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From the Field: Loans Help Tortilla Shop Owner with Business, Family

Boiling Dough

Maria’s daughter pours the mix into a pot for boiling.

Microloan Stove

Tortilla shop owner Maria uses the stove she purchased with a microloan to make tasty black tortillas.

black corn tortillas

Maria’s black corn tortillas are popular with her customers.

By Amanda Schweikert, KIVA intern

María lives in lovely Santa Cruz del Quiché in southern Guatemala. Until recently, she owned and operated a tortilla shop and a small restaurant. Her grueling daily routine involved rising at 5 a.m., making tortillas and helping her daughter and two spirited granddaughters prepare for their days. Then she would return to rolling out the dough for tortillas, baking them and selling them. At 3 p.m., she would eat lunch, clean the house and spent time with her family until 6 p.m. when she would again make and sell tortillas in the market until midnight. Her long day would end with dinner and bed around 2 a.m.

When María turned 63, she became very sick and took on fewer responsibilities. She now just operates the tortilla shop where customers stop by to purchase delicious black corn tortillas and lunch made by her daughter. This motivated woman is healthy once again, and enjoys caring for her family and operating her business. After 58 years of experience, running her shop comes very natural to María. Her adept hands form and flatten the dough and the perfectly shaped tortillas of all the same size are truly artful.

Through her business, María has been able to provide an education for her five children. Two of them manage their own businesses in the capital city of Guatemala, two are finishing polytechnic school and the eldest daughter helps her mother in the tortilla shop. A bright smile lights up Maria’s face whenever she speaks of her children, clearly proud of their success and the opportunities they have had.

As part of a Trust Bank, or accountability group for loan repayments, María was able to use loans to buy stoves for her business and increase production. The Friendship Bridge Trust Bank is a supportive community to help her expand her business and gain self-confidence when making financial decisions that impact her family’s future. her determined spirit impacts everyone María meets and has provided a better life for her and her children.

Amanda Schweikert is a field blogger providing KIVA reports for Friendship Bridge. She also teaches part-time at the Lake Atitlan Multicultural Academy.


From the Field:  Piñata creator combines art, work, love

From the Field: Piñata creator combines art, work, love

PinantaClientIt’s 8:30 am and the chicken bus rolls into Quetzaltenango, the second largest city in Guatemala and my destination for the day. Doña Teresa is a member of the Trust Bank “Robles” here in Xela, as the locals fondly refer to the city. For eight years, Teresa has been making piñatas by hand in a studio in her home and selling them in her nearby shop. She learned her craft from a private teacher in the capital, Guatemala City. She now employs two young ladies who have been working for her for three years. They are both attending school on Saturdays thanks to the income they make working in Teresa’s shop.

Creating beautiful, detailed piñatas seems to come naturally to Teresa. As she bends and shapes structures out of nothing but wire, Teresa’s creativity and imagination shine through. She forms the designs that her assistants then cover in newspaper, recycled printer paper and finally colorful tissue paper. Most of the paper is covered in math problemPinantaTRexs, simple poems and scribbled notes, clearly recycled from schools in the area. Seeing pieces of the local children’s education reused to provide a sustainable income that empowers Teresa and her family is inspirational.

Before the piñatas are complete, Teresa adds the final touches, affixing eyes, teeth, clothes, etc., to the piñatas to make them come to life. She designs popular children’s characters including Winnie the Pooh, Barney, Dora the Explorer and minions from “Despicable Me,” as well as adorable bunnies, t-rexes and elephants. She then hires people to deliver piñatas in the surrounding towns.

In addition to creating piñatas and running her store, Teresa cares for her family at home. Her daughter, a 28-year-old passionate primary school teacher, lives with Teresa, as do her mother and brother. She daily cooks the meals for the family with the help of her mother. People sweeter and more welcoming than Doña Teresa and her family are hard to come by. From the start, I was graciously accepted into their home and treated like a member of the family. It is inspiring to be in the presence of someone with so much motivation and love who has discovered her own self-worth and instills a sense of empowerment in everyone she meets.

Amanda Schweikert is a field blogger providing KIVA reports for Friendship Bridge. She also teaches part-time at the Lake Atitlan Multicultural Academy.
From the Field:  A KIVA blog

From the Field: A KIVA blog

By Amanda Schweikert, KIVA intern

A loan officer asks a question during a Trust Bank meeting

A loan officer asks a question during a client meeting.

