My time at Friendship Bridge has come to an end and I’m off to Guatemala City to start the next phase of my fellowship with la Fundación de Asistencia para la Pequeña Empresa (FAPE). Before I launch into my work at FAPE, I’ll attempt to reflect back on my time with Friendship Bridge a bit.
First of all, being a Kiva Fellow is fantastic work. I’ve spent much of my time traveling around a beautiful country, meeting with incredible women, and talking with them about their lives, their businesses, their loans, and pretty much whatever else they want to tell me about. I can’t imagine many other circumstances where I would have the opportunity to talk with so many different people and hear so many different interesting and sometimes heartbreaking stories. It’s been an honor to be able to do this and I sincerely hope that I’ve been able to effectively pass on glimpses into these people’s lives through the journals I’ve been writing and posting on Kiva.
In terms of working with Friendship Bridge specifically, I can’t imagine a better introduction to microfinance in Guatemala. All of the staff I worked with were absolutely wonderful and it was such a pleasure getting to know them both personally and professionally. More than anything, I have been so struck with how true to the social mission the organization and its staff are. Friendship Bridge’s mission is as follows: “Friendship Bridge provides microcredit and education to help women and their families create their own solutions to poverty.” I was given a copy of a MicroRating International rating report for Friendship Bridge shortly before I started working with them, and one line jumped out at me when I first read it over. This microfinance rating agency stated that “Friendship Bridge’s mission and vision permeate the organization.” After having spent just six short weeks with the organization, I believe that “permeate” really is the perfect word to describe how their mission influences their work.
Obviously the financial component is the most substantial ‘product’ that they offer. However, along with every loan there is heavy emphasis on education, not only for the women receiving the loans, but perhaps more importantly on the education of their children. Time and time again I’d ask the women receiving loans from Friendship Bridge if their children are in school, and the vast majority proudly answered yes. However, some reported that they can’t currently send some or all of their children to school because they don’t have enough money to pay the small registration fees and to buy the required school supplies. It makes me sick to think that these costs don’t amount to much more than I easily spend on a good night out in the States. Nevertheless, almost every single woman I have spoken with over the last couple of months stated that their top priority is fighting for their children to have a better life, and one of the most important steps in that fight is helping them get good educations. It’s amazing to witness microfinance in action, seeing women have access to a little credit to build their businesses in an attempt to ‘create their own solutions to poverty.’ But it’s been even more amazing to see how much that impact can spread. Not only can these small loans help women build their microenterprises, but they can also help them give opportunities to their children that they themselves never had.
Yes, I do realize the praise is excessive here. No, microfinance is not a panacea and Friendship Bridge certainly isn’t perfect. Nevertheless, they are an organization with a noble mission, and are largely staffed with people truly dedicated to that mission. It’s been a privilege to get to share in that mission for six short weeks, and I’ve learned much and gained respect and appreciation for microfinance and the women of Guatemala that I will carry with me for years to come. Now I’m off to meet a whole new staff and see a completely different organization in action. While I am, of course, very sad to say goodbye to Friendship Bridge, I’m thrilled to move on to the next phase and learn more about microfinance, the people of Guatemala, and poverty alleviation in action.
But first, one final shameless plug for Friendship Bridge! For anyone interested in learning more about this fantastic organization, visit their website at www.friendshipbridge.org. And if you want to lend to their incredible clients, you can see what’s currently fundraising on Kiva here: http://www.kiva.org/app.php?page=businesses&partner_id=55&status=fundRaising&sortBy=New+to+Old&_tpg=fb.