Local circle of women reach out

Carolyn Casas, left, and Guillermina Bautista traveled to Guatemala.
Carolyn Casas, left, and Guillermina Bautista traveled to Guatemala.

Friendship Bridge is a nonprofit organization that helps women and their families create their own solutions to poverty in Guatemala. Women receive small, renewable loans to start or enhance a small business, such as weaving, animal husbandry or growing and selling vegetables.

Carolyn Casas and Lonna Crane have started a local circle of women dedicated to benefiting the women of Guatemala who are clients of Friendship Bridge.

It began when Lonna, who lives in Arroyo Grande, traveled to Guatemala two years ago. She had learned of an American woman from the Antelope Valley who was involved in Friendship Bridge. By coincidence the woman was in Guatemala at the time, and Lonna was able to spend a week with her there, while also studying Spanish.

Later, traveling by truck, bus, boat and “tuk-tuk” (a small three-wheel motorized rickshaw), she trekked around beautiful Lake Atitlan, visiting several small villages. “I’ve always wanted to go to Guatemala because I loved their textiles,” and also to study Spanish, Lonna said.

She was impressed with the Guatemalan women, how they lived in poverty and yet were trying to support themselves and their families. “In spite of the fact they were so poor, they were just beautiful wore these beautiful clothes every single day and worked very hard” and yet laughed a lot. She brought back small colorful purses to sell to friends, so she could send money back to help the women.

When Lonna met Carolyn, they decided to start a local Friendship Bridge, which they have named Las Perlas del Mar (Pearls of the Sea). Recently, Carolyn of Arroyo Grande and her friend, Guillermina Bautista of Grover Beach, traveled to Guatemala to meet local women and bring back beautiful “tipica” (crafts) to sell.

Guillermina, who is from Mexico, was interested in seeing how the women lived in Guatemala and how they weave textiles. “It’s a lot of work for each of these items that we brought back,” she said. They brought back purses, handbags, necklaces, earrings, bracelets, table cloths, wall hangings and pillow covers.

Flora is one of the women benefitted by Friendship Bridge. She married at 14, had three children, and began weaving and making bracelets to support her family. She opened her first small business on the beach of Lake Atitlan.

She began to employ other women with her first loan of $120 from Friendship Bridge. It eventually grew into a fair-trade cooperative that she administers, employing more than 70 women. She is so thankful for the help she has received from Friendship Bridge.

The purpose of the local Friendship Bridge is to raise money to help provide microloans to the Guatemalan women by selling the beautiful, colorful crafts at their meetings, in the community and at fundraisers. These loans help women to bring in enough income to feed their families adequately and send their children to school.

The next meeting is scheduled for April 25 at 6:30 p.m. in Arroyo Grande, location to be determined. The next fundraiser is for Mother’s Day. A person donates money, then tucks a card into a Guatemalan coin purse and gives it to their mother.

For more information, contact Carolyn Casas at 550-3388, or ceccasas@aol.com  or visit http://friendshipbridge.org.

Gayle Cuddy’s column is special to The Tribune. She and Cynthia Lambert write the South County Beat column on alternating Wednesdays. Reach Cuddy at 489-1026 or nightengayles@aol.com.