Empower women. Eliminate poverty.

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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.

Q&A with Design Volunteer Rebecca Dimler

Rebecca Dimler spoke with Rachel Turner about her passion for using design to change lives.  Rebecca, an entrepreneur, owns the Reverse Flight Design Co., and is committed to helping more women entrepreneurs succeed.  Rebecca designed the Friendship Bridge 2017 Health for Life campaign among other projects.  

Q: Why do you volunteer with Friendship Bridge?

I volunteer because I want to share my design skills. I love that Friendship Bridge gives hope and options to women. They are providing a way for women to take a business idea and help it come true. That is amazing.

Q: What do you do with Friendship Bridge?

I’ve been helping to design marketing campaigns and other materials that will help build awareness of the Friendship Bridge community.

Q: What has been your favorite thing about volunteering with Friendship Bridge?

I’ve enjoyed learning about the impact that Friendship Bridge has on women involved in the Microcredit Plus program. Reading women’s stories as I am creating the marketing pieces is really inspiring. I love working with an organization that seeks to build a stronger community while also preserving artisan skills and culture.

Q: Where are you from?

I am from New Jersey, but currently live in Iowa, where my fiancé designs and builds motorcycles for Indian Motorcycles. We have a puppy named Summit who is my sidekick and keeps me company all day since I work from home. His name was inspired by our yearly Colorado hiking trips.

Q: What do you like to do for fun?

Besides design, I love hiking, biking, and anything on water. I also love to garden.

Q: What do you want people to know about Friendship Bridge?

“Helping” is more than just sending things or money. Friendship Bridge doesn’t just put a Band-Aid on the issue of poverty; they provide microcredits with business education and health services in an effort to help build the community from the ground up and not just patch what is broken. They invest in the lives of the women they serve and appreciate the heritage of the culture.

If you would like to volunteer for Friendship Bridge, please contact us at info@friendshipbridge.org. For more information, click here.


Defeating Cancer: Choose Health, Alleviate Poverty

Photo by Susan Ryan Kalina

by Marta Ixtuc & Rachel Turner

Doña Maria was sure she was dying. She had just been diagnosed with cervical cancer and she was leaving six living children behind. “Since I knew I was dying there was no reason to seek treatment,” said Doña Maria. “I felt extremely sad.”

This reaction is not unusual in the Western Highlands of 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, including cervical cancer. That’s why Friendship Bridge created the Health for Life program to specifically address the preventive healthcare challenges that rural, indigenous women face in Guatemala.

Through a partnership with Wuqu’ Kawoq (Maya Health Alliance), Friendship Bridge provides health education and services to clients by women nurses who are from the local communities and speak the clients’ indigenous languages. The program also provides mobile clinics that travel to the clients’ communities.

Rebecca, Doña Maria’s nurse, visited Doña Maria often to help her understand treatment options. “What you have has a solution,” said Rebecca to Doña Maria. “I’ll travel with you. I’ll support you. We’re in this together.”

Initially, Doña Maria’s husband was suspicious, asking her where she had contracted such a sickness. After understanding that lack of medical care during and after her nine home births could have caused her cancer, he supported her treatment.

“Rebecca is not my daughter, but she is my life-giving angel,” said Doña Maria. For four months they traveled together to the capital for treatment and later an operation. “I’m so grateful to Nurse Rebecca, my Facilitator Gloria, and the support they gave me,” said Doña Maria. “They always told me, ‘We fight together, and we’ll win together.’ Now I’m here talking about my victory. I want other women to hear my story. It could save their lives. It’s our job to make the decision to defeat sickness; if I can do it, another woman can do it too.”

Today, Doña Maria continues to build her business making and selling tortillas. Supported by Friendship Bridge through microloans, education, and health services, she also helps her children continue their education.

The month of September, we challenge ourselves for change by crowdfunding for the Health for Life program.  You can have your own fundraising page to raise funds for women’s preventive health services in Guatemala.  Sign up here to start fundraising!

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.

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.  

Empower Women, Change the World

by Hannah Perkins and Marta Ixtuc

The United Nations’ International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples is recognized annually on August 9th. “Women are given little opportunity for development, but we have potential,” says Sebastiana, a Guatemalan Friendship Bridge client. “So, I thank Friendship Bridge for having me as a client. Now, I not only have capital to work with, but I also have knowledge. I have learned a lot during the monthly trainings, especially in the management of money, budgeting, health, and other topics.”