After two and a half hours of travel on three different chicken buses, I make it to Santa Cruz del Quiché, a bustling town in southern Guatemala. In a quieter neighborhood, seven businesswomen partnered to create a Friendship Bridge Trust Bank called “Laguna Las Garzas” or lagoon of the heron. They are all Maya Kiché and show off their cultural pride with beautiful traditional costume in bright colors and patterns.

All of the women are extraordinarily welcoming. The members are curious about me—asking where I am from and how is my life in Guatemala, all while wearing giant smiles on their faces. Because these ladies average two years of formal schooling, the education they receive along with the loans as part of the “Microcredit Plus” program is highly valued. Though I can’t understand the majority of their talk in the traditional Mayan language Kiché, it is obvious that they are very invested in improving their futures and that of their families.

Lucia in particular stands out. The president of the Trust Bank, Lucia is a clear leader in her community, offering help to those around her and conversing with new friends as she walks to the Friendship Bridge office. She is married and has one child, a 15-year-old. After attending school for three years thanks to family contributions, Lucia was forced to discontinue her education and began to work. Therefore, she is very pleased that her son is currently in school and will have more opportunities than she received.

Lucia runs a restaurant, which she has owned for 13 years, and serves the residents of Quiché as well as several customers from outside of the town. She employs a young woman to assist her in the restaurant. This very motivated woman would like to broaden her clientele, publicizing her restaurant to attract people from other towns in the region. She has learned to dream for more on the foundation of skills, education and loans from Friendship Bridge.

Amanda Schweikert is a field blogger providing KIVA reports for Friendship Bridge. She also teaches part-time at the Lake Atitlan Multicultural Academy.

Drought crisis in Guatemala

CornDroughtThe devastating drought in Guatemala, now a declared state of emergency in 16 of 22 departments in central and western Guatemala, has affected more than 750,000 families. Crop loss is estimated at 80 percent for corn production and 63 percent for bean production.

Of those 16 departments, Friendship Bridge serves clients in half of them:  Quiche, Huehuetenango, Retalhuleu, Suchitepequez, Sololá, Totonicapan, Chimaltenango and San Marcos.

During what is supposed to be Guatemala’s rainy season, more than a month went by without any showers. Officials estimate the economic consequences of the drought at Q450 million ($57.4 million).

More than ever, women need sustainable businesses they can rely on in these difficult times. Food prices are skyrocketing. The more sustainable defenses Friendship Bridge can build with our clients, the better they will be when these crises occur.

As access to food dwindles, incidents of malnutrition will rise, and this is deadly in a nation where one in five children are already malnourished.  Our health program teaches mothers proper nutrition and eating habits for their children. With this education and the businesses our clients run, their children receive better access to food and improved nutrition. The children of Friendship Bridge clients are headed in the right direction.

CISCO Foundation PPI® Support

Thank you to the Cisco Foundation for recognizing Friendship Bridge in its support of the Grameen Foundation’s Progress out of Poverty Index (PPI®). Cisco invests in self-sustaining programs that use technology to overcome challenges. With the formalization of Friendship Bridge’s Social Performance Management (SPM) in 2011 along with our adoption of PPI, our data collection systems and results are more robust and integrated with our regular everyday operations. Data stored in a cloud-based system is shared by teams in six Guatemalan branches and the U.S.  The data provides crucial information to align strategy with client needs and shows how we have made a difference in the lives of our clients.  View the PPI Global Report 2014.

Primavera Trust Bank Invests in Progress

The village of Palanquix is home to Julia Ixtos, a woman with an infectious smile, and president of the Primavera Trust Bank. This group of Friendship Bridge microloan clients is comprised of 16 enthusiastic and hard-working women.

Trust Bank members gather to learn and make a loan repayment.

Trust Bank members gather to learn and make their first loan payment from a recent disbursement.

Julia is the group leader, and welcomes all the participants as they catch up with one another and listen attentively to Otilia Ixmata, the loan officer, to learn about indebtedness, the non-formal education topic for the month. Some of the women shared examples of friends or family who have been in that uncomfortable situation. The topic helps the clients understand how important it is to pay their loans back.

There are a variety of businesses led by women in this large group. From the traditional clothing markets to fruit stands and convenience stores, these businesses are growing due to the training clients receive. Trust Bank member Maria Tambriz recalls that she applied lessons from a recent “Investment” topic and plans on using her working capital to general profit and achieve better returns on her tortilla business. Another Trust Bank client, Isabela Ajtzalam, is an artisan who makes handcrafted baskets and buys reeds to increase her production.

