For over a decade I served as a Community Partner Volunteer for global nonprofit BeadforLife. The journey began in 2009 with a small event hosted by local Las Vegas fine jeweler, MJ Christensen Diamonds and lead to a multi-year partnership raising $200,000 through the sale of recycled paper jewelry handmade in Uganda. In 2015, I traveled to Uganda as a communications correspondent documenting BeadforLife’s life-transforming work and successful expansion into the Street Business School whose mission is providing entrepreneurial training for the world’s poorest women.
Inside glimpses of the 6-month entrepreneurial training program, Street Business School, offered by BeadforLife. These images represent a slice of a determined, hard-working population of women living on $0.60-$1.25 learning small business fundamentals with the goal of launching one or more projects before graduation. Women are recruited into the program based on demonstrated initiative, determination, as well as referrals from past graduates. Multiple languages are spoken in the classroom, and the dedicated training staff navigates the complexities of teaching large groups where illiteracy is common. BeadforLife’s proven entrepreneurial training curriculum is under rapid expansion, with the goal of reaching 1 million women worldwide living in poverty.
Common to poor areas in the developing world and people living in poverty are housing structures called lean-tos. I was graciously invited into Rose’s home so she could share with me the story of her cold beverage business at the nearby taxi park. What I distinctly remember about this moment was how incredibly proud Rose was for her humble abode and how successful she has been. Two simple cots and a sheet as a wall partition housed her and her 4 children. Common personal belongings in a dwelling like this include a couple plastic washing bins, a pot for boiling water, used 5-7 gallon jerry cans for fetching water at the nearest borehole, and a few articles of worn clothing.
Rose’s neighbor, Maureen, also a SBS member invited me in for a sampling of a local delicacy enjoyed by children, raw sugar cane. Kikajjo, pronounced, chee-ka-joe, and the manufacturing into raw sugar is the third largest economy in East Africa. I was told gnawing on the fibrous plant while simultaneously squeezing and slurping the delicious watery goodness inside was a good way to clean my teeth. I laughed, thinking my dentist back home may beg to differ. At least I provided entertainment for the locals!
Leaving Rose’s home and heading back to BeadforLife offices in Kampala, I would never forget the memories of the two young girls in this photo holding my hands all the way to the corner where I hail a boda-boda driver to catch a connecting matatu, or public taxi. The girls were not in school due to lack of financial resources and were so hungry to connect that day. It was absolutely heart breaking to leave them behind. This happened day after day in each village I visited.
Here’s a closeup of these cuties. The golden color in the braids of JenRose’s friend indicate a protein deficiency commonly known as Kwashiorkor.
INSIDE STREET BUSINESS SCHOOL
Back in the classroom, women gathered in small groups mid-lesson to work on identifying viable businesses in the area. A system of smiley faces help bridge language and literacy barriers. It was incredible to see the unique teaching methodologies that empower women, specifically women at the base of the economic pyramid. This was the first training of it’s kind, and has lead to rapid prototyping in the field.
As I sat at the front of the classroom that day, off to the side, cows mooing behind a corrugated tin wall behind me, I couldn’t take my eyes off this site below. Questions plagued the stretches of my brain, looking for answers to the unusual sight before me. It’s a luxury to have clean water in a developing country, and as many of these women traveled long distances from remote rural areas by foot to meet in this makeshift classroom for the morning, they enjoyed the refreshing nature of a cold beverage on a hot day in the equatorial sun. I wondered, “how did she get that water? How much did it cost? Is this the only drinking water for her all day? Or is this water for her children back in her village? ”
All photo credits: @standinlovejen