Saturday, January 12, 2013


The college where I work hosted International education week in autumn semester. Students sample foods from around the world, learn about opportunities to travel abroad, and enjoy art work created by the artist in residence. My favorite event this past fall was the BeadForLife fair trade exhibit. I want to share their story:

A chance encounter

BeadforLife began with a chance encounter between women. