Mallory Erickson, '08, is helping improve the lives of Nicaraguan families as director of a unique jewelry program
Mallory Erickson, '08, with the children helped by the Nica HOPE program
A sample of the hand-made jewelry
Some regard jewelry as nothing more than fanciful baubles or an accessory to complete an outfit. But Mallory Erickson sees something much more. Jewelry handmade by Nicaraguan youth‚ many of whom call a municipal landfill home‚ is offering a way to a better life, thanks to a vocational jewelry-making program the 2008 SU graduate oversees in Managua, Nicaragua. The road Erickson traveled to get to Nicaragua was paved while an undergraduate and through her participation in SU‚ Engineers Without Borders chapter, which took her to the Central American country twice. Those experiences engendered‚ strong connection to the city and people there, Erickson says.
Following graduation she worked for a year with AmeriCorps at El Centro de la Raza in Seattle. When that ended she decided to take some time off to travel. Nicaragua again was calling. Initially, she planned a three- month stay, living with a family she met during her earlier trips there and volunteering in the city. As she scouted for volunteer opportunities, she came across the Nica HOPE jewelry program, an offering of the Asociacion Familia Padre Fabretto. The nonprofit, founded in the 1950s, operates schools and educational centers in Managua and rural areas in northern Nicaragua. Asociacion Familia Padre Fabretto aims to break the cycle of poverty through education. It's funny, my initial plan was to only stay for three months. I thought that by then I would be homesick and ready to return, she says. I'm now completing 16 months of living and working here and I'm still as excited as I was the first day.
Erickson works in the Cento San Francisco center, just blocks from La Chureca, the city dump. The center is open to youth and their families who live in and around the dump and focuses on three forms of outreach: academic reinforcement, computer classes and the jewelry program, each working to support the other.
The jewelry program, founded more than three years ago, serves about 100 youth. Students are given materials and tools to make jewelry that is purchased by Nica HOPE to be sold online and through various organizations. The artisans are paid for every piece they produce. Erickson says that while most students in La Chureca earn less than $2 a day, a student in the jewelry program can make that in an hour's time. Sales from the jewelry contribute to their families' incomes and needs. The rewards of Erickson's work are apparent in the pride she sees among students after they've created jewelry.
"I love to hear about their plans to start their own small businesses, go to college and travel," says Erickson. "It makes me so proud to be a part of something that can help make those dreams a reality."