The International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples brings awareness to the achievements and contributions that indigenous people make to improve world issues including human rights, the environment, health, education, and economic and social development. Mastering the art of weaving at just 12 years old and marrying by 15 years old, Sabastiana only attended school up to the first grade. After finding Friendship Bridge four years ago, she obtained microloans and educational training. Sabastiana now manages a traditional textile shop that her daughters run, a “nixtamal” (corn cleaning/grinding mill), and an animal husbandry business (chickens, pigs, and turkeys). Through the opportunities Friendship Bridge creates she has also been able to provide education for her children up to the sixth grade.

Friendship Bridge is a registered 501©(3) nonprofit organization that empowers 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. Half of Guatemalan children under five suffer from chronic malnutrition and more than 60% of indigenous women are illiterate.

Why focus on women like Sabastiana? Globally speaking, women make up 70% of the world’s poor, and typically invest up to 90% of their income in their families and communities. Sabastiana’s time working with Friendship Bridge has empowered her to expand her business effectively, while investing in her family’s well-being by sending them to school and providing a healthy living environment. Investing in women and indigenous populations around the world improves universal issues and helps close the gap on formal recognition and understanding of current policies.


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.




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.





Thanks to Photolease and the Cada Mes Club for making it possible to provide services to Sebastiana and other Friendship Bridge Clients.

Trading Stuff for Happiness

Photo by Marta Ixtuc. Susan Kalina photographs Friendship Bridge clients.


The last week of June, Susan Kalina volunteered to photograph stories for Friendship Bridge.  We did a Q&A with Susan to see how it went.

Q: Why did you volunteer with Friendship Bridge?

This summer my youngest daughter went to overnight camp for the first time, like her sisters. Which  means, in the fourteen years I have been a mom, this is the first time I had three and a half weeks with no children in my house. I decided I wanted to use some of that free time to volunteer for a worthy organization. My criteria was that I wanted to volunteer for an organization that benefited women or children, and I wanted to have an adventure and leave the U.S. for a non-English speaking country.

I turned to a girlfriend who is very involved in the nonprofit world and asked her advice. She recommended Friendship Bridge. We felt like the organization is large enough that I would feel safe working with them, but small enough that they would appreciate me volunteering my photography services.

Going to Guatemala was amazing! I arrived in Guatemala a week before I planned to work with Friendship Bridge. I spent the first week in Antigua staying with a host family and taking immersion Spanish classes. It was the perfect way to get to know the Guatemalan culture and work on my Spanish skills before meeting the women of Friendship Bridge.

I am so blessed to have connected with Friendship Bridge and to work with them! I learned about the value of microloans, health services, and business education for low income women in rural Guatemala. I met amazing people who work for Friendship Bridge. And I am SO blessed to have met some amazing women who are changing their lives and their children’s lives through entrepreneurship.  Through the  loans, encouragement, and support they receive from Friendship Bridge, these women are crafting a very different future than they would otherwise have.

Photo by Susan Kalina. Three generations of weavers.

Q: Did you have a favorite client visit?

I would have a hard time picking which visit was my favorite. They were all so beautiful! Our first client we met who does upholstery had the most amazing, infectious smile. I really loved seeing the pride she takes in her work. The women from the first Trust Bank (loan repayment) meeting were so sweet and had a great sense of humor. And they took pity on the poor gringa in the corner sweating bullets while taking photos! They gave me a cold bottle of water to cool down. And then before we left gave me a bag of hot tortillas off the grill and fresh cheese so I wouldn’t leave hungry. I also loved meeting the tomato farmer. She allowed me the privilege to see her home and meet her gorgeous family. The daughter and granddaughter of a cancer survivor I met in San Marcos also totally warmed my heart. And I loved meeting the weaver, her mother and grandmother in Solola. Each woman I met gave me the privilege to peek into their lives and I will forever be grateful for that honor.

Q: How did the trip to Guatemala affect you?

