrant laborers.

 

Communication, Education, and Support

Mainly through phone calls and What’s App messaging, our staff has been communicating with clients to disseminate information about the Coronavirus, often hearing about it from us first. The early calls were focused on how to stay safe with proper hygiene and social distancing, information on common symptoms, and who to call if someone is sick.

 

Loan Restructuring + Grace Periods

The containment orders have a direct and negative impact on our clients’ ability to earn income. In response to growing concerns of our clients, Friendship Bridge is offering clients the option to restructure their loans to include a one-month grace period.

We also are offering prepayments with no penalties and reduced interest and are prepared to offer a two-month grace period if needed. Clients should not have to choose between making their loan payments and buying food or necessary medical supplies.

 

Suspended Travel

We have postponed our Building Bridges Gala from May 1 to Oct. 8 knowing that large gatherings are not considered to be safe now and in the coming months.

We have also suspended all business travel between the U.S. and Guatemala and suspended all Trust Bank meetings, technical training, agriculture programs, health services, and nonformal education sessions. Some branch offices remain open for support, but with reduced hours and managed by only essential staff.

 

Working Remotely + #TogetherAtHome

Most of our employees in the U.S. and Guatemala, which is approximately 175 people, are now working from home where they remain committed to getting us through this crisis while still supporting our clients. While our most critical systems are cloud-based, access to the necessary information is available with an internet connection. Access to the internet can be a challenge for many employees in rural Guatemala, but most have smart phones and can access the internet that way. It is complicated!

 

Honored Agreements + Stopped Spending

Even though the economic climate in Guatemala is highly uncertain and risky, we are honoring our agreements for March 2020 and will disperse new loans to clients that were previously approved. And we will continue to offer new loans where longer-term clients still have viable businesses.

We have canceled all organizational spending and purchasing of anything not deemed essential.

 

Open + Accurate Information

Misinformation abounds in Guatemala regarding COVID-19 and we are doing our best to counter false messaging with accurate medical guidelines to keep our clients and staff informed and safe. We continue to be transparent with our clients about their loan status and with our supporters about the steps we are taking to respond as an organization. We are constantly reviewing various financial scenarios as we make some very difficult decisions about a future no one knows for sure. These are indeed difficult and sad times for Friendship Bridge and our clients.

 

 

You have always stood by our clients and now we need you here for her more than ever. Our clients continue to be at the forefront of our decisions. Our response to our clients’ needs through restructuring of loans and deferment of payments will not be possible without your ongoing support.

We ask for your continued support through a gift today to allow Friendship Bridge to continue creating opportunities that empower Guatemalan women to build a better life.

Please contact us by email if you have any questions and please take good care of yourselves.

 

 

Got Health?

by Rachel Turner

Maria, born to subsistence farmers, didn’t remember a time in her childhood when she wasn’t working in the fields. In Guatemala, it’s not unusual for children to work in agriculture instead of attending school. This was the path Maria’s childhood took. She worked long, hard hours with sharp tools, no protection, and lots of exposure to pesticides. As she grew older, she learned to weave when she wasn’t farming. Education was never an option since there wasn’t
extra money.

Maria married a farmer who had a different vision on life. He supported Maria in her desire to attend school. After much persistence, Maria learned to read, write, and study. At 20-years-old, she graduated from sixth grade. Excited by her accomplishment, Maria determined each of her four children would attend school. While her husband farmed, Maria started a side business weaving traditional Guatemalan blouses (huipiles). A few years later, she became a Friendship Bridge client, expanding her weaving business and diversifying her income by selling tamales three days a week. She enjoyed the monthly education sessions at her repayment meetings since they gave her access business training and how to explore income options. Maria began saving her profits and after a while she had
enough to start a convenience store in her village.

