Goshen College senior helps Peruvians profit through bracelet sales

Rachel Halder, a Goshen College senior from Parnell, Iowa, holds a pile of the bracelets she is selling to help the community of Chimbote, Peru, where she spent six weeks as part of the college’s Study-Service Term in 2008. (Photo by Jodi H. Beyeler/Goshen College Public Relations)

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GOSHEN, Ind. – With 2,000 bracelets, one Goshen College student and dozens of Peruvian women, a town struggling with drugs, gangs and poverty is using art to slow that cycle.

When Rachel Halder, a Goshen College senior from Parnell, Iowa, returned home to the United States from her semester-long Study-Service Term in Peru, with about 200 colorful hand-woven bracelets made by a group of Peruvian teenage girls, she was amazed at how quickly they sold, and how much the money she collected would be able to help the people of the Peruvian coastal town Chimbote, where she spent six weeks serving at a local parish.

“I was definitely surprised at how much it took off and how much people were sincerely interested in the project,” Halder said. “It’s obviously a passion of mine because I have the personal connection to the area, but I’ve been surprised at how supportive others have been. I’ve even had churches contact me saying that they want to help out.”

Halder arrived in Chimbote in the spring of 2008 to an overwhelming smell of fish. Chimbote is one of the most important port cities on the Peruvian coast. However, her focus quickly moved to the stench of poverty surrounding her – Chimbote is one of the poorest cities in Peru with 45 percent of the 400,000 residents living in extreme poverty – through her work with the Parroquia de Nuestra Soccorro (Our Lady of Perpetual Help) parish.

The parish, run by Father Jack Davis and Sister Peggy Byrne, serves the community through programs including social services, infrastructure development, health care, economic development and education. But when Halder, a communication major and women’s studies minor, was asked how she wanted to help at the parish, there was one group not being served – young women.

She told the parish she wanted to start a group like one created to keep young boys off the streets and away from drugs and gangs. Right away boys in the group took her door-to-door to see if girls in the community would be interested in joining the new group, Chicas de la Prevención. That first day, eight girls, ranging in age from12-18 years old, agreed to meet with her regularly.

“I knew I wanted to work with women and they didn’t really have anything for young girls. There were plenty of programs for the boys, but nothing for the girls in the community,” Halder said. “I was hoping the group would last, and so far it has.”

Like the group for boys, Chicas de la Prevención is a prevention group. “Our original goals were to prevent the girls from falling into the traps of other people in the community, like prostitution and teen-age pregnancy, and give them motivation and encouragement to not give into sexual and drug pressures, but also to give them something to do,” Halder said.

“We would just kind of meet and hang out. We would sit around and talk about stuff,” Halder said. “I wanted them to have a support group and friends to keep them company.”

Then a fellow at the parish introduced Halder to a group of women who make souvenirs for tourists, and suggested they teach the girls how to make hand-woven nylon thread bracelets. At that moment, her support group found an entrepreneurial niche.

Halder thought that making bracelets might be used for more than just passing the time. “This was to show them they can make an income doing something besides prostitution,” she said.

So far Halder has been able to follow through. Selling the $5 bracelets to family and friends, and at music festivals, farmer’s markets and the Mennonite Church USA Convention, she has sent more than $6,000 directly to the community in Chimbote and has sold about 2,000 bracelets. The money is used to buy more supplies to keep making bracelets and has also been used to start chocolate-making, hair cutting, cooking and artisan businesses.

Halder believes bracelet-making gives the girls a positive outlook for the future. “It’s to help show them they’re worth more than their society tells them they’re worth,” Halder said. “It’s to show them a future other than what they see around them.”

As a women’s studies minor at Goshen, Halder is aware of many issues that women face around the world, but before she didn’t understand the complexities that make it such a major issue. “Before I went to Peru, I never thought about making the issue of prostitution my life’s mission,” Halder said. “It’s their only source of income. It made me realize how huge of an issue this is on a global scale.”

If you are interested in purchasing bracelets you can e-mail perubracelets@gmail.com.

-By Tyler Falk

Editors: For more information about this release, to arrange an interview or request a photo, contact Goshen College News Bureau Director Jodi H. Beyeler at (574) 535-7572 or jodihb@goshen.edu.