Empower women. Eliminate poverty.

Recent Posts

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!

Drivers of Change: International Women’s Day

Global Partnerships Partner with Friendship BridgeBelow is an excerpt of an article published today in Global Partnerships Blog.  For the full article, click here.

By Tara Murphy Forde, director of research & impact, Global Partnerships, and Karen Larson, executive director, Friendship Bridge 

We’re celebrating International Women’s Day (March 8, 2014) by highlighting the importance of empowering women around the world. This year’s U.N. theme is “Equality for women is progress for all,” and it echoes Global Partnerships’ (GP’s) belief that investing in women is one of the most effective ways to reduce poverty.

What Happens When Women are Empowered?

At GP we believe that increasing women’s access to resources and information enables them to make decisions that improve the wellbeing of their families, businesses, and communities. In turn we seek partners like Friendship Bridge, a nonprofit organization that provides microcredit and education to Guatemalan women, so they can create their own solutions to poverty. Through Friendship Bridge’s Microcredit Plus program, women start, expand or diversify their businesses and learn practical, applicable lessons on everyday topics including business, health and self-esteem. Today more than 20,000 Friendship Bridge clients participate in the program, resulting in:

  • A greater ability to weather economic shocks, such as illness or natural disaster
  • Decreased malnutrition
  • Decreased spousal abuse
  • Improved hygiene and health care
  • Increased number of children attending school, especially girls
  • Increased support, camaraderie, and self-esteem among borrowers
  • Increased family planning (borrowers are 50% more likely to have fewer children)

Empowering Women

GP seeks innovators – by that we mean organizations that aim to improve, refine, and renew their approach to solving the world’s toughest problems. By leveraging cross-trained loan officers to provide education during group repayment meetings, Friendship Bridge is achieving high levels of participation and excellent loan repayment rates while incurring low marginal costs. This refined approach means that Friendship Bridge can arm more women with the tools and information they need to transform their lives.

This is an excerpt of an article from Global Partnerships Blog.  For the full article, click here.

Meet the Women of Flor De Pamezabal

Guatemalan Women Eliminating PovertyFlor De Pamezabal

Location:  Pamezabal Santa Lucía Utatlan, Sololá, Guatemala.
Loan cycles:  4
Members:  9
Average age of members:  37 years
Average school level of members:  0.6 years
Average loan size: $438.75

The rural village of Pamezabal Santa Lucia Utatlán is located in the department (state) of Sololá in the southwestern region of Guatemala.  Its inhabitants speak Spanish and K’iche.  It is also home to the nine women who form the Trust Bank called Flor de Pamezabal.

Flor de Pamezabal was founded about four years ago.  During that time, the women have developed a strong sense of leadership within the group led by Magdalena Manuela, their President.  She says, “The women are responding with great responsibility.  They are outspoken, open to change, and united together.  They are also proud to say that 16 of their children — 11 primary school, four middle school, and one high school – will attend school this year.”  This is quite an accomplishment since the average education of the women in the group is only six years.

Rolanda is 49 years old with nine children.  She makes and sells traditional “cortes” skirts as do most of the members of the Trust Bank.  She recently joined the group after watching a friend expand her own business via Friendship Bridge’s support.  With two children still of school age, she hopes the financial support and monthly training from Friendship Bridge will increase her income enough that she can continue supporting them. “It is very exciting to see the changes in our children since taking our loans and growing our businesses.  Our children are watching us and the future of their village seems more hopeful,” she says.

The importance of the monthly training is exemplified by Cristina, a member who is in her third loan cycle managing a convenience store.  “Friendship Bridge is a nice organization.  We are pleased that many women are benefiting from its programs.  Personally I have learned a lot more about women’s health.  Sometimes we worry so much for others that we ignore the importance of our own health.  The training has made ​​me think more about myself than before,” Cristina says.

The Flor the Pamezabal Trust Bank wants to thank the Rotary Club for providing the support for its loans. “This is a wonderful gift,” one Trust Bank member remarked.

Thank you to the Westminster 7:10 Rotary Club and all other participating clubs for a grant to support these women.  It is greatly appreciated.

2013 Friendship Bridge Highlights

Signing for a Microloan, GuatemalaAs we embark on 2014, we wanted to share highlights from 2013.  These would not have been possible without the generous support from all of you.  Thank you!

In 2013, Friendship Bridge:

  • Maintained an excellent portfolio quality with 1.27% in write-offs, or $55K, and ending the year with PAR>30 of 0.43% – continuing to be one of the best portfolio results in the industry
  • Increased the number of clients from 15,750 to 19,969
  • Friendship Circles raised over $205,000 to support our mission
  • Promoted 7 employees, 42% of promotions went to women
  • 11.8% of new hires were clients
  • 517 clients attended advanced education or technical training
  • Conducted nearly 19,000 surveys to enhance programming,
  • Presented FB’s Social Performance Management at the Latin America  Village Banking Forum 2013 in Ecuador
  • Implemented a new database – GoProve – to assist in measuring impact
  • Launched new website to raise awareness and funds for FB clients
  • Published in Grameen Foundation’s Blog for our work with PPI
  • Offered tuition reimbursement for 16 employees in Guatemala
  • Initiated clean stove loan, part of our health initiative program
  • Instituted an education loan product at a low interest rate to help clients prioritize education for their children
  • 100% of FB Board of Directors supported our work with financial contributions

Eating Healthy in Rural Guatemala – Angeles Trust Bank

AngelesTB_webThe Angeles Trust Bank is a group of nine women from Santa Clara la Laguna, located high above Lake Atitlán in the Sololá department of southwestern Guatemala.  The average age of a member of this Trust Bank is 38 years old and the average education level is two years of formal education.  Now, however, most of these women are earning enough to send their children to school and that is a priority for them.

