Empower women. Eliminate poverty.

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Our Leader Clients: Lorena

Leaders: The highest stage of development on our Client Continuum.  Leaders are women who are not only experiencing empowerment, but are using it to inspire institutional change in their communities. These women have the business skills to innovate and run larger businesses, and may be searching for expanded markets. They dream big and believe that with the right training and financial products, they can achieve their goals. 

At age 40, Lorena is an unstoppable force. As a Friendship Bridge client, Lorena quickly demonstrated leadership and business skills and was elected president of her Trust Bank. Her determination and grit come from a lifetime of fighting the odds stacked against her.

Although her family was poor, Lorena fought to advance to the 9th grade. When her mother became ill, Lorena had to stop attending school and support her family. She married at age 19, but her husband was an alcoholic who avoided taking DSC06733responsibility for their five children.

Summoning up her courage and determination, Lorena worked several jobs to support her children’s education. She took the advice of a neighbor and started a new business selling sausages. The business was immediately successful and demand for her products increased. Needing to expand her business, Lorena approached Friendship Bridge for a loan. With her loans she began to diversify her products and began to sell sausage, ham, cheese, and refacciones, or snacks. Thanks to her business success, all of her children remain in school. Her oldest is finishing a degree in law and the others are in high school.

Because of her leadership abilities, Lorena was selected to participate in Friendship Bridge’s pilot mentor program, where she learned skills to build her business and have impact in the community. “After the training, I have increased self-confidence and a clearer vision for the future,” Lorena said.

Lorena now has a better understanding of her business margins, how to increase customer service and satisfaction, and how to market to more customers. Lorena also feels more organized after working with the mentor and can better carry out her business plan.

Lorena participates at a high level in her community. When a disease broke out in nearby communities, she was proactive and made arrangements with a Guatemalan congresswoman to have vaccinations given in the communities to cure and prevent the illness. Lorena is committed to being a change-maker in her community and her country. She is dreaming big and achieving her goals.

Our Entrepreneur Clients: Otilia

Otilia - Entrepreneur client. Otilia produces jams and jellies using her own award-winning recipe. She has been invited to present her products at fairs in Guatemala City and Los Angeles, California. The middle stage of development on our Client Continuum. Entrepreneurs are often women who are beginning to experience higher levels of social and economic empowerment and are creating a vision for what they want. They tend to invest their earnings into home improvements and are beginning to save so they can better weather economic and health related shocks. As entrepreneurs, they are growing their businesses, engaging the community, and may even have the ability to hire others.

Otilia is a woman driven to overcome any obstacle. Born into a large family, Otilia was abused and neglected by her father, who didn’t allow her to attend school. Otilia was determined to build a better future for herself, so she moved to a more urban area in search of a job and a chance for an education.

Otilia married and had five children, but her husband was financially irresponsible and struggled with alcoholism in the early years of their marriage. In order to provide for her children, Otilia started a business selling snack items. Unfortunately the profits were small. Through the support of her Friendship Bridge Trust Bank, Otilia attended Advanced Education and Technical Training and learned about canning vegetables and making jams. Inspired by what she learned, Otilia developed her own jam recipe, which she called “Canned Margarita.” Her first sales were extremely successful, and nearby shops and bakeries quickly began placing orders.

Following her business success, Otilia hired two employees. She has attended several fairs for entrepreneurs in Guatemala City and has been invited to share her story and her products at a fair in Los Angeles, California. Otilia has received numerous honors and diplomas for her business success. To Otilia, though, the success she is most proud of is being able to send her children to school. Her oldest son is currently pursuing an engineering degree, and her other children are in secondary school.

Otilia reflects often on her achievements and is thankful to Friendship Bridge for enabling her to grow as an entrepreneur. “My clients drive me to progress as a businesswoman. It is very satisfying to me when high profile people buy and enjoy my products. My children are also proud of me, and they are advancing their education. I have learned so much – to be organized with my time, to manage my budget, and to send my children to school. This is all thanks to the training I received from Friendship Bridge.”

Otilia belongs to three community groups and is often invited to share her experiences at meetings. She is also serving as an example to her sister, who has recently exited an abusive relationship. Otilia is always looking for new opportunities and knocking on new doors. She is proud of the success she has achieved, but she is looking to grow even more. Otilia is on her way to becoming a Leader.

Head to our YouTube channel to watch Otilia share her story.

To learn about the first level of development on our Client Continuum, read last week’s blog about Cruz, a Dreamer client.  Next week we will be featuring a client at the highest level of development on our Continuum.

2014 Impact Report – Expanding the Bridge: Opening Pathways of Empowerment

IR coverThis month we published our second annual Impact Report, a document that shares a variety of results from our Microcredit Plus program – some suggestive, some positive, and some from which to learn. This document guides our strategy toward fulfilling our social mission of empowering impoverished Guatemalan women to create better future for themselves, their families, and their communities through microfinance and education.

In 2014, our results show Microcredit Plus is increasing the agency of our clients. With increased agency our clients know what they want, believe they can achieve it, and are able to take action to realize it. Read our online report to learn more about outcomes related to our clients’ capacity over financial decisions, for economic change, and to aspire for a better future.

A few highlights from the 2014 Impact Report:

  • 90% of clients report taking on a leadership role since becoming a Friendship Bridge client
  • Clients who invested in clean stoves through Friendship Bridge’s CrediSalud loan saved $37/month (72%) in fuel expenditures each month. These clients also saw several positive outcomes related to health and children’s school attendance.
  • More than 1,000 students were supported through CrediEscolar loans for education. From 2013 to 2014, clients’ enrollment of dependent children between ages 7 and 13 increased 17%.
  • Clients who utilize a Plus service such as Advanced Training, CrediSalud, or CrediEscolar experience more positive change in their poverty status.
  • 95% of our clients feel their income has increased or stabilized. Over half report they have either started saving or increased their savings.

These outcomes from 2014 are shaping our strategy as we moves forward with our Social Performance Management goals. Our results are leading us to understand poverty with a wider lens – one that encompasses more than just financial outcomes. We are excited to see positive results as clients utilize our Plus services and participate in our program through multiple loan cycles. As we learn from our findings year-to-year we will be increasingly able to expand the bridge and open pathways of empowerment to even more women.

Read the full report here.

Our Dreamer Clients: Cruz

Dreamer: The earliest stage of development on our Client Continuum. Dreamers are often new to the Friendship Bridge program. Most of them are just beginning to experience increased confidence and family decision-making. Their priorities are usually beginning to shift from basic survival to education for their children and healthier standards of living. Not surprisingly, one of the first things they do with their earnings is provide better nutrition for their families and put their children in school.


IMG_5534Born into a poor family of 11 children, Cruz did not have many aspirations for her life. Her father struggled with alcoholism and did not support the family, so rather than attend school, Cruz had to work every day in the fields to ensure her family had enough food to eat.

Cruz’s life followed the typical pattern of a Guatemalan woman, and she married young, at age 18. She had seven children, but two died very young. Because she had not attended school, Cruz learned to weave in order to support her family, like her mother had done. “I had to accept learning my mom’s job, and now it has become my business. I am grateful for my mother’s teachings. She fought very hard for me and my sister to become good weavers.”

However, in order to give her daughters a chance for a better future, Cruz needed more capital to grow her business. She heard about Friendship Bridge from two women in her community who were Friendship Bridge clients, and she applied for a loan and joined a Trust Bank. In addition to her loan, Cruz says the monthly Non-Formal Education sessions have been very valuable, and she has especially benefited from trainings on health, hygiene, family planning, self-esteem, and wise investing.

With her Friendship Bridge loans, Cruz has been able to grow her small weaving business and send her five daughters to school. She is proud of giving them a chance at a better future, and Cruz says her experience with Friendship Bridge has brought her much satisfaction and joy. “Thanks to my small business and my loans, I am improving my quality of life,” she says. Cruz is also proud that she and her husband have been able to build a larger home to create more space for their family and her business.

“Friendship Bridge has been instrumental in my journey to create a business and generate income. My entire family has benefited from my loans,” says Cruz. The loans and the education Friendship Bridge offers have increased Cruz’s confidence as a woman and given her more hope for her future, key characteristics of our Dreamer clients.

