St. Martha students aid Nicaraguan children

Students at St. Martha School lined up to purchase bracelets — called pulseras by the Nicaraguan youth who make them. St. Martha’s seventh-grade Spanish class hosted the sale to benefit the Pulsera Project, a non-profit organization which aids youth and adults in Nicaragua. (Record Photos by Jessica Able)
Students at St. Martha School lined up to purchase bracelets — called pulseras by the Nicaraguan youth who make them. St. Martha’s seventh-grade Spanish class hosted the sale to benefit the Pulsera Project, a non-profit organization which aids youth and adults in Nicaragua. (Record Photos by Jessica Able)

By Jessica Able, Record Staff Writer

Students at St. Martha School are helping children in Nicaragua overcome poverty — one bracelet at a time.

Last month the students sold colorful, hand-woven bracelets — called pulseras — made by children and adults in Nicaragua through a social justice ministry called the Pulsera Project.

The Pulsera Project was created in 2009 by a group of volunteers to empower young Nicaraguan artisans who yearned for a better life.

The project buys the handmade pulseras from the Nicaraguan artisans, then sells them to mainly U.S. schools interested in international service opportunities, the organization’s website said. The group’s slogan is “Color the World.”

St. Martha Spanish teacher Rachael Johnson stumbled across the program while searching for ways to break down stereotypes and misconceptions many students have about Hispanic and Central American culture.

“I found they didn’t know a lot about other countries and that they assumed all Spanish-speaking countries were alike” when in fact each one has its own unique culture and characteristics, Johnson said.

Nicaragua is located in Central America and borders Honduras to the north and Costa Rica to the south. Many economists estimate that Nicaragua, which is the least developed country in Central America, is the second poorest nation in the Americas. Only Haiti is poorer. Johnson’s seventh-grade students have been researching Nicaraguan people and their culture since early this spring.

“The main thing we learned about Pulsera is they provide an education for them (the artisans),” Madeline Crawford, a seventh-grade student, said. “Education is very important because it will improve their lives” and, it is hoped, bring them out of poverty.

Alex Adams, also a St. Martha seventh-grader, said he learned that many people in Nicaragua live in poverty and children often have to leave school to work in order to earn money for their family.

“It’s crazy to think regular, everyday kids like us have to work and are not able to go to school,” said Michael Cox, also a seventh-grader.

Johnson said this was the closest way she could think of to get the students immersed in another country’s culture without leaving the school.

In just two days, the St. Martha students sold all 500 bracelets and collected $2,500 (each bracelet sold for $5).

The funds raised are used for educational scholarships, workers’ rights initiatives, interest-free micro loans, environmental programs and fair-trade employment, said Colin Crane, one of the project’s initial founders. In five years, the Pulsera Project has raised more than $1 million for Nicaraguan youth communities, according to the project’s website.

“We are overwhelmed by the selflessness of so many students and teachers who have taken time from their lives to help us make the world a better and more colorful place,” Crane said.

In an email message to Johnson, Crane said close to 800 schools have hosted sales similar to the one at St. Martha and only a handful have come close to selling out.

“The money you raised will have an enormous impact on many lives down in Nicaragua,” he wrote.

Each bracelet contains a tag with the artisans photograph and name, which creates a personal connection, Johnson said.

“Since there is a photo and signature on each pulsera, we hope that will open people’s eyes to the idea that most things we buy in our country are mass-produced in environments that aren’t usually healthy or safe for the people who work there.

“Organizations like the Pulsera Project and other fair-trade companies really put a focus on the individuality of each product and making sure that the people who make them are well compensated and entitled to the money raised from their artwork,” Crane said in an email interview.

Johnson said the students will include personal letters to the artisans when they send the proceeds of the sale.

Though its her first year as a teacher, Johnson, a 2008 graduate of Holy Cross High School, has left an indelible mark on her middle school students, they said.

“The main thing I want to do is thank Ms. Johnson. She put this all together and we learned a lot,” Adams said. “I really hope we get to do this again.”

“I thought we were just learning Spanish but actually we learned about their (Nicaraguan) culture,” Crawford added.

Visit pulseraproject.org, to learn more about the organization.

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