The women of Angeles Trust Bank have a variety of businesses mostly in commerce, including selling clay pots, kitchen materials, clothing, and produce.  A few raise bulls and chickens to sell at the market.  The Angeles Trust Bank have been together for over six loan cycles and have built strong friendships and have built a circle of support.

They met recently for their monthly repayment meeting and non-formal education lesson.  On this day Sara, their loan officer, taught them the importance of eating healthy food using available resources.  Often, members of the Trust Bank do not speak Spanish or cannot read, so Friendship Bridge provides easy to use flip charts and hands-on participation to ensure everyone learns.   A discussion comparing the importance of meat vs. vegetables begins and many of the women share their thoughts.

Lucia Dolores, who has five children, mentions that fruits and vegetables are nutritious, readily available in the community, and they are less expensive than meat.  Eating meat everyday for her family is not an option because of cost. Instead of spending $ 0.50 in herbs and other vegetables, sometimes they spend $5 on two pounds of meat and use it for just one meal. Sara, the Friendship Bridge loan officer, mentions that sometimes people think eating healthy means eating meat every day, but according to research the foods that should appear daily on the plate are: vegetables, fruits, bread, potatoes, tortillas, beans, rice, and oats, which are not hard to get.

At this time the conversation turns to mealtime hygiene.  Hygiene for the cooks and simple tasks like children washing their hands before every meal, for better health which means fewer doctor visits.

“Through Friendship Bridge, we are helping ourselves,” said group member Yolanda Yac. “Before we had access to credit, we made just a little bit. Now with our credit, we can buy the beads, thread and everything we need to make more fajas to sell. We couldn’t attend school, but thank God, we are fighting to educate our children and we can pay for them to go to school. The education Friendship Bridge provides is also a benefit for us. We can sell more and learn how to improve our businesses and invest in them.”

Fourth Quarter Highlights from Executive Director, Karen Larson

Dear Friends,

Season’s Greetings from all of us at Friendship Bridge!  After just returning from several weeks in Guatemala, I have much to share, but first, I would like to thank you all for the tremendous impact you had on Friendship Bridge this past year.  I am excited to highlight our many successes with you, and of course, if you are looking for more in-depth information on any of these highlights, please contact the Friendship Bridge office via e-mail or 303.674.0717.


  • Guatemalan women learn more about new, safe stoves with Friendship BridgePilot stove project health initiative rolled out in October – A recent study on open pit fires, used by many of our clients, found the deadly gas carbon monoxide was found to be fifteen times greater than the EPA base level considered to be dangerous (learn more at HELPS International).  Friendship Bridge is offering low-rate loans to help our clients transition to safer and healthier stoves.
  • Pricing study on interest rates proves Friendship Bridge remains in the lower quartile – Friendship Bridge recently completed a comprehensive pricing study of 13 competitors that make up 70 percent of the market share in Guatemala.  The study confirms that we have met our goal of offering loan rates in the lower quartile of the market.
  • Expanding the Bridge: 2014-2016 Strategic Plan sneak preview – Guided by comprehensive data evaluations, the 2014-2016 Strategic Plan includes enhanced credit and savings products, a focus on rural agriculture families, a market access program for artisan clients, implementing several health related initiatives, and growing successful relationships with partners including Kiva and Global Partnerships.  You will hear more about this in 2014.

I know it is a busy time of year for everyone, but I am grateful you have made the time to review our highlights.  We are in a very exciting stage in our organizational growth and I encourage you to remember Friendship Bridge and the potential of our many thousands of empowered women in your end-of-year giving.

All the best this holiday season,

Karen Larson
Executive Director

How poverty data influences strategy at Friendship Bridge

For many years, Friendship Bridge has been utilizing both qualitative and quantitative evaluation tools to monitor the impact of the mission.  In 2011, Friendship Bridge committed to a PPIlogomore consistent evaluation process to better monitor balanced financial and social performance, which included conducting a baseline study using the Progress out of Poverty Index (PPI).  The following year, Friendship Bridge institutionalized the PPI as part of its regular processes.  The data collected from these efforts are now used to shape the strategic plans and priorities for the organization.

The Grameen Foundation’s PPI blog recently highlighted Friendship Bridge for our efforts in using poverty data to influence strategy.  The data obtained through the PPI validates existing program strategy to deliver microcredit and education to our target market.  In addition, the data is guiding the 2014-2016 Strategic Plan to expand programs that offer diversified financial products and advanced educational services.  Please read the full blog post on the PPI blog here.

