GOSHEN -- Three students at Goshen College are turning bracelets into benefits to aid overseas causes.
Rachel Halder, a senior from Parnell, Iowa, sells hand-woven bracelets to raise money for the Peruvian community where she lived while on the college's Study-Service Term in Spring 2008.
She worked in the La Victoria area of Chimbote, Peru, where drugs, gangs and prostitution are common and unemployment runs up to 90 percent, she said.
"It's the place where people are like, don't go there," Halder said.
She wanted to volunteer with the girls of the area, but the parish she was partnered with, Parroquia de Nuestra Soccorro, had no programs for this group when Halder arrived. So, one of the organization's leaders asked her to start one -- immediately.
"We got off the bus and he told me to go start a women's group," she said. "It was pretty overwhelming."
After finding a group of girls, Halder gave English lessons and organized school supplies. She also spent time getting to know the girls, doing things like swimming in the river. At the same time, she was also working with a group of older women who made belts, dolls, bracelets and other souvenirs to sell to tourists. She asked one of these women to teach the girls to weave bracelets.
"It was really fun," she said, but did not envision it lasting longer than her six-week term in Chimbote.
Then, she came home with 200 bracelets and sold all of them in the first week. Because of this initial success, she decided to keep selling. Since then, she has received 1,600 more bracelets and sold the vast majority. In all, she has raised almost $6,000.
She has heard that the money has been used to start new programs to help the people of La Victoria set up haircutting businesses, confectionaries and welding workshops. She would like to go back and see the changes her work has brought about.
"That's why I definitely want to go down there, because I want to see the improvements," she said.
Managing the bracelets is a lot of work on top of a full courseload and her work as student station manager of 91.1FM, The Globe.
All the same, she sends all the money she makes back to the organization she worked with, minus the $35 wire transfer fee. Only once has she taken money out of the bracelet fund, when she needed cash to tip the maid at a hotel. She promptly paid it back.
"I just don't really feel right taking any money for it," Halder said. "The reason I do this is because I know these women and love these women." To find out more about the bracelets, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
Two other students, Erica Grasse and Corinne Jager, sell beaded necklaces and bracelets through BeadforLife, an organization that does aid work in Uganda.
The two first-year students and longtime friends saw a display about the organization at a convention for Mennonite youth in Columbus, Ohio and decided to volunteer to sell the jewelry at Goshen College.
"We thought it would be cool to get involved in that way," Grasse said.
BeadforLife got its start in 2004 after two women similarly stumbled across the handmade beads. Founders Ginny Jordan and Devin Hibbard saw a Ugandan woman rolling beads near her hut. She said there was no market for the colorful balls of paper in Uganda. But, after buying some, the would-be founders discovered an American market for the jewelry. Since then, BeadforLife has employed hundreds of beaders who in turn have hired over 1,000 people. All the jewelry they sell is made from beads of recycled paper by Ugandan women, many of whom are AIDS victims or war survivors. Grasse likes that this approach empowers Ugandan women.
"The main goal is to eradicate poverty," she said. "By helping them, they can help their families."
Grasse and Jager have sold the jewelry publicly twice, once on campus and once at First Friday in downtown Goshen. Other than that, word of mouth brought students to Grasse and Jager's dorm room.
"People would come in there and be amazed and confused at what we were doing," Grasse said.
All told, they've raised around $1,800.
The work is completely voluntary. They receive no financial reward for selling the beads, but Grasse is glad to do it because it shows she can help even with an issue as physically distant as poverty in Africa.
"By doing this it enabled me to see that I can do a small part," said the biology and environmental science major. "It's more than making money, it's spreading awareness and making others realize that they can do make a difference, too."
Jager added, "What could be more important than this?"
For more information on BeadforLife, see beadforlife.org.