The Pimavera Trust Bank members each have different stories woven with effort and hard work, sacrifice and perseverance as they continue to progress. Because of their involvement with Friendship Bridge, they have a chance to continue making life better for themselves, their families and their community.

‘Beer, Burgers and Folk Music’

JammingMusic and suds were flowing in the Foothills near Friendship Bridge’s Lakewood, Colo., headquarters recently.  A “Beer, Burgers and Folk Music” Circle fundraising event supporting Friendship Bridge clients was held September 6. Professional musicians Patrick Hiester and Joel Denman jammed with guitar, mandolins and fiddle to lead an enthusiastic group of music lovers at the home of hosts David and Molly Niven. “It was a real jamboree with world percussion instruments we had around the house,” Molly said, adding she picked up a guitar and the cello herself and sang along. “It was a memorable evening for all.”

The event was an experience offered as a silent auction item during the annual Building Bridges fundraising gala last April. Mark your calendars for the next Building Bridges Gala, scheduled April 23, 2015 at Mile High Station!




Legacy Gift to Provide Years of Assistance to Impoverished Women

Appreciation is the word that comes to mind when Dr. Judy Snyder considers Friendship Bridge and its clients. The Colorado resident saw opportunity at work when she came face-to-face with loan recipients at their homes and at their businesses during a February Insight Trip to Guatemala with the organization.

During the nine-day trip, Judy was so impressed with the improvements gained with the loans and training programs that she approached a Friendship Bridge board member with an offer of immense value. She is providing a legacy gift of $70,000, realizing that the funds will help numerous families and generations. It is a legacy to Guatemala as well as Friendship Bridge.

“Let’s look to the future,” Judy said. “A little goes a long way. The paperwork took minutes to set up.” And her gift will last years.

Snyder, a retired Professor and Dean at the University of Denver,, knows the significance of education. Along with extending microfinance loans, Friendship Bridge also trains clients on the importance of putting children in school, especially girls, and keeping them in school. Girls are often pulled from classes to help with chores around the house.

“For a former educator, it was great to see that their kids can now go to school. For some, it was the first generation ever. We brought notebooks, pens and pencils. It was recommended that we bring eyeglasses since they don’t have the money to get them and I cleaned out a store and bought all their reading glasses. The women were thrilled with them. The things we take for granted—everything is so appreciated.”

If you are interested in arranging a legacy gift, either through a will or trust, or as a beneficiary of 401(k)s or other investments, please contact your financial institution or Development Director Michael Allen at mallen@friendshipbridge.og

Leaders Learn with Philip Isely Leaders in Action

Leaders participate in a team exercise during training.

Leaders participate in a team exercise during training.

A leader in action aspires to learn and improve. In Guatemala, Friendship Bridge employees undertook that challenge and learned that growth and hard work are investment opportunities. Nine participants benefited from their involvement in the inaugural cohort for the Philip Isely Leaders in Action Program.

The program is made possible by the support of Eli Isely in the name of her late husband Philip Isely. Philip co-founded Vitamin Cottage and began his business selling door-to-door. Over the years, his business grew organically into a large corporation supporting several stores. Philip was a successful and inspiring example of a micro-entrepreneur who became a successful business and community leader. It is therefore very fitting that this unique staff leadership program bear his name.

Eli, a long-time patron who pledged a $15,000 gift to develop and support the program, believes that investing in leadership is an appropriate tribute to her late husband. “Philip believed that the growth of good leaders was a worthwhile cause,” Eli says. “Leaders in Action is a great investment in the future of Friendship Bridge.” Eli served on the Planning Committee for the Building Bridges Gala and continues to give her time and energy in supporting our mission in Guatemala.

Employees taking training included loan officers, branch managers, office managers and program staff. Twelve months of activities and classes were scheduled, including full-day seminars and quarterly meetings with the entire group. Topics such as coaching, time management, organizational culture and leadership were addressed. Book discussions were also included as the students applied new concepts to their jobs.

Mentoring from a senior participant was key to learning different perspectives on work challenges. As each learner progressed, they also worked on a group assignment and an individual project. The group project focused on improving operational self-sufficiency while individuals learned how to approach problems with solutions and leadership skills.

Karen Reyes works as an Accounting Coordinator. She was excited to report that she “discovered skills and qualities that I did not know I had.”

This testimony of an empowered woman is just one of many successful outcomes that the Leaders in Action program produced. Two employees were promoted – and in May, a new cohort was formed and training is underway again. Congratulations to all our Guatemalan staff who completed and are currently taking the training – you are all leaders who are empowering our clients!

