Meet Magdalena

Meet Magdalena

Meet Magdalena

Friendship Bridge Client for 19 years

Magdalena lives in the mayan language Kakchiquel-speaking town of Santa Catarina Palopó, a quaint and picturesque place on the shores of the magnificent Lake Atitlán in the Western Highlands of Guatemala. She has lived there all of her life. Her childhood was very difficult, as her parents could not afford to take care of her. Until she was 13 years old, Magdalena lived with her grandmother, who held the old-fashioned belief that girls did not need to go to school. Instead of attending school, Magdalena learned to weave on a backstrap loom. By age eight, she was a talented weaver! Then, when she was 13 years old, she moved to her parents’ home. Her parents were of the same belief that girls did not need an education; thus, Magdalena learned to farm. 

In rural and indigenous areas of Guatemala, by the time girls are 14 or 15 years old, they are encouraged to marry. When Magdalena was 15, she was given in marriage to Miguel, who had an exceptional skill for making traditional handicrafts, which he had learned from his talented parents. Early on in their marriage, Magdalena and Miguel developed a small business selling their handicrafts on the main street of Santa Catarina Palopó. Because she only spoke the mayan language Kakchiquel and did not speak Spanish (the official language of Guatemala), Magdalena remembered being quite nervous when she spoke with potential customers.

When Magdalena was 18, she became pregnant and had her first son, who unfortunately had health complications and died shortly after birth. Three years later, she had another son, Juan, who also had health complications. He was born with an undeveloped brain and has been bedridden ever since. Magdalena feels blessed to have four healthy children today.

Magdalena is extremely motivated to do everything she can so that each of her children can succeed, have good and wholesome food, and acquire a formal education. As she only spoke Kakchiquel, she worked hard to learn to speak Spanish; today, Magdalena feels confident in her ability to communicate effectively in Spanish with her customers. However, the language barrier was not her only obstacle in the early days. Besides carrying all her handicraft products to sell on the streets of Santa Catarina, she would also carry her disabled son on her back. During that time, her four younger children stayed home by themselves, until they were old enough to help sell their parents’ handicrafts. Magdalena's daughters learned to speak English from the tourists who visited their village.

Magdalena's and Miguel's business began to grow when Miguel started selling their products on Calle Santander, the main street in Panajachel, a popular town on Lake Atitlán where locals and tourists can get small boats to take them to towns across the lake. Calle Santander leads directly to the docks, so there are many tourists ready to buy beautiful handicrafts like those Miguel was selling. While Miguel sold in Panajachel, Magdalena managed their business and continued developing new products. Their friendly customer service and dedication to continuously improving resulted in sufficient income that would enable them to build a home. However, the tradeoff was that they then did not have enough capital to meet the demands of their growing business.

In 2001, Magdalena learned about Friendship Bridge and the small loans, education and health care services the organization offered. She joined the Trust Bank "Catalinas", which met monthly in her town. The Trust Bank's Facilitator, who spoke Kakchiquel, provided many educational training sessions on business management skills, family topics, good healthcare and hygiene. The women in the group developed their self-esteem and became more and more empowered. In December 2001, Magdalena received her first small loan of Q840 (approximately $109). With this increased capital, she was able to buy cardstock for her handmade note cards. It also helped her increase her product assortment – she was now producing table runners, scarves, belts, traditional embroidered blouses, and shawls. Magdalena felt blessed and thankful to see her business growing and expanding!

Magdalena has been a member of that same Trust Bank for many years. As she is an exceptional craftswoman, she was invited to join Friendship Bridge's Handmade by Friendship Bridge®, a branch of the organization which provides specialized trainings and sales opportunities for the clients who have excelled in their artisan businesses. Highly motivated from the start to learn all that she could, Magdalena attended all of the training sessions she could, eager to acquire knowledge that would help her better market her products and increase her sales. She also learned about budgeting, customer service, sales methods, saving and investing, color combinations and measurements. All of the training sessions have helped her develop higher-quality products that are now also included in the online store of Handmade by Friendship Bridge®.

Magdalena continues to rise to the challenge of working hard on new designs. Through the creation of new designs, after all, she has been able to grow her business to the point where she is able to employ ten additional people. Magdalena feels fortunate to be able to provide employment to these individuals, as they, too, need to feed their families and put their children through school, just as she once struggled to do herself. Thanks to sufficient demand, Magdalena currently is able to operate her business across three locations in Santa Catarina - a shop on the shores of the lake, a shop near the church of Santa Catarina, as well as a nearby outdoor space. In addition, her son, Jesús, is a street vendor on Calle Santander in Panajachel.

The blessings for Magdalena have been many since becoming a member of Friendship Bridge. The organization has provided her with many loans and invaluable lessons and education through the Microcredit Plus programs. She is very grateful for visits and support from nurses in the Health for Life program. In addition, through her participation in Handmade by Friendship Bridge®, she has found new artisan friends with whom she shares her creativity and new ideas. Currently, Magdalena and a woman from another Trust Bank are sharing and exchanging products. 


Magdalena has two daughters and three sons. 


Magdalena is currently employing three families (of three or four people each).