A new experience, a new chapter – The experience of a Friendship Bridge Intern

By Nicole Brajevich, 2015 Marketing and Treasury Intern

This year I had the honor and privilege of working with Friendship Bridge as both Marketing and Treasury Intern. I am entering my second and last year as a graduate student at the University of Denver’s Josef Korbel School of International Studies, where I am studying Global Finance, Trade, and Economic Integration with focuses in International Development and International Administration. I am also in the process of receiving a Global Business and Corporate Social Responsibility certificate.

I was introduced to Friendship Bridge in March 2015 through a course at the Korbel School. As part of the curriculum, students acted as consultants to NGOs of their choosing in the Denver community. I chose Friendship Bridge because of my interest in poverty alleviation, women’s empowerment, entrepreneurship, Latin America, and because I wanted to learn more about the microfinance industry. Friendship Bridge was the perfect fit.

My DU consulting group researched peer-to-peer (P2P) crowdfunding for Friendship Bridge. My subsequent internship continued this work by assisting with the crowdfunding campaign that launched September 1st. Within a few short meetings, we had determined a focus for the campaign – Friendship Bridge’s pilot healthcare program Salud para la Vida (Health for Life). I learned a lot about the healthcare program through this campaign and a lot about my own preventative health. The statistics behind the campaign really struck me: “cervical cancer is the second most common cancer affecting women in Guatemala” and “64% of indigenous women reported that they did not wish to have children in the next two years, yet only 10% have access to contraception.”

Marketing intern standing in front of a crowdfunding thermometer.

Nicole standing next to our crowdfunding thermometer — we exceeded the $25,000 goal and raised $30,000.


In addition to helping with the crowdfunding campaign, I uploaded and organized thousands of photos to an online database so Friendship Bridge could easily find appropriate photos for each blog post, annual report, appeal, and social media post. Looking through these photos gave me a better understanding of the work Friendship Bridge does in Guatemala. Many clients looked happy and empowered, some were hard at work, and others were meeting with their Trust Banks. Many lives have been changed through Friendship Bridge and I cannot wait to see how Salud para la Vida will continue to have an impact on the lives of many more clients.

In my role as Treasury Intern, I assisted with several projects. First, I researched the current economic and political environment of Guatemala for the purposes of preparing two items: a “State of Guatemala Report” for the CEO to share with the Board of Directors and an economic indicator monitoring process that will help the Finance Committee better understand currency exchange risks. Second, I utilized the MIX Market financial and social performance database to benchmark Friendship Bridge against 18 other Latin American MFIs. The data will be shared with Friendship Bridge’s Board and utilized in other ways within the organization. And finally, I researched other Latin American Kiva field partners for the purpose of monitoring and potentially improving Friendship Bridge’s performance. Overall, my work has helped Friendship Bridge better understand the environment in which it operates.

I believe Friendship Bridge is a model for what people should think of when the term “microfinance” is mentioned. I saw this at their 25th Anniversary Gala, during which the support and passion of 300 guests illuminated the room. Friendship Bridge does more than just hand out loans; they are improving the lives of many Guatemalan women through various programs, training, and education through their Microcredit Plus program which touches on all sectors of life. It takes a team to get where Friendship Bridge is today and passion, inclusive consulting, and listening to what their clients want is key to their success.

Friendship Bridge is making a difference, and they let me help them make a difference. My internship was not just “busy work,” but work that was used and distributed throughout Friendship Bridge. I learned more than I could have ever imagined and I felt like I made an impact. As I begin a new chapter in my education, I will take with me all the knowledge and success I have learned here. This was a dream internship and I hope to continue making a difference in our world.

Non-Formal Education: Budgeting, Saving, and Reflecting on Sexual Rights (Summer/Fall 2015)

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 – Budgeting

A necessity when developing a successful business is creating a budget to manage cash flow. Our clients identified the expenses and incomes of a fictional Guatemalan woman who needs wood for her stove, receives money from her sister in the U.S., sends her son to school with a new notebook, buys bananas for the chocobananos she sells at the market, and picks up a pair of shoes for her daughter. The women then practiced tallying the expenses and incomes in separate columns so they could subtract expenses from revenue. A discussion about which expenses would be considered an investment (an encyclopedia or a trip to the movie) rounded out the meeting.

