A loan of $2,625 helped a member to purchase weaving thread, as well as corn and beans in bulk.

Belen Cerro De Oro (Group 3)'s story

Stirring up dust and old leaves, the wind blows through a small playground, where the 28 women of the Belen communal bank gather beneath the shade of the avocado tree. They know this place well, having met here monthly for the past seven years. The breeze offers relief from the scorching sun, and the women adjust themselves according to the patches of shade lent by the familiar tree.

The women of Belen are gentle but strong, their weathered faces wearing smiles of hope and determination. They have struggled immensely to arrive where they are today and every loan they receive offers another step out of poverty. Most of the women are weavers, having learnt the art as small children, and growing up to work in weaving factories, earning barely enough to survive. Now, after seven years with Friendship Bridge, every single woman has her own business, earning a fair income that provides for her family. Some of the women even employ as many as five other women.

Of the 28 women, seven are asking for a loan of 20,000 quetzales ($2,625), ranging from $300 to $400 per person. Six of the women will invest their money in their weaving businesses, purchasing colorful thread for beautiful huipiles (traditional woven blouses, like the ones in the photo), skirts, scarves, and blankets. They purchase weaving materials in the nearby town of Santiago de Atitlán. A couple of the women will also use part of their loans to pay their employees. One woman runs a business buying and selling corn and beans. Every two days she goes into town (about a 30 minute ride) and purchases corn and beans in bulk. She then brings it back to her town of Cerro de Oro and sells it to the locals. She will use her loan to purchase larger quantities of these products.

The women of Belen give thanks to Friendship Bridge for how far they’ve come, and they are eager to start another loan cycle to see what they can achieve. Six of the seven women have children (one woman is sadly unable to bear children, to her disappointment). They dream that their children will attend school, learn to read and write, and gain the tools necessary to end their families' bitter cycle of poverty forever.

In this group: Gregoria, Maria, Clara, Dolores, Nicolasa, Marta, Marta*
*not pictured

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