“I’ve always been a weaver, and when I joined Friendship Bridge, I not only had the opportunity to have financial resources for my textile business, but I was able to start another business,” said Maria. “With the training I have been receiving, I have been able to grow my business. Thanks to the last two parallel loans I received, I have been able to increase and diversify my inventory. My husband helps me with the business, and he is so proud of me.”

Maria also received free preventive healthcare through Friendship Bridge’s Health for Life program and learned how to better her children’s nutrition.

“I feel less stressed since I’m making a profit in my businesses. I have enough food for my children and grandchildren, and I feel empowered to make good decisions,” said Maria. “We Friendship Bridge clients are lucky because the organization doesn’t just care about helping us build a business, they also care about improving our health and wellness.”

Like Maria, 78% of clients say that because of Friendship Bridge they have increased the number and quality of meals their family eats. Maria, now 54-years-old, currently houses 14 family members, and she is confident they will continue to thrive. Through programs and services, Friendship Bridge is meeting United Nations Sustainable Development Goals 2 and 3 – Zero Hunger and Good Health and Well-Being.

From Orphan to Entrepreneur – Elena empowers change

by Rachel Turner

Elena thought back to sitting outside with her grandmother as they both weaved with backstrap looms. Only a third-grader, Elena’s full-time work was weaving intricate huipiles (Guatemalan traditional blouses) and caring for chickens.  After all, in El Quiche, Guatemala, not many girls attended school after third grade. All they needed was the ability to read and write–according to family tradition. To make matters even more difficult, Elena and her four siblings had lost their parents.  Thankfully, their grandmother took them in, but it took all of them working to make ends meet.

Today at 35-years-old, Elena spends her days sitting at a treadle loom, traditionally only used by men, creating beautiful cortes (Guatemalan traditional skirts). All of those years elaborating designs for the huipiles certainly came in handy. Elena is happy. She and her husband Miguel are business partners, and they have three beautiful girls.  It had not always been this way, but after a long journey of growth, Elena finally felt they were on the right road.

Just a short time ago, Elena lived the life of a single mother while her husband worked in the United States doing construction. He couldn’t find work in Guatemala, so he left. For five long years, Elena worked her husband’s treadle loom bringing in as much income as she could. During that time, she was introduced to Friendship Bridge’s programs and services.  Suddenly, she found a support system. With the financial capital, she slowly began building her weaving business. The monthly education sessions taught her about health, business administration, and self-esteem.  Her Trust Bank (the group of women with whom she took out a loan) gave her moral support.

Five years later, when her husband was deported back to Guatemala, Elena was a different woman. She felt strong, confident in her decision-making skills. She had supported her daughters well and had plans for the future. Miguel noticed the differences and was surprised. He grew to like the new Elena. She became his greatest ally as he tried to figure out what to do next. “I told him that Friendship Bridge would continue to give us loans to improve our business,” said Elena. “We could look for more clients, improve our designs and together build our business to employ more people.” Miguel was inspired. He stopped planning how he would go back to the United States to work, and he started figuring out with Elena how they could grow a larger business. “Because of the empowerment that I gained through the years with Friendship Bridge, I was able to convince my husband not to travel to the United States again,” said Elena.

Together they have grown to employ seven people from their community. Together they have made the decision to give their daughters the education not normally afforded to girls. “I realize now that girls and boys have the same rights. We want our daughters to become professionals one day,” said Miguel. “They will achieve what my wife and I couldn’t due to the poverty we grew up in.”

Just as Elena was empowered to speak her mind, so 88% of clients say that because of Friendship Bridge they have increased the frequency of contributing opinions to important family decisions. Friendship Bridge is helping solve the problem of gender inequality through programs and services meeting the fifth United Nations Sustainable Development Goal.

