Empower 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.” 
    - 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.”
    - 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.

International Day of Families

International Day of Families

This Friday, May 15, is the International Day of Families. This year’s theme is gender equality and children’s rights. Globally, discrimination against women is often built into legal frameworks and government policies. Sometimes this can manifest itself in familial violence, whether physical or psychological. In other cases it means denial of access to education – for both women and their children. It could also mean malnutrition, little or no access to healthcare, and a host of other harsh realities.

We can’t deny these sobering facts, but we continue to be committed to changing them.

Our loan products…are promoting gender equality by giving women access to financial services. These loans help women build their businesses, keep their children in school, and invest in health.

Our nonformal education program…is giving women more confidence to build their businesses, know their rights, and care for their families.

Our Health for Life program…is bringing preventative healthcare and health education to rural, indigenous women who are traditionally underserved by Guatemala’s healthcare system.

As we reflect on this year’s of International Day of Families, we’re standing with families in Guatemala and around the world. We’re standing for gender equality, empowerment, and the elimination of poverty. Will you stand with us to help make these things a reality?

Thanks for making our 25th Anniversary Gala a success!

Thanks for making our 25th Anniversary Gala a success!

Mother’s Day is just around the corner. At Friendship Bridge we celebrate women every day – women as mothers, sisters, wives, and entrepreneurs. This Mother’s Day, consider honoring mothers in Guatemala with a gift to Friendship Bridge. Your Mother’s Day gift is investment that will change lives and empower more women and their families today and in the future.

A couple weeks ago on April 23, Friendship Bridge celebrated women in a big way at our 25th Anniversary Gala. 330 Friendship Bridge supporters joined us to celebrate our past and look forward to our future. You can enjoy photos from the event by clicking on this link. The evening commemorated the foundation built by Friendship Bridge founders Ted and Connie Ning, as well as all of our past board presidents. We were also excited to welcome, from Guatemala, Friendship Bridge Communications Coordinator Marta Julia Ixtuc and Facilitator (Loan Officer) Sara Par to this year’s Gala (both pictured above, in yellow and orange). Sara serves over 560 clients and manages a portfolio of $157,000 with a repayment rate of 99.75%.

We raised over $125,000 at this year’s Gala. In order to reach our $25,000 matching grants we need to raise an additional $5,000. Would you consider partnering with us this Mother’s Day to reach this goal and empower more Guatemalan women — most of them mothers —  to build a better future for themselves, their children, and their communities?

Thanks for your part in making our past 25 years impactful and inspiring.

A Look Inside Our Guatemalan Insight Trips: ‘Enchanting, Colorful, Mysterious’

By Jody Nolan, February 2015 Guatemala Insight Trip Attendee

Guatemala is a magical place.  It is enchanting, colorful, and mysterious – in that Latin American surreal way.   It is a land of contrasts that range from the looming backdrop of the steaming volcanoes of Antigua and the indescribably lush and stunning colonial Lake Atitlan region to the complexity of pigments and designs woven into the garments still worn by the thousands of Mayan descendants in every village.   When you combine this astonishing physical and cultural landscape with the mission of Friendship Bridge (FB) – which at its core aspires to educate, give back, and explore – you have ensured an experience that will live forever in your heart.

Friendship Bridge clients at a Trust Bank meeting

Stunning scenery of Lake Atitlan



I signed on for my Insight Trip very late in the game- only three weeks prior to departure date.  I knew peripherally a few of the women who were already going on the trip. They belonged to the Oconomowoc Circle, one of the 12 groups of volunteers across the country who provide their time and talents to supporting FB.  I had seen the lovely “swittens” (mittens made from old sweaters) they make to support FB’s mission, and I knew from past experience that for me personally, my most memorable travels have incorporated a charitable component.