I will forever be changed by meeting the women of Friendship Bridge. Learning their stories. Hearing about how hard they work. Trying to understand what it’s like to be a woman in a machismo culture. Seeing their ready smiles and easy laugher. Recognizing the joy these women get from just getting what they NEED in life, not striving for all the extraneous things we want in our lives. It really reminded me to be thankful for my family, my health, a warm place to sleep at night, running water, and plentiful food. It’s so easy to get caught up in wanting more, more, more. But in reality, these women taught me that I should be satisfied with a simpler life. When you find happiness in the things you buy, your bucket is never full. I am going to be working hard the next few months to try and re-orient my family to giving back more, being happy with less, and donating the excessive clothes and stuff we have in our house!

To see more of Susan Kalina’s work in Guatemala visit: www.susanryankalinaphoto.com

She Climbed Mountains and Changed the World

Sandie Godsman hiked the Swiss Alps in 2016 to raise funds for the Health for Life program that provides women’s preventive health services.


by Rachel Turner

Sandie Godsman, an energetic woman from Colorado, loves a challenge.  While running last minute errands, she spoke on the phone before jumping on a plane to Germany and Austria for a hiking and biking trip.  “I have a passion for hiking, biking, skiing, and nature,” said Sandie. “That fits in really well with the [Friendship Bridge] Wildflower Hike and the Health for Life campaign.”

Participants of the Wildflower Hike event enjoy a gourmet lunch after learning about and photographing wildflowers.

Sandie created the Wildflower Hike as a fundraiser for Friendship Bridge four years ago.  Since then, she has involved John Fielder, a prominent wildflower photographer from Colorado.  “I went to a presentation and book signing thinking that the worst he could say is ‘no,’” said Sandie.  “But he agreed to give a presentation on wildflowers and to hike with us.”  This year, John invited the group to his home in Silverthorne, Colorado, for a wildflower presentation, a hike with photography tips, and a gourmet lunch prepared by Evergreen Circle.  The group came back excited about what they had learned.

A full-time teacher, Sandie learned about Friendship Bridge while doing a 500-mile bike ride in 1988 with Connie Ning, one of the founders.  Sandie began volunteering with Friendship Bridge while raising her two children, teaching full-time, completing a Master’s degree, and continuing her love of the outdoors. “After I retired, I wanted to do more,” said Sandie.  So she began helping with the annual Friendship Bridge Gala auction and the Health for Life campaign. 

Last year Sandie hiked the Tour du Mont Blanc  to raise funds for the Health for Life campaign, reaching 20,000 feet in elevation gain. “I want people to realize that they have so much potential to accomplish,” said Sandie who is achieving incredibly athletic feats in her 60s. “Life is about getting out there to challenge ourselves to great adventures and then contribute in some way while doing these great adventures.” 

Today, she’s still climbing mountains to change the world.

Challenge yourself for change and join the Friendship Bridge Health for Life campaign to support the women’s preventive health services provided to Friendship Bridge clients in Guatemala.  For more information, or to get involved, visit: www.friendshipbridge.org/events

Women in Agriculture: What are our options?

Photo credit: Ben Rasmussen

by Rachel Turner

 In a recent CGAP blog post, the writers state, “The opportunity exists for financial services providers to design products and delivery channels that allow women to seize opportunities and thrive beyond what current financial options make possible. For example, savings and loan products could be tailored to women’s livelihoods to enhance their productivity and increase their incomes. As women’s income increases, financial services providers could offer financial products that enable women to diversify into new livelihoods with further earning potential.”

The authors were specifically talking about cultivating opportunities for women in agriculture. I’m proud to say that I work for an organization that is consistently taking this idea to heart. In November 2016, Friendship Bridge launched a pilot program–Women’s Agriculture Credit & Training.

Seeing how entrenched agriculture is in the Guatemalan culture and workforce (39%), we saw the need to create a product that provides agriculture clients access to new markets through technical training and credit products that meet the unique needs in the agriculture sector. Many of our clients are subsistence farmers with low harvest yield and value. Without the tools to produce more and sell their yield, these clients are often unable to find solutions to poverty.

Through one-on-one training, group workshops, and product growth demonstrations on parcels of land, our agriculture team has quickly grown this program to serve 469 clients in the department of Quiché. Now, the program is expanding to the department of Sololá.

“The greatest challenge has been helping clients modernize their agriculture practices instead of only following ancestral practices passed down through generations,” said Agriculture Project Coordinator Marco Monroy. “We’ve also begun involving the husbands in trainings since couples work the fields together. I enjoy this project because by teaching agriculture science we can see drastic changes – improvements – in the agriculture sector of Guatemala.”