August – Saving

Piggy-backing the prior month’s lesson on budgeting, in August our clients considered what to do with money left over after expenses are paid. To bolster the idea of being ready for the unexpected, a list of 10 events such as weddings, disease, school, and old age were presented in a big chart. The women were asked to place markers on the events that cannot be expected. Each woman went home with a piggy bank she made from a plastic bottle – cap for a snout, tail glued on, slot cut in the top.

September – Sexual/Reproductive Rights

Ensuring that our clients are aware of their right to autonomous control over all matters relating to sexuality, including health, childbearing, and consent was the goal of this lesson. In an effort to encourage personal care, the women began by assessing the main parts of the female body and commenting on why each is appreciated. For example, “My hands allow me to greet and caress.” Next the women reflected on the various messages they may have received about their sexuality via family, school, and the media. Some messages included: only the woman is responsible for her sexual health, a discussion on sex refers to couples only, family planning is wrong, and a gynecological visit is required only once after the start of menstruation. Lively discussion due to differences of opinion was expected and encouraged.

Here are a few client reactions:

  • FELICIANA CANO GRAVE DE OSORIO“I chose the figure of the breasts because it is an essential part at the birth of a baby, and this is the best food that our children receive since they come to earth. I have heard about breast cancer, so that it is good to do checks ups.”
    - Feliciana, age 68

  • “The topic about savings is extremely important to implement, and it is much better if we include our children, sEUGENIA IBET MERIDA VILLAGRANo they can grow with this habit.”

    - Eugenia, age 32 (pictured with her sons and her piggy bank)

Leaving no one behind: Sustainable Development Goals

by Dana Bruxvoort de Andres, Jeanne Crump, and Nicole Brajevich

More information about Friendship Bridge’s social performance will be published in October 2015 in their Impact Report.

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Today marks the beginning of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the end of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). The MDGs have had mixed results – they’ve spurred many successes, but there remains many areas of growth. As the international community reflects on these eight goals and focuses on a new set of (SDGs), Friendship Bridge has also been reflecting – on the ways our work fit into the framework of the MDGs and how we can contribute to the areas of global development that need more growth through the SDGs. Below are the eight MDGs and how our work has supported each.

1.) Eradicate Extreme Poverty and Hunger – The majority of Friendship Bridge clients surveyed have reported their microloan helped them buy more or better food for their family. Clients who access Plus services through our Microcredit Plus program are 4% better off in our poverty index.

2.) Achieve Universal Primary Education – Our CrediEscolar loan provides the funds needed to pay for expenses associated with children’s schooling, thus keeping our clients’ children in school. 26% of clients who accessed this loan had no education themselves, but are now supporting their children’s education.

3.) Promote Gender Equality and Empower Women – Our monthly Non-Formal Education sessions include topics on women’s rights and empowerment. One of our clients said that although women in past generations have been marginalized, “Now I ask for or demand what is mine by my rights and those of my children.” With each loan cycle, clients are 19% more likely to report taking on a leadership role, indicating increased agency.

4.) Reduce Child Mortality – Healthy behavior and family nutrition is a part of our Non-Formal Education curriculum. Our CrediSalud loan helps women purchase clean burning wood stoves, which has proven to reduce children’s health problems related to smoke inhalation and burns.

5.) Improve Maternal Health – A new health services program provides STI screening for pregnant women as well as counseling about and access to family planning methods.

6.) Combat HIV/AIDS, Malaria and Other Diseases – In 2015 we began piloting a preventative health services program that will give our clients access to testing and follow-up support for HIV/AIDs, cervical cancer, breast cancer, hypertension, and diabetes.

7.) Ensure Environmental Sustainability – We’ve developed a pilot Agriculture Farm to Market Access program to offer more sustainable and efficient production methods to our agriculture clients.

8.) Global Partnership for Development – We partner with local Guatemalan organizations (experts in their fields) to provide services like healthcare, Mentorship, and Advanced Education to our clients.

The MDGs boast remarkable gains – such as halving the number of people living in extreme poverty, drastically reducing child mortality, and halving the number of out-of-school children. But despite these gains, more growth needs to be seen in areas such as gender equality, women’s and children’s health, and access to family planning. These are just a few of the areas that this next set of goals – the Sustainable Development Goals – will focus on. Our work involves many of those areas through the reach of our Microcredit Plus program.