Friendship Bridge is an organization with a stunningly strong and organized infrastructure.   Their mission is sound and inspired, and their support staff is stellar – both in Guatemala and in the Denver offices. I don’t think there was anyone in my group who was not astonished at how well organized every detail of our Insight Trip was. And all of the women on this trip were interesting, friendly, committed, and fun to be with.


Insight Trip Attendees



A sampling of fond memories….. riding in cattle trucks and by tuk-tuks; the incomparable textiles – (gotta see ‘em to believe ‘em); the gratitude expressed to us by the women who are served by FB and witnessing the training and support they receive monthly; our accommodations in Panajachel overlooking Lake Atitlan; Marta Julia’s smile and sense of humor; huevos bien divorciados; the sense of rich yet turbulent history that fills the air; meeting and making new friends.

-Jody Nolan, Oconomowoc, Wisconsin

Friendship Bridge Development Director Participates in ‘Reconceptualizing Development’ Panel

Friendship Bridge Development Director Participates in ‘Reconceptualizing Development’ Panel

by Jeanne Crump, Social Performance Intern

Friendship Bridge was honored to participate in a March 31st panel at the Posner Center for International Development’s Global Poverty Post-2015: Reconceptualizing Development. Sponsored by IDEX Young Professionals Group of Denver, the panel’s goal was to discuss what we can — and are continuing to do — to alleviate poverty worldwide in a post-Millenium Development Goal (MDG) era.

Michael Allen, Friendship Bridge’s Development Director, spoke on our targeted strategies of using microcredit and education to reduce poverty among the 23,000 Guatemalan women and families we work with daily. When asked which MDG we aligned with most, Michael said number three: Promote Gender Equality and Empower Women. He described how our Microcredit Plus model incorporates not only access to credit, but culturally sensitive and highly effective education programs that empower women through business development and entrepreneurial skills training.

Michael continued, explaining that through Friendship Bridge services, our goal is to see empowered women eliminate poverty. By empowering women and providing tools for economic improvement, we have also worked to achieve other MDGs, such as number two: Achieving Universal Primary Education. Our CrediEscolar loans are specifically available to women who may need assistance paying for their children’s school fees and uniforms. Data has shown our loans have made it possible for children to remain in school longer. In many cases, girls are taken out of school first if families need an extra work hand. If our clients’ incomes remains stable, all children will receive primary education, and hopefully continue to secondary and tertiary levels.

In a concluding question, the panelists were asked what they thought the international development community could be doing to improve its poverty alleviation impact. Michael pointed to Friendship Bridge’s hyper local focus — a very decentralized approach — of improving lives. He described our new Mobile Health Services program that will provide indigenous, rural Mayan women vital and preventative services where there previously were none. He urged the development community to 1) rethink traditional approaches and boundary lines, and 2) foster collaboration to offer more comprehensive and actionable solutions.

The Posner Center is a collaborative and highly productive space, housing over 60 development-oriented businesses and organizations under one roof. The Posner Center’s goal is to “spur innovation by enabling groups to cross-pollinate through the exchange of ideas, the overlap of programming, and the generation of more comprehensive and lasting solutions to global poverty.

Other panelists included Steve Voyen from Children’s HopeChest, Gwen Vogel from SalusWorld, and Rhiannan Price from aWhere. Each brought insightful and diverse views from the development community. Here’s to a world in which we’re all working to achieve the same goals.


Boldness for change: Education and healthcare for women and girls

Boldness for change: Education and healthcare for women and girls

Last week, 15-year-old Emelin from Guatemala spoke to the United Nations about her efforts to improve health and education for women in her rural community. When she first approached the mayor of her town two years ago and asked him to find ways to help girls stay in school and access better healthcare, he laughed and said Emelin was wasting his time.

Emelin didn’t think it was a waste of time, and neither do we.

Emelin and her friend Elba began to work with the organization Let Girls Lead, where they were taught about self-esteem, human rights and community organizing. They used these skills to bring positive change to their village.

Eventually, their mayor couldn’t help but pay attention and sign legislation to fund education and healthcare efforts for girls.

