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Friendship Bridge Clients like Marcela Adapt Brilliantly during the Pandemic

More than 2 billion people in the world – especially women and families living in poverty in rural areas – lack access to formal financial services and therefore live with financial insecurity on a daily basis. Friendship Bridge, like many other microfinance institutions (MFIs) around the world, is committed to providing access to capital, healthcare and health education, non-formal education, and technical assistance to Guatemala women, primarily indigenous, living in poverty. Read the article below to see how the investment by the Portfolio Advisory Board (PAB) helps Friendship Bridge achieve its mission.  

Article Courtesy of Friendship Bridge

Marcela was scared about the global pandemic. “I asked myself, ‘How are we going to survive?’ We live in Sololá [Guatemala] and we did not have a place to go and buy things,” she recalled. Even if the markets were open, Marcela thought, she would not be able to buy anything without money. “That affected me a lot,” she said.

But fear did not dampen Marcela’s resilient spirit. She had survived the armed conflict in Guatemala. She had become a business entrepreneur despite being widowed with young children. Again and again, she had outsmarted fear with resourcefulness and navigated hardship alongside a strong community of women. 

Only a few weeks after learning about the pandemic, she used her hard-earned skills to gain income again. “I made scarves and shawls to survive,” she said. “Sometimes my neighbors celebrated their daughters’ birthdays in lockdown… They came to my house and asked for birthday gifts.” 

As a trained artisan, Marcela was already selling her beautiful, textile-woven products to an international market through Friendship Bridge’s online store, Handmade by Friendship Bridge. In March 2020, she started investing more effort into selling to her nearby community to support her family during the earlier months of the pandemic. 

Marcela belongs to a Friendship Bridge Trust Bank made up of 18 women, almost all of who became widowed during and after the armed conflict in Guatemala. “They had no way out,” she said, noting that when she herself joined 17 years ago, she only had about three pieces of fabric. “I needed capital in order to make more.” 

All the women in her group have different interests, from artisanry to agriculture. Over time, they have acquired new skills through Friendship Bridge’s trainings, which have allowed them to diversify their income, an especially useful skill for this year. Marcela, for example, now knows how to use a backstrap loom, as well as a foot loom. She also learned to collect recycled plastics that some stores throw away to make durable, reusable shopping bags. “We go to collect and wash them, and when they are dry, we cut it to the size we need,” she explained. 

As businesses slowly start to open and “normalize” in Guatemala, Marcela encourages women who are not yet part of Friendship Bridge to join. “They teach us about everything,” she said. “I feel that they are encouraging me again to create some products and deliver them. As they are asking me for orders, I feel that I am already getting out of this situation.” 

The microloans, education, business training, and health services that Friendship Bridge provides to women in Guatemala matter now more than ever. Because of the investment of the PAB, women like Marcela continue to support themselves and their communities through innovation and hard work, even amid a pandemic.

 

Feature photo at top: Marcela creates a textile with capital and training from Friendship Bridge. 

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