 

Diversify, Study, Grow

by Rachel Turner

Being widowed can be a poverty sentence for a woman in rural Guatemala – especially when she has a child.  However, Martha was determined to create a good life for herself and for her daughter. She started a small corner store in her village but lacked the financial capital to make it flourish. She had heard about Friendship Bridge’s microcredit services and decided to check it out.  She joined a Trust Bank, a group of women borrowing together, and grew her small business into a gift store. At her monthly repayment meetings, she received training about business, health, women’s rights, and family. Over time she began to realize her potential as an entrepreneur. She continued to look for opportunities to diversify her business and knowledge which led her to Friendship Bridge workshops on baking and designing decorations.

During this time, Martha also met and married her second husband. They had two more daughters. From young ages, Martha taught her daughters that the key to achieving goals is hard work and determination.  She inspired her daughters to make education a priority by going back to school and proudly graduating from ninth grade even as she ran a store, baked cakes, and made decorations for special events.  She attended a workshop on nutrition to learn how to better care for herself and her daughters. “I want them to be healthy and focused in school,” said Martha. “Education is the foundation for the girls to be successful in their futures.”

Little by little, Martha has improved their lives through a better home, as well as a large space to receive and work with clients.

“Thanks to the loans, I have been able to diversify my business because I have the necessary financial capital to work with,” said Martha. “Now my three daughters have the opportunity to go to school. I want my daughters to have better opportunities – those that I did not have.”

Through Friendship Bridge’s programs and services, nearly 30,000 women are receiving quality education in business, health, women’s rights, and family.  Many of these women are also prioritizing their children’s education providing a foundation for their futures.  Friendship Bridge is committed to helping meet the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal number 4 – providing quality education.

Don’t Worry, Farm Happy

by Rachel Turner

Catarina awoke before daylight to prepare for the day. A small candle gave her enough light to see. She washed with water she had hauled in a bucket. She left her home as the sun was rising hoping to find enough firewood–and clients to buy it–to pay for food. Widowed, it was up to her to feed her four children. Later she would work in her tomato garden. The dry land of her home in Sacapulas didn’t always treat her crop well. But she didn’t complain. Almost everyone in her community also lived in poverty. Natural disasters were not infrequent. Climate change hit them hard in the Extended Dry Corridor of Guatemala.

This was normal life for Catarina before she found educational and financial resources through Friendship Bridge. She joined a group of women called a Trust Bank who take out a group loan and receive monthly business training. “That first loan made a big difference in my life,” said Catarina.  She used the capital to plant a small tomato farm. Later she joined the Agriculture Credit and Training Program learning from Friendship Bridge agronomists about modern farming techniques that improve crops–especially against climate change. They worked closely to identify the various agriculture risks and then introduced new techniques and technology like drip irrigation.

“I fought really hard for my family,” said Catarina. “With Friendship Bridge I found a great opportunity because before we had nothing, and the Agriculture Program helped me to produce good tomato crops. The difference the program makes here is noticeable since other people who are not part of Friendship Bridge have losses. But me and my friends in the Trust Bank have succeeded as agricultural entrepreneur women.”

Like Catarina, sixty percent of clients in the Agriculture Credit and Training Program who have received the trainings have modified their traditional methods and adopted modern ways of farming. Through this program, Friendship Bridge meets two of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals — Responsible Consumption and Production (Goal 12) and Climate Action (Goal 13). As the population is growing, resources are becoming more limited. Therefore, it is increasingly important to educate farmers on responsible uses of land resources. Learning sustainable farming practices and risk mitigation, our clients begin understanding water conservation and how to produce higher yields. In addition, they better understand their production costs and how to run their business more effectively.

For Catarina, the profits and business trainings motivated her to create a parallel income by starting a store and buying a motorcycle to distribute her products. Now she and her family enjoy basic services like running water, electricity, and telephone access. “Thank you, Friendship Bridge, for your support. We had nothing, we suffered a lot, we didn’t even have basic services,” said Catarina. “Now my sons are growing healthy. I have no worries because I have enough to have a decent living without worrying about the future.”

Rising Up: Maria’s Story

by Rachel Turner

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Passing of Rebecca Cueto

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

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