At Friendship Bridge, we are consistently looking to provide products and services through our Microcredit Plus program that are tailored to each client’s individual level of development along her growth path to empowerment. The Women’s Agriculture Credit & Training program is just one example of the exciting initiatives our team is implementing.

Rachel Turner is the Global Communications Manager for Friendship Bridge. Having worked and lived  throughout the world, she now calls the foothills of the Rocky Mountains home.

Traveling this summer? We can help!

Summer has so much to offer. Bonfires. Ice cream. Pool days. Vacation.

This year, we want to help prep you for the best summer of your life! Check out our popular artisan items to aid your travel and provide great conversation starters.

Through Friendship Bridge’s Artisan Market Access, we can provide access to hand-made, high quality, items from our clients in Guatemala.

Jacinta’s luggage tag will add color to your travel experience!

These dog leashes trimmed with traditional Guatemalan fabric will be the most unique and fashionable you’ve ever owned! 6′ in length.

Made out of re-purposed huipiles from Totonicapan, these vinyl-lined cosmetic bags will help keep you organized. Perfect for cosmetics, toiletries, or electronics chords.


Made of beautiful Czech beads, these necklaces perfectly complement any outfit.

Made out of up-cycled corte material. These jewelry bags will add color and organization to your travel experience!

More about Friendship Bridge’s Artisan Market Access …

Friendship Bridge currently serves over 4,000 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.

Friendship Bridge’s Artisan Market Access program provides artisans with trainings designed to ready them to access new markets – in particular, the global market. Trainings focus on topics such as quality of raw materials, buyer expectations, and tastes and preferences of the North American market. Artisans are also trained about product pricing to ensure they receive a fair wage for their work.

In one year, artisan clients doubled their income and their employees to meet the new demand.

Seeking the Anti-Poverty Holy Grail: Can a ‘Trust Mark’ Boost Microfinance’s Social Impact?


Partially reprinted from Next Billion Blog

Seventeen years ago, one of us compared the successful balance of financial sustainability and poverty reduction in microfinance to the Holy Grail – many searched for it, some claimed unconvincingly to have found it, and even more gave up on it as a beguiling myth. Not much has changed since then. Or so it may seem. Sophisticated research in the past decade has deepened doubt and strengthened skeptics. Yet practitioners, responding to moral imperative, societal need and market opportunity, keep trying to reach and serve people living in poverty. And many millions of them keep using microfinance. Why do they use it if it doesn’t help them? Do some practitioners do a better job of helping them than others do? How would we know?

Faced with this puzzle, a group of us set out in 2010 to find some straightforward way to identify the practitioners who are successful (and, by implication, those who are not so successful). But what does “success” look like? How would we know it if we see it? Depending solely on sophisticated (and expensive) research studies is not practical for sifting through a large number of practitioner institutions. So we asked: What are the obvious and essential practices of a “successful” practitioner that logic says should help clients achieve lasting, positive change that reduces or even eliminates poverty from their lives? If the logic is right, we should be able to quickly assess the “pro-poor performance” of various practitioners of financial services for poorer people.

The most obvious practice is to actively try to reach and serve people living in poverty. Of course! We can’t aspire to “lift people from poverty” if they are not living in poverty to start with. This became our Pro-Poor Principle No. 1.

The next most obvious practice is to design and offer products/services specifically to serve poorer people. This often requires segmentation of a diverse clientele to identify poorer clients and make sure at least some of our products/services are designed to address their particular wants, needs and constraints. This became our Pro-Poor Principle No. 2.

Less obvious, perhaps, is the need to investigate how the lives of participating clients actually are changing. This requires tracking the progress of clients (at least a representative sample) to understand how they use the products/services and how this use correlates with positive changes in their welfare (however the practitioner defines “positive change”). Such impact evaluation – bearing in mind that correlation points toward, but never by itself confirms, causation – serves more than donors/investors. It also provides vital feedback to the practitioner seeking to correct, improve and innovate products/services. This basic good business practice is our Pro-Poor Principle No. 3.

Armed with these three Pro-Poor Principles, we brought together microfinance rating agencies and other technical experts to design and test with us an assessment tool and process to tell us how completely a practitioner institution is adhering to the three principles. The more complete the adherence, the more likely the institution is truly helping people lift themselves from poverty.

