Coloring the World in 2018: The Pulsera Project's Year-End Review
Welcome to The Pulsera Project's 2018 year-end review!
Thank you to everyone who contributed time, love, and good energy to The Pulsera Project’s mission of creating a more just and colorful world in 2018.
The Pulsera Project's 10th Year:
When The Pulsera Project adventure began in Pennsylvania ten years ago there were just a few teachers, students, and volunteers gathered in front of unmapped terrain. Student volunteers who were 15 years old in 2008 are now 25, have graduated high school & college, and have careers. Teacher pioneers who blazed the early Pulsera Project trail are leaders in their profession, in which teaching language and global citizenship through service learning is a best practice and no longer an innovation. And those early volunteers look on today, ten years later, amazed that the humble pulsera shines so brightly over so much of the U.S educational landscape and over so many Central American lives.
The Project Mission
Even a ten year expedition could not prepare The Pulsera Project for 2018, when the trail of adventure led to a sheer granite face – a social/political crisis in Nicaragua. We had to re-think a lot of things and scramble. As a US non-profit working abroad we were required by Nicaraguan law to stay out of politics. So, we focused on our core mission, the three interwoven parts of the Project:
1) Employing nearly 200 Nicaraguan and Guatemalan pulsera artists
2) Educating U.S. students through the sale of pulseras
3) Investing pulsera sale proceeds in Central American communities
The Pulsera Project's non-profit social enterprise model is unique because it enriches lives both in the U.S. and abroad by weaving pulsera sales into an educational program. We sell pulseras to provide opportunities for Central Americans, but we do so while educating thousands of U.S. students about fair trade, Central American culture, and a range of social justice issues. We encourage students to open their hearts to care about others but we also encourage students to open their minds to the amazing diversity of ideas and perspectives in our world. This win-win model is the magic of The Pulsera Project.
All three parts of our core mission above are funded by pulsera sales in schools. In the right hands, pulseras help teach lessons about language, culture, fairness, poverty, global citizenship, fair trade, and critical thinking. Pulseras may be simple but their impact can be magical! The Pulsera Project collaborated with 909 schools in 2018, up from 837 in 2017, representing engagement with school populations of about a million students. We partnered with 670 high schools, 150 middle schools, 52 universities, and 37 elementary schools in 2018. In total, we have now worked with 2,653 schools at the time of this write-up.
Artisan Employment & Benefits
It took about 180 artists to make all of the pulseras and artisan bags sold in 2018. Artists earned $364,025 for their products, and received $63,636 in benefits that include scholarships, healthcare, housing, emergency funds, and more. In total, $427,661 was invested in our artisan program in 2018. The Pulsera Project also funded an artisan center and a staff of six to serve artists and their immediate families, totaling about 660 people in all.
Artists come from diverse rural and urban communities throughout Nicaragua: Masaya, San Marcos, Managua, Zapatera, Penas Blancas, San Ramon, Catarina, Rivas, Granada, and Chichigalpa. One of the most enriching aspects of the Project is that artists travel to other communities to meet and know other artists and their lives.
In Guatemala we work with the Sanik women's cooperative in Triunfo, and in Cajola we work with our long-time friends in the MayaMam Weavers women's cooperative. MayaMam artists make pulseras but they also weave all of the beautiful, colorful small bags that The Pulsera Project sells. Artists in all communities work from home, set their own hours, and enjoy a lot of personal freedom, especially the freedom to spend precious time with their young children.
More than a third of artists have been with The Pulsera Project for seven years or more, most are between twenty and thirty years old, and all share an enormous gratitude for the opportunity to earn Fair Trade wages while collaborating with U.S. students and teachers in a common cause.
As members of the Fair Trade Federation we pay fair trade prices that are usually double or triple the local market price, but the Project’s ultimate impact is not measured in prices paid, rather in human well-being attained. The Project serves as an extensive resource for artisans, many of whom are developing personal goals, life skills, and learning to manage resources. Our goal is to help people thrive in all areas of their lives.
