Empower women. Eliminate poverty.

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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.

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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.

 

Wildflower Hike to Cataract Lake

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By Sandie Godsman, Friendship Bridge volunteer

(Sandie is a member of the Evergreen Circle. She has been involved with Friendship bridge for 15 years and has visited Guatemala on an Insight Trip.)

The 2015 Friendship Bridge Wildflower Hike with John Fielder was a tremendous success! The hike raised $2,000 at Friendship Bridge’s Gala in April, and 20 people participated in the hike this July. We all met at the stunningly beautiful, wildflower-filled Cataract Lake area, north of Summit County at the East end of the Colorado Gore Range. We began our intimate gathering on the lake’s edge, with John sharing fascinating stories about his many hikes in the Colorado wilderness.

He shared stories of his adventures hiking into hidden places to take photographs of areas that were unknown and unseen before he published his books. He said that sometimes an elk or a bighorn sheep would stroll into the site as he was photographing. The animals seemed curious about his being there, would stare at him, and stay right there for some time while he took more photos. He decided to keep the many poses of the animal in his photos. John has a passion for preserving the wilderness, and he believes, “People need to be healthy, happy, and prosperous to be able to care for the environment.” Friendship Bridge can appreciate that health and prosperity of their clients is a priority, too.

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Each group had 75 minutes to hike with John and hear many techniques about taking great photographs using the cameras that they brought on their hike.  One participant said, “John taught me to take a photo with three parts: a close up, middle distance and far distance. That one idea really changed the way I take pictures now.” Some of the hikers shared that they had taken over 200 photos using John’s suggestions and the critical view he taught. While one group was with John, the other group was able to hike with Deborah Kramer, our Evergreen Circle Chef.  She did a great job of sharing fascinating wildflower facts and answering any questions the hikers had about the huge variety of colorful wildflowers they were able to see at Cataract Lake. After both groups were done, the participants were delighted to see an incredibly colorful presentation of the gourmet lunch spread, provided by the Evergreen Circle volunteers:

The lunch included seasoned roasted beef; pasta salad with arugula, fresh basil, and cherry tomatoes; balsamic marinated roasted vegetables; orange honey mint marinated fruits; white dinner rolls; chilled white wine; red wine; and rich chocolate butterscotch bars.

One participant said, ” I learned more about how to take better photographs in 10 minutes with John Fielder than I have in my whole lifetime of taking pictures!”

Note from Friendship Bridge: Sandie has volunteered to lead another Wildflower Hike next year in Vail! Stay tuned for more information!

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Announcing our newest branch location!

 

Committed to reaching the poor.

We remind ourselves of that every day. As part of that commitment, last month we opened our seventh branch, in the Department of San Marcos. San Marcos was chosen because of the large portion of its population that lives in poverty or extreme poverty. We’ve had a satellite office in San Marcos for the past year, and we are thrilled that it is now fully staffed and operational. Pictured below are Rodrigo (Branch Manager) and José Carlos (Facilitator) with a San Marcos client.

This is the first new branch office in more than six years, a reflection of the strength of the Credit and Operations team in Guatemala. Our 2014-2016 Strategic Plan calls for geographic expansion in Guatemala so we can reach more impoverished, rural clients. This new branch will allow us to do that, along with our satellite office in Huehuetenango, which is set to become a fully staffed branch next year. To read more about our expansion in Guatemala, take a moment to read our newly published 2014 Annual Report. Thanks for your support as we follow through on our commitment to reaching the poor and seeing empowered women eliminate poverty.

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Non-Formal Education: Motherhood and Women’s Rights (Summer 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 Friendship Bridge’s nearly 2,000 Trust Banks travel, most likely by foot, to their designated meeting place to make payments on their loans and receive a Non-Formal Education (NFE) lesson in their native languages. These lessons focus on four educational pillars – women, family, business, and health. Here’s a glimpse into what clients learned in April, May, and June.