We here at Friendship Bridge also believe education and healthcare are foundational to the empowerment of women and girls. One way we promote this is through our CrediEscolar school loans. This loan product provides mothers with quick loan capital to pay for any costs associated with their children’s education – such as tuition, uniforms, or school supplies. Our social performance measures have shown that the longer a woman is a client of Friendship Bridge, the more likely she is to enroll in the program, thereby keeping her children in school.

In addition to offering our clients solutions for their children’s education, we also provide non-formal education to the more than 22,000 women we serve. This education is delivered through our hardworking loan officers. Our non-formal adult education program helps our clients build their confidence as they learn practical life skills such as maintaining healthier households and building stronger businesses. We also have an advanced education program that trains women to diversify their revenue by introducing new products into their businesses.

Like Emelin, we recognize a gap in healthcare services for women in Guatemala. We’re responding by piloting a new health services project this year. Our market research found that Guatemalan women often lack access to health information and don’t trust healthcare professionals. We’re partnering with Maya Health Alliance to provide our clients with important health information and bring quality and culturally sensitive/appropriate healthcare directly to their communities through mobile health clinics. These services will always be provided by female medical staff and in the Mayan dialect of the client.

We applaud Emelin for her boldness to promote change for girls in Guatemala. Our hope is that the combined efforts toward empowerment of women and girls in Guatemala will spark transformative social change.

Child Migrant Crisis isn’t over – What is Friendship Bridge doing?

Child Migrant Crisis isn’t over – What is Friendship Bridge doing?

by Jeanne Crump, Social Performance Intern

Although not even a year has passed, the 2014 Central American child migrant crisis has nearly been ignored in recent media. Some might assume the U.S. government and border control have since “taken care” of the issue. But the unfortunate fact remains that children are still fleeing Central America every day – either from staggering gang violence, a lack of economic opportunity, poverty, or in hopes of reuniting with family members residing in the United States. In 2014, the U.S. government reported catching 47,000 unaccompanied minors crossing into the US – 24% were Guatemalans.

Yet, this number only reflects those who were detained at the border. Hundreds or thousands more migrant children could have crossed the border successfully, only to end up in the hands of traffickers or in vulnerable positions of exploitation by smugglers. Many girls become victims of sexual violence and rape. Others could be exploited as laborers, since many children may not have family to provide shelter and stability once they arrive. Moreover, those detained and deported may face an even more dangerous road once they return to their home countries, as many are dropped off at airports or bus stations in major cities and are again prime targets for coyotes, smugglers, and traffickers.

Our staff at Friendship Bridge is deeply concerned and saddened by these events. In 2014, we responded to the crisis through our client education program — by spreading the truth about the dangers of this treacherous journey to more than 22,000 Guatemalan women. Our education manager in Guatemala incorporated information on the crisis in the August 2014 education session, including statistics of the children who had already been detained, the dangers of physical assault, sexual violence, and the risks of being abducted, kidnapped, or even killed.

We know the more economic opportunities we can provide and create for our clients in Guatemala, the less need there will be for this dangerous migration. We will continue to help build strong and sustainable businesses that provide a better livelihood for our clients and their families. In turn, this will help ensure children remain in school and work towards breaking the cycle of generational poverty.

International Women’s Day: #MakeItHappen

International Women’s Day: #MakeItHappen

by Jeanne Crump, Social Performance Intern

On Sunday, March 8, countries worldwide will celebrate International Women’s Day: A global day celebrating the economic, political and social achievements of women past, present and future. This year’s theme is ‘Make It Happen,’ celebrating women’s achievements and making a call for greater equality in the workplace, arts and sciences, and greater equality as entrepreneurs and business owners.