We lend only to women, and we’re advancing gender equality by providing women access to financial services, increasing their agency, and encouraging them to aspire for their futures. Our vision is to see empowered women eliminate poverty. In addition to financial capital, we promote gains of social and human capital through our Microcredit Plus program so women are holistically empowered to create better futures. 90% of our clients report taking on a leadership role in their Trust Banks, families, or communities.

We’re also advancing health and access to family planning through Salud para la Vida, our women’s preventative health program launched in 2015. Salud para la Vida is designed to counter the specific healthcare challenges our rural, indigenous clients in Guatemala face. Through this program our clients receive health education and can access preventative health services such as diabetes and hypertension screenings, breast and cervical exams, Pap smears, and access to family planning methods.

“Leaving no one behind” is the goal for the SDG agenda. As the international community embarks on another 15-year journey toward achieving the 17 SDGs, we’re committed to do our part in making sure no one gets left behind – especially women.

Reflections on my experience as a Kiva Field Intern

By Robert Weigel, Friendship Bridge Kiva Intern (summer 2015)

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My three months in Guatemala have now ended, and this has been one of the best experiences of my life. Panajachel and Guatemala have stolen my heart and turned me into a Chapín. I will gladly jump at any chance to return to the beautiful town on the shores of Lake Atitlan.

I have been challenged in many ways in my role of Friendship Bridge Kiva Intern. Punctuality, conversational Spanish, and myriad responsibilities proved to be daily struggles, but all have improved as my journey progressed.

I have gained useful knowledge in how to traverse through the intricate Guatemalan public transportation system that efficiently combines “chicken” buses, boats, micro-shuttles, beds of pick-up trucks, backs of motorcycles, taxis, and rickety tuk-tuks. I am able to share coveted ‘backpacker knowledge’ about which routes to take where, which ones to avoid, and how much you should pay for them.

But what has left the greatest impact on me is the tenacity and robust directional disposition that is held by the Facilitators of Friendship Bridge. Every time I went into the field, I found myself in unfamiliar territory where I was greeted and guided ably by Tomassa, Esteban, Gloria, and a number of other incredible Facilitators. They guided me in two ways – down byzantine paths to the remote meeting locations and through the incredible Friendship Bridge educational and personal development trainings.

Each route was decisively known by the exact alleys to cut through, the exact doors to open, and the exact houses to meet at. Now this may seem like a ubiquitous skill in the United States, but when your points of reference are as absurd as a cow in a field or a recently hung political sign, it becomes a bit more challenging.

And not only are these amazing people required to know each and every house, they also must have the energy to meet with multiple groups of clients a day and present the specific Non-Formal Education session of that month. Some days last up to twelve hours for the Facilitators. I found myself exhausted after the first four at times!

Keep in mind the only job I had was to photograph and write about the events, while the Facilitators were doing the actual work. The men and women of Friendship Bridge who do this on a daily basis are some of the most inspiring people I have ever met. Never did I come into contact with a Facilitator who was not smiling or did not love what they do.

I made dozens of new friends between the players on local soccer teams to expats to the hundreds of other travelers with whom I crossed paths. This summer has provided a unique chance to grow and become a part of the amazing culture that is Guatemala. I am beyond excited for whoever gets the life-changing opportunity to experience this awesome organization and this magnificent country.


Below are a few of the incredible photos Robert took this summer in Guatemala


Estaban, a Friendship Bridge Facilitator for the San Marcos branch

Estaban, a Friendship Bridge Facilitator for the San Marcos branch

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Sunset over Lake Atitlan

Sunset over Lake Atitlan

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The Internship That Keeps Giving

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Jeanne Crump, Social Performance Intern & Treasury Intern

After making the decision to return to school after nearly six years in the “real world,” I wasn’t sure how rewarding or valuable another internship would be. I’ve worked in marketing, communications, journalism, and public relations, and well, I’ve had an internship or two. But, as required by my graduate program, I would have to secure an internship for credit to graduate.

Within a few weeks of beginning the Master’s program in International Development at the University of Denver, I came across Adelante, an organization that provides microloans to women in Honduras. The idea of microfinance lit a spark in me like any great idea would, and I knew I’d found the field I would pursue work in. After exchanging a few emails with Adelante’s director, I was told there wasn’t an internship program in place (at the time), and was quickly in search of another opportunity. A professor of mine suggested reaching out to Friendship Bridge, as she always spoke highly of their performance and what they continue to accomplish in Guatemala. I jumped at chance of using the contacts she had provided, and reached out to Caitlin, the Social Performance Manager.