Giving the Gift of Empowerment

Empower Guatemalan WomenAfter receiving Microcredit Plus from Friendship Bridge, Vicenta left the back-breaking life in the fields behind to pursue her weaving trade.

At Friendship Bridge, our philosophy is simple: We believe women are the key to economic development.  Over the past year, Friendship Bridge offered more than 19,000 Guatemalan women loans and education programs to help them create their own solutions to poverty. Through microloans and education, you are helping to turn the tide in Guatemala by providing women the skills and resources to build sustainable futures.  Renewable loans for as little as $125 allow them to enhance their own small businesses such as artisan trades, raising livestock, and making and selling food products.

Case in point: Vicenta Zaput Palax.  From the age of 11, Vicenta worked in the cotton and coffee fields along the southern coast of Guatemala.  With only three years of formal education, planting and harvesting year after year became a way of life.  While working the fields had always put food on the table, what she really loved was weaving.  After receiving Microcredit Plus from Friendship Bridge, Vicenta was able to turn her love for weaving into a business, capable of supporting herself and her family.

In fact, she is so successful that all of her children are now in school and she is also using what she has learned to help others in her community, Vicenta now leads an association of women artisans!  Women like Vicenta are a perfect example of how microloans combined with education can empower women to find their dreams and become change agents in their families and communities.

The success of these programs and the women we serve, would not be possible without donors like you.  Please consider making a significant impact with your donation this holiday season by investing in women through Friendship Bridge.  Your donation will provide life-changing microloans and education programs to help women grow their businesses, create change for themselves, their families and communities, and like Vicenta, find their dreams.

Click here to give the gift of empowerment.

Visiting Guatemala with Friendship Bridge

By: Meryle Melnicoff

On the recommendation of a friend, I signed up for the November Insight trip, organized and hosted by Friendship Bridge.  As a believer in the power of micro-finance to improve lives, I wanted to see how Friendship Bridge works with its women clients.  The trip turned out to be filled with many wonderful surprises and delights.

My first surprise was the country of Guatemala itself.   At the urging of the Friendship Bridge staff, I went straight to the town of Antigua from the airport instead of staying in the capital of Guatemala City.  Antigua is a lovely tourist town full of shops and markets where you can purchase the wonderful hand-woven articles that are unique to Guatemala.  Anyone who enjoys quality handicrafts and artwork will have a wonderful time in this town.  After Antigua, we went to Lake Atitlan, which is a magnificent lake surrounded by beautiful mountains, which I learned were active volcanoes.

The most meaningful moments of my Insight trip were our visits to the Friendship Bridge clients, many of whom are located in the small towns and villages around Lake Atitlan.  During these visits we saw the power of micro-finance to improve lives.  We met with some long-term Friendship Bridge clients who now have thriving businesses such as restaurants, shops selling local goods, and even a multi-family clothing factory; these businesses now supported the women and their entire families.

Clients Learning about Children Education

FB Loan Officer teaching clients about the importance of education for their children.

During one client visit, we had the opportunity to observe – and participate in – a repayment meeting and that is when I learned how special and unique the Friendship Bridge micro-loan program is in Guatemala.  Once a month each Trust Bank (a group of 8-12 women who have agreed to guarantee each others’ loans) meets with a Friendship Bridge loan officer.  Instead of simply making their payment and then leaving, as would be the case with a for-profit micro-loan company, the women meet for an hour for a bonding and educational session.  These educational sessions are the real reason the Friendship Bridge clients rise out of poverty: the clients learn about the importance of keeping their children in school, mental and physical health, family planning, and managing their business.  One impact of these sessions is that, in a country with only a fifty percent literacy rate, we know that Friendship Bridge clients are now able to prioritize education for their children.

Guatemala is a beautiful country that is growing and prospering, but it still has many people, mainly indigenous Mayans, living in poverty and without education.   Thanks to the work of Friendship Bridge, 19,000 families are now led by empowered women who are getting the financial and educational support to lift themselves out of poverty.  Much has been accomplished in Guatemala in the past 15 years, but there is still much more to do.

View a photo album of Meryle’s trip, here.  Photos by: Doug Smith

Technical Training Creates New Love for Floral Arranging

Guatemalan women in technical trainingFriendship Bridge is continuing to make huge strides with our advanced education and technical training initiative.  To date, over 700 women have participated in a technical training to help take their business to the next level.   Through a variety of strategic partnerships with key organizations in Guatemala, we have sponsored courses on topics ranging from pastry making and canning to improved agriculture techniques and flower arranging.

Recently, a handful of our clients completed a training dedicated specifically to the art of flower arranging.  This skill is versatile as it can give clients a variety of opportunities including:

1) Store owners can create a new stream of income

2) Allows women to start a second small business

3) Presents an opportunity for women who really enjoy the art, to move from their current career into a new one

In addition to enhancing their businesses, the women in these technical trainings report that they love to get out of the house, form new relationships and the new skill boosts their confidence levels.