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April – Mi Negocio Hoy (My Business Today)

No lesson was given in April. Instead the women completed the Mi Negocio Hoy survey. Mi Negocio Hoy is our most comprehensive survey in terms of client reach. Last year we surveyed 10,000 clients. It is also our longest standing survey. It has been completed annually since 2012. As a result, we now have three years of data on which to analyze trends. As the name implies, questions center around each woman’s business – the type of business she manages, the tools she uses to manage her trade, the number of employees she has, her expenses and her income. Results become part of our annual Impact Report on Social Performance Management goals. Watch for its release in early September.

May – Motherhood

In May, in observance of Mother’s Day, the women celebrated motherhood and explored the different roles a mother must perform in order to nurture her relationships with her children, all of which are easier when financial burdens are lessened. To start off the lesson, the women listened to songs on YouTube that paid tribute to mothers. They were asked to share their reactions to the songs and their own experiences being mothers. In the end, they created paper “flowers” depicting symbols of motherhood – hearts, flowers, hugs – that fit in a “vase” made from a used container they had brought from home. This activity introduced the idea of creatively reusing common household items in alternative ways that might be resold.

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June – Women’s Rights

In June, the NFE sessions focused on women’s rights. The goal was to make clients aware that human rights – equality, freedom, and dignity – belong to women as well as men. Additional rights belong to women simply because of their ability to have children. To encourage a dialogue around the topic, the women started the lesson by cutting pictures out of a newspaper that represented the rights of women. Once they identified some women’s rights, clients made lists of the first rights they can remember having won and the first rights they remember losing. Finally the women cast votes by crossing an “I agree” line on the floor for the rights they thought most important – health vs. right to life, marriage vs. freedom from violence, food vs. voting/election, among others.

Our Non-Formal Education program is the backbone of our Microcredit Plus program, and one of the Plus services that we feel truly empowers our clients. Thanks again to our Cada Mes Club for helping support this program! You can find more information about joining the Cada Mes Club here.

Here are a few client reactions to June’s session on women’s rights:

  • “It is important that we are aware of all women’s rights. It is good to share it with other ladies and not remain silent. We are worthy and DSCN8520important.” 
    - Carmen,age 56

  • “The women’s rights session helped me remember how valuable I am. This topic and all the topics taught and discussed among our group help us grow and value ourselves as women.” 
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    - Alba Alicia, age 39

  • “This specific training encouraged me a lot, and it came at a perfect time, as I separated from my husband recently. It was hard to make that decision but he was unfaithful, and out of my own dignity I decided to move forward alone with my six children. I now understand the value of women and the need to enforce our rights. Thanks, Friendship Bridge, for reminding us of that.”
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    - Juana, age 33

 

 

 

 

Tomassa and Sanidad Divina

 

photos and story collected by Robert Weigel, Kiva Field Intern

The first thing you notice about Tomassa is the warmth and the pride that practically radiate from her when she speaks. As we waited for her Trust Bank meeting to begin, she welcomed us into her home as if we were long-lost friends.

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She shared a little bit of her story as we waited for the rest of her Trust Bank to arrive. Tomassa speaks little Spanish, so a translator bridged the conversation from her native language of K’iche. Tomassa is the oldest of five children, and at age 38 she herself has mothered ten children.

One by one the members of her Trust Bank, Sanidad Divina (Divine Healing), arrived at the meeting place. It was obvious the women were excited to be together at their monthly meeting. Tomassa and the rest of the Trust Bank listened intently as the Facilitator led an education session about proper family planning.

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As the Non-Formal Education session ended, Tomassa remarked that this topic was one of her favorites that she has learned about so far. “I cherish these meetings greatly,” she said, “because as a child I never experienced any type of formal education.” As the oldest child in her family, Tomassa said she had to mature quickly and take responsibility for household chores as her father tended to the fields and her mother took care of her siblings.

Life as a Guatemalan woman was difficult, she said, but it got better when she met her future husband, a hard-working boy from her village. Tomassa said she and her husband have supported and loved each through many difficult times. She smiled and said he is the love of her life.

Tomassa’s smile widened when she recounted to us how a financial and supportive push from Friendship Bridge gave her the chance to begin her animal husbandry business. She currently owns twelve animals – two pigs, four turkeys, and six chickens. It was clear she took great pride in her work.

