Art in the Park raises thousands for BeadforLife

It’s a cool, dark morning and the desert rain is falling swiftly as I sit on my rocking chair on my patio.  The smell of desert rain is so refreshing.  Satisfying, and awakening.  Summer has finally decided to depart from the valley, and this quiet storm is proof that fall has come to stay.  As I sip a cup of  dark roast hot coffee lightened slightly with fresh cream, in my pajamas, I recall the flash rain storms in Uganda towards the end of my visit this summer.   A certain hush fell over the city during the rain, as the tropical heat was replaced with cooler temps.  A welcome reprieve for farmers- nourishing the lush vegetation of the fertile land; a nuisance for the many living in mud homes or corrugated tin shelters dotted with openings just large enough to wreak havoc on the once dry interior.

Rain brings refreshment.  Renewal.  Reminders.

This weekend, my folks and I had the opportunity to share the story of BeadforLife with thousands of people attending the largest juried arts festival in the southwest, aptly named Art in the Park, as tents dot the green parks of downtown Boulder City like sheep in a pasture.  Our quaint 10x 10 foot white walled tent the perfect canvas for an African marketplace transformation!  It’s no coincidence that this is the same size of the average Ugandan home- reminding me of the relative nature of ” necessity”.

There is something magical about BeadforLife jewelry, and the spirit filling the space inside and around our tent.  Colorful,  hand made works of recycled paper art crafted by women so desperately seeking an end to their cycle of generational poverty provided our landscape for 48 hours.  I recalled lessons learned in Mutungo’s Street Business School about being resourceful and using available possessions- the most important being your own creativity.  I turned plastic buckets into stools, and tree branches from my front yard into decorative garland breathing life into our space.   I delighted in slip covering two ordinary folding chairs with brightly colored and characteristically patterned  dresses from Malawi donated by BeadforLife supporter and  friend Lynn.   Mom and I agreed we didn’t need to buy anything for our event and used items from home in creative ways, just like the enterprising women of Uganda.

We hung Annet’s palm branch mat ( her story from Bulogo women’s group a previous post) as a natural frame for Beamdforlife’s banner on the tent’s rear wall,  reminding us all that hard work and determination mixed with repeated measures of faith and discipline produce unimaginable results.

Thanks to the many first time visitors to BeadforLife as well as the friends and supporters who attended last year, we raised over $3,700 this weekend!  I’m grateful to my parents- both 70 years young, for helping me set up and account for all the sales!  This event is truly a blessing on many levels!

Every day 22,000 children around the world living in extreme poverty die of hunger.  Children grow up in homes and do not have access to education- including public schools for lack of school fees and basic supplies like shoes and pencils.   Orphans wander the streets and slums dreaming of a place to call home.   These are a few of the things I witnessed first hand while working in Uganda , and they remain the motivating realities which drive my advocacy.

Seven months ago, I joined a small committee to help BeadforLife  expand the Street Business School program.  This 6 month mobile classroom places entrepreneurial training and skills into the hands of the poorest, most vulnerable women in Uganda.   The goal is to replicate this training module worldwide- empowering 1 million women with the tools of self- sufficiency.   I believe in the promise of this program, and I support the program’s co-founder and leader- Devin Hibbard.

I invite you to join in the “Ignite One Million” campaign and consider the impact your donation will have on the lives of it’s participants.   You may donate directly at

One month from today on November 4th from 6-8 pm MJ Christensen diamonds will host its 6th annual Runway for Life event benefiting BeadforLife.  Come meet Devin- cofounder, and join us as we embrace the dream of Igniting One Million women worldwide out of extreme poverty.

“Nothing changes if nothing changes. ”

I have a young boy with autism at Art in the Park this weekend selling buttons to remind me of this fact.

Female Entrepreneur Spotlight

Aidah Nannyunju with her feature story
Aidah Nannyunja published in Kampala newspaper!