This past January I started interning at Friendship Bridge in the Social Performance department. I assisted with research and data organization and analysis. One project that was especially rewarding was researching existing monitoring methods of agricultural development programs for smallholder farmers. With the launch of our new Agriculture Farm to Market Access Program, I was looking for resources that could help us create our methodology for measuring progress of our clients and effectiveness of the program. In addition, I helped analyze survey data results and compile a report about a loan product we offer, CrediSalud, that assists clients in purchasing a clean-burning, ventilating stove. I also (if reluctantly) learned how to use a few fancy Excel tools (hooray for V-Lookups!).

Yet, perhaps just as important was the fact that my work in class was supplemented by the work I was doing at Friendship Bridge, and I felt that my worlds were aligning in an almost perfect way. I continually felt stimulated and proud of the new work I was doing both in school and at the organization, and the crossover made me appreciate this internship for its incredible value.

But, my time at Friendship Bridge doesn’t end there! In May I was offered the chance to stay with the organization as the Treasury Intern. Now, as someone who has close to zero professional knowledge of finance or accounting (and sometimes still counts on their fingers), my first response was, “I don’t think I’m the right fit.” Rebecca (the Treasury Manager), assured me I’d do great, so I reconsidered and decided to dive in with my newly minted Excel skills.

It’s hard to sum up what this internship offered me in a few short sentences. Every month I updated the financials in our loan portfolio workbook, which was beyond overwhelming at the start, but gave me incredible insight into financial management. I conducted extensive research on Currency Exchange Risk and created a dashboard of indicators that would be used to monitor Guatemala’s economic, social, and political environment so the organization can better assess their risk. My capstone project consisted of compiling financial and social performance data on 20 other microfinance organizations within the Latin American region so we could benchmark it against our own performance. I then helped conduct an analysis of our financial and portfolio management performance against the other MFIs.

Not only did I learn more in this role than I could have feasibly imagined, my work was used and distributed at the annual Board meeting and Finance Committee meeting, and has informed our CEO on various occasions. That is what I would define as a useful and rewarding internship.

Perhaps one of the best outcomes for me personally was the barriers I broke throughout the past seven months. We can so easily be conditioned by our experiences as a child or teenager, or even an undergraduate, that we are good at some things and bad at others. The opportunities I was given at Friendship Bridge broke down that conditioning and renewed my desire to keep learning and growing (even if it involves seemingly scary things like exchange risk exposure!).

I’m happy to end this reflection as one of the newest Friendship Bridge employees. In the position of Grants Coordinator I am working to establish new partnerships – and develop the existing ones – for grant funding by writing diligently about our programs and the work we do to improve the lives of impoverished Guatemalan women. I am grateful for the continued opportunity to work with such an outstanding organization in a field I believe has – and will continue to – make a real difference in the lives of others. I’m thrilled I’m able to do that at Friendship Bridge.

Reflections on my experiences as a Friendship Bridge intern

by Madeleine Kane, Salud para la Vida intern

The bed leans precariously on three wooden legs and a stove base. There are two chairs, and just enough room to stretch your arms out in both directions. On top of the bed lay a few consent forms, a glucometer, a speculum, disposable gloves, a few bottles of pills and cotton swabs, and a hazardous waste container. Ana, the Wuqu’ Kawoq nurse, smiles at me with a stethoscope around her neck as I snap pictures and she talks quietly in Quiché with a client. To get here, Ana told me to tell the chicken bus driver that I wanted to get off at the 115th kilometer after Los Encuentros (just outside Sololá if you are familiar with the area), then walk off the side of the highway onto an unmarked dirt path. My only clue was that this path was underneath a certain political billboard. From there I followed a Friendship Bridge client down to her house, where Ana was waiting for us both.

This is what preventative healthcare looks like for 11 Friendship Bridge clients in Chulimán. Earlier that month at their monthly loan repayment meeting the Trust Bank participated in a Non-Formal Education session about cervical cancer and the importance of receiving Pap smears, a service that is now available to them as a benefit of being clients of Friendship Bridge. It’s too early to tell exactly what the impact of the education and the mobile clinics are, but 10 out of 11 women made it to their “appointment” with Ana that day and most chose to have a Pap smear.

