Below are a sampling of photographs from my 1-month volunteer deployment as a communications correspondent in Uganda with nonprofit BeadforLife during the summer of 2015.    Goals of this volunteer trip were to capture the success stories of members in the Street Business School program, a 6-month entrepreneurial training module provided at no cost to women living on less than $1.95 a day to help them launch micro businesses by graduation.  This program is an adjunct to their 18-month Beads to Business model, which serves as an income generating project teaching women numeracy, literacy, and business skills in addition to creating beautiful handmade recycled paper beaded jewelry sold in US and Canadian markets.

To learn more about the joys of serving as a Community Partner Volunteer with BeadforLife, please check out my guest blog post on their blog, The Spark.


Front desk sign at BeadforLife’s Kampala office


After sharing the stories of the women behind the jewelry for 6 years, I was absolutely full of gratitude to witness the process first hand.   Each and every piece of jewelry made is rolled by hand with love and hope for a better future.   I worked in the fine jewelry business for nearly 10 years, and understand the symbolism behind a piece of jewelry.  Every time I wear a piece of BeadforLife jewelry, I feel a connection to women miles away who were given an opportunity to lift themselves out of their situation.   I feel connected to passion, to hard work, to belief, to hope, and to prosperity.

Nighty, a special group member, puts finishing touches on the Fall 2015 launch products.
Beifa Nighty, a Special Group member, puts finishing touches on the Fall 2015 launch products.


While waiting in line for quality control checks on their goods for sale to BeadforLife staff members, one woman makes some minor adjustments to be sure each and every piece is purchased that day, maximizing her trip to the office.   BeadforLife staff members purchase jewelry once a month for each enrolled group.   Women are paid above fair trade wages and receive training to become self-sufficient, which is a key distinction differentiating this program from the masses in the cottage industry.

Member previews her items to sell to BeadforLife.

Detailed logs are kept tracking units sold to BeadforLife’s office.  Members may use part of their earnings to purchase additional beading supplies, in addition to things like mosquito nets and medicines.

BeadforLife, a member of the Fair Trade Federation, teaches numeracy and bookkeeping to its participants.  Staff member shown here accepting beaded jewelry for compensation.


The first group of members I had the pleasure of dancing with in a huge circle on the front driveway of the office was called Special Group, as they had already graduated, and were called upon for special projects requiring skilled and highly trained hands.

This group of alumni BeadforLife members, the Special Group, are enlisted to help with rapid turnaround and complicated designs. Each has one or more small business and is enjoying economic independence!


Savings books track debits and credits and help teach the women to control their financial futures.   Beadforlife staff members review the savings books at each sale to ensure member is on the right track.


Each BeadforLife member has a savings book, where they track earnings, sales, as well as expenses out for supplies reorders, like wire, seed beads, and other items needed to make the jewelry.


The best $6 gift you can share with your friends, children, school teachers, and anyone you want to thank!  They come in a rainbow of colors, each a one-of-a-kind.  I have counted thousands over the years, and they never disappoint.   These bracelets represent stories of hope, and life transformation!


BeadforLife’s iconic Sanyu bangle. Joy, is the meaning behind the name, and thousands of people around the world unite and connect to the women by wearing these daily and sharing the story of hope and inspiration!


I looked forward with anticipation to my first bead dance circle upon arrival.  I longed to join hands in celebration, and move my feet to the beat of the drums!  A traditional circle starts off every BeadforLife sale at the office, and is also used to kick off classroom meetings in the Street Business School.  Circles, song, and dance are a way of life in Uganda.  I often wish I could start dance circles at the top of any meeting!  The energy was INCREDIBLE!!!!


Dance Circle begins each Bead sale at the office! Coach Rachel pictured here warming up the group. Rachel is also one trainer on the Entrepreneurial Training staff at BeadforLife.

What a joy to see the incredible IMPACT BeadforLife has in the lives of so many.  Over 40,000 people have been reached through their programs in the past 11 years, and that number continues to grow exponentially, thanks to the Street Business School Program, launched 3 years ago to meet growing demand for program enrollement in a shorter period of time.

Waiting for mom to sell her jewelry. enjoying the fruits of her hard work.

My friend Jannet, after sharing her personal story of overcoming obstacles in life.

With Jannet Namfuka, member of “Ngenda Mumaso”- meaning moving forward.
Ngenda Mumaso members rolling more beads while they patiently await their turn to sell.
Joyful singing and dancing inside the drum circle.
Winfred Meme holding baby Emerald Mulungi. BeadforLife financial staff member, Michael, calculates her total earnings for the day.
BeadforLife member, Meme, trades partial earnings from the day for de-worming tablets for her children.
Hope Nabweteme with Beatrice Mumaaso (right). Beatrice is a Rwandese refugee who fled with her parents to escape the genocide.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s