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.
The Bead for Life rolling beads program provides members with a steady source of income throughout the 18 months they are in the programme. 3-4 bead making groups are enrolled per year, with each group containing 40-60 members.
Much of Bead for Life's jewellery is created using magazines and cereal boxes, which the women cut into strips and roll.
The Bead for Life collection includes bracelets, necklaces, and earrings. Each piece pops with one-of-a-kind colour.
'Everything we’re doing with the women makes the jewellery priceless,' says Jennifer Rowell-Gastard. 'It’s so much more than jewellery.'
Each piece within Bead for Life's collection is less than £20. The jewellery can be worn individually or stacked. What's more, '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,' says Jennifer Rowell-Gastard.
Bead for Life began by creating income opportunities for 750 women who had been displaced by Joseph Kony's army.
Each new group in the beading programme receives three months of extensive training in how to roll beads out of recycled paper and string them. They also receive ongoing entrepreneurial and business skills training to prepare them to launch their own sustainable business once they have graduated from the Bead for Life programme..
Money earned from bead sales is distributed to every member either by cash in hand, business fund, or personal savings account.
In America, Bead for Life has largely spread its message through bead hosting parties, in which a Bead Party team will provide the party host with informational materials, web resources, and one-on-one consultation.