The 2013 Impact Report – Making a Difference

Making a difference is what Friendship Bridge strives to do each day among more than 22,000 clients and their families. We now have statistics from two years of research that shows what we are doing truly IS making a difference.  Friendship Bridge is pleased to announce publication of the 2013 Impact Report. It illustrates the results of our monitoring activities and evaluation, providing critical information to improve our program as well as to provide evidence that we are achieving our mission. We found that our Microcredit Plus program seems to be providing the appropriate support for our clients to find sturdy footing, allowing them to look upward and forward, to dream and to pursue a better future for themselves, their children and their communities. This social empowerment was the key to the most significant advances among clients.

Findings indicate that our loan clients are becoming more stable, accumulating social capital and skills, and they are prioritizing education for their children. The data is presented through the experiences of three typical clients, revealing the different levels of poverty in the communities we serve. The report findings guided development of the 2014-2016 Strategic Plan, our line of sight to directly respond to client needs by developing programs specifically to stabilize our clients, so that they can gain skills and knowledge, increase their self-confidence, grow their social networks and develop their business to enact the change they want for themselves, their children, and their communities. For our most vulnerable clients – artisans and agriculturalists – we are developing value chain solution programs. To increase the stability of clients, we are working to improve the health of client households by financing higher-quality stoves and offering preventative health services for clients and their children.

Although we regularly use data we collect throughout the year for operations, we hope to produce a similar report annually to continually demonstrate our progress toward achieving our mission. We invite you to read the report, and learn more about our clients and how our mission in Guatemala is impacting lives.

Farmer finds attitude essential in outgrowing poverty

MariaARBlogBecause of the financial assistance and education Friendship Bridge provides, more than 22,000 clients overcome hardships to succeed for themselves and their families. But the perseverance of María Tun Panjoj, a farmer in the central highlands of Guatemala, is exceptional.

In 2010, Tropical Storm Agatha hit María’s home in Aldea Xajaxac, Sololá, a small village. The unrelenting storm washed away everything she and her family had, including their home and crops. In the aftermath of the storm, María used her Friendship Bridge loans to rebuild her life again.  At 29, with five children, a husband, a few goats and chickens, María works hard every day to grow several different kinds of vegetables. She and her husband work the land themselves until harvest season when they hire others, mostly women, to help. They use their loans to buy seeds, fertilizer, and hire workers. Through access to microloans, María has rebuilt her home and managed to keep her children in school. She and her husband dream of acquiring more land to expand their farm.

María is one of three women highlighted in the Friendship Bridge 2013 Annual Report, which will be available in August. These clients represent three segments that correspond to their development. Through segmentation, we tailor products and services to best meet their needs for a more stable future.

“It takes more than tools and money to escape poverty. To be truly empowered, one’s attitude is essential,” she says.


Band of Sisters – A Trust Bank is ‘All for One’


Luz de mi Sendero Trust Bank
  Santa Cruz del Quiche, Guatemala
Loan cycles:  1
Members:  8
Average age of members:  35 years
Average member school level:  4
Average loan size: $240

Santa Cruz, the capital of the department (state) of Quiche, is a metropolis nestled in the Chuacús Mountains and surrounded by several small towns. The city serves as a marketplace where corn, beans and livestock are commonly sold. In this environment, the Luz de mi Sendero Trust Bank was formed with eight members in their first-ever loan cycle. These women all make their living by selling in the marketplace. Their goods include tortillas, pastries and meals as well as clothes.

Although new to the concept of microfinance loans, these women are already working on future goals. The group began as close friends and they expect to work together long-term. Despite having different businesses, Elena Viviana says, ‘When one of us proposes something, we can get it done together!”

With only five years of primary school and five children, Elena set up a food business. She responded quickly when a loan officer asked when they were going to start going after what they want. “Now!” she said enthusiastically. “I want to grow my business,” she says. “I can do this with the help of Friendship Bridge.” She is thankful and does not think she could expand her business without the capital provided through Friendship Bridge.

Marta Raymundo is another member of the Trust Bank. A teacher, she believes strongly in education. “A lot of times there is not an opportunity for education. It is not okay because we have a right to education.” She explains her motivation:

“If we do not know, we cannot act. We need to know to live.”

The others nod in agreement. The lessons they are learning are investments in their quality of life. “We are already empowered!”

The Luz de Mi Sendero Trust Bank.

The Luz de mi Sendero Trust Bank.