To beta-test this tool and process, we commissioned three social rating agencies to assess nine institutions around the world, giving each a score composed from the answers to a number of questions about essential practices. We found that scores fell into four clusters along a continuum of potential scores.

Even the most committed pro-poor institution is on a long journey toward “perfect” pro-poor performance and will never fully arrive. A threshold of “compliance” anywhere short of perfection would be arbitrary, so we decided it is better to recognize institutions as having arrived at milestones along a Pro-Poor Pathway. The four clusters of our beta test served to establish four milestones – Aspirant, Emerging, Achiever and Leader – ranging from those just getting started on the journey to those who have traveled a long way already and serve to inspire and encourage institutions further back.

These concepts and instruments offer the opportunity to create a global “trust mark” for anti-poverty action. There are many trust marks on which consumers, investors and regulators have come to depend for identifying quality in products and practices; for example, home care products, fair trade coffee, building design and forest products. We could have a trust mark for pro-poor performance that would build and support confidence in the pro-poor claims of development practitioners and service providers of many stripes, not just financial services.

Given the experience base of our group, we started with financial service providers in developing countries. We call ourselves Truelift (as in truly helping people lift themselves from poverty). So far, 24 microfinance providers reaching tens of thousands of clients have been assessed and recognized, each at one of the four Truelift milestones. In April, Truelift announced that Fundación Paraguaya in Paraguay and Friendship Bridge in Guatemala have reached the Leader milestone, the most advanced stage along the Truelift Pro-Poor Pathway. This recognition is based on the results of Truelift-licensed assessments conducted in late 2016 by MicroFinanza Rating.

Fundación Paraguaya and Friendship Bridge are only the second and third institutions to achieve the Leader milestone in Latin America and only the third and fourth in the world, respectively. This rarity reflects the difficulty of achieving the Leader milestone, but these institutions show that it can be done! The rarity also reflects the nascent stage of development of Truelift as a global trust mark signifying commitment to positive and enduring change for people affected by conditions of poverty…CLICK HERE FOR MORE

From Russia to the USA, I Can Make a Difference


Svetlana Yamanova 

reprinted from the Golden Transcript

My name is…Svetlana Yamanova.  I’m 47. I was born and raised in Russia and I came to the U.S. to attend school. I enjoy how free people are here. Americans have an I-can-do-it mentality.

I studied international relations and graduated from the University of Denver in 2003. I moved to Wheat Ridge that year.

I enjoy the outdoors. Where I’m from in Russia, we don’t have that kind of culture. That’s why I love Colorado and living so close to the mountains.

I volunteer with Friendship Bridge, which is a nonprofit organization based in Lakewood. I’m a member of the Foothills Circle. We’re a group of women who does fundraising for Friendship Bridge, and Friendship Bridge micro-lends to indigenous women in Guatemala. The funds provide the Guatemalan women an opportunity to become entrepreneurs so they can start a business weaving or making jewelry, for example, to help support their families…CICK FOR MORE

How Evergreen Learned to Give Twice (Photo Essay)

by Rachel Turner

Always in action, Friendship Bridge Circles raise awareness, raise funds, and host education sessions about global affairs. They think ahead all through the year to prepare for upcoming events.  Below, a little bit o’ winter in the summer….

Purchase Swittens

Betty Astle or ‘Button Betty’ as her Friendship Circle friends call her, smiles at another Circle member while preparing to add buttons to swittens on June 2, 2017. “I love buttons!” said Betty enthusiastically. “They’re so interesting. If I showed you my button collection, you’d go crazy. I have thousands. I like connecting the perfect button with the perfect switten.” The Evergreen Friendship Circle makes swittens (mittens made out of felted wool sweaters) all year long to sell at the Alternative Gift Fair in Evergreen. Proceeds go to Friendship Bridge. “Since many people buy swittens as gifts, we say you’re giving twice when you buy swittens,” continued Betty. “First to the nonprofit and then to your loved one.”

A tag is added to each pair as a reminder of who they benefit.” As your hand touches the swatch of Guatemalan fabric inside your switten, know that you have touched the lives of Guatemalan families by making this purchase.”



Mary Steinbrecher (left) and Ardis Strieby compile material to design the swittens. “I like working with fibers,” said Mary. “I got the idea for making the swittens from the Oconomowac Circle in Wisconsin. I visited them and learned how to felt wool and then adapted the designs to our culture.” The Evergreen Circle meets once per month to cut the material for the swittens and then they take the material home to sew. It takes about three hours to make a pair of swittens from start to finish.