My name is Madeleine Kane and for the past two months I’ve been interning with Salud Para la Vida, Friendship Bridge’s newest project focusing on creating better access to preventative healthcare for our clients. It’s one of three new projects that Friendship Bridge is rolling out as part of its commitment to holistic empowerment and poverty eradication among rural Guatemalan women. I graduated from Stanford in June 2014 with a degree in Human Biology (concentrating in Community Health) and worked in municipal community engagement in the Bay Area this past year before arriving in Guatemala during the middle of the launch of Salud Para la Vida.

Salud Para la Vida focuses on giving clients health education sessions through their regular monthly Trust Bank meetings and linking them with preventative health services offered by Maya Health Alliance, or, as they’re known locally, Wuqu’ Kawoq. I’ve been working with Amy, our Health Project Coordinator, and other Friendship Bridge staff to support four main aspects of the project – health education curriculum, field observations, data and survey work, and infrastructure development.

On different days I’ve found myself helping create the materials for a game that teaches clients how much sugar is in their favorite soda, or traveling by chicken bus and pickup truck to remote villages to watch education sessions with Trust Banks. I’ve hunched over endless Excel spreadsheets and graphs and worked directly with Wuqu’ Kawoq staff to iron out the little details like creating billing procedures. It’s not all exciting. But it all leads to moments that are improving women’s health in very real ways. It leads back to that little room where a woman is about to receive a Pap smear with a stove standing in for stirrups. It leads to the moment when a woman looks up in shock during an education session and swears off giving her children orange soda after finding out it has over 15 tablespoons of sugar per bottle.

In a country where cervical cancer is the second most common cancer among women, yet 78% of Mayan women aged 17-49 report never having had a Pap smear, we are encouraged that in the first seven days of mobile clinics, 92 Friendship Bridge clients decided to have their Pap smear test done. Thousands more clients in the Sololá region have heard these Non-Formal Education sessions on cervical cancer, diabetes, and family planning. As the clinics continue to roll out to each Trust Bank in the Sololá region, we expect to hear many more success stories, and many more challenges. The work is only just beginning, and I’m grateful to have been a part of its launch.

At the end of the day, whether they’re working on curriculums, generating reports or offering clinics out in the field, the Friendship Bridge and Wuqu’ Kawoq staff working on this project are quite literally saving lives. I’ve been inspired every day by the passion here to continue to make sure that Friendship Bridge clients are not just surviving, but thriving.

Felicitaciones a todos, gracias por tenerme aquí, ¡y adelante con el buen trabajo!
(Congratulations to everyone, thank you for having me here, and let’s continue with the good work!)

Clients learn about nutrition during a Non-Formal Education session. Here they are learning about the sugar content in soda and how sugar relates to diabetes. Salud para la Vida includes four education sessions about topics related to preventative health.

A client draws eyes on the outline of a body. This exercise at a Non-Formal Education session asked women to draw a part of the body they were thankful for.

A nurse in one of the mobile health clinics gets ready for a day of work. Friendship Bridge clients earn the benefit of accessing preventative health services for free after two successful loan cycles. The services are delivered via mobile clinics that travel to the villages where clients live. The clinics are operated by female medical staff who speak the same indigenous languages as Friendship Bridge clients.

Reflections on my experience as a Friendship Bridge Development Intern

by Zoe Seward, Summer 2015 Development Intern

My name is Zoe Seward. I’m a sophomore at NYU studying business and political economics, and I was a Development intern for Friendship Bridge this summer. I first got involved with Friendship Bridge as a freshman in high school, when the organization let me conduct an interview with them via Skype for my capstone Spanish project. When I developed an interest in the microfinance industry five years later, I immediately thought of Friendship Bridge as the perfect way to explore the sector. While the microfinance industry as a whole has weathered some serious criticism in recent years, Friendship Bridge is virtually unimpeachable, and is improving women’s lives in areas far beyond mere financial inclusion.