I first met Aidah Nannyunja on the 15th of July 2015, the morning I arrived in Uganda.  Eager to learn and understand all departments of the BeadforLife organization in Kampala, I enjoyed the day working in the inventory room alongside small group of Ugandan women including Justine, Evelynn, Lillian, Aidah, and Maria-  some, former BeadforLife program graduates.   Recovering from the long journey, I sat peacefully in this open aired room fully absorbing my surroundings.  Colorful recycled paper samples pinned to a cork board on the wall to my left above a wicker stand housing towering stacks of hand-woven palm branch baskets and compartmentalized wood trays holding mini silver BeadforLife logo tags added as the final touch to each piece of jewelry, rendering it ready for international shipment.   A small portable radio played on the long rectangular table around which we sat quietly working, and quietly wondering what each other’s stories would say if they were broadcast over the speaker like the sermons on the radio.   I enjoyed the simplicities of this complex group of women, and sometimes young men- if Joseph and Jimmy had completed their work out front meticulously hand-stamping new burlap fabric  gift bags under a tented canopy in the front lawn of the Kampala residence, turned place of business, located on Mpanga Close Rd, plot 26.

new gift bags
new gift bags stamped by Joseph and Jimmy
color way samples for beads
bead color board inventory room Kampala

Aidah, sitting at the end of the table closest to the sunlight and driveway on the east side of the house worked quietly, but listening, like a young child pretending not to understand an adult conversation while taking in each word and digesting its contents.

It wasn’t until two weeks later that I would have a chance to capture Aidah’s story and personal triumph over the war on poverty.

I had just returned from a full day of travel and field visit in Lwamaggwa with Agnes, my sponsored child with World Vision.  The next morning, as I entered the office, soaked to the core with sweat from my mile and a half trek from Kataza neighborhood carrying my yellow racelite backpack stuffed with notebooks, water bottles, journals, and the essentials for any day out of the house, along with my camera bag strapped cross body, making me feel like a pack mule each time I arrived to work.   Beatrice, a vibrant BeadforLife staff member approached me and greeted me with the customary pleasantries I have grown to appreciate in Uganda.  Looking you in the eyes, taking the time to genuinely ask how you are feeling that day, and offering hugs- one on each side- she enthusiastically announced, ” Jennifer!  I have an exciting story for you to write!!!”.   After unpacking my things and collecting myself for a day to reflect on Agnes’ visit, I stopped in the kitchen to make a cup of Ugandan black tea and seasoned it with a couple shakes of tea masala- a multi spice add-in infusing the tea with the aromas of India.

Beatrice and Evelynn were waiting expectantly for me in the inventory room when I arrived and from behind Beatrice’s back, she pulled out one of Uganda’s daily newspapers titled “Yiiya Ssente”.  Guess who was on the cover?…..   BeadforLife’s very own, Aidah Nannyunja!

The two page feature story detailed the Aidah’s triumph over poverty, and her growing business of inspiring and mobilizing more women in Kampala to believe in their ability to become entrepreneurs!

“I used to sweep the dust in the streets of Kampala, like so many women you see here.  That is where BeadforLife found me the day I joined the 18 month Beads to Business Program.”   Now, through the skills I have acquired, I have a beaded handbag business, a retail clothing shop, and a group of women I mentor!”

Aidah graduated from BeadforLife in August of 2013.  The commemorative group photo framed and hanging on the wall of fame in the corridor of the Kampala office like the Mona Lisa in the Louvre, observed by so many and photographed by appreciative visitors daily.   Aidah remembered the exact date of her first bead sale, December 22, 2011.   She never imagined she would become the chair person of the women’s empowerment group Tukola Balaba featured in that newspaper article.  Founded in the Kawempe District and 50 members strong, Tukola Balaba is thriving and inspiring women with alternatives to generational poverty.

Aidah showing me a sample from her handbag business
Aidah showing me a sample from her handbag business

BeadforLife’s 10 year vision to Ignite One Million women out of poverty by 2027 is incredibly bold, and without question, engaging!    Aidah’s story reinforces the validity of BeadforLife’s work and stands as a testimony of over  40,000 Ugandans served to date by the programs.  Please feel empowered to share this message of hope with your personal spheres of influence.

One size doesn’t fit all.   We are many parts.  We are all one body.  The gifts we have, they are given to share.  May the spirit of love, make us one indeed.  

Try taking a personal challenge this week:  Ask yourself ,”What skills are in my toolbox that I may share to help Ignite One Million?”     Am I connected locally with a non-profit or other group that supports the extreme poor and would like to partner?  Would my faith-based group consider hosting a “Mission Marketplace” this holiday season? to create awareness and engagement.

Do I have connections to entrepreneurial groups who would love to support this mission?  Or more simply, ” Do I have the fortitude and will to buy a small bag of loose beads and tell the story to as many people as I can, handing a bead to them in remembrance, until the last loose bead is gone?”

Whatever your personal level of challenge allows, accept the invitation to take that step of faith.  Allow yourself to grow, to evolve, to discover your potential for change, just like the women in Uganda.