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‘From the Field:’ Sharing, caring with clients

A loan officer leads clients through an exercise.

A loan officer leads clients through an exercise.

Maya and Adrienne from Boulder, Colo., are working in Guatemala through the end of July as interns for Friendship Bridge, preparing reports for KIVA. They love traveling, exploring new places, speaking Spanish and playing music.  

When traveling, rarely does time feel like it passes slowly. However, here in Panajachel, we feel as if we have been here for weeks. Maybe it’s because of the numerous incredible people we have met; or maybe it’s because of how different every day is here.  Our first week with Friendship Bridge has come to an end, and we feel as if we’ve learned weeks’ worth of wisdom.

Within just one week we have met 24 different and inspiring local women; and have traveled to three unique communities. Although this week has been long and exhausting from the travel and acclimation, it is all worth it.

We are excited about our work this week! We will travel alone to communities to meet with a loan officer and accompany the officer to the Friendship Bridge meetings. There, we will use a standard set of questions to ask for KIVA and many photos to take. Even though it will be nerve racking to no longer be the shadow of a trained employee, we feel ready for the responsibility! Serving as a direct link between these women and the organization is a huge responsibility – as well as finding our way along the challenging bus system!

It seems to us that this responsibility is a sign of trust from Friendship Bridge, and we are excited to earn that trust.



‘From the Field’: A Blog from Friendship Bridge Interns

Maya  and Adrienne from Boulder, Colo., are working in Guatemala through the end of July as interns for Friendship Bridge. They love traveling, exploring new places, speaking Spanish and playing music. Both have traveled extensively in Central and South America. This is the first of several blogs as they share interaction with the clients of Friendship Bridge in reports for KIVA.

Maya interviews a client in Santa Clara la Laguna as her friends listen.

Maya interviews a client in Santa Clara la Laguna as her friends listen.

Bienvenidos a Panajachel!

Imagine sitting in a kitchen of adobe walls with a group of eight women bantering in languages that you not only can’t understand, but have never heard. The simple task of “taking notes” becomes very complicated in this situation. Our coordinator and mentor, Marta, leans over to us every 10 minutes to give us a vague idea of the conversation taking place. We sit there dazed and confused; however, we appreciate the little that we do understand. We take in much more than words. We understand their laughter, and we admire their perseverance to grow their businesses despite the obstacles they encounter.

We met a woman who, without local education, has not only raised two children alone but is also creating a successful business in cosmetics and clothing. She sits among a group of seven other individuals. Each of them come from different backgrounds and will advance to different futures. The common ground they share is that they each are motivated to improve their circumstances through this opportunity that is being provided through Friendship Bridge. They sit quietly as we ask them a set of standard questions.

Although it is slightly intimidating to enter foreign communities to meet these groups of women, we realized what an incredible opportunity it is to be invited into their lives.

Without this internship we would never have seen the amazing lifestyles of so many different cultures. We have only been in Panajachel for a little over a week but it feels like much longer. We have explored and learned so much as a part of Friendship Bridge and have become friends with the other employees in the office. We feel at home.


A circle of clients laughs as a loan officer demonstrates empowerment in an exercise.



[do action=”image-right”]2014/06/SantosQGrandson.jpg[/do] Santos Ajiquichi Quisquina
Age: 42 years old
Marital Status: separated
Number of children: 2, 1 grandchild
Loan cycle: 2nd
Loan Amount: $246
Trust Bank: Eight members
Location: Canton El Tablon, Sololá Guatemala
Business: Artisan weaver

Santos Ajiquichi Quisquina, is an artisan weaver currently in her second loan cycle with Friendship Bridge.  She hand weaves beautiful textiles on a back strap loom for customers and tourists in local community.  She creates textile patterns reminiscent of a more traditional pattern that existed in her community years ago, but regaining popularity.

Santos’ story of empowerment is like that of many clients helped by Friendship Bridge. Rather than stay in a bad marriage, Santos left an abusive husband to care for her daughter and grandson with money earned from weaving, made possible by a micro-loan.