Over the summer, I worked on two major projects. First I did extensive research into 20-30 MFIs in Bolivia and Peru. I was looking for organizations with viable agricultural lending models for Friendship Bridge to incorporate into its existing credit products. The Bolivian microfinance sector is one of the most developed in the world, and places heavy emphasis on agricultural lending in particular. Agriculture requires unique financial structures because it is such a high risk sector, and because it takes such a long time for farmers to see return on investment. Friendship Bridge was looking to collaborate with one or two Latin American organizations with effective agricultural lending programs to more effectively reach its poorest clients, and my research was the first step in that process.

Second, I wrote an Executive Summary of the organization to apply for a major industry impact investing loan. This loan would allow Friendship Bridge to achieve the goals outlined in its 2014-2016 Strategic Plan, including the expansion of its Health, Artisan and Agricultural programs. Writing the Executive Summary was the perfect way to learn how an effective microfinance organization operates from the inside out.

Hopefully, the projects I worked on will eventually have a measurable impact on the women Friendship Bridge serves through the expansion of the Agricultural program and the organization as a whole. In the short term, it was exciting to see Friendship Bridge’s CEO & President, Karen Larson, inform her exploratory trip down to Bolivia based on my suggestions, and incredibly satisfying to have a dense six-page loan application to show for my work.

This experience defied all internship stereotypes. While there was definitely some stamp-licking and data-entry, the staff at Friendship Bridge went out of their way to make sure that I was involved in meaningful projects and that I got to learn about the inner workings of the organization and the industry as a whole. I got so much out of this experience, and I hold the women that I had the privilege to work with in the highest esteem.

A Reflection on my Experience as the Volunteer Management Intern

By Sarah Quiat, Volunteer Management Intern (Summer 2015)

When people asked me what I was doing with my summer, and I would tell them that I was working as an intern at Friendship Bridge, they would almost always nod their heads vaguely. I would then try to articulate my experience with Friendship Bridge this summer.

On my first day at Friendship Bridge, I stuffed envelopes with another intern in order to get the Spring Appeal out the door. Without even realizing it, I began my work with Volunteer Management, gaining a perspective on one of many forms of volunteering at Friendship Bridge that I would find myself constantly working to make more efficient in numerous ways. In my time at Friendship Bridge, I created a comprehensive Volunteer Management manual, automated the system of responding to volunteers, and created a method of communication between Friendship Bridge and its volunteers and interns once they have completed their work here. I updated the Volunteer Opportunities and Internships pages of the website, and I spent a lot of time incorporating the data associated with volunteers into Friendship Bridge’s database: updating the names and contact information of volunteers and interns, adding searchable designations for the work volunteers are interested in doing, and recording the time frames volunteers worked for FB.


Sarah Quiat, Summer Intern

Along the way, I worked on the Artisan Access to Market project that Friendship Bridge is piloting, so that the artisanal crafts made by Friendship Bridge clients can be sold not only in Guatemala, but all over the world. Using Excel, we detailed every aspect of the beautiful work made by clients. My work will allow Friendship Bridge’s Circles to “shop” for the client products they would resell in the States.

Though my work with the Volunteer Management program may not directly impact all of the individual women who are clients at Friendship Bridge, the program I created will help Friendship Bridge to take best advantage of the volunteers who are vital to Friendship Bridge’s existence. Interns and volunteers help in a myriad of ways that allow Friendship Bridge to reach so many more clients and donors than it could without them.

I have learned so much from my time at Friendship Bridge. It has been so empowering to be in an office of women who are working to help other women feel empowered. It has strengthened the idea for me that people, and more specifically women, are capable of creating beautiful change in this world. Working here and seeing the incredible impact that this organization has had for women in Guatemala, I feel confident that, as a woman, I am capable of so much more than I often let myself believe. Additionally I have felt so connected to so many people I have never even met, for the ambition and entrepreneurship that I read about, and for the drive and volunteerism that I saw as I worked to create the Volunteer Management program.

Thank you, Friendship Bridge, for the opportunity that you gave me: to feel so closely bonded to every person who has contributed something beautiful to this organization, and also to this beautiful organization itself. It has been a powerful summer.


Sarah Quiat will be a sophomore at Vassar College this upcoming fall, with an intended Economics major. She is from Boulder, Colorado, and is deeply passionate about hiking, the artwork of Frida Kahlo, spreadsheets, and creating spaces for those who feel voiceless to speak.