Pulsera Artist Rosa Aguirre
The Sanik women's cooperative in Guatemala
Colectivo Chichigalpa in Nicaragua
Pulsera Sale Proceeds
Occasionally students or teachers ask if all pulsera sale proceeds go directly to the artists. The Pulsera Project is designed to benefit three groups: artists, artisan communities, and U.S. students. Artists earn income and benefits, Central American community organizations receive grants to fund their work, and U.S. students benefit from a world-class educational program funded by the project.
It is a point of pride for artists that their work benefits not only themselves, but also their extended communities and U.S. students. In 2018, Nicaraguan staff added financial and legal counseling to the list of benefits and services available to artists at no cost, like housing grants, healthcare reimbursement, and scholarships. Staff completed a comprehensive survey of artist well-being in September to help us understand how best to encourage artists' personal growth and fulfillment.
Where Sale Funds Go
After paying artists for their pulseras, and funding direct benefit to artists, funds remained to invest in their communities as well. In 2018 the Project’s Investment Committee approved grants totaling $184,353, $75,000 of which was deferred until 2019 while partner organizations reevaluate their plans amidst social/political uncertainty.
Nonetheless, The Pulsera Project made grants to three Guatemalan women’s rights organizations -- Go Joven, Asomujerdi, and Asogen -- and we made grants to social enterprises Grupo Fenix, Sueño de la Campana, and populist law firm Bufete Popular Boris Vega. We support early education through grants to La Esperanza Granada, and we continue supporting independent media in Guatemala through investing with the Media Development Investment Fund.
In 2018 the Project also donated $16,000 to Cruz Roja Nicaragua, the Nicaraguan Red Cross. The deferral of grants to some partner organizations was definitely one of the vexing aspects of 2018. Likewise, we had to defer about $25,000 in artist housing benefits to 2019 since travel and work throughout Nicaragua was disrupted for parts of 2018. In 2019 we expect to do double duty, building on our prior years’ investment of $158,273 in artists' land and housing and making up for lost time.
High School Graduates from La Esperanza Granada
Women from Asomujerdi, one of our 2018 grant partners
Some workers of "Cruz Roja," Nicaragua's Red Cross
Youth Empowerment Leaders of GO JOVEN
U.S. Pulsera Sales
The Pulsera Project raised $973,243 from product sales and $3,139 from donations for a total of $976,382 in 2018. In all, $656,248 was sent to Guatemala and Nicaragua to pay artists, Nicaraguan staff, and to fund social impact investments. An additional $199,672 was set aside for social impact investments in 2019. Funds will also be carried into 2019 to fund pulsera purchases and ongoing operations both in the U.S. and Nicaragua. It’s worth noting that much of our fall semester income is not received until January of the following year, so income does not exactly align with expenses within a single year.
The U.S. Educational Program
Far away from the gentle pace of life in Nicaragua, where 46 Pulsera Project scholars studied in 2018, U.S. teachers look for ways to hold the interest of a new generation of digital natives – U.S. students who have never known life without the fast pace of technology. Led by Project co-founder Chris Howell and board member Amanda Seewald, the U.S. educational program is a match for changing times.
More than 60 language teachers from around the country have signed up for the Pulsera Project’s advisory committee in support of the Educational Committee. The committee of leading language educators was formed in March of 2018 to guide the Pulsera Project’s educational program not only through the best and most current teaching practices, but through the unique lens of the project’s educational philosophy.
In 2018 the educational program added an interactive artist website, with interviews, video, and more for over 100 of Project artists. In the fall we launched our ‘Haciendo Pulseras’ series featuring artists showing how and where different pulsera styles are made.
Our educational mission couldn’t be fulfilled without the work and passion of hundreds of dedicated educators that bring Central American culture and social issues into their schools year after year. This year, we collaborated with a few teachers that went above and beyond to advocate for a more just and colorful world:
Cristina Mesen is developing an animation series geared towards younger students in collaboration with Origami Studios in Managua, Nicaragua.
Hannah Joseph presented at several local and regional conferences on incorporating Fair Trade and the Pulsera Project into classrooms.
Cheryl Wilson helped us implement the Educational Committee’s new format and continued to make invaluable contributions to the project.