More than 22,000 women and their families in rural areas are using Friendship Bridge loans and education to enhance their businesses.  Santos lives in the ​​Sololá area in the Western Highlands of Guatemala. It is one of the larger, more prominent communities near Lake Atitlan.

Santos says that her microloans have given her a new sense of independence. “I’m very proud of what I’ve been able to accomplish on my own.  It’s a good feeling.”

Her Trust Bank is comprised of eight members with an average age of 44 years and an average formal education of 1.6 years.  On average, they have four children per member and varied businesses including bakeries, flowers, vegetables, tortillas, snacks and concessions, convenience stores, avocados, and handicrafts. The average loan of $378 goes directly into these businesses.

Thanks to loans made possible from our partnership with ShareBrands, Santos can continue to make life better for herself and her family.


Guatemalan President Sports Friendship Bridge Cap!

[do action=”image-right”]2014/05/GT-President-in-FB-cap.jpg[/do]On May 23 the city of Huehuetenango hosted a second annual Microfinance Fair in Guatemala.  Approximately 10 microfinance institutions, including Friendship Bridge, participated in the fair where festivities were kicked off by Guatemalan President, Otto Perez Molina, who addressed the crowd as the day began.  Following his opening remarks, the President then mingled with participants and guests.  When he passed by Friendship Bridge’s booth, Branch Manager Maria Delfina Lopez Mendez put the cap on the President’s head and he posed for the picture seen here.  Besides befriending the President of Guatemala, Friendship Bridge made 150 new contacts with potential clients – a very successful day!

Shop Amazon and Support Friendship Bridge

Friendship Bridge

Now, simply shopping at Amazon can result in a gift to Friendship Bridge.  The AmazonSmile program is the reason.

The AmazonSmile Foundation is Amazon’s giving arm of operation.  It was created by Amazon to allow its customers to designate the charitable organizations to which Amazon will give.  Via AmazonSmile, Amazon will donate 0.5% of the purchase price to the customer’s selected charitable organization.

To support Friendship Bridge the next time you shop at Amazon, begin your shopping by going to smile.amazon.com.  The first time you visit, you will be prompted to select a charitable organization.  Type “Friendship Bridge” in the search box and press the Search button.  Select Friendship Bridge from the results list and begin shopping as usual.  Note you will not be allowed to shop at AmazonSmile until you designate a charitable organization.  Also you will need to shop at the AmazonSmile website (smile.amazon.com) in order for a donation to be made.

You may want to add a bookmark to AmazonSmile to make it easier to return to do your Amazon shopping.  Your shopping cart, Wish List, wedding or baby registries, and other account settings on Amazon.com will carry over.

Each time you shop at AmazonSmile, a donation of 0.5% of your eligible purchases will automatically be made and collected by Amazon for delivery to Friendship Bridge.  All expenses will be paid by Amazon.  And we will receive the funds on a quarterly basis.  So get shopping!

Join Us in Guatemala in November

[do action=”image-right”]2013/06/TravelGuatemalaLakeAtitlan-300×169.jpg[/do]Bi-annually, when the weather is best in Guatemala, Friendship Bridge guides a tour of Lake Atitlán and the surrounding communities where our clients live and work.  The experience is called an Insight Trip and our Fall trip is scheduled for November 9-15, 2014.  It is an amazing journey of discovery as we travel through areas extraordinarily rich in culture and natural beauty.  Lake Atitlán is renowned as one of the most beautiful lakes in the world.

While an exact itinerary has not been finalized, Insight Trips typically involve visits to Friendship Bridge clients’ homes and businesses, a boat ride on Lake Atitlán, interesting demonstrations of local weaving and dying techniques, and opportunities to learn about the indigenous Mayan culture.  Likely, you and 12 fellow travelers will fly into Guatemala City and travel to Antigua; spend the next four days in Friendship Bridge-guided activities like those mentioned above; have a free day to explore the ruins, markets, and city of Antigua; and travel back to Guatemala City to head home.

