Empower women. Eliminate poverty.

Recent Posts

Friendship Bridge Hosts It’s First Artisan Trunk Show

Elena has been a client with Friendship Bridge for 10 years. She is a Leader in Friendship Bridge’s Client Continuum and in the Advanced level of the Artisan Market Access Program. She has started to export her products to the US, and shares “Friendship Bridge is the only organization that gives us this chance to develop as business owners and women without requiring anything of us in return.”

Twenty three Friendship Bridge clients, such as Elena showcased their beautiful products on Wednesday, July 11 at the Ütz’Ipetïk Trunk Show hosted by Friendship Bridge in our central office in Panajachel, Guatemala. The show attracted 13 wholesale and retail companies. Nearly $2,000 (Q14,057) in products were sold during the event, with a possibility of another $1,352 (Q10,000) in orders. The event attracted several national and local press, including an article published in the country’s largest newspaper, Prensa Libre.  

Friendship Bridge currently serves over 4,000 artist and artisan clients. Through surveys and client research, many of these women have expressed the need to access new markets to sell their products and bolster their income. However, many of these artisans are isolated by language and geogra­phy, and many lack the business skills to thrive in the modern marketplace.

Started in 2015, Friendship Bridge’s Artisan Market Access Program provides our artist and artisan clients with trainings designed to ready them to access new markets –local, national, and international. Trainings focus on topics such as quality of raw materials, buyer expectations, and trends and preferences of the North American market. Clients are also trained about product pricing to ensure they receive a fair wage for their work.

Approximately 40 clients participate in the Artisan Market Access trainings each year as part of our Microcredit Plus program. Loan officers identify potential clients who have been segmented into Entrepreneur or Leader categories according to Friendship Bridge’s Client Continuum strategy. Intermediate, Advanced and Post-advanced clients of the Artisan Market Access program had the opportunity to display their items at Wednesday’s show. This event was organized as part of the Artisan Market Access training. We hope to make this an annual opportunity for clients who are eligible to participate in the annual trainings.


Addressing Climate Change Through Microcredit

by Kyra Coates and Marta Julia Ixtuc Cuc


In Guatemala, one of the poorest countries in Latin America, the topic of climate change is on the lips of everyone. In recent years there has been a large increase in natural disasters, from excessive drought in the high regions of the country to excessive flooding and increase in average temperatures. In the rural areas many communities largely grow their own food through traditional farming methods passed down from generation to generation, yet in recent years many of these techniques no longer work and malnutrition and starvation are on the rise. While 88% of agricultural land in Guatemala is in large-scale farms typically growing food for export, 92% of all farms in Guatemala are small community or family farms. Crop losses have been between 50% – 90% across the board in the “dry corridor” region due to drought and irregular rainfall. According to a report from the United Nations, as of June 2016, 3.5 million people in the this region of Guatemala needed humanitarian assistance.

Coffee Rust, photo by Lauren Markham, The World Post

Coffee farms have been the backbone of much of the exports in the Agriculture industry, but in a recent years, a prolific fungus called coffee “rust” spread further and further into the highlands due to increasing heat. Between 2010 and 2014 alone coffee rust caused an estimated $500 million in damages to coffee harvests in Central America.

Guatemala only contributes 0.5% of carbon emissions on the planet, yet due to its landscape and location, is in the top ten countries most affected by climate change. Agriculture makes up 12% of the national economy. And for Friendship Bridge, approximately 25% of our clients are in agriculture of some kind.

Marco Monroy, Friendship Bridge’s Agriculture Program Manager, has said,  “As a result of the ecological imbalance, it is necessary (for our clients) to invest more in agricultural technology such as coverage greenhouses, drip irrigation systems, plant protection products, use of improved seeds, etc. This increases the cost of production.”

As Agriculture in Guatemala grows more volatile Friendship Bridge has developed training for our clients in our Women’s Agriculture Credit & Training program to address these increasing challenges to the industry. These training specifically address topics such as water and soil conservation, rational use of fertilizers and pesticides, cost of production, saving for unforeseen disasters, and general risk-mitigation. We employ several clients who have gone through advanced levels of training to create demonstration plots in their own farms. These women then give training to newer clients on how to use more modern technology and methods to create more sustainable crops.

Ana and her family

Ana is one such client. In 2016, she joined Friendship Bridge, attracted to its Women’s Agriculture & Credit Training program. Although Ana grew up on farms, she knew that there were new soil and crop management technologies that she needed to learn. About a quarter of farming families depend entirely on their crops as their livelihood, so adopting the latest techniques and improving yields could make a big difference. “No other organization cares this much about farmers because agriculture can be a risky business,” Ana explains. “Nevertheless, Friendship Bridge has chosen to support us.”

On Ana’s acres, agronomists have reserved one onion field for their growing techniques, while Ana follows her traditional know-how on another field. “With 1 pound of my seeds, I can only cultivate 1 acre,” she says. “With their new techniques, I can cultivate 3 acres.”

The Women’s Agriculture Credit & Training program just launched in November 2016, and so far the results are really positive. Between the implementation of the program and in April 2018, we have seen 70% of our Agriculture clients increase their growth activity and crop yield, and 45% of our clients have increased their business assets.

Friendship Bridge is also in the process of setting up an insurance program for our Agriculture clients that will protect them in the event of a natural disaster, such as earthquakes, drought, and excess rain and flooding. This type of insurance is called “Esfuerzo Seguro” and is a micro-insurance that pays out to clients based on the scale of the disaster. Almost no farmers in Guatemala have insurance for their business in the event of natural disasters, but once implemented, nearly 75% of Friendship Bridge’s Agriculture clients will be covered. Our goal is to implement this in the next few months.

As the planet continues to change, so too we must adapt. The technology exists to create a more sustainable world. We at Friendship Bridge have dedicated ourselves to give our clients the best tools for success available. And we couldn’t do it without our supporters like you!

For the months of June and July, our partner W4 (Women’s WorldWide Web) is running a campaign that will match dollar-for-dollar donations up to $25,000 to support our Advanced Training programs like our Women’s Agriculture Credit & Training program. This is a great opportunity to double your impact! Please follow the link below to donate, and thank you from us here at Friendship Bridge and our clients!


Donate to W4 Campaign References:  1. https://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/climate-change-coffee-guatemala_us_589dd223e4b094a129ea4ea2

2. https://www.giz.de/en/worldwide/28409.html

3. http://www.entremundos.org/revista/environment/climate-change/climate-change-in-guatemala/?lang=en

4. https://phys.org/news/2017-05-dying-guatemala-lake-underlines-climate.html

5. https://www.usaid.gov/guatemala/economic-growth


Kyra Coates is the US Marketing Coordinator at Friendship Bridge. She is a passionate advocate for Women’s Empowerment and has worked for years to promote equality. Outside her Friendship Bridge working hours she is an artist and gallery owner, a mother of two fierce and fabulous daughters, and a typical Colorado outdoorsy athletic girl.  



Marta Julia Ixtuc is the Communications Coordinator in Guatemala. Based in Sololá, she continues seeking to support the development of Guatemalan women in search of their own ways out of poverty.

Merging the Old with the New: Elena

by Marta Julia Ixtuc Cuc

“Without tradition, art is a flock of sheep without a shepherd. Without innovation, it is a corpse.”– Winston Churchill


From the docks of San Juan La Laguna, a quaint community on the shores of Lake Atitlán, the sun beats down as one trudges at a snail’s pace into town. After a ten-minute hill, one enters the weaving cooperative, Ixoq Aj Keem (Ish-ohck Ah Kem). A cool breeze runs through the airy workshop and awe takes hold as visitors gaze around at the hundreds of bright textiles draping the walls and hanging from the ceiling.

Here, 20 indigenous women of Maya descent marry the old with the new as they create scarves, bags, table runners, ponchos, makeup bags, and numerous other products from age-old weaving traditions. Elena, the cooperative’s founder, grew up in San Juan and learned how to weave at the age of 8. This practice holds a special cultural place among Guatemala’s 20+ indigenous communities. It often gets passed down from mother to daughter through the generations, and the textiles feature colors, animals, patterns, and scenes harkening back to Maya religious beliefs. While honoring these sacred traditions, Elena and her peers strive for new economic opportunities in global markets.

Elena, now 42 years old, was born the 4th of 9 children. Her father worked as a day laborer and her mother ran the home, and money could sometimes be tight. Elena went to school from the ages of 9 to 12, at which point her family could no longer afford it. Instead, Elena had to work to help support her family. At 20, she married and had four children. Her entrepreneurial spark ignited, however. Her husband, a schoolteacher, supported Elena’s professional ambitions and with his reassurance, she sought out microloan to start her first business. A friend had told her about Friendship Bridge and praised its Trust Bank model of financing (based on Mohammed Yunus’s Grameen Bank) and the low interest rates. Elena joined a Trust Bank in San Juan and 10 years ago, received her first loan.

Weaving wasn’t Elena’s first thought, though. She invested her money initially to start a prepared foods business. She’d sell snacks at her children’s school and around the community. Eventually, she figured that weaving could be another source of income and put her microloan to buying threads.

At first, Elena sold her products to an intermediary who would resell her table runners and other products in Guatemala’s markets. “At first, it was a great opportunity for me to get started, but then I wondered why I couldn’t sell my own products directly to consumers,” Elena explains. She found five other women in a similar situation and together, they founded Ixoq Aj Keem, which means “woman weaver” in the Maya Tzutuhil language. The collaborative gives weavers a workshop and exhibition space to display their products, directly attracting shoppers to learn more about their natural dyes, traditional weaving methods, and high-quality products. Ixoq Aj Keem now has expanded its showrooms and boasts 20 members.

In 2016, after demonstrating this leadership and maintaining her stellar credit record with Friendship Bridge, Elena got a call inviting her to join Friendship Bridge’s new Artisan Program. Recognizing the vast ambitions of artisans like Elena, the program hopes to train them with all the skills they need to access international markets. Since she joined, Elena has received various intense workshops, teaching her everything from ensuring the quality of her materials and products, to budgets, pricing, colors for different seasons, designs, standard measurements, and customer service. “Friendship Bridge is the only organization that gives us this chance to develop as business owners and women without requiring anything of us in return,” Elena says.

With the help of the Artisan Program, Elena has exported products to the United States and as far away as France. She smiles from ear to ear, hardly believing that she’s an international businesswoman. The best part, Elena has all the skills she needs to independently grow her client base. Friendship Bridge offers resources and support, but the women in the Artisan Program are responsible for each step of the product development and exportation process. Elena has evolved on a personal level too. With the confidence she’s gained from the program, Elena has ditched her fear of public speaking. Now she regularly gives presentations on the natural dyeing process and backstrap weaving for visitors at Ixoq Aj Keem.

Jaspe Poncho Golden Beige

Elena currently has several of her pieces, the Jaspe Ponchos, in our online Tipica Market Summer Collection. Purchase one today to support Elena, her family, and ethical fashion!

With unwavering grit, Elena has created a life for herself and her family that once upon a time seemed all but impossible. With the success of her weaving collective, Elena can fund her children’s educations. One of her daughters has even gone on to university and another daughter starts next year. “It’s deeply satisfying to see your kids grow and give them opportunities that you didn’t have,” Elena beams. “Thanks to Friendship Bridge, I can make a living doing work that I enjoy, and so can the other women at Ixoq Aj Keem.”

An Update on the Volcanic Eruption In Guatemala

Dear Supporters,

On Sunday June 3rd, Volcano Fuego, located 25 miles Southwest of Guatemala City, had a massive eruption that has caused untold damage and taken many lives. This eruption has affected more than 1,700,000 people in the departments of Escuintla, Suchitepéquez and Chimaltenango.

Friendship Bridge serves over 2,400 clients in the regions that were affected by the eruption, and 477 clients in the municipalities of Yepocapa and Alotenango that were directly hit. We are relieved to announce that all of our staff, clients, and their families are safe and accounted for. Due to current heavy rains that are forecasted to last through the weekend, as well as continuous ash fall, there is a high health risk in these regions for respiratory issues, flash floods, and further eruptions. We have supplied our field staff with proper respiratory equipment for their safety as they continue to assess the damage and serve our clients.

Our clients in Yepocapa and Alotenango are experiencing major losses in their businesses. We are currently working to see how we can support these clients further to alleviate this financial hardship.

As many of you know, the people of Guatemala are an inspiration in how they treat community members as family through support and friendship. Their society is deeply rooted in this communal mindset. Therefore, it’s not surprising that our staff in Guatemala immediately mobilized to create relief efforts on the ground.  With their personal resources, they are purchasing supplies and delivering them to local shelters that are housing victims of the eruption. Many local staff will be volunteering their time at these shelters, as well. However, because Friendship Bridge is not a relief organization we encourage donations be sent to aid organizations with solid reputations that get the necessary funds and supplies into the hands that need them most. If you would like to donate to the relief efforts, please read this article by PBS which lists several options of well-vetted organizations. We will continue to vet aid organizations. Please follow us on social media to stay up-to-date.

PBS Article  

Thank you so much for the countless emails and calls we have received in concern of our staff and clients. In difficult times like these, I never fail to be inspired from the outpouring of support by our international community. We will continue to keep you updated on the relief efforts.

Karen Larson,

President and CEO

Before and after photos of the damage from the eruption

Before and after photos of the damage from the eruption

Marcela: From Poverty to International Entrepreneur

by Julia Barrero

On a Tuesday at 3pm, the skies gray in preparation for the daily summer storm customary during Guatemala’s rainy season. Inside, Marcela carefully presents her samples at Friendship Bridge’s headquarters in Panajachel. She pulls turquoise and periwinkle textiles out for inspection, outstretching placemats and napkins one by one. With scissors, she scans for any loose threads and snips them precisely, folding them again into a neat pile at the corner of the desk. América, Friendship Bridge’s artisan coordinator, meanwhile cranes over a calculator, discussing pricing and shipping logistics in the women’s native Kakchiquel tongue. Marcela’s products will soon head to dinner tables in the United States, a world apart. But no journey has been tougher than the one she’s taken to become an international entrepreneur.

As 1 of 9 children in a poor family, Marcela believed a better life awaited her as someone’s wife. “When I was a girl, I thought having a husband would offer the resources and security I didn’t have at home,” Marcela explains. At 15, she had stopped going to school and got married. She came from a hamlet on the outskirts of Sololá, but her husband’s family resided in town and thought themselves superior. When Marcela moved in with her groom and new mother-in-law, she found herself behind enemy lines. Her husband’s mother spat daily insults at Marcela, calling her a “barbaric” woman to her face.

Matters worsened when her husband began drinking. First, there wasn’t enough money to feed their young and growing family, pushing Marcela to find jobs nannying and cleaning houses. Then, Marcela came home to find things missing from the house, like sugar, or the glass from their windows. Pretty soon, every door had been scrapped for cash save their front entry.

Marcela was at the brink, and then, after 15 years of marriage, her husband passed away from alcoholism. Now alone with 5 children, there was no one left to decide the family’s fate except Marcela–and that was just the motivation she needed. “Everyone who tried to stand in my way only gave me more strength and courage to prove them wrong,” she says.

From then on, Marcela took an active stance in creating the life she wanted. She joined a weaving collective, and soon she was traveling throughout Guatemala to sell her textiles. In her collective, she also found Friendship Bridge. Marcela has routinely sought loans over the years, which has allowed her to go from her individual production to a fully-fledged business with 5 employees. Now, Marcela manages three Friendship Bridge microloans amounting to 13,000Q, signaling her fiscal responsibility and sophistication. 

However, things really changed for Marcela in 2016, when América invited her to be one of Friendship Bridge’s first Artisan Program participants. This program empowers artists like Marcela with the business savvy they need to manage the end-to-end process of exporting their products to the U.S. Marcela gobbles up each of the advanced trainings, constantly looking for ways to improve her craft. “I appreciate the opportunity to learn new skills,” she explains. “Before, I didn’t know what a ‘finished product’ really meant, but I’ve learned what it takes to get interested buyers to say yes to placing an order.” Marcela has sold dozens of products abroad, but she’s not about to rest on her laurels. “I still need to produce more, design other styles,” Marcela insists.

Before, her home was a prison and a place where Marcela seemingly had no control. Now, when she looks around, she smiles, recognizing that she has remade everything in her home with her own money, independently. Once, Marcela and a fellow weaver were selling their textiles at a market when a husband, wife, and child walked up. The husband offered to buy the wife anything she wanted from the stand. Later, Marcela’s colleague gushed, “How wonderful would it be to have a husband who would buy us anything we wanted?” Marcela, with a knowing glance though, replied, “I’d rather be free and with my textiles than trapped with a husband.” With support from Friendship Bridge, and through a lot of sheer grit, that old life feels farther away than her napkins and placemats flying somewhere over Colorado.

Do you want to support Marcela directly? You can purchase her hand-woven dish towels as part of our 2018 Summer Collection!

Marcela’s Hand-Woven dish towels


Also please help us with programs like our Artisan Program Marcela has been trained through and contribute to the W4 matching campaign. Our partner, W4 (Women WorldWide Web) is matching donations through June and July up to $25,000! Double your impact and give today! You can donate here.


Julia Barrero is Friendship Bridge’s Field Writer and Kiva Intern, traveling throughout Guatemala collecting testimonials from the inspiring women in the microcredit, artisan, agriculture, and health programs. For as long as she can remember, Julia’s favorite line has been, “Tell me a story.” She’s been chasing stories ever since. Julia graduated with a B.A. in History from Stanford University and also discovered her love of journalism on The Farm. After graduating, she combined her passion for people and stories with a knack for business as a marketer in the San Francisco startup scene. As a native Spanish-speaker with Colombian and Cuban heritage, she’s thrilled to be spending 3 months in Guatemala, her first experience abroad in Central America. 

You Try to Imagine

Indigenous Friendship Bridge Client
by Carolyn Chilton Casas
Dedicated to the indigenous women of Guatemala
You try to imagine, surviving thirty-six years,
the place you know as home
knife-rent with war, terror and fear.To conceive, from your comfy, cozy worldGuatemalan mother
having no rights as a woman,
birthing one child after another,
property used, abused by a man,
complying to survive, the constant
press of family, religion and tradition.

To grasp in your mind
no opportunity or hope for the future,
a dirt-floored shelter
where some days you can’t afford
more than beans and tortillas
to cook on the wood fire,
where you work tied to a loom
tethered to a tree or
in a cornfield with your child
bundled to the back of you
for a few quetzales each day.

You cannot –
take in how she struggles –
you cannot.

Empowered Indigenous Woman EntrepreneurAnd yet with just a tiny
hand up, so much can change –
skipping some morning stops for coffee
can provide a needed health exam or
foregoing a nice dinner out could offer
an elegant, ebony-haired woman,
in finely-woven, brightly-colored traje,
a sister, mother, grandmother really,
the support to initiate a livelihood, so she
can know her worth, be empowered,
use her intelligence and creativity
to weave a life she can take pride in.

With special thanks to Friendship Bridge and all who support the possibility of microloans

Carolyn Chilton Casas co-founded the Friendship Bridge Las Perlas del Mar circle on the CentralCoast of California, along with her friend, Lonna Crane in 2012.  With her husband, she operates a family agricultural business on the Central Coast of California as well as being a writer, a poet, an artist and a Reiki practitioner. She also raises funds for an organization in Nicaragua that supports children for their education. For a number of years, she volunteered for Flying Samaritan clinics in Mexico as an interpreter. 

Honoring the Mother Goddess Through Ethical Fashion

Textile Weaving Artists in Guatemala

by Kyra Coates

In the United States we are blessed with an abundance of fashion and accessory choices from all over the world. Pants from India, dresses from France, cotton from Egypt, the product choices go on and on. As part of our Artisan Market Access Program here at Friendship Bridge,  we give our clients tools to bring their products not only further out to their communities in Guatemala but to the international marketplace as well. We offer our artisan clients this training as a way to give them further opportunities to uplift themselves, their families, and communities out of poverty and open the door for a better life. And while we are offering them this education, we too are continuously learning and changing as an organization.

The Mayans have a long and powerful spiritual history of weaving which stretches back over 2,000 years. Weaving is considered a sacred art form that is tied directly to their spiritual cosmology. Recently it has come to our awareness that the preferred term is “Artist” for clients who create traditional Maya weavings, and not “Artisan.” As I have shared this with many co-workers here at Friendship Bridge most everyone has asked me “what is the difference?” So I set out to discover this exactly. Diving into the “why” behind this has been a beautiful and educational journey. I offer you here a glimpse into the sacred world of Mayan weaving, our roles as consumers within it, and how we can further use this knowledge to uplift and support the Mayan women of Guatemala.

A Friendship Bridge textile Artist clientKatherine Zavala, from the organization Thousand Currents, who work to support grassroots groups including weavers’ rights in Guatemala, shared her perspective with me. “I was taught by indigenous women, there is a difference between the term ‘artist’ and ‘artisan.’” she said. “Naming them artists uplifts indigenous women as creators and owners of their weaving designs, history and traditions, recognizing their indigenous cultural production. ‘Artisan’ tends to have a more folklorization connotation, which does not recognize indigenous women’s art, identity or creativity.”

The Mayans have a long, rich, and powerful spiritual history of weaving which stretches back over 2,000 years. Weaving is considered a sacred art form that is tied directly to their spiritual cosmology. In their tradition, the Universe was created by the Creator God Itzamna, and his consort Ix Chel, the Great Mother Creator. Ix Chel is the Goddess of Healing, Fertility, and Weaving, and is often depicted in three forms which represent the three stages of a woman’s life- Maiden, Mother, and Grandmother.

The goddess Ix Chel in her three formsIn her Maiden form she represents intuitive knowledge and healing as well as great control over earthly forces and is pictured with a spindle and thread as she weaves the cosmos.

In her Mother form she is the Mother Goddess of fertility, the moon and motherhood. As Mother Creator of all Maya people and consort of the Creator God, Itzamna, she decides the face and sex of every person in utero.

Her grandmother form is the Grandmother Earth Goddess of the moon, rain, medicine and death. When her children, the Mayans, die, she takes their bodies into her own physical body, which is the earth.

Women pray to Ix Chel for fertility, and upon birth girls are gifted with weaving tools that they keep for life and are buried with them when they die, honoring Ix Chel and the powerful tradition of the divine feminine that has been passed to them generation through generation. The Mayan women often claim their weaving patterns were dictated to them in a dream as a gift from Ix Chel.

The weavings themselves, which are in the form of traditional Mayan clothing, such as the Huipiles shirts and Corte skirts are rich in meaning and tradition. Each woman weaves in her personal story, philosophy, and cosmology through symbolism into the huipiles, as well as larger cultural symbols based on region and group. The symbols range from the diamond which represents the universe, the orientation of the sun in its daily movement, the four cardinal directions, to representations of mountains, rivers, animals, plants, and people through geometric shapes and patterning. Similar to Scottish Tartans, each region in Guatemala has different patterns representing their communities.

As a group from the National Movement of Maya Weavers recently wrote in a statement to the Guatemalan government:

Guatemalan huipiles, sacred weavings“They (the weavings) are a symbol of our history, of the resistance that we have maintained over 500 years, which has naturally evolved, changed, been transformed. Nevertheless, they contain—and are—the essence of the people. They are the wisdom of men and women, which is translated into what we see. They are more than colors, more than symbols. They are evidence of Mayan survival and they speak of our relationship with the universe and our profound love for life.”

Over the past few years, as tourism has grown in Guatemala, the Mayans have seen many of their sacred textile art patterns stolen by large corporations and used in fashion items for the US and Europe. This is essentially exploiting their knowledge and work for little to no compensation. They have seen a rise in prices for threading, with benefits given to large corporations and export restrictions put in place that hurt the small-scale weavers. These companies are making industrial machine-made huipiles, disregarding this sacred tradition and knowledge that has been passed through generations, all in an effort to increase profit. In October 2017 this weavers group went before the Guatemalan congress and won a bill giving them intellectual property rights to their weavings, though it has yet to be implemented. This is a huge step for Mayan rights within a country where they are very largely discriminated against for their traditions. But the fight is far from over, and changes don’t take place overnight.

Maya women weave huipiles as a sacred storyWe here at Friendship Bridge recognize the complexity of this issue, and the importance of supporting our clients, who are mostly indigenous Maya, and the richness of their culture and tradition. By honoring the sacred history of their art form we are honoring each women, and the inherent power she has. There is a responsibility to recognize the often unintentional neglect of these sacred traditions and philosophies. So, as a way to say Happy Mother’s Day and to show our respect for our clients who embody the divine feminine of the Mother Goddess Ix Chel, we are now calling all our weaver clients “artists,” and will no longer use the term “artisan” in regards to the textile art of weaving. Our clients from our Artisan Market Access Program who are not practicing the art of weaving will still be referred to as “Artisans”. These changes will be made across our programs, website, and communications. 

As supporters of Friendship Bridge and our almost 30,000 clients, you may ask “how can I support these sacred traditions?” One powerful way is to purchase directly from these artist clients, which you can do through the Tipica Marketplace on our website. Each item on the website has the story of each artist and artisan, and each item comes straight from the woman who made it. Every purchase goes back into their hands so you will be supporting them directly. This is the power of ethical fashion! Currently we have an amazing Mother’s Day sale happening, so it’s the perfect time to show these Mother’s your support! Check out the store today before these sale items are gone!

I’m also thrilled to announce that launching Memorial Day Weekend will be our very first Tipica Marketplace Summer Collection, featuring brand new items from some of our most talented artists and artisans. We let you know the moment the line is available!

As consumers there is a responsibility to see our purchases as ethical choices. Our money provides power and momentum to grow industries, so together we can support and uplift instead of contributing to further discrimination and unethical practices. Thank you for supporting our artists, clients, and the tradition of the Mother Goddess Ix Chel.

Kyra Coates is the US Marketing Coordinator at Friendship Bridge. She is a passionate advocate for Women’s Empowerment and has worked for years to promote equality. Outside her Friendship Bridge working hours she is an artist and gallery owner, a mother of two fierce and fabulous daughters, and a typical Colorado outdoorsy athletic girl.  

Celebrating the Month of Microfinance

Women of Solola circle pay installments on their loans.

by Kyra Coates

April has been named “The Month of Microfinance” around the world, and seeing that Friendship Bridge’s core program is Microcredit Plus, we celebrate this month as a way to join  this grassroots movement to bring awareness to the global necessity and benefits of microfinance programs.

Worldwide microfinance products have a huge impact. In 2016 there were 132 million low income clients with microfinance loans, totaling approximately 102 billion dollars. The microfinance industry averages an almost 9.6% growth annually with the number of borrowers, and 9.4% growth annually with the lending portfolio.*

There are several different delivery models of microfinance. One lends directly to an individual, and typically charges high-interest rates and also requires some form of collateral to insure the loan. This is similar to if one went to a bank to get a car loan, however offered on a smaller scale.

Another type of microfinance is the ROSCA model, which stands for Rotating Savings and Credit Associations. In this model a group may come together to make monthly contributions to a common fund which is then given to another group member in one lump sum in cyclic rotations to each member throughout the group. After receiving the lump sum the member then pays back the amount with further monthly contributions to the lump sum with interest.

And then there is the Village Bank, or Trust Bank model, which is the model we offer our clients  here at Friendship Bridge. A community group of women come together to form a Trust Bank of 7 – 25 members, in which they essentially co-guarantee each individual member’s loans. If one member falls behind on payments the other members cover them until they can recover themselves financially and reimburse the group. This model also allows us to bring the groups together for informal education and health education sessions, allowing the group to grow together as professionals, strengthening not only individual knowledge but their joint community growth.

In many ways, Microfinance can be synonymous with Women’s Empowerment. As women around the world see a disproportionate level of poverty compared to men, the majority of recipients of microfinance loans are in fact women, with almost 98 percent of borrowers in Asia and some two thirds of clients in Africa, Latin America, and the Middle East. At Friendship Bridge we invest only in women as we have seen that statistically, women make larger contributions of financial gain back to their families and communities.

Further, we believe that giving women the opportunity to empower themselves also creates stronger social bonds within their communities and a brighter future for their children.

* Source:  Convergence, a Global Finance Network Group

Kyra Coates is the new US Marketing Coordinator at Friendship Bridge. She is a passionate advocate for Women’s Empowerment and has worked for years to promote equality. Outside her Friendship Bridge working hours she is an artist and gallery owner, a mother of two fierce and fabulous daughters, and a typical Colorado outdoorsy athletic girl.  

Shop Amazon And They Triple Their Donations In March

by Brittaney Lupo

There is an amazing program that donates money to us from purchases made online with no additional cost to you!

AmazonSmile is the program for shopping at Amazon. Most everything that is offered is eligible for a 0.5% donation back to a nonprofit of your choice.  In order to participate all you have to do is visit smile.amazon.com, select Friendship Bridge as your chosen organization and start shopping. Or you can go directly to this link which will automatically set Friendship Bridge as your principal nonprofit to donate to!  https://smile.amazon.com/ch/84-1141078 . Be sure to bookmark this link to make it easier to return time and again to shop.

And March is the best time to shop there, because up to March 31st Amazon is tripling their donations from each purchase! So whether you need a new book, a new vacuum cleaner, or some fun Star Wars swag, you can support Friendship Bridge with triple the amount!



Thank you for all you do for Friendship Bridge! Without your generosity, we would not be able to reach the Guatemalan women and provide opportunities for them to improve their lives.

Cada Mes Club – A Monthly Journey of Support

by Kyra Coates

Maria Pu is 41 years old and has 7 children. She is a tomato farmer in rural Guatemala, and lives surrounded by steep terrain and green hills. In 2014 she wanted to increase her crops, yet had no capital to do it.

“There are not many organizations that give loans to farmers because of the risk in agriculture due to bad farming practices or the weather,” said Maria. “Also being a woman, they do not take us as seriously.”

So she came to Friendship Bridge, and is now a member of a Trust Bank, and part of our Women’s Agriculture Credit and Training Program. Every month she meets with her fellow Trust Bank members for further training on modern farming techniques. Now after three years she is successfully watching her farm grow. Through all seasons, turmoil, successes, she has had Friendship Bridge Trust members and facilitators supporting her step-by-step along the way, and they aren’t the only ones.

Thousands of miles away in Colorado there is a family of four that month-by-month is supporting Maria and her training as well as other Friendship Bridge clients, though Maria has never heard their names before. They are Matthew and Angie Brand, parents to Sara, 2, and Ava, 1. The Brands are members of Friendship Bridge’s monthly giving program, called the Cada Mes Club. Their monthly donations support programs like the one Maria is a part of. They also volunteer their time with staff members at the Lakewood, CO office. Matthew helps with website and SEO optimization, and Angie takes on a variety of projects as needs arise. The Brands shared with us their thoughts on why they choose to support Friendship Bridge.

Friendship Bridge: “Why did you decide to join the Cada Mes Club?”

Brands: “We switched to the Cada Mes Club in 2017 in order to smooth out our donations throughout the year. Prior to that, we sporadically donated, but would often forget the schedule and then play catch up at the end of the each year in order to meet our personal donation goal. We have our donations scheduled with our bank to send a check monthly now and it’s better for our budget and hopefully helps Friendship Bridge with planning as well. “

FB: “What made you choose Friendship Bridge as an organization to support?”

Brands: “We found Friendship Bridge through Charity Navigator. It was important to us to give to a four star charity so that we knew our money would be used wisely. We identified with the mission of bringing people out of poverty because we feel that is how our money can have the biggest impact.”

FB: “Why do you volunteer your time?”

Brands: “We both started volunteering our time last fall. Angie has translated a Spanish document and Matthew is providing support and feedback on the website. Since Angie quit her job to stay at home with our children, we have less capacity to donate money, but like to offer our skills as somewhat of a substitute. Volunteering has also helped us learn more about the organization.”

FB: “What would you tell others who are thinking about joining Cada Mes or volunteering their time?”

Brands: “Anything that you can do, even if it doesn’t seem like much, will help others and make the world a better place.”

We here at Friendship Bridge want to thank the Brands for their generous support, as well as all our members of the Cada Mes Club, and all our volunteers. We wouldn’t be able to have the impact we do without you, so clients like Maria Pu can continue on her journey of having a thriving business to support her family and community.

Want to be a Cada Mes Club member and leave a lasting impact? Check out our Donate page here to sign up! Interested in volunteering with us? Fill out a volunteer form here and we will contact you!

Also, for our upcoming 2018 Building Bridges Stay-At-Home Gala all Cada Mes Club members get an exclusive ticket price of only $30! Don’t miss this opportunity to support an amazing event at an affordable price by becoming a member today!

Find out more about the Gala here.

Three Unique Ways To Fold Your Corte Napkins!

by Kyra Coates


Friendship Bridge’s 2018 Stay-At-Home Gala is right around the corner, and when you purchase a ticket you receive 5 handmade corte napkins made from up-cycled traditional skirts of the Mayan women of Guatemala. At the $125 VIP ticket level you also receive 5 matching napkin rings! So what better way to celebrate and prepare for the upcoming Gala then by creating some napkin-folding works of art! Here are three fabulous designs to get you started.


1. Ruffles


Using soft folds in this pleated design creates a delightful bloom on your table! Here are the simple steps:

Step 1:  Begin with an open napkin, starting at the bottom edge, accordion-pleat the napkin up to the top

Step 2:  Fold the napkin in half, bringing the right and left ends of the napkin together











Step 3: Slide the folded end of the napkin into your new matching handmade artisan napkin ring, almost halfway up. Spread the top edges down to the left and right, creating a circular blossom shape.

Step 4: Wow your guests with your completed “Ruffles” corte napkin design!













2.  Haori


For a more Asian-inspired looked go for the “Haori” design. In Japan, a Haori is a coat worn over a kimono. Though it looks complex this is a fairly simple fold to create.


Step 1:  Starting with an open napkin, fold in half bringing the top edge down to meet the bottom edge

Step 2: Roll the top edge behind creating a hem on the back of the napkin.









Step 3: While holding a finger in the center of the top edge of the napkin, fold the top right and top left corners to meet in the center at the bottom.

Step 4: Fold the bottom right corner up to the center and tuck the edge under the band formed by the hem. Repeat on the left side









Step 5: Break out the sushi and impress with your “Haori” corte napkin design!



3. Pointed Pocket


Who said pockets are just for pants?! This lovely design is tall and slender and can hold flowers, silverware, chopsticks, a thank you note to your guests for attending, or whatever goes with your table decor!


Step 1: Begin by folding the napkin into triangular quarters. Place so there are three free corners at the top. Bring the top corner of the first layer down to slightly above the bottom corner.

Step 2: Bring the second layer down so that the corner rests slightly above the first folded layer.











Step 3: Fold the side corners, overlapping behind the napkin.

Step 4: Enjoy your pointed pocket corte napkins!









Now that we’ve given you a few ideas to make your party fabulous with these handmade artisan up-cycled corte napkins and matching napkin ringswe invite you to purchase your tickets for the 2018 Stay-At-Home Gala here so you can receive these napkins to begin folding!

Feeling inspired to show these napkin designs off? Consider hosting a party for our Stay-At-Home Gala! Not only will you receive these napkins with your ticket purchase, you also will also receive a host kit with a party timeline, which includes a gift of  handmade kitchen towels, videos to watch the evening of the event, and a box of Tipica Market items to sell at your event!

Have an amazing time being the chic of the chic party host! We look forward to celebrating with you.

Resource: “Folding Napkins” by Gay Merrill Gross. Check out this great book for more napkin folding ideas. It is for sale on Amazon here.

Kyra Coates is the new US Marketing Coordinator at Friendship Bridge. She is a passionate advocate for Women’s Empowerment and has worked for years to promote equality. Outside her Friendship Bridge working hours she is an artist and gallery owner, a mother of two fierce and fabulous daughters, and a typical Colorado outdoorsy athletic girl.  

The Success of our Health For Life Program Receives Publication


We are excited to announce that last month our health program partner, Wuqu’ Kawoq/ Maya Health Alliance, published a case study in Healthcare journal about the success of the first 22 months of our Health For Life program and their partnership with Friendship Bridge (FB). This study was co-written by Wuqu’ Kawoq/ Maya Health Alliance and Friendship Bridge staff, including Friendship Bridge CEO, Karen Larson, and Wuqu’ Kawoq/ Maya Health Alliance Chief Medical Officer, Peter Roloff who is also on faculty at Harvard Medical School. The study offers details of how the program has rolled out, their data from the first 22 months of the program, and future plans for continued growth. Here we will give you a brief summary of the highlights of this publication, which is planned to be the first of several.

In July of 2015 FB partnered with Wuqu’ Kawoq | Maya Health Alliance to offer health services to our clients who were members of our Microcredit Plus program through our new Health For Life program. Wuqu’ Kawoq is a primary healthcare system providing services in rural Guatemalan communities. This partnership was formed by a shared interest in offering health services to underserved populations.

The Health For Life program improves women’s access to healthcare by providing health education, direct healthcare services, and access to other healthcare institutions to clients of Friendship Bridge. Friendship Bridge provides the institutional structure; trust relationships with nearly 22,000 clients; and financing for the initiative, while Wuqu’ Kawoq provides clinical services; trains and supervises primary healthcare providers; and conducts general monitoring and evaluation.

Through May 2017, more than 3,700 clients received healthcare services through the program. Participation in primary care screening services was very high. This has been the case even for cervical cancer screening at 76%. The national statistic shows that less than 50% of eligible women in the entire country receive cervical cancer screening, with even lower rates in rural areas at 37%.

One major highlight of this partnership is that once the program reaches its full-scale, it will represent one of the largest and most geographically extensive primary care databases in rural Guatemala, allowing Wuqu’ Kawoq to report on factors like obesity, diabetes, and cervical cancer, all major public health issues in Guatemala. This was possible only through this partnership and Friendship Bridge opening up a large demographic of clients to health services that had not been accessible to Wuqu’ Kawoq before.

For future plans we are continuing to grow the program until all of our 7 administrative areas and 22,000 clients are covered in Guatemala.

You can read the case study in its entirety at https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2213076417301690.