Each pair of swittens has a piece of woven fabric from Guatemala sewn inside to remind buyers whose lives they’re helping.


Paula Carter cuts material for swittens while Mary Steinbrecher and Kathy Head speak to each other. Paula and Kathy design and sew Christmas stockings with wool that has become too thick to sew into mittens. “I love turning a pile of sweaters into a thing of beauty and joy for the holiday season,” said Kathy. “It’s fun!” A retired nurse, Kathy drives over 30 miles to meet with the Circle. “I love this group,” she said.


The Evergreen Circle also sells Christmas stockings made of felted wool. All the products are made from 100% natural fibers.

Ladies from the Evergreen Circle cut felted wool into patterns to sew swittens. The ladies buy used sweaters from thrifts shops and felt them by putting them in a pillowcase enclosed by a rubber band and then agitating them in a washer with hot water. “It’s not an exact science,” comments Mary Streinbrecher. “You have to watch them closely to that they don’t shrink too much, because then they will be too thick.”

Betty Astle and Barbara Voth embrace after seeing each other at the Circle’s gathering. “Barbara and I went to Guatemala with Friendship Bridge,” said Betty. “It was an amazing experience to see how hard clients work to give their children a better life.”


Swittens made by the Evergreen Circle













Purchase Swittens

For more information on Friendship Bridge Circles or to purchase swittens, please contact Ardis Strieby: astrieby@friendshipbridge.org


Colorado Senator Meets Guatemala Textile Leader

Doña Herminia makes thread from cotton near her shop in San Juan La Laguna.

by Rachel Turner
and Marta Ixtuc

The smell of plant leaves and bark cooking over an open fire filled the room. A colorfully dressed woman sat weaving with a wooden hand loom using brilliantly colored thread – all dyed naturally with the juices from boiled barks, plants, vegetables, flowers, and even insects. More women bustled around the room cleaning cotton, making it into thread, and dyeing it.

Seeing visitors enter, Doña Herminia stood to welcome them into one of the two shops she runs.

With confidence and pride, Doña Herminia showed her visitors the elaborate, time-intensive process traditional weavers go through to create scarves, bags, and shawls. She pointed to two plants, “These plants will provide a different color if picked during a full moon,” she said. It was obvious she held generations of knowledge that made her products special.

Doña Herminia offered her visitors the opportunity to make thread from a piece of fluffy cotton. Former US Senator Mark Udall from Colorado stepped up to the challenge. He succeeded in making a bit of thread and gained even more appreciation for the difficult task.

Former US Senator Mark Udall makes thread from cotton with the help of Doña Herminia.

Doña Herminia learned traditional weaving at the knees of her mother and grandmother as a young child. She quickly grew in skill and creativity, and as a young adult, joined Ixoq AJ Keem, a group of women weavers of Maya Tz’utujil ethnicity who sell their products primarily in San Juan La Laguna. Today, she leads the organization and employs seven women in her own business.

[clickToTweet tweet=”Herminia is a real leader. She has what it takes in terms of determination, enthusiasm, and charisma. -Sen Udall” quote=”‘Herminia is a real leader. She has what it takes in terms of determination, enthusiasm, and charisma,’ commented Senator Udall.”]

A Friendship Bridge client for over five years, Doña Herminia joined the Artisan Market Access Program in 2016. “It has helped me learn about business, the North American market, quality control, and so much more,” said Doña Herminia. “Beyond that, it has shown me the value of formal education – especially for my children – since I only studied through 4th grade.”

Doña Herminia continues to mentor women who want to become better artisans. “I want to help women learn,” said Doña Herminia. “I advise them to take advantage of opportunities presented, and to invest the time to learn. [clickToTweet tweet=”Because of what I’ve learned, I now have the power to make my own decisions. -Client Doña Herminia #empoweringwomen” quote=”Because of what I’ve learned, I now have the power to make my own decisions. -Doña Herminia”]

Traveling soon? Click here to buy handmade travel products from Doña Herminia.

Rachel Turner is the Global Communications Manager for Friendship Bridge. Having worked and lived  throughout the world, she now calls the foothills of the Rocky Mountains home.

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.