Insight Trips are $1,500 per person which includes ground transportation, most meals, and double-occupancy lodging.  An initial non-refundable deposit of $250 is required, plus two more payments prior to the trip.  Experience the culture and beauty of Guatemala while seeing first-hand the impact Friendship Bridge has on the lives of women, their families, and their communities.  We’d love to be your guide.

Building Bridges 2014 a Big Success

Friendship Bridge’s 2014 Building Bridges Gala, at Mile High Station on April 24, was a wonderful evening shared by friends, celebrating our clients, and contributing critical dollars for microloans and education to impoverished women in Guatemala. We raised nearly $100,000 toward our goal and made more per person this year than we have in previous years.  Plus it was a lot of fun!

[do action=”image-right”]2014/05/sparkly-big-picture-2-square.jpg[/do]Those who attended the Gala got the chance to meet Friendship Bridge client, Petrona Cumes Matzar as she demonstrated the art of weaving on her backstrap loom.  All of the exquisite textiles for sale at the event were handmade by Petrona and other Friendship Bridge clients.  If you did not get the chance to purchase one of their lovely pieces, you will have another opportunity the evening of June 5, 2014 at the Boulder Hub.  Stay tuned for more information on this artisan sale!

Due to the talents of award-winning auctioneer, Shawn Hagler and his team, the live auction was another highlight of the evening.  Shawn had everyone’s attention as he adeptly auctioned dream vacations to Cabo and Italy, an heirloom quality quilt made from vintage Guatemalan fabrics, a guided fly fishing trip, and a festively painted wheelbarrow full of local craft beer!

Otherwise guests enjoyed tapas and beverages while wandering the Guatemalan Market and silent auction.  Conversations were lively and the live marimba music and ambiance of Mile High Station were a perfect backdrop for promoting a good cause.  Next year’s Gala, which will likely be at a different venue, has a lot to live up to.  We hope to see you there!

Friendship Bridge Recognized for SPM

In April, Friendship Bridge was acknowledged for its leadership in the use of Social Performance Management (SPM) by two organizations that are leading the way in promoting the importance of SPM in the microfinance industry:  Grameen Foundation and MIX.

[do action=”image-right”]2014/05/PPI_logo-2-e1399657692416.png[/do]In its recent report, 2014 Global Report on Poverty Measurement with the Progress Out of Poverty Index, Grameen Foundation highlighted Friendship Bridge along with seven other organizations who exemplify best practices using the Progress Out of Poverty Index (PPI), a poverty measurement tool for organizations with a mission to serve the poor.  Nearly three quarters of PPI users (142) are MFIs.  Friendship Bridge was an early user of the tool, evincing our commitment to serving our clients in the best ways possible.

[do action=”image-right”]2014/05/MIX-Market-logo-2-e1399658803321.png[/do]MIX has long promoted transparency among microfinance organizations regarding their financial performance.  With the increased use of SPM in the industry, they recently began corroborating the social performance of MFIs as well.  Friendship Bridge is one of the first 24 recipients of their brand new STAR (Socially Transparent and Responsible) Recognition.  Two hundred organizations participated.  Friendship Bridge is also the first organization to receive recognition in Central America.  STAR Recognition is awarded to MFIs that have achieved a high level of compliance with the Social Performance Task Force’s (SPTF) Universal Standards of Social Performance Management (USSPM) as evidenced by the documentation provided by each MFI.  Environmental protection policies (not covered by the USSPM) are considered as well.  Source: http://www.mixmarket.org/sites/default/files/star_factsheet_final_en.pdf)


Friendship Bridge Announces New Country Director

[do action=”image-right”]2014/04/AstridCardonaLR-150×150.jpg[/do]

Dear Friends,

I am happy to report that Friendship Bridge has seen tremendous growth and success over the last few years because of our team’s strong commitment to the 2011-2013 Strategic Plan. These successes have laid the foundation for our next phase of growth outlined in the 2014-2016 Strategic Plan “Expanding the Bridge”.  To achieve these goals, the time has come to create a new position at Friendship Bridge, the Country Director.  I am very excited to announce that Astrid Cardona will be promoted to this new position effective immediately.

Astrid joined Friendship Bridge five years ago and has worked closely with me, as a member of the leadership team, to successfully grow Friendship Bridge to where we are today.  She worked alongside other members of the leadership team to create the institution’s foundation, stability and focus that now allows us to expand even further and achieve our mission.

Astrid’s new team will include the Credit and Operations Director, Social Performance Manager, Education Manager, Human Resources Manager and Finance Manager (a new position at Friendship Bridge).  I am confident in Astrid’s leadership and with this new team. Together we will embark upon the 2014-2016 Strategic Plan under their leadership.  Astrid and her team will be instrumental in achieving the ambitious and exciting goals we have set to improve the lives of our clients.

Thank you for your continued support of Friendship Bridge.

Karen Larson
Executive Director

The Art of Weaving – Honoring Ancient Techniques

[do action=”image-right”]2014/04/MariaLeonarda.jpg[/do] María Leonarda Luc Icu de Chicol
Age: 24 years old
Marital Status: married
Husbands job: farm laborer
Number of children: 2 boys
Loan cycle: 3rd
Loan Amount: $420
Trust Bank: Las Marías de San Jose Chiriju
Role: President
Location: San Jose Chirijuyu, Tecpan Guatemala, Chimaltenango, Guatemala
Business: Artisan weaver

The Tecpan region of Guatemala is located within the department of Chimaltenango, a little over 50 kilometers from Guatemala City.  Tecpán is known as the “first capital of Guatemala” and is popular for its landscapes and varied vegetation.  It is also extremely rich in Mayan history and culture dating back to the earliest origins of settlement in Guatemala.

María Leonarda Luc Icu de Chicol is in her 3rd loan cycle with Friendship Bridge.  She is an artisan weaver that works hard to support her two children and extended family members when her husband is out of work.  María uses traditional weaving techniques handed down through generations. Her grandmother first taught her to how to weave using a back strap loom.  She weaves various patterns unique to her region.  She makes huipils, scarfs and blankets.  She takes a great deal of pride in her work, expressing a personal pledge to uphold her family’s craftsmanship.  “My grandmother taught me these techniques and I try to honor her memory through my work,” Maria says.

“Since joining the Friendship Bridge program, I have been able to use my loans to purchase more thread and even another loom.  I’m teaching my sister to weave, and she is now helping the family earn more.  The loans have given us more opportunity and helped me grow our business.  I think my grandmother would be proud,” María says with a smile.

Special thank you to ShareBrands for supporting women like María.

[do action=”scaling-image”]2014/04/MariaLeonardaTrustBank.jpg[/do]

The Women Who Helped Rebuild After Hurricane Mitch

[do action=”scaling-image”]2014/03/Ixchel-Trust-Bank.jpg[/do]

Ixchel Trust Bank

Location: Nueva Santa Catarina Ixtahuacan, Sololá, Guatemala
Loan Cycles:  16
Members:  7
Average age of members:  35 years
Average school level of members: 2.4 years
Average loan size: US $439

Seven ladies, most of whom have not attended school, compose the Trust Bank called Ixchel.  Sixteen loan cycles prove their great desire to excel as they go about their daily round in Nueva Catarina Ixtahuacan, one of the coldest parts of Guatemala.

Nueva Santa Catarina Ixtahuacan is a relatively new village.  It was formed in 1998 when Hurricane Mitch destroyed 60%of the village of Santa Catarina Ixtahuacan.  The residents decided to establish a new village on higher ground which now has a population of around 4,000 people.  It is known for its Mayan culture: they speak the K’iche language, and weave in the Mayan tradition using a back-strap loom.  Therefore the vast majority of the ladies of Ixchel Trust Bank are artisans, producing textiles (the “tipica” common in Guatemala).

Like all Friendship Bridge Trust Banks, this group has its own officers.  Their current President is Maria Tambriz Panquim (pictured above, second from the left).  At 55, she is one of the founding members.  She offers her kitchen every month so the group can meet together to make their loan payments and get training on different topics including children’s education, women’s rights, health, hygiene, business administration, etc.  This month the topic is Budget Management.  The women learn to prioritize the expenses of their families and their businesses, using the case of a member of the group.  “The trainings have been very useful in my own life since I never went to school.  I understood its importance, and have passed along what I’ve learned to all my children.  Friendship Bridge emphasizes this consistently,” says Maria Tambriz.

The women say they enjoy the Trust Bank meetings because of the treatment they receive and the opportunity to share with one another.  They are given the power to choose for themselves and the freedom to express themselves during group meetings.  In the words of one member, they feel “important and empowered”.  As a result, their businesses and families have benefited from their rise in self-confidence and determination.  Some businesses have been sources of employment in the community — María Tambriz and Catarina Xocol have employed two and one person respectively.  Another member, Juana Venancia Juana (pictured above, third from the left) enlists the help of her younger sister with her business.  She is 19 years old and the youngest of the group.  This is her first loan cycle and she is using the funds to make typical skirts called cortes.  The revenue she earns will help support her family and also allow her to contribute to her own school expenses.  She is a senior in high school and very excited about the prospect of receiving a certificate in Accounting at the end of this year.

Thank you to the Westminster 7:10 Rotary Club and all other participating clubs for this grant.


A Look Back and Forward: International Women’s Day

IntlWomensDayBy Jelica “Eli” IselyEli is a member of the Foothills Circle that supports Friendship Bridge.  She has served as President of the Women’s Organization of Skopje (the capital of Macedonia) and has traveled throughout the world learning more about women’s rights.  The Foothills Circle is hosting an event to celebration International Women’s Day, for more information, click here.

I’d like to share with you a little bit of the history of International Women’s Day. It is an official holiday in twenty-seven countries and has been observed since the early 1900’s.

Although New Zealand was the first country to officially give women the right to vote in 1893, here in the US, women got their first chance in 1756. Ms. Lydia Taft, from New Jersey, was the first lady to vote.  Unfortunately, in 1807 that right was revoked and it wasn’t until 1869 that Wyoming gave women a voting right in the U.S. again. Utah followed suite in 1870.

Initial movements:
In 1910, Clara Zetkin, a Leader of the Women’s Office for the Social Democratic Party in Germany, started promoting the idea of an International Women’s Day. It was then announced in Europe, in Austria, Denmark, Germany and Switzerland.

Unfortunately, in 1911, 140 working women were killed in New York because of unbearable working conditions. This disastrous event drew significant attention to working conditions and labor legislation in the U.S., which became a focus of subsequent International Women’s Day events.

In 1912 the world saw women’s Bread and Roses campaign  in Lawrence, Massachusetts, when women marched for better working conditions and pay.

In 1917 Russian women started a strike for Bread and Peace in response to more than two million causalities in the war. The Czar abdicated and the Provisional Government gave the women a right to vote.

It was 8th of March.

Then in 1920, the U.S. it was officially added as an Amendment in Constitution. Women had their right to vote!  But it wasn’t until 1975 that International Women’s Day was recognized by the United Nations.

The day of honoring women, their equality and emancipation.

The unfortunate fact is that women are still not paid equally for the same jobs, women are still not present in equal numbers in business and politics, and globally, women’s education, health and violence against women is worse than that of men.  We must fight that!

However, great improvements have been made; we do have female astronauts, prime ministers, and presidents of countries.

Hillary Clinton’s speech in China, nine years ago, was titled Women’s Rights are Human Rights. Yes they are!  In her speech, she underlined the necessity of women coming together and sharing our aspirations, concerns, and plans for the future of our children, family, and our businesses.  Women who join together to give their children access to education, health care, jobs and credit, a chance to enjoy basic legal and human rights, and participate fully in the political life of the country.

We will gather in Golden to celebrate International Women’s Day and raise funds for Friendship Bridge.  We are homemakers, teachers, nurses, doctors, lawyers, policymakers, businesswomen, from so many different fields. Still each of us is building a good life for our families.  We can make our families flourish. And then the whole society will flourish!

Let us create a world in which every woman is treated with respect and dignity, every child is loved and cared for equally, and every family has the hope of a strong and stable future.

Let’s celebrate 8th of March with new victories for total equality!