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Experiencing Magic and Friendship in Guatemala

by Laura Lambrecht

In February, I had the privilege of visiting Guatemala with a dozen other women who volunteer in the USA to help fundraise and get word out about Friendship Bridge, a nonprofit that focuses on creating opportunities that empower women through microcredit, education, and preventive health services.

We saw first hand how Friendship Bridge is profoundly impacting women (and their families) in Guatemala. We observed Trust Bank meetings and business training seminars. We visited villages near Lake Atitlan to meet and learn from local women artisans in Friendship Bridge’s program. Most of the artisans worked in their homes so we were welcomed into intimate settings, saw their humble dwellings, met their lively children, and saw the places where they create such intricate, colorful creations. I was awestruck to see such exceptional textiles being created by women kneeling on the floor working with their backstrap looms.

We had long bus rides, boat rides, and exciting rides in tuk-tuks (rickshaws). We also stood in the back of a pickup truck as we drove in the mountains along winding dirt roads, laughing with joy (and fear!) as we enjoyed glimpses of Lake Atitlan and the volcanoes that surround it.

However, my experience in Guatemala would not have been the same without Marta Julia. I was immediately drawn in by her caring nature, friendly demeanor, and the wealth of information she so freely gave. Every day she greeted us with her sweet smile. It was easy to tell that Marta has a deep love of her community and culture and wanted others to see the beauty in it too. There are many Maya languages spoken in Guatemala and Marta spoke several in addition to being fluent in both English and Spanish. She switched between multiple Maya languages and English without even taking a breath. Amazing.

Marta deepened my understanding of the culture. She was protective of our group and guided us through crowded markets, restaurant menus, uneven dirt paths, and social exchanges. She even shared challenges of her own about trying to balance the traditional Maya expectations of her family with her desire to seek college degrees and work in a career that was far from traditional for a Maya woman. At night when we would return to our hotel, dusty and tired from the long day’s journey, Marta would stay up late doing homework for her graduate degree. She is focused on her education and creating more opportunities for herself and her family.

Marta exemplifies Friendship Bridge’s mission to create opportunities that empower women. I have deep respect for her. There is no doubt in my mind that she will be successful at whatever path she chooses. I hope that I will get to walk with her again soon on those magical, dusty Guatemala roads.

Editor’s Note: Special thanks to our Friendship Circles who work hard to raise awareness about our critical work with women in Guatemala and who also fundraise for the organization while educating communities on global issues.  If you would like more information on how to get involved or start a Friendship Circle, click HERE.

Laura Lambrecht lives in Louisville, CO, with her husband and two teenage boys. She grew up in Boulder. For the past six years, Laura has owned Bella Frida, a boutique that highlights hhandmade ethical fashion in Lafayette, CO. She is currently in the process of closing her retail store and creating a new path: consulting for artisan made lines. Laura is very passionate about empowering women around the world and supporting indigenous artisans. Laura has been carrying Friendship Bridge goods in her store for the last four years and is also a volunteer for the Boulder Friendship Circle. She traveled with Friendship Bridge on the Insight Trip to Guatemala in February of 2017, and was greatly moved by the wonderful experience.

Living, Learning, and Storytelling in Guatemala

by Anne-Celine Jeffroy-Meynard 

As my first week interning at Friendship Bridge in Guatemala comes to a close, I am very humbled, thankful, and excited for the next eight weeks! Getting to meet women who are the heart and purpose of Friendship Bridge motivates me to lift their voices through storytelling.

Working in Sololá, there is always movement and a friendly face to meet in the office. I am often greeted with a kiss on the cheek and a, “mucho gusto” by employees. Being able to work in such a dynamic and energized office makes the workday go by quickly! I find myself staying past the end of the workday, often without realizing it, because I’ll be editing an interview or chatting with a coworker over tea or coffee.

During my first week in Guatemala, I visited a Trust Bank comprised of seven K’iche women in the Western Highlands. After walking, taking two buses, and one tuk-tuk, we arrived at their village and were welcomed by a group of kids eager to play with our notebooks and devices while practicing their Spanish (the primary language there is K’iche).

Right on time, the Facilitator started the meeting with an ice-breaker. Following this, the Facilitator described how Friendship Bridge’s Microcredit Plus program works and what they can expect during their monthly repayment meetings and Non-Formal Education sessions. Finally, while the Facilitator asked each woman specific questions for monitoring and evaluation purposes, my co-worker and I interviewed the president of the Trust Bank, Santos. Santos is an illiterate, 35-year-old woman with five children who runs her own sewing and weaving business of traditional Maya clothing including huipils (traditional blouses) and fajas (traditional belts).

Before leaving, we all sat down to snack on freshly made horchata (a rice drink) and sweet bread, a delicious and satisfying treat. This was my favorite moment – enjoying an extremely generous meal while talking with the women and the children, laughing and smiling. Soon after, we said our goodbyes and traveled back to Sololá by bus, tuk-tuk, and foot.

This first experience in the field got me very excited about my future work – meeting more incredible women to tell their story. The women I met are self-starters, motivated, and hardworking. I’m sure they will succeed. I am very excited as I embark on this journey with Friendship Bridge, and I know I will continue to grow through more time in the field.

Anne-Celine Jeffroy-Meynard is studying International Studies and Public Affairs with a focus on Public Health at Seattle University. She grew up bi-culturally, half in the San Rafael, CA, half in St. Malo, France. Anne-Celine has previously studied abroad in India, South Africa, and Brazil on a community health program where she did primary research and fieldwork on environmental health. She has also virtually interned with USAID through Virtual Student Foreign Service analyzing their HIV program in Namibia. Currently, she is interning with Friendship Bridge in Sololá, Guatemala where she is acting as a Field Blogger and Storyteller. In the future, she hopes to engage in the field of global health to empower the voices and experiences of those who have been silenced by unequitable healthcare systems.

Faces of Empowerment – Education Has No Age Limit

“I consider myself a dreamer. I was widowed nine years ago. I was left alone with two daughters and pregnant with my son when my husband died. I think that now, with my loans, I will have a better future. I have the goal to be educated as a professional too. With my loans, with my growing business, and after my children become professionals, they will help me. Even though I didn’t get my degree as a young person, there is no age limitation to becoming educated.  That’s what I believe, and that’s what I’m going to do.” -Doña Juana, Friendship Bridge Client

 

 

Faces of Empowerment – Entrepreneurs Create Change

“A woman entrepreneur is, for example in my case, a person who sets goals and objectives and who no matter what gets it done. Ever since I was young and single, I dreamed of having children that would finish high school and become professionals.  I wasn’t able to.

Thank God, Friendship Bridge gave me a hand up to reach my goals. Credit helps a lot as long as it’s invested. My goal for the future is to keep working hard so that my children can better our restaurant business.  Right now we’re also renting, but we’re working to buy our own place.” – Delfina, Friendship Bridge Client

Faces of Empowerment – You Reap What You Sow

“Not many organizations exist who will give financing to agriculture clients –especially not women – due to the high risk from bad practices or the weather. However Friendship Bridge not only gives us loans, they also give us technical support on best agriculture practices. Today, my husband and I are business partners. We make decisions together. He’s also thankful for what we’ve learned through Friendship Bridge. Since building a greenhouse, we grow tomatoes and peppers provide a weekly income.”
– Doña María, Friendship Bridge Agriculture Client

Click to learn more about the Women’s Agriculture & Credit program.

Faces of Empowerment – From Mom, to Wife, to Entrepreneur

Photo by Susan Ryan Kalina

“I was the oldest of 12 siblings, so I never went to school in order to help my mom at home. My mom and dad were merchants and traveled, so I kept the house. I met my husband at 14, and started my own home. Now I have four children and we all work at our tailor shop primarily making jean pants. I also started a small grocery store. I used the profit from the grocery store to send my children to school. When I found Friendship Bridge, I got the capital I needed to expand the grocery store as well as my tailor shop. Friendship Bridge has made a great impact on our family because the loan was not just for my benefit, but for the benefit of our family business.” – Doña Catarina

Faces of Empowerment – Thanksgiving: I have my health!

“I began my first business at 16 years old, selling food on the street. I married at 17 and had my first child at 18. I have a total of nine children, but three have died. I fought for their lives, but due to lack of access to health services, I couldn’t save them. After I found Friendship Bridge I gained access to preventive health services, and it saved my life. After my pap smear, they detected cervical cancer. Since I knew I was dying there was no reason to seek treatment. I felt extremely sad. My nurse, Rebecca, changed my mind. Rebecca is not my daughter, but she is my life-giving angel. I’m so grateful to Nurse Rebecca, my Facilitator Gloria, and the support they gave me. They always told me,‘We fight together, and we’ll win together.’ Now I’m here talking about my victory. I want other women to hear my story. It could save their lives. It’s our job to make the decision to defeat sickness; if I can do it, another woman can do it too.”
-Maria, Friendship Bridge Client

Faces of Empowerment – Building a Business

“My parents separated when I was six months old, and neither one of them wanted to care for me, so my grandparents took me in. Even in their impoverished state, they gave me what I needed, and I attended school to the fourth grade. I know how to read and write. Now I’m married with three daughters, and my husband and I repair furniture and upholstery. Now with my loan from Friendship Bridge, we have begun building furniture and selling it. With our savings, one day, we will build our own home.”  -Lucrecia, Friendship Bridge Client

Más que un microcrédito: Por qué la lucha contra la pobreza requiere más que un préstamo

Doña Herminia, cliente de Puente de Amistad, elabora hilo de algodón cerca de su tienda en  San Juan La Laguna, Guatemala.

GARY CARRIER / HARRISON PHARAMOND

Las microfinanzas hoy en día son un sector de $92 mil millones, con más de 100 millones de prestatarios en más de 75 países en todo el mundo. Pero las microfinanzas no son una panacea contra la pobreza; y las antiguas creencias de que con el microcrédito se podría salir de la pobreza, han sido desbancadas.

El microcrédito por si solo puede proporcionar a los prestatarios, especialmente a las mujeres, más libertad en sus decisiones, y puede también minimizar el impacto de eventos inesperados como enfermedades, pérdidas de cosechas, o muerte de ganado. Pero la realidad es que el acceso a créditos asequibles y de confianza es sólo una parte importante de un conjunto más amplio de recursos requeridos por las personas que viven bajo el umbral de la pobreza.

MCE Social Capital, una empresa de inversión de impacto social sin fines de lucro con sede en los Estados Unidos, entiende que el simple acceso al crédito no es suficiente para romper el ciclo de pobreza para la mayoría de las familias. Sin embargo, esto no nos impide invertir en instituciones de microfinanzas (IMFs). Creemos que las IMFs que se enfocan en las mujeres y las personas que viven en zonas rurales están en una posición única para ofrecer servicios adicionales que aborden la pobreza de manera integral. Esas IMFs comprometidas a ayudar a sus clientes a lograr una mejor calidad de vida a menudo complementan los microcréditos tradicionales con otros servicios adicionales para generar un impacto sostenible en la vida de sus clientes. MCE utiliza un modelo único de garantía de préstamos para dar crédito a las IMFs que ofrecen estos “servicios adicionales”; así como a las pequeñas y medianas empresas (PyMEs) en en países en vías de desarrollo alrededor del mundo.

Combinado con el marcado enfoque para favorecer a las mujeres y los clientes que viven en zonas rurales, MCE mantiene su compromiso de invertir en las IMFs que tengan estos servicios adicionales (a parte del crédito) integrados en su ADN. De hecho, el 81 por ciento de las 53 IMFs actualmente en nuestra cartera ofrecen al menos un tipo de servicio adicional al crédito. Estos servicios pueden variar desde productos financieros adicionales o personalizados como ahorros, seguros y préstamos para energía verde; a productos no financieros como servicios de salud, programas de educación financiera, capacitación para el empoderamiento de las mujeres, servicios legales y asistencia técnica.

Uno de esos socios es Puente de Amistad, una organización sin fines de lucro que promueve el uso de servicios adicionales en Guatemala; creando oportunidades que empoderan a las mujeres guatemaltecas para crear mejores futuros para ellas mismas, sus hijos y sus comunidades a través de microcréditos, educación y servicios de salud. Puente de Amistad combina pequeños préstamos con educación informal sobre una variedad de temas, incluyendo habilidades comerciales, derechos de la mujer y salud. Cada año, aproximadamente 30,000 mujeres se benefician de estos programas, y al mismo tiempo el programa de microcrédito de Puente de Amistad mantiene una tasa de repago de préstamo de más del 97 por ciento.

Uno de los clientes de Puente de Amistad es Ixoq Aj Keem, una cooperativa textil tradicional de 20 mujeres mayas ubicada en el pequeño pueblo de San Juan La Laguna, Guatemala. Herminia Catarina Ramos Hernández, presidenta de Ixoq Aj Keem, se dedica a fomentar el desarrollo socioeconómico e intelectual de su comunidad mediante al uso de las tradiciones de sus antepasados ​​para crear productos textiles de alta calidad.

Ixoq Aj Keem es parte del Programa de Acceso al Mercado Artesano de Puente de Amistad, que apoya a los artesanos en toda Guatemala con entrenamiento diseñado para prepararlos a acceder a nuevos mercados, especialmente al mercado global. Puente de Amistad brinda un apoyo inigualable a través de sesiones de capacitación mensual y llamadas semanales con mentores, durante las cuales Ramos Hernández tiene la oportunidad de compartir sus experiencias, desafíos y motivaciones con otras mujeres empresarias, así como analizar las operaciones de Ixoq Aj Keem.

“En el último año que he estado en el programa de artesanía con Puente de Amistad, Ixoq Aj Keem ha logrado muchas cosas, incluyendo vender productos a los Estados Unidos,” dice Ramos Hernández. “Las organizaciones que nos ayudan, como Puente de Amistad, son muy importantes. Con ellos, no debemos tener miedo del futuro de nuestros negocios . . . Las mujeres aquí pueden continuar avanzando en sus trabajos, administrar sus propios proyectos, tiendas y otras actividades. Podemos avanzar juntos.”

Se necesita más información al respecto, pero la evidencia inicial sugiere que tanto las IMFs como sus clientes se benefician de la provisión de estos servicios adicionales. Esto también es evidente en varios estudios de casos recientes, incluido un estudio de 2014 sobre el impacto de los servicios no financieros en el rendimiento de las mujeres empresarias en Nigeria, que concluye que el crédito combinado con la capacitación empresarial tiene una “relación positiva significativa en los ingresos, activos y ahorro de las emprendedoras”. El estudio enfatiza los beneficios adicionales de las reuniones de la red en las que los empresarios pueden “compartir experiencias que mejorarán su desempeño comercial.” Otros estudios han concluido que las IMFs no sólo están bien posicionadas para proporcionar capital financiero a quienes lo necesitan más; sino también para promover el emprendimiento exitoso a través del desarrollo de capital psicológico y social con la provisión de apoyo comercial y oportunidades para la interacción social.

Para las IMFs existe evidencia de que la provisión de servicios adicionales, si está efectivamente integrada en las operaciones de la institución, puede llegar a mejorar la calidad de la cartera al mismo tiempo que mejora el impacto social de las IMFs. Investigaciones también han demostrado que la provisión de estos servicios puede facilitar tasas más altas de reembolso y retención de clientes. Ramos Hernández e Ixoq Aj Keem son un ejemplo de los beneficios de los servicios adicionales al crédito, que agregan valor real a la colaboración de Ramos Hernández con Puente de Amistad a través del intercambio de conocimiento, experiencias y la oportunidad de conectar con mujeres empresarias con motivaciones similares.

La industria microfinanciera ha entrado en una nueva era. Los días en los que el microcrédito era proclamado como la panacea contra la pobreza mundial ya pasaron; pero la historia del impacto de las microfinanzas en la lucha contra la pobreza global no ha terminado. Las organizaciones que entienden las necesidades y limitaciones de las comunidades empobrecidas y que complementan este conocimiento con una combinación de servicios financieros y servicios adicionales no sólo están preparados a generar un impacto sostenible en las familias a las que sirven; sino también a determinar la reputación de todo el sector. Con una tasa de crecimiento mundial estimada de 10 a 15 por ciento para 2017, y tasas de crecimiento similares en 2016 y 2015, está claro que el sector microfinanciero está aquí para quedarse. Pero su reputación todavía está bajo vigilancia. Las IMFs, los financiadores, y otros actores que apoyan el sector, como los inversores de impacto, comparten la responsabilidad de garantizar que las microfinanzas se conviertan en la fundación de la lucha contra la pobreza y no una oportunidad perdida.

Si la historia de Ramos Hernández sirve de alguna indicación, somos conscientes de que este objetivo está a nuestro alcance.

 

Faces of Empowerment – Generational Change

“My grandmother, my mother, and I never went to school, but I’ve always looked for opportunities to grow. In my grandmother’s day, no one would give loans to indigenous women in rural areas, but I have a loan today, and I can access working capital to weave. My two daughters have attended school, and I want them to continue studying to prepare themselves for a better future. I cannot read or write, but my oldest daughter is helping me with my business since she has finished high school. I dream that both my daughters reach college. Thanks to my business, I’ve given formal education to my daughters and I’ve built my own house. I’m very happy. I feel prepared for new challenges.”
– Santos, Friendship Bridge Artisan Client

Faces of Empowerment – The Power of Education

by Rachel Turner

For the following nine weeks, Friendship Bridge is proud to present the photo series, Faces of Empowerment.  The women you will meet in this series are strong, smart, and determined to better their futures.  Welcome to the first photo of Faces of Empowerment.

“Each month after I come home from the Friendship Bridge education session, I talk to my daughter, Yani, about what I’ve learned. It’s exciting to pass on to my daughter what I’m learning about how strong and capable women are. Before I came to Friendship Bridge, I always heard that men know more than women, but Friendship Bridge has elevated us women and encouraged us by teaching us that men and women have the same value, and they should have the same rights. We are to be equally valued. This is the lesson I’ve remembered most and the one that I teach my daughter often.”
-Doña Arasely, Friendship Bridge Client

Friendship Bridge clients continue along their monthly journeys, making loan payments and receiving monthly Non-Formal Education lessons on the four pillars – women, family, business, and health.  The Cada Mes Club, our monthly donors, follows this journey closely. The Club’s support is integral in providing this life-changing education. This quarter, we’re teaching clients how to manage business logs.  Click here to learn how to join the Cada Mes Club.

A Day in the Life of Silvia – Friendship Bridge Artisan Client