Bead for Life brings hope to thousands of impoverished Ugandan women

An inspiring initiative in Uganda empowers women to become self-sufficient entrepreneurs by making eco-friendly beads that are the height of Fairtrade fashion.


By Jordan Clary in Nevada 

Beads have changed the lives of thousands of Ugandan women through Bead for Life, an organisation built around the core idea of empowering women to become self-sufficient entrepreneurs. 

Many women have been able to radically change their lives as a result of the programme. They have bought livestock, opened vegetable stands, furthered their education and purchased homes and property. The rigorous two-year training programme includes lessons in both bead-making and business practices.  

And the beads are, quite simply, stunning. 

In America, Bead for Life has spread its message - and beads - by volunteers hosting bead parties. Now, Bead for Life is breaking into the European market, mainly through Fairtrade jewellery and fashion retail shops. And many of these recycled paper beads are finding their way into high-end fashion.

"Fairtrade is becoming a more and more common topic, even among luxury jewellers," says Jennifer Rowell-Gastard, Bead for Life Europe Programme Manager. "Not only are people interested in what we're doing, but women who can afford diamonds and emeralds are just as excited about wearing these beads for their symbolism and for everything that's behind them."

The beads' one-of-a-kind colours and design come from recycled materials like magazines and cereal boxes, which the women cut into strips and roll. They're sprayed with an eco-friendly sealant to make them pop and bring out the shine. 

"Everything we're doing with the women makes the jewellery priceless," says Rowell-Gastard. "It's so much more than jewellery. The beads are a means to getting elsewhere. It's like putting these women on a trampoline and sending them high into the air with their own ideas." 

Bead for Life was born in 2004 when three American women, Torkin Wakefield, Ginny Jordan and Devin Hibbard, met Millie Grace Akena sitting outside her mud home rolling beads. From a small cottage industry to a major nonprofit and member of the World Fair Trade Organisation, Bead for Life now includes other entrepreneurial schemes as well as its trademark beading programme. 

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