Empower women. Eliminate poverty.

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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.

Turning Promises Into Action: Why Our Work Matters

by Brittaney Lupo

The United Nation’s 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development pledges that no one will be left behind in the realization of human rights for all. Adopted in September 2015 the Agenda is a plan of action that contains 17 Sustainable Development Goals(SDG).  A report released February 14, Turning Promises Into Action: Gender Equality in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, reveals that without urgent action in regards to gender equality that pledge will not be able to be kept and many women will be left behind.

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, the Executive Director of UN Women, spoke to reporters at the launch of the report stating that the progress towards gender equality is moving too slow to achieve the SDGs by 2030. “Even where progress is made, it may not reach the women and girls who need it most and the ones that are being left furthest behind,” she explains.  

The women being left behind include the 330 million that live on less than $1.90 per day, a number that is 4.4 million more than men. Women in developing countries, like Guatemala, are more likely to not have access to clean water, sanitization and durable housing. Access to education is also more limited for with 15 million not ever getting a chance to read or write compared to 10 million boys.

At Friendship Bridge, we are dedicated to stepping up for these women and making sure they are not left behind. Over half of our clients fall into the criteria described above with a daily household income of $1.11 to $2.35, 0 to 2 years of education and living in homes with mud and dirt flooring. Through involvement in our Microcredit Plus program, our clients receive needed loans and education to grow their businesses and improve their incomes with 88% feeling that their incomes have increased or stabilized with 3% rising above the national poverty line. What we do is truly making a difference.

The Turning Promises into Action report shows that we cannot be content with what we are currently doing. It is not enough. We have more women to reach. We have more work to do in order to help achieve the global goal of human rights for all with no one left behind.

In order for us to keep reaching more women we need you. Here is a list of ways we need your help:


Without Firm Action on Gender Equality, Women’s Empowerment, World May Miss Development Targets | Un News


2016 Annual Report | Friendship Bridge


Brittaney Lupo is currently studying Web Design and Development at Brigham Young University-Idaho. Through her course of studies her passion for social media as a means of promoting and raising awareness for websites has grown. Currently she is interning with Friendship Bridge as the Social Media Coordinator in Colorado. When she’s not on social media she is exploring beautiful Colorado with her husband and 3 children.


Entrepreneurship: Opportunity or Necessity?

Doña Maria Eugenia stands in her shoe shop in Mazatenango, Guatemala.  She and her six colleagues produce three dozen pair of shoes per day.

by Rachel Turner

I stood by the busy highway waiting for my bus, enjoying the warm sun, and breathing air heavy with humidity in Mazatenango, Guatemala.

A colorfully painted school bus slammed on breaks in front of me. My colleague stuck her head out the window and I jumped on. We chatted for an hour traveling to Doña Maria Eugenia’s shoe workshop. Doña Maria Eugenia had been a client with Friendship Bridge for years and had recently joined the Client Advisory Committee to the Board of Directors. I was excited to meet her.

“Welcome!” said Doña Maria Eugenia with a big smile, inviting us into her 12’x6’ shop. Two windows provided light, while sewing machines and shoe materials covered three tables. As we chatted several of her friends and colleagues arrived. These women supported each other and laughed together daily.

“Being a client with Friendship Bridge has helped me move ahead with our shoemaking business and in my personal life,” said Doña Maria Eugenia. “Through our Trust Bank loans, we receive monthly education, have access to advanced trainings, and mentorship. I want to be a leader that helps women have vision, take initiative, and make a difference.”

Energetic and always thinking ahead, it’s apparent that Doña Maria Eugenia enjoys being an entrepreneur and the president of her Trust Bank. “Most entrepreneurship stems from necessity,” said Doña Maria Eugenia. “When faced with great challenges, it would be easy to feel overwhelmed and miss open doors, but we must pay attention and walk through doors of opportunity to get ahead.”

Doña Maria Eugenia has three children who motivate her daily. As a single mom, she rises at 5:30 a.m. to prepare for the day and falls into bed at 11 p.m. On the weekends she sells fish and homemade snacks at the market.

“My dream is to see my children graduate. I think that’s the best inheritance that I could leave them,” said Doña Maria Eugenia. “Perhaps they can start their own business too. I tell them that it’s best not to depend on someone else to give them work – create your own work! Be an entrepreneur!”

I left inspired – as I often am – after spending time with Friendship Bridge clients. Doña Maria Eugenia reminded me of important lessons:

  1. Be a lifelong learner.
  2. Even when overwhelmed with life, look up for doors of opportunity and step through.
  3. Encourage and teach children about entrepreneurship.

Rachel Turner is the Global Communications Manager for Friendship Bridge. Having worked and lived throughout the world, she’s now enjoys calling Panajachel, Guatemala, home.  

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