The homepage of our new artisan website (click to load)
One of six new videos from our "Haciendo Pulseras" series
An Adventure With Amazing Educators
Staff and teacher volunteers exhibited or presented at fourteen state and regional language conferences. Conferences are where we really feel the energy and enthusiasm among teachers for The Pulsera Project’s Spanish language program. We're extremely grateful for the many teachers who helped us promote our educational mission at conferences throughout the year:
Aurora Boyette in New Jersey
Cathy McCauley in Arizona
Kathryn Jensen in Minnesota
Lourdes Lelo in Virginia
Nicole Vinson in Missouri/Kansas
Nancy Boxler in Alaska
Porsha Prudencio in Virginia
Rebecca Petrini in Pennsylvania
Sara Guile and Michele Mullett in Michigan
U.S. Team Members Jillian, Chris and Colin Crane represented at regional conferences.
Nicole Vinson at KSWLA / FLAM
Kathryn Jensen at MCTLC
Rebecca Petrini at PSMLA
The Pulsera Project’s language and cultural resources enriched thousands of Spanish classes throughout the year, but the Project’s universal message of thoughtful global citizenship also spilled out into hallways, cafeterias, lobbies, auditoriums, and airwaves, including many school-wide showings of Color The World and other project films. In addition, this year Pulsera Project leaders condensed ten years of experiences, adventures, mistakes, reading, research, friendships and perspectives into a concise document which outlines our educational philosophy and summarizes key lessons we have learned over the past ten years. Humility, solidarity, new understandings of poverty, and self awareness are not only essential to creating true citizens of the world, but to our continued mission of creating a more just and colorful world. In addition to 794 Spanish teacher collaborations in 2018, we also collaborated with more than 100 student activist groups focused on human rights, the environment, and other global issues.
Students watching one of the Pulsera Project's educational films at the St. Paul School in Ohio.
The Pulsera Project in the U.S.A.
Project mission control is in Charleston, SC, where throughout 2018 Jillian Bonner, Colin Crane, and Chris Howell managed the educational program, collaborated with 909 schools, received, counted, sorted, and sent hundreds of thousands of pulseras, answered 16,349 emails, maintained the website, managed social media, created films, reorganized our growing number of educational videos, Skyped with student classes, created a new mobile website, and collaborated with Spanish teachers and student leaders.
Team Charleston also devised a popular interactive spreadsheet to help students set and track sale goals, and added other promotional tools for student leaders to use during their sales. The Pulsera Project continues growing partly because “service learning” is one of the gold standards in education. Students are excited to run their own projects. From research, to marketing, to educating entire schools, students learn while leading and collaborating with other classes and school administrations. Students acquire practical, real-world skills and experiences – and acquire knowledge that sticks. Team Charleston works as the critical link between U.S. students and Central American artists, the link that makes everything possible.
Chris, Jillian, and Colin make up Team Pulsera in the U.S.A., along with our trusty pup companion Kennedy.
The Pulsera Project in Nicaragua & Guatemala
Regional Director, Evan Durand, leads Team Pulsera in Granada, known as the jewel of Central America. The Project’s office/artist center is often a busy hub where artists deliver pulseras that are counted and sorted with precision by the Nicaraguan packing/shipping team of Agnes, Jennifer, Geraldine, Josseling, Joseph, Erica, Jael, and Arquimedes.
When artists are not delivering pulseras, the office is the site of staff meetings, occasional artist workshops, and meetings with individual artists about health, scholarships and other Project benefits. In 2018, the Project employed three artist advocates whose primary job was to enhance artist well-being. Skarlette Bermudez, Arquimedes Hernández, and Ninoska Davila faced a challenging year given the uncertainty in Nicaragua, but they kept up with the challenges, visiting artists in their homes and organizing many social gatherings for artists at Pacific beaches. Skarlette, Archimedes, and staff member Jorge Morales also visited with all artists in Guatemala.
Oscar Obando continues in his fifth year managing Project administration and accounting so that other staff can focus on artists' well-being. Social impact specialist Jorge Morales works with Evan Durand and board members to find and vet organizations that can help The Pulsera Project achieve its social impact goals. Jorge’s research and fieldwork led to three new partnerships in Guatemala, all with women’s rights advocacy groups.
Pulsera Project grants will help these groups expand their work in Guatemalan communities. Jorge continues looking for new organizations while also collaborating with existing partner organizations in Nicaragua, especially social enterprises. As Regional Director, Evan brings it all together, with his more than ten years of experience living in Central America, orchestrating Nicaraguan operations and also overseeing about 30 artists in Guatemala
Team Pulsera in Nicaragua
Pulsera staff and artists at one of our monthly "compras," where artists gather to sell their new pulseras designs.
Project Administration: A Labor of Love
Since the Project’s founding in 2009, board of directors’ members have accomplished over 99% of the Project’s general administration, ensuring that nearly all funds raised are invested in programs that benefit Central American communities and U.S. education. While salaries are paid to Team Pulsera to operate the educational and artisan programs, six volunteer board members dedicate hundreds of hours to support the thousands of teachers and students who also volunteer their time. Members of the board meet regularly to ensure that the Project spends all funds according to our non-profit mission and U.S. law.
In 2018 we said goodbye to board member Joan Dukovic. The Pulsera Project might not exist today if Joan had not believed in the idea of The Pulsera Project in 2009. That year, Joan and Barb Wilson, two pioneering teachers, introduced pulseras into their schools and showed us how it could be done – with energy, enthusiasm and love. Since then, 2653 other schools have followed their lead. Among many lasting contributions, Joan invented The Pulsera Project's colorful tri-fold displays, the ones at center stage of every pulsera sale across the country. Joan came up with the idea, made the first one, and the rest is history! We’re also grateful to Joan’s son Chris, whose brilliant smile and kind nature helped lead the first school sale at Bayard Rustin High School. Thank you Joan and Chris!
Adelante in 2019
As we head into 2019 we see boundless opportunities to get better at what we do. Artist well-being surveys remind us of our role in helping artists reach their potential, so plans are already in motion to collaborate with a leadership and life-skills training organization in Nicaragua for the benefit of artists. We see opportunities to extend our knowledge of global citizenship to large educational arenas like social studies and global studies. Among educators there is a thirst for insight from people and organizations familiar with the joys and complexities of working with other cultures.
Also moving ahead, this summer two Pulsera Project Spanish teacher fellows will join Grupo Cajola and Mayamam Weavers in Guatemala to develop lessons and expand our educational impact about immigration and indigenous people's issues. We see opportunities to partner with new organizations which we discovered last year, to achieve positive social impact with grants. We also want to complete the best laid plans of 2018, including the delayed investment in artist housing.
The list of opportunities above for 2019 is a short list which will no doubt grow and change over the coming year. To be a global citizen is to expect the unexpected, to know that the world is larger than our imaginations. It is to also know that our plans should leave room for being amazed and surprised by things we never knew about ourselves and others.
In 2009, we never imagined that the combined efforts of so many students, teachers, and volunteers would lead to the day that is just around the corner: This spring a student somewhere will buy the millionth pulsera! As we set off for 2019 and our eleventh year, the mission of The Pulsera Project is to explore the world, to join with U.S. students, educators, Nicaraguans, and Guatemalans in contributing what we have to the global exchange, to discover the best in ourselves and others, and to enrich the world with the best of who we are.
From way down deep, thank you to everyone who dedicated time, love, and good energy to helping create a more just and colorful world in 2018. Especially, thank you to the artists, students, and educators who make The Pulsera Project truly the adventure of a lifetime.
Siempre adelante! We love you guys,
The Pulsera Project Team
Jorge Francisco Morales
U.S. Board of Directors
The Pulsera Project By the Numbers in 2018
Artisans Employed: About 180 (varies through the year)
Artisans and household members: 660+
Pulsera Project Scholars: 46
School Collaborations: 909
Spanish teacher collaborations: 794
School populations reached: About 906,000 people
Students who watched Pulsera Project Films: About 198,500 (according to surveys)
Emails received: 16,349
Pulseras sold: 177,992
Bags/purses sold: 7,092
Total sales: $973,243
Total Donations: $3,139
Money spent on fundraising: $0
Project Pets: 4 ( 2 Perros, Kennedy and Fred and 2 Gatos, Brinquito y Gordita)
Money invested in Nicaragua/Guatemala: $656,248
Year-end balance for continuing operations and 2019 social impact investment: $550,711
Year, Number of Participating Schools, and Sales
As a non-profit organization, The Pulsera Project's tax return is public information. You can see tax returns at www.guidestar.org.