Empower women. Eliminate poverty.

Recent Posts

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

Who Celebrates the Dead?

Indigenous women talk while preparing to decorate their family tombs in honor of All Saints’ Day in Panajachel, Guatemala.


by Hannah Perkins
Photos by Rachel Turner

Every fall children in the United States can’t wait to dress up as their favorite princess, ghost, or goblin to roam the streets in search of the best candy on the block – but October is not just a time for trick-or-treating. For many Latin American countries – including Guatemala – it’s also a time to celebrate their deceased.

A little boy flies a kite during All Saints’ Day while his family decorate and paint the tombs in Panajachel, Guatemala.

The Day of the Dead is an old Mexican holiday tradition adopted around 3,000 years ago that combines Mexican indigenous customs with European traditions. It also coincides with the Catholic holiday, All Souls’ & All Saints’ Day. The Day of the Dead is a day that is acknowledged internationally. The celebration was originally a harvest celebration for the Aztecs, structured around the end of the summer, signaling an end to the farming season. Today, the celebration only lasts for a couple days (starting on November 1), and All Saints’ Day in Guatemala is specifically celebrated on November 1st.

Musicians walk through the cemetery with incense, playing music to wake up the spirits in Panajachel, Guatemala.

Families clean the tombs, paint them, and celebrate the lives of their loved ones who have passed in Panajachel, Guatemala.

Walter Rodriguez paints a tomb during All Saints’ Day in Panajachel, Guatemala.

During ancient times, people from many different ethnic groups all had one thing in common – a belief in the afterlife. People were buried with their favored items throughout life, and the tombs were often constructed beneath family homes so the deceased loved ones would remain close to their families. The Aztecs believed in levels of heavens, and the type of death determined which level one would enter in the afterlife. Warriors who died in battle, women who died during childbirth, and victims of sacrifice achieved the best level.

Families walk through the cemetery in Panajachel, Guatemala.

Today, All Saints’ Day honors the dead and their lives with festivals, parties, food, and drinks. The most familiar symbol of this festival in Guatemala are giant kites that fly overhead while families visit cemeteries to eat together, clean and paint the tombs, decorate with flowers and food, and enjoy time with family. The celebrations are a way to assure the dead are not just mourned by sadness. This type of celebration honors and remembers their lives in a fun and positive way. All Saints’ Day recognizes that death is a natural, human experience, which is not one to be afraid of. It shows the dead are still a part of the community once they have passed.

So next time you’re out trick-or-treating, carving pumpkins, or celebrating at harvest festivals, remember your loved ones who have passed. Reflecting on old memories to celebrate the dead could be a new way to think about death and Halloween celebrations in a more positive way.

Go on an Adventure While Volunteering

Reblogged via Fearless & Framed

Balancing being a mom of three girls and growing a business makes for a pretty busy life.

But this summer I found myself with a unique opportunity – all three of my girls, 10, 12 and 14, were going to be away for 3.5 weeks at sleepaway camp. This was going to be the longest stretch of having no children around since I became a mother over 14 years ago.

I knew I wanted to have an adventure and find a way to volunteer. I have enjoyed tremendous growth in my photography business in the last couple of years. And as a way of giving thanks, I wanted to take my freedom and volunteer my photography services to a worthy cause.

So, with those two principals as my guidelines, I started looking for opportunities.

Instead of trying to find established volunteer jobs, I reached out to my friend Alicia who is involved in the non profit world. I told her I wanted to volunteer in Central America at an organization that focuses on women or children. I also wanted to find an organization with enough infrastructure that I would feel safe while I was working with them, but small enough that they would benefit from my willingness to volunteer my photography services.

Alicia immediately had a couple organizations in mind when I gave her my criteria. We quickly narrowed it down to Friendship Bridge  a non-profit that provides micro-loans, business education and health education for low-income women in rural Guatemala.

Alicia wrote an introductory email for me to Friendship Bridge explaining my background and the volunteering I was looking to do. The folks at Friendship Bridge were immediately receptive to the idea.

I told my contact at Friendship Bridge that I wanted to do documentary photography of their clients so they could use the photos for promotional use and fundraising. They loved the idea!

Soon after, we were agreeing on dates and making a travel plan.

Before this trip, I really didn’t have any Spanish-speaking skills. So I decided to start my Guatemalan adventure by signing up for a week of immersion 1-to-1 Spanish classes at the school Tecun Uman  in Antigua, Guatemala. In addition to having a Spanish tutor for four hours a day, I also chose to live with in a Guatemalan home instead of a hotel while I was in school. Shortly after I confirmed my travel plans, my husband decided to join me for the week of Spanish school.

I wasn’t entirely sure what I was getting us into when I signed up for school and the homestay, but I have to say it was one of the coolest experiences of my life. While I am certainly not fluent in Spanish in four days, I can have basic conversations and get around the country by myself with my limited vocabulary. And the homestay totally exceeded our expectations! The Mayan housekeeper cooked us an amazing three meals a day. And we loved getting to know our host and practicing our Spanish skills.

After a week in Antigua, my husband went home and I was off to Panajachel, Guatemala, to work with Friendship Bridge. Marta, the Friendship Bridge communications coordinator, contacted the clients she wanted me to photograph, organized the itinerary and hired a driver for us. Marta also went with me to visit all of the clients and acted as translator. Friendship Bridge scheduled us to visit two clients a day for four days (the fifth day of the week during my trip happened to fall on a national holiday, Military Day). Since I spent about 6 or 7 hours a day in the car with Marta and our driver, we had wonderful long chats about Guatemala, Mayan culture, and the role of women in Guatemala. I learned so much! And I had a great time photographing the country side out my window as we drove through amazing, picturesque landscapes and colorful little towns.

I met amazing women my week working with Friendship Bridge. I photographed Trust Bank Repayment meetings, where women who receive loans come together once a month to discuss their businesses, receive business and health education, and make payments on their loans. I went to women’s homes and saw where they run their businesses. I photographed weavers, farmers, tortilla makers, and small store owners. And sometimes I even got to meet their families.

I am so thankful for the opportunity Friendship Bridge gave me to meet some of the beautiful women who benefit from their charity. My experience learning another language, living in a Guatemalan home, and using my photography skills to help others was truly life changing. One of my goals is to schedule a volunteer trip at least once a year. And now I know exactly how to do it! Identify the charity I want to work with, reach out and make myself available, and make it happen!

Click here to see photos from Susan Ryan Kalina’s documentary in Guatemala.


Meet Our New Country Director

Friendship Bridge is pleased to announce our new Country Director, Heidy Garrido.

Heidy came to Friendship Bridge with significant experience in human resource management, employee and client training, as well as the development and mentoring of micro, small, and medium businesses. She has spent much of her career with the Asociación de Gerentes de Guatemala mentoring both in the private and public sector. Most recently, she was head of corporate social responsibility for a public utility.

Heidy started working with Friendship Bridge in 2010, when she was with the Asociación de Gerentes de Guatemala.  “The way to achieve an ideal society is to make one,” said Heidy. “I knew that working with an NGO like Friendship Bridge would be challenging and satisfying since I could make a contribution to the development of society as well as to the empowerment of Friendship Bridge employees.”

Over the years, she worked with Friendship Bridge as a mentor and trainer on numerous projects.  Heidy finally joined Friendship Bridge full-time as the Director of People Services in January 2017, during a time of much transition within the organization.  Since then, she has made many positive changes, not only in the Human Resources and Education departments, but also leading our Guatemala operations as the Acting Country Director since August.

“Heidy’s passion for the work of Friendship Bridge is evident in all that she does, and it is contagious to all around her,” said CEO & President Karen Larson. “Heidy’s strong commitment to both the financial growth and social impact of Friendship Bridge makes her a perfect candidate for this position.”

Heidy has worked throughout Guatemala; has a keen understanding of our clients’ needs; and recognizes that strong internal systems, along with well-trained and motivated employees, are keys to success.

“Everything depends on how well we learn to motivate people and how we cope with pressure,” said Heidy. “This is my passion – I’ll take it!”

Heidy is most motivated by the mission and vision of Friendship Bridge. “We will carry it to the hearts of every employee, stakeholder, and volunteer so that we can continue to make significant contributions towards the betterment of our clients’ futures,” said Heidy. “This means a lot to me, not only professionally, but personally. I get to serve with passion and happiness.”

Empowered Woman, Agent of Change

by Tyler Clark

I walked out of the Guatemala City airport and scanned the familiar mass of people and color. Edgar, a trusted taxista, was on time as usual, leaning casually against the railing. He caught my eye and off we went, ascending Westward from the congested city and into the highlands where farmers carve a hard, peaceful living from the steep hillsides. We passed iconic, wildly-decorated chicken buses, landslide blockages – a consequence of widespread deforestation – and makeshift, tin-roofed homes clustered together as if to defend against the harsh economic and socio-political reality around them.

Guatemala enjoys a stunning natural landscape, rich volcanic soil, and the largest economy in Central America. Yet the distribution of wealth and consumption is profoundly lopsided. 79% of Guatemala’s indigenous majority lives below the poverty line and more than 50% of children under 5 are chronically malnourished. The national government, embroiled in serial corruption scandals, is unable to extend basic social services to the remote rural communities that represent half the country’s population.

Five years ago, I heard about Friendship Bridge, a non-profit microfinance organization that uses its loan fund as an economic engine to provide women in Guatemala with social services like education and preventive women’s health care in communities where governmental programs fall short. Not long after that, I met Karen Larson, President & CEO of Friendship Bridge, at a pull-off near a sweeping section of highway. Client meetings were the agenda of the day which, I assumed, meant visiting small businesses near a town center somewhere. Karen hopped out of the car and approached a hand-built kiosk where she was greeted with hugs. These women, who walk narrow paths down the maize-covered mountainside to sell snacks and sundries to travelers, were the clients.

I’d passed this particular spot frequently while working for an impact-first agricultural lender but had never stopped, much less internalized the daily reality of these entrepreneurial women selling their wares by a remote roadside. This woman’s business earned $1-$4 per day. Her first language was Kaqchikel, though she’d learned enough Spanish to describe her goods and complete transactions, and she had less than 3 years of formal education. In addition to her loan, she also had access to small business training and periodic mobile clinic visits made possible by Friendship Bridge partner, Maya Health Alliance. It was clearly apparent that she was empowered and blossoming as a microentrepreneur and stabilizing force for her household.

Over the past four years as a board member, it’s become clear to me that this woman wasn’t a hand-picked, feel-good example. She’s simply one of the 25,000+ women that benefit from this unique model every year. The 2014-2016 Client Outcomes Report includes some exciting findings from a recent evaluation of Friendship Bridge’s field work. 90% of the clients have provided more or better food for their families, 88% reported stable or increased incomes, and 70% have increased savings. The longer a client is with Friendship Bridge, the better off she and her family will be.

In light of the systemic development challenges facing Guatemala, I’m encouraged by the outcome of this report. It’s a small but important leading indicator on the potential for empowered women to effect grassroots change. I hope you enjoy it.

Tyler brings extensive experience in social enterprise, impact investing, and development finance, most recently through a new venture in the conservation finance space. Formerly, he was the global head of Advisory at Root Capital – a nonprofit social investment fund that invests in small and medium agricultural businesses – where he was responsible for operations in 30+ countries across Latin America, Africa, and Southeast Asia. Tyler holds an M.A. in leadership and a B.A. in international business from Bethel University.

Her Legacy Lives On

by Brandi Mason

In August, Friendship Bridge lost one of our most dedicated supporters, Judy Snyder. Judy served as Circle Leader of the Boulder Circle in 2015. She was passionate about the wellbeing of our clients and a strong advocate for Friendship Bridge’s Legacy Circle.*

Judy first learned about Friendship Bridge in 2013 when former Board President, Sandy Younghans, met her at a Boulder Community Foundation event. The two hit it off, and after a breakfast meeting to learn more about our mission, Judy decided to take a trip to Guatemala to meet our clients. Fellow Boulder Circle Co-Leader, Rachel Bloombaum, said, “I felt an immediate connection when I met Judy down in Guatemala on an Insight Trip in spring of 2014. She expressed so much empathy for Friendship Bridge clients and their challenges, and was so pleased to find a cause she could support and an organization she could believe in. I miss her can-do attitude and her steady support for the activities of the Boulder Circle.”

The legacy of Judy Snyder now lives on through the Education Endowment of Friendship Bridge. Through her retirement fund, she left a generous gift to the organization, which is now invested in our Education Endowment, a fund that provides education resources to thousands of clients. Her legacy will ensure the financial strength and future of Friendship Bridge to create opportunities that empower women to build better futures.

The Friendship Bridge community has lost a strong advocate for women’s empowerment, but Judy’s legacy and “can-do” attitude will live on through our clients for generations to come.

*The Friendship Bridge Legacy Circle honors those who have made a planned gift to Friendship Bridge through their will, trust, or beneficiary designation (retirement account or life insurance). Legacy Circle members are recognized and honored through invitations to special VIP events, regular program updates from our President & CEO, and recognition in the Friendship Bridge annual report. If you have included Friendship Bridge in your estate plans or have questions about doing so, please contact Brandi Mason at 303-674-0717.

 Through volunteering with Deutsche Bank’s Social Investment Funds Group in 2007, Brandi was first introduced to microfinance and served on the Board of Directors for the Microfinance Club of New York.  Brandi has fundraised in paid and volunteer positions for multiple organizations including The New York Botanical Garden, Boulder County AIDS Project and the Brooklyn Bridge Park Conservancy.  She is originally from St. Louis, Missouri and holds a B.A. in International Affairs from George Washington University. She lives in Boulder, Colorado with her husband and two young daughters.


Guatemala Friendship Bridge Staff Challenge Themselves for Change


Francisco and his team do pushups in preparation for the 5k run on September 22, as part of the #HealthForLife challenge that raises funds for Friendship Bridge’s Health for Life program.


Friendship Bridge staff believe in their work and their mission – creating opportunities that empower women to create a better future through microfinance, education, and preventive health services. That’s why during the month of September they’re rallying around the #HealthForLife campaign to raise funds for the Health for Life program. Plus, it provides an opportunity to slow down a little bit and focus on personal health.

“We must protect our health and our family’s health,” said Acting Director of Credit & Operations Francisco Meletz who is encouraging all staff to get healthy this month. However this campaign offers even more for Francisco. “This campaign not only motivates me to care for my personal health, it also allows me to raise funds to continue helping the Guatemala women who are our clients.”

This year, Fransisco’s goal is to run a 10k in 60 minutes. All of the Guatemala staff will be getting together on September 22, to complete a 5k, and Francisco plans to double his distance.

“This is our chance to raise funds for our health program, have fun, and build teamwork,” said Francisco. “Let’s run!”

To support the Guatemala staff #HealthforLife campaign, click here.


Francisco’s motto during training: The only
thing that can defeat you is yourself.  The only
person who limits you is yourself.

Earthquake Strikes Guatemala

On Thursday night, an 8.1 magnitude earthquake hit off the coast of Mexico.  It was felt strongly in several Central America countries.

According to the US Geological Survey, a 6.8 magnitude earthquake hit Guatemala’s Pacific coast that night.  The earthquake struck 24 miles southwest of Puerto San Jose, approximately 6.2 miles below the earth’s surface according to the USGS. Over 6,000 people have been affected in the western region of Guatemala where Friendship Bridge is based. Hundreds of homes were damaged, however, no casualties have been reported in Guatemala.

Friendship Bridge is a non-profit organization that provides microfinance, education, and preventive health services to women in Guatemala. Currently, all staff and clients have reported in as safe and with little to no damage to their property.

San Marcos Branch

“Tacana (municipality) area suffered severe damage. To date, no damage has been reported to our clients’ homes from that region.” Rocio Cano (Branch Accounting Assistant).

Huehuetenango Branch

“To date, we have no report about damage on our clients’ homes. In downtown Huehue, zone 10 and 12 had damage but no client was affected. We keep checking.” Oscar Morales (Branch Leader).

Mazatenango Branch

“All staff, family, and clients are fine. So far we have no report of any significant damage.” Andrea Juarez (Branch Leader).

Quetzaltenango Branch

“Everything is fine with the staff and clients. So far we have no information of any client that has been harmed. We continue monitoring.” Jairo Toc (Interim Branch Leader)

Sololá Branch

“To date clients and staff are ok. No facilitators have reported damage to clients, or house damages or other events with clients.” Francisco Ovalle (Agency Leader).

Quiché Branch

“Nothing happened, thank God. Everything is fine. It was only the shock that we had – and the clients too – but at the moment there has not been news of a disaster with any clients.” Delfina López (Agency Leader).

Chimaltenango Branch

“Thank God we are all well. That same night everybody was texting to report that they were ok and their families as well. Regarding the clients for now we have no news that they have been affected.” Elvia Toj (Accounting Assistant)

We will continue to monitor the situation and update you with any changes.

Six Climbs That Changed Lives

Susan Zimmermann stands at the top of two fourteeners: Mt. Elbert and Mt. Quandary. By the end of September, she will have climbed six fourteeners as part of her challenge to raise $8,000 for women’s preventive health services in Guatemala.

by Rachel Turner

“I turned 66 years old this month, so I determined to climb six fourteeners. What better way to celebrate?” said Susan Zimmermann, a Friendship Bridge board member.

Susan challenged herself for change – not only for her physical health, but to support women’s preventive health services in Guatemala where Friendship Bridge provides microfinance, education, and health services. In Guatemala, misconceptions and lack of education about health care, as well as limited access to culturally appropriate services, result in high rates of preventable diseases. So Friendship Bridge designed their Health for Life program to specifically address the preventive healthcare challenges that rural, indigenous women face in Guatemala.

“Friendship Bridge is absolutely top notch,” said Susan. “Friendship Bridge provides a hand up, not a hand out, with the goal of giving women the skills and support they need to improve their lives and the lives of their families over time.” Susan traveled to Guatemala a few months ago to see their work first hand. Her visit to Olga, a jewelry maker who has been a Friendship Bridge client for 11 years, remains imprinted in her memory. “We were welcomed to Olga’s home where we saw solidarity in action,” said Susan. “Olga has created a truly viable business that employs much of her family. The sense of family and community, along with her energy and enthusiasm were so moving.”

Joining the Health for Life campaign has allowed Susan to connect her own community with two things that she’s passionate about – creating opportunities that empower women and climbing mountains. “This is more than an event. This is a way for me to be in touch with my friends in a more personal and direct way,” said Susan. “Also, climbing mountains give’s me a sense of perspective and joy. At the top, you can see from a different viewpoint – it’s a metaphor of perspective.”

With Susan’s help, along with the rest of the Health for Life campaign participants, Friendship Bridge plans to raise $50,000 in the month of September. This will be matched for a total of $100,000 to provide for women’s preventive health services in Guatemala. This will allow Friendship Bridge to reach 3,000 more women with preventive health services.

“This campaign is a great way to let people know about something you care about,” said Susan. “A little goes a long way in Guatemala.”

Click to join the campaign or to make a donation.

What your donation could do in Guatemala:

  • $10-Two Pap smears
  • $25-Preventive health services for one woman
  • $50-Two birth control implants
  • $100-Preventive health services package for four women for a year
  • $600-A laptop for a nurse traveling to rural areas with a mobile clinic
  • $1,000-A portion of health equipment, such as a diabetes testing machine


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.  

She Fought, She Invented, She’s Independent







by Hannah Perkins

Every September rich colors of celebration and proudly displayed white and blue flags faded from the summer sun brighten up Guatemala’s rainy season. Guatemalan patriots prepare all month long to celebrate their independence from Spain on September 15th.

Guatemala declared independence from Spain in 1821, after two previous attempts. Unlike other countries who have fought tireless battles to become independent, Guatemala gained independence relatively peacefully due to instability in the Spanish monarchy.

Although as a whole, the Guatemalan people love to celebrate any holiday, Independence Day is a celebration all its own. Dancing, fireworks and colorful parades cover the streets. Communities gather to listen to children who have practiced their instruments for months, while satisfying their bellies with street food.

It is a celebration of freedom at a national and a personal level. “I had a father who said women were only made to have children and nothing more,” said Otilia, a Friendship Bridge client. “Today it’s different.”

An entrepreneur, Otilia started a business making jarred preserves to create more freedom for herself and opportunities for her family. Friendship Bridge partnered with Otilia providing a microloan and education. “The best moment was when I made my own invention,” said Otilia. “My carrot, papaya, and pineapple marmalade. It turned out perfect, and it’s my specialty.” With technical training offered by Friendship Bridge, Otilia has found incredible success. “My dream is to some day commercialize my business,” said Otilia. “So I’m very excited. The doors are opening for me!”

Today Otilia, an independent businesswoman, stands proudly admired by her husband and children. “My children tell me, ‘Thank the Lord for having a hard-working mother, a strong mother, an entrepreneur,’” said Otilia. “It is good.”

It’s time to celebrate.  Happy Independence Day!

Click HERE to see Otilia’s entire interview.


Friendship Bridge is a registered 501©(3) nonprofit organization creates opportunities that empower impoverished Guatemalan women to create a better future for themselves, their children and their communities through microfinance, education, and health services. Friendship Bridge works primarily with indigenous populations in rural areas where the rate of poverty in Guatemala is the highest.


Hannah Perkins, Friendship Bridge Communications Intern, hails from Maine and recently graduated from Susquehanna University, with a degree in Communications, Multimedia-Broadcast and a minor in Women’s Studies.