Meet Francisca Y.
Friendship Bridge client for 22 years.
Santa Lucía Utatlán is a municipality located about 95 miles from Guatemala City, in the west of the country. It is one of the nineteen municipalities of the Department of Sololá.
56-year-old Francisca is from a rural community in this region. She grew up in a family of eight siblings (five sisters, two brothers). Francisca attended school under sixth grade; her parents did not support education for girls, as they found it unnecessary considering their daughters would get young, regardless. In her childhood and adolescence, Francisca divided her time between school, herding sheep, helping with household chores, and playing basketball, which she did secretly, as her parents did not support her playing sports.
Francisca's parents were hardworking people. Her father made a livelihood in agriculture; her mother took care of all of the housework as well as helped herd the sheep and raised chickens. The eggs from their hens were both for family consumption but also for sale. Her mother also made textiles for her own use, for her daughters, and eventually to sell. Among the textiles she sold were napkins made on backstrap looms. During her childhood, Francisca and her family suffered the tragic deaths of two of Francisca's siblings, both young. The brother died of measles; the sister of an unknown disease. Francisca's father passed away at the age of 88, and her mother died at 65 from breast cancer - it was already very advanced when detected, unfortunately.
At the age of 16, Francisca decided to continue her studies and take up courses to become a nursing assistant. At 17, however, she got married and thus was unable to continue her studies. Two years later, with an eight-month-old baby, she decided to leave her husband due to physical and emotional abuse, as well as his drinking problem. Francisca's former family-in-laws were wealthy and decided to annul the marriage; that meant they would only have to provide very minimal child support to Francisca.
Three years after the separation, Francisca decided to rebuild her life alongside Federico Antonio, and they got married. In this new marriage, Francisca had the opportunity to continue school and finish her nursing studies. After graduating, she was able to practice her profession, working for various international NGOs. For twelve years, she gave training to midwives, mothers, and children on topics such as food safety, hygiene, and preventive care. However, the diagnosis of Francisca's husband nine years ago marked a turning point for their family.
With her husband struggling with the disease, Francisca knew she needed to do something else in order to make enough money and provide for her family, and to also continue financing the education of her children, which she did not want to sacrifice. Thus, around that time 25 years ago, she started sewing aprons and blouses. She worked on these at night after a day of formal work, and she sold the products on the weekends.
On her quest to invest in a small business, Francisca came across Friendship Bridge in a rather serendipitous manner: Don Federico, her husband, was a truck driver and in one of his outings, he gave a ride to a Facilitator from Friendship Bridge, who told Don Federico about the organization, who then told his wife about it. Francisca soon received her first loan of Q2,000 and joined a supportive group comprised of 22 other women. The amount of her loan increased over time, until she once had one amounting to Q16,000. Francisca is very grateful to Friendship Bridge for believing in her and in her business, which is now very successful. She no longer works with the various NGOs, as she realized that devoting herself completely to her business - considering its significant growth - would pay off more. In the early years, Francisca had one employee, but sheh now is fortunate to have the support of her oldest son, who knows how to tailor.
During the most difficult years of her husband's illness, who unfortunately passed away; Francisca had income to support her family, thanks to the loans she received and what she was able to achieve, invest in and create, as a result.
The onset of the pandemic in 2020 prompted Francisca to decrease her loan. Furthermore, the size of her Trust Bank group has decreased to seven women.
Four years ago, Francisca joined Handmade by Friendship Bridge® after going through a selection process in which few were selected. With notable excitement in her voice, she talks about how she has been able to go to Panajachel and Quetzaltenango to receive trainings which have helped her improve her business. Some of the products she makes include: bags, purses, glasses cases, cell phone carriers, and jewelry - all with traditional textiles. Through Friendship Bridge, she has been able to start exporting products to other countries, as well. She also goes door-to-door in Antigua Guatemala, selling various other textiles, blouses, aprons, jackets and pants.
What Francisca has appreciated the most so far during her time with Handmade by Friendship Bridge® are the trainings on topics such as international measurements, quality control, budget, color scheme; among others.
She also feels thankful for the medical checkups which she is able to receive through Friendship Bridge's health program, Health for Life. It's difficult for her to make the journey to the doctors' in town to get, say, a pap smear or an assessment of her blood pressure, blood sugar levels, height and weight; among other measures. However, Friendship Bridge takes this burden off, as the nurses often come to the women's homes.
Francisca has also felt empowered to take on leadership roles; she is president of her church's women's society in her community and supports with various administrative duties.
In addition, she has been involved in local development committees for two years now, supporting in the expansion of roads as well as in the improvement in the condition of existing roads in the community.
Francisca has one daughter and four sons.