A couple of months ago, I was working at my day job when a fairly plainly dressed woman came in to the showroom. If I never mentioned what I do full time, I sell Indian furniture and Tibetan carpets in a NYC design center that caters to interior designers, architects and their clients. Anyway, my boss is a bit of a social entrepreneur advocating against child labor among other causes, and is fairly well known in interior design circles. Okay, so I got side tracked. As I mentioned, this woman walks in one day, and when I asked her if she was familiar with us, she mentioned "oh yes, I am quite familiar with your company, and I myself do work against poverty in Uganda with my organization, Bead for Life". At the time, my beading work was on the back burner - in fact, I hadn't even heard of Etsy at that point, nor had I thought to sell in any serious forum. Also, she was there to shop so we continued our conversation about our carpets, and then parted ways.
Fast forward about two or three months, and I am fully established on Etsy with a few sales under my belt and starting to feel confident about where this whole thing had the potential to go. I come home from work, get in to pj's and plop down in front of the News Hour on PBS
as per my normal routine. One story finishes, and the next one starts about a fair trade beading company that works to empower and lift Ugandan women out of poverty. Of course, now that much of my spare time is occupied with beading, or things related to it, I immediately perk up.
Then, on the screen is one of BFL's co-founders, who I believe was the woman on the right (Torkin Wakefield) who is explaining the entire program. I won't go in to the whole story, because you should spend time seeing it for yourself and then taking action but the gist of it is that the women in BFL are Ugandan, and have risen from dire poverty through this program. Many of them are also widowed, and living with HIV/AIDS. The women start out in the program making paper beads from recycled paper from magazine pages, cereal boxes and other things that would otherwise go to waste. The end result are colorful and unique beads that are as individual as the women who make them. The beads are then assembled in to beautiful necklaces, bracelets and earrings that are exported to the west and marketed for sale by way of the BFL on line jewelry store, as well as through home parties thrown by people, organizations, and faith based and civil groups across the country. They are also sold in loose form so beaders can incorporate them in to their own designs - more on that in a moment. What I love the most about this program is the empowerment strategy that is used - in the sense that it forces the participants to gain other skills to rise above, and stay out of poverty. Women are limited to two years in the program and are taught entrepreneurial and vocational skills in other fields - after all, if everyone in a village makes beads then there is market saturation and a lack of diversity in skills! As you might gather, I am quite excited by this program, and hope you will join me in spreading the word.
So, what am I doing? Well, for starters, I am telling you about it! Seriously though, I went on their website and purchased some loose beads, as well as organza gift bags to distribute with the finished work. Today, I opened the Bead for Life section in my Etsy store. So far there are three pieces for sale, which I created using combinations of BFL beads and my own materials. In addition to my initial contribution investment of materials, I am donating twenty five percent of the net proceeds from the sales of these items back to Bead for Life. Below are photos of the first few items I have made, with more to come soon. I hope that you will take the time to learn more about this brilliant program and spread the word!
20" Necklace: Bead for Life with Lapis Lazuli and Green Aventurine
8" Bracelet - Bead for Life with Wood Coin and Red Coral Beads
Anglican Rosary with Bead for Life, Sandstone Jasper and Black Stone Cross