With her face constantly beaming with joy and her voice full of pride when she talked about her business and what she has learned through Friendship Bridge’s educational sessions, we couldn’t help but get excited, too. Here was an empowered woman who was creating a better future for herself and her family, a future she could be proud of.

The unseen side of Guatemala: Chicken Buses

The unseen side of Guatemala: Chicken Buses

By Robert Weigel, field intern

Robert is a Friendship Bridge intern in Guatemala for the summer. He is a great asset to both the U.S. and Guatemalan teams, as he has been traveling throughout Guatemala collecting client stories and photos. We’ll be sharing some of Robert’s experiences this summer on our blog. Stay tuned for more close-up looks at Guatemala!

I have been in Guatemala for a short 3 weeks and each day has been a unique adventure. So far I have been to 15 towns, written 6 stories, taken 923 photographs, and met an uncountable number of friendly people. I have been repeatedly pinching myself to make sure that I am not sleeping, because this had been such a surreal and wonderful experience.

The long trips I have taken – some requiring me to wake up at 4 a.m. – have given me the opportunity to slip into deep, meditative thought while also getting to see the beautiful countryside. To my surprise, the majority of the main roads are very smooth and well built. This does not mean that the rides themselves are smooth, however. The vessel of transportation that you will take is determined by how much you want to spend and where you want to go. Typically, I find myself riding the famous ‘chicken buses.’ Let me tell you more about them.

In the United States, it is law that a school bus may not be driven for more than 10 years. After that, the buses are not usable in the United States, so many are sent down to the US – Mexico border, where they are auctioned off to the highest bidder. From the border, those headed to Guatemala are then driven directly south until they reach the country. There, the buses go through somewhat of a “Pimp my Ride – Guatemalan Edition” – the exteriors are brightly painted, head racks are installed, loud speaker systems are hooked up, and at times, TVs are installed that play nonstop reggaeton. It’s a boisterous ride.

I could write an entire book about what an amazing spectacle the chicken buses are, but I will save that for later. Thank you all for your interest in both Friendship Bridge and my experience with them this summer. I will continue to photograph and document my travels so that you may all share this experience with me.

Combating Gender-Based Violence in Guatemala

Combating Gender-Based Violence in Guatemala

Earlier this spring, gender-based violence in Guatemala came to the public’s attention…again. Unfortunately, such violence is not new to Guatemala, and it is a reality many of our clients face.

According to a 2012 Small Arms Survey, gender-based violence is at “epidemic levels” in Guatemala. The survey ranked Guatemala third in the killings of women worldwide. According to the United Nations, an average of two women are murdered in Guatemala each day.

There are many reasons women face such high rates of gender-based violence in Guatemala. One of the major contributions is the legacy of violence left in place after Guatemala’s 36-year civil war. Throughout decades of war, numerous atrocities were committed against women, who were viewed as the lesser gender. This patriarchal view persists today, manifesting itself in a culture of machismo and acceptance of violence against women.

Most of those who disappeared or were killed during Guatemala’s conflict were indigenous – like most our clients. And even in the years after the war, women and indigenous populations are still victims of violence and terror. Extreme poverty, coupled with this legacy of violence and weak law enforcement and judicial systems, means Guatemala still has one of the highest rates of violent crime in Central America.

Our mission is to empower women in Guatemala to create better futures for themselves, their children, and their communities through microcredit and education. One of the pillars of our nonformal education curriculum is women’s rights. Through these education sessions, we bolster women’s self esteem and increase their knowledge of their basic rights. We want our clients to feel empowered to challenge harmful social norms and become engaged as role models of positive change.

Otilia Margarita Sánchez López (in photo above, on left) is a Friendship Bridge client who faced abuse and neglect from her father when she was a young girl. Today, through the loans, education, and services Friendship Bridge has offered her, she is a successful, empowered entrepreneur. Otilia is even serving as a role model for her sister, who has recently exited a psychologically abusive relationship.

Gender-based violence is a pervasive issue, but it can be eliminated. We empower women to stand up against violent crimes against them and advocate for positive change in their communities and nation.