search  current discussion  categories  forms - misc 

beads for life

updated thu 27 jan 05


Jim and Sherron Bowen on tue 25 jan 05

I saw this story and it reminded me of the Potters for Peace program in
Nicaragua, so I thought I would share it with you all.
Beads of life
By Jenny Deam
Denver Post Staff Writer
Sometimes the most profound things in life happen when you're not looking
where you're going.
One April morning in 2003, two Boulder psychotherapists, Torkin Wakefield
and Ginny Jordan, were in the slums of Kampala, Uganda, visiting a young
mother dying of AIDS.
Distracted and saddened, they all but tripped over another woman sitting on
the sidewalk who was making brightly colored jewelry.
The Colorado women were transfixed by the woman's skill as she rolled strips
of discarded magazine pages into tiny paper beads.
Her name was Millie Grace Akena. Wakefield and Jordan struck up a
conversation. Such beautiful work, they said. Did she have more?
The Ugandan woman smiled and ducked into her one-room hut. She re-emerged,
arms draped with sparkling bracelets and necklaces. The Coloradans instantly
bought a handful at $1 each.

Over the next two days, as the women wore their new jewelry, people began
stopping them, complimenting the unusual beads, wondering where to get them.
"That was our 'aha' moment," says Wakefield.
She was in Uganda with her husband, Dr. Charles Steinberg, as he helped
train African doctors to treat AIDS. Jordan, her two daughters and
Wakefield's daughter had come to visit and volunteer. Starting an
international nonprofit business was not on the agenda.
But the women knew they had literally stumbled onto something big: a way to
shrink the distance between two worlds.
Jordan returned to Boulder with about 100 pieces of jewelry. Purchasing them
for about $1 each, she began peddling them at farmers' markets and craft
fairs for 10 times the purchase price. They sold instantly.
With Wakefield remaining in Africa and Jordan in Colorado, the two women
founded Bead for Life. Akena trained more beaders and production expanded.
Profits from the bead sales fund a nonprofit foundation that will finance
projects in Uganda, such as improving medical care and providing school
tuition for children living in the slums.
About 90 Ugandan women who only could aspire to make $1 a day crushing rock
in a nearby quarry now have jobs making beads.
While salaries vary based on production, some beaders can make as much as
$100 a month. And though that may seem paltry by United States standards, in
Uganda it is nearly a third of what most families make in a year.
Uganda is one of the poorest nations in the world. The life expectancy for
men is age 42; for women it is 43. About one in every eight children dies
before reaching age 5. Only slightly more than half of the nation's women
can read or write.
Most of the beaders live as squatters in a refugee slum, displaced by more
than a decade of civil war.
Many are widows, raising children alone. Some are HIV-positive. Fourteen are
AIDS orphans. The youngest is a 6-year-old who uses the bead money to buy
milk for her 3-year-old brother.
Recently, some of the foundation profits enabled the beaders to buy
specialized mosquito netting to combat malaria.
The money also has allowed one jewelry maker to bring her child home from an
orphanage. Before, without work, the woman had to leave him there because
she could not afford to raise him. Others are able to send their children to
school. In Uganda it costs roughly $50 per year per child to attend school.
With the average family income at about $300 a year, most cannot afford
Ten percent of the proceeds from the jewelry sales goes directly to the
beaders, 30 percent pays for overhead costs in both the United States and
Uganda, and 60 percent goes to the foundation to help the community.
Neither Wakefield nor Jordan draw a salary from the project.
Wakefield, who plans to split her time between Boulder and Uganda over the
next few years, rejects the stereotype of affluent white women swooping in
to "save" poor, African women.
"The Ugandan women are rich in so many ways. I always hate to hear an entire
group labeled as 'poor' when we are really talking about not having things
or money," Wakefield explains. "They are rich in family connectedness, in
their tribal and clan relationships, in their identification with place.
North America is starving for those things."
She says she has learned much from the beaders. "It is compelling to see the
beauty and brightness of people who live amidst so much personal loss and
suffering. I have learned that happiness is not about things but about heart
and courage and helping others."
Part of the goal of Bead for Life, Wakefield says, is to forge camaraderie
among women no matter how much geography separates them.
"It is about creating a flow of energy from Uganda to North America and back
to Uganda that blesses everyone," Wakefield says. "It is about empowerment."
Recently the fledgling venture got a big boost when Oprah Winfrey's magazine
heard of its efforts.
"It was like opening a floodgate," says Jordan.
"A lot of people have given up on Africa," she says. "There is so much need,
so much to be done, it is like, 'Where do you begin?"'
She smiles and answers her own question.
"You just begin."
On the Web: For more information about ordering jewelry or hosting a bead
party go to

"A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military
defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death." -
the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., 1967

katetiler on wed 26 jan 05

I was slightly bemused to read this lovely story as I saw the title as
reading "Beards for life"...

A wonderful inspirational story, thanks!

> On the Web: For more information about ordering jewelry or hosting a
bead party go to