What does it mean to have economic, social and cultural rights, such as the right to work, social security and education, and collective rights, such as the right to self-determination? Perhaps a better question is, what does it mean to not have such rights? We know that especially for girls and women throughout the world -- and particularly in third-world countries -- such rights can be, at worst, non-existent -- and at minimum, seriously endangered. What gives me hope in the face of such tragedy is the work of activists, artists and entrepreneurs around the globe who fight to ensure human rights in many ways. Here is just one such story -- a story near and dear to my heart since it involves beadmaking.
BeadforLife, founded ten years ago by three American women, gives Ugandan women living in poverty the skills and confidence they need to create their own local businesses. At the heart of the organization is handcrafted paper bead jewelry, fair trade products now sold in homes across America at hosting parties and in other venues. The beads are crafted from colorful recycled paper and hand-rolled, each one unique with a story behind it. The women cut the paper into intricate long triangles which determines the shape and style of the bead. Beads are then sealed with an eco-friendly glaze, hung to dry in the warm Ugandan sun, and made into beautiful collections of jewelry. The finished collections are then sold online, through retail outlets, and at home bead parties, and range in price from $5 to $30.
But there is so much more to this organization -- entrepreneurial training, inspiration and support for women to thrive and live out their dreams, whether it be starting a salon, a shoe store or produce shop. For the first time, graduates of this program are meeting their own needs, and creating a generation of confident and capable children. To date, BeadforLife has reached over 20,000 people in almost 2,500 households, through its bead project, shea nut initiative, and youth education programs. Once in the 18-month bead-making program, women can earn 7 - 10 times more than before they entered the program, and earn more than an average teacher in Uganda. In addition to learning about making beads, the women learn entrepreneurial skills. They start savings accounts, and with guidance from the BeadforLife staff, they launch new businesses before they graduate so they are self-supporting into the future. During their enrollment in the bead-making program, they also receive literacy and numeracy training, as well as health care products like mosquito nets, deworming tablets and nutritional supplements.
One of the success stories that 'brought it home' for me was about Alice, who came to the BeadforLife office, lured by the smell of their mid-day meal being cooked. They offered her rice and beans and watched wordlessly as she ravenously gulped down two heaping plates of food. She told them she had been thinking of killing herself and her two boys by throwing her family under a bus, because they were slowly starving to death. They packed up food for the children and went back to her house, a hovel of mud and sticks. Later they learned that Alice had witnessed her husband being killed by Joseph Kony rebels during an attack on her sleeping village. She fled into the night with her sons and eventually made it to a refugee camp. Her life, like so many of the extreme poor, was a story of sorrows, hunger, disease and death. That was about to change, because of BeadforLife. She was hired by the organization and has now worked for them for ten years. Her sons, now grown to manhood, are well-educated and working. Alice has several small businesses now and lives in her own house, with electricity and even a small TV. Her family is no longer impoverished.
Every purchase made from BeadforLife supports their programs so they can continue to provide life-changing training for women living in poverty. Those who want to help in other ways can host a BeadforLife Marketplace, by sharing their story and raising revenue to fight extreme poverty. They also accept donations that help support their programs and the women they serve. This is a highly successful organization that has had a positive impact on 40,000 women so far. Their graduates have started over 2,490 microbusinesses; after two years, 81% still have the businesses they started; and best of all, the women in the program have increased their income by at least 54%.
The BeadforLife founders often reflect on the words of Margaret Mead, "Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed people can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has." You can help by checking out their BeadforLife web site, reading the many inspiring stories, buying, donating, and/or hosting an event. Think about it -- If you are living on $32,400 or more, it means you are among the 1% of the world's wealthiest people. Many of us consider ourselves to be in the middle economic bracket in the U.S. -- but when we expand our perspective to include the rest of the world, we're in the one percent! And how easy it is to support this worthy program, by buying their beautiful beads and jewelry. For me, it is the best feeling in the world to know that I am at least doing some small thing to support the good and the helpful in this often sad and chaotic world. Especially over the holidays, when I think of the incredible blessings I have in my own life, it is a time for giving to others.
If you enjoyed this post, you might also want to read another post we've done on a similar subject -- Beaders to the Rescue -- about a project that helps refugee women in America rebuild their lives through jewelry making.
Until Next Time,