The Pulsera Project does exactly what its name implies: it sells bracelets made in various countries in Latin America. The word “pulsera” is Spanish for bracelet. To a run-of-the-mill tourist, a table covered with colorful bracelets is just that, but to local students this table represents something much bigger—a step towards opening up Charleston and the College to the rest of the world. This home grown non-profit runs out of co-founder Colin Crane’s home on James Island, who started the project with one of his friends in 2009. As one of the two start-up locations, the College has been instrumental in expanding the organization and its immense success. The Pulsera Project at CofC works with over 150 artists in Nicaragua, Guatemala, and Uganda, organizing two week-long sales every semester.
Two hundred and twenty thousand bracelets and 627 schools later, the Pulsera Project is well established both at the College and as an organization. One of many service-oriented groups on campus, Pulsera has changed the lives of not only Nicaraguans, but also of the students involved who are able to be a part of true change and cooperation. Crane describes the project as “Primarily about an economic alternative for artists in Nicaragua. It’s a way for them to be contracted with us, for them to make their art in a totally sustainable way and we’re all kind of learning from each other. The money goes back into projects like education and job opportunities that keeps the artists in their homes with their families, keeps their kids off the streets, and fights that cycle of poverty.” For the third year in a row, Charleston has been voted the number one city in America for everything from its food, to its palmetto trees, to its hospitality—perhaps it’s time to add humanitarian initiatives to that list.
Brian Malone, the president of the CofC Pulsera club has been working hard to expand the club beyond just bracelet sales. A new yearly summer trip has stolen the spotlight at the College’s branch of the project. Malone very excitedly said, “One thing I’ve been trying to work on here is have more opportunities for us to see the kind of work we do first hand and a great way to do that is through the student summer program.” Every year the Pulsera Project gives around 15 students nationwide the opportunity to spend ten days in Nicaragua seeing directly how their time and effort helps change people’s lives. The trip includes meeting the artists, traveling around the country with them to see local businesses like local women weaving companies or coffee cooperatives. Any student with the slightest involvement and interest in the project is eligible for the summer trip. Raising awareness about working conditions in Latin America as well as alternative economic models has been one of Pulsera’s long-term goals. Another milestone for the non-profit was the visit of two artists from Nicaragua last semester to Charleston. In the short five years it has existed, the Pulsera Project has turned into a full exchange between the US and Nicaragua and a strong friendship between all of those involved.
The Pulsera Project offers a great product and opportunity. A unique and hand-sewn Pulsera costs only five dollars, while mass-produced jewelry at department stores often cost twice if not triple the price. Each bracelet is one of a kind, distinct in colors and style that reflect the individual artist at the time they made it. Crane strongly believes that “changing what you buy makes a big difference.” Supporting local and fair businesses has always been a concern of Charlestonians, and this project is yet another way to take a stand against people being taken advantage of. Whether it is concern for the people of Nicaragua or supporting fair trade, Crane sees the Pulsera Project as “a fun and easy way to get involved in international service.” All you have to do is put your name on the sign-up sheet.