At Friendship Bridge we celebrate the achievement of our inspirational clients every day. We couldn’t be happier to share in this international day of awareness by recognizing the amazing rural Guatemalan women we work with – women working toward equality, opportunity, independence, and a future in which their lives and incomes are stable. These strong and exceptionally hardworking women fight against generational poverty with the microloans and educational training services we provide. They are able to start and expand small businesses and transform their lives into a vision they control.

Women worldwide have incredible potential to create and participate in new market economies, run businesses, become leaders, and stop the cycle of oppression and violence so many millions of women experience daily. We wholeheartedly continue to believe in our vision: A world in which empowered women eliminate poverty. Today we’d like to let our clients know they’ve inspired us and many others  in their dedication and determination to create a better future for themselves, their families, and their communities.

Please consider joining our cause to help make global change for women a reality.


Is Microfinance Really Working?

Is Microfinance Really Working?

by Jeanne Crump, Social Performance Intern

The microfinance community has long been asking the question: Is microfinance working? To answer the question succinctly: No. Data has shown that access to microloans alone does not lead to a substantial increase in annual income for clients. But when loans are combined and offered with Microcredit Plus services, there are positive and transformative results.

Friendship Bridge’s (FB) Microcredit Plus program provides small business loans and basic education based on a group lending model in which clients form Trust Banks, ranging in size from 7-30 members, co-guaranteeing each other’s loans. Because of our long-term relationship with clients, we’re able to offer specific products that meet their needs – such as our Mobile Health Services program that provides preventive and persistent health education and screenings and our Credisalud project which provides our clients with parallel loans to purchase ventilating stoves. Results from our Credisalud project showed not only an improvement in our client’s health from the replacement of wood burning stoves, but also a 50% savings in fuel costs each month.

In 2014, our clients logged 201,349 hours of non-formal training, which included monthly trainings on topics ranging from health to self-esteem to business management. In 2012 we introduced the Advanced Education Program in response to a desire for additional skillsets from our clients. This program offers technical and advanced business training – including learning how to produce new and high quality products, critical business and financial skills, and best practices in marketing their products. Courses include, among others, pastry making, canning and preserving, candle making, sausage making, floristry, and soap/shampoo making. Friendship Bridge covers the cost of the training and arranges all logistics and transportation to the facility.

Education has proven to be the true catalyst in our clients’ progress. We have found it is fundamental to helping clients gain empowerment and achieve financial stability. A study conducted by practitioner and researcher Chris Dunford for the Freedom From Hunger Evidence Project found: “To impact household poverty levels, the program must include integration with nonfinancial services, such as immediately useful, basic business management education and linkages to suppliers and markets.”

Yet, measuring outcomes and results of Plus services may be as equally important as providing them. In 2011, Friendship Bridge began implementing a comprehensive monitoring and evaluation program that has provided insights into our client’s performance and program effectiveness. This formalization of Social Performance Management (SPM) includes ongoing robust data collection systems and is integrated with our daily operations. SPM is a management system that sets clear social objectives, monitors and assesses progress toward achieving those objectives, and uses the information to improve overall performance toward achieving our mission.

Measuring social impact has provided us with data allowing us to see positive association between the number of loan cycles a client has with FB and her poverty likelihood. We have also seen stability or improvement in economic well-being in a sample of clients.

We discovered the key to most significant advances was social empowerment. Social empowerment manifests through self-esteem, increased opportunity, and self-actualization – having a vision for the future and a belief one can achieve it.

Empowerment also leads to the desire and will to learn new skills and abilities, increasing a woman’s support network and improving her health. In a recent Huffington Post article by Rosario Perez, President and Chief Executive of Pro Mujer, Perez states, “Women want more than a mere transaction. They seek a relationship based on mutual trust and respect that recognizes their capabilities and supports them on their journey towards greater agency and empowerment.”

Our microcredit services allow our clients to expand an existing small business or start a new one, keep children in school, and provide opportunities for a healthier lifestyle. It is our Microcredit Plus services that allow our clients to grow, learn, and develop skillsets for transformative, impactful life changes.