Today I woke with the anticipation of meeting with a small group of women called the “special group”. This group is comprised of a mix of previous Beads to Business members. Some graduated as early as a two years ago, some pros go back to 2011. This group of woman have gained tremendous business skills, and all have at least one other business in addition to Bead making! Some have two and three small ventures due to the engaged mentoring model at BeadforLife. This group specializes in rapid production and intricate designs.
The morning began with a few women arriving early to the monthly sale event, bags in their hands… Extra pre rolled beads, wire, thread, needles, and candles in the event quality control check is unable to accept the uniformity of the beads they have created. The women travel from long distances, and often spend a minimum of one hour crammed like sardines inside of an overcrowded (22 person meant for only 14 ) non -air conditioned matatu. The traffic in Kampala is an entirely separate post, which I will share with you a little while later.
The women are given trays to sort there wares for sale and hope eagerly that their products meet the production sample and measurements given to them ahead of time. As this is an advanced group of beader makers, the overall acceptance rate of pieces is very high. Each woman waits in line for her items to be meticulously inspected one by one by a minimum of two staff members- this is done to ensure the highest quality products for purchasers in the U.S. markets. I had no idea how much work went into the sale of the beads at the office, as well as the length of time it takes to complete a sale. I had the pleasure of sitting with each woman today and talking to them about their families, children, and how they are so appreciative of BeadforLife.
Two women in particular left an indelible mark on my heart. One was named Beifa, and she had the warmest spirit. Her energy was calm, sweet, and had such an innocence that drew me to her like a magnet. When you don’t speak the same language, body language is so incredibly reliable for starting conversations and determining who is willing to open up and share with you. Beifa shared that she has four children and is able to pay for school fees for each one of them! She kept her head down when she spoke, and even maintained a lower than usual gaze. Partially shy, and a bit amazed that I wanted to hear about her success coming from extreme poverty to running a small business selling a few pillowcases, bed sheets, and a few assorted articles of clothing. She buys supplies in local market and sells them at her business stand near where she lives. Most of the “new clothing” purchased at small business stands in local neighborhoods actually comes from donations in America – various aid organizations. These are sold as new items and are a luxury here for many. She is one of the amazing success stories and proof that BeadforLife’s holistic model of poverty eradication is effective and sustainable.
Gertrude, is another beauty. While most members grabbed a small chair to sit and wait, Gertrude took a seat on the ground under a mango tree and rolled extra beads and perfected each of her designs prior to presenting them to the quality control staff. Noticing her alone and off to the side, I engaged her and asked her to share her voice with you all on camera.
If you would like to know what a truly BRAVE woman looks like- it is Gertrude. She speaks very little English, but didn’t hesitate to try to communicate with me. I ask a LOT of questions ( I love to understand people and believe we learn best by asking questions and listening intently) – . Gertrude’s other business is collecting scrap aluminum, discarded copper wires, discarded plastic and other scap. She buys the scap and re sells it for a profit to buyers in need of materials. She is a model of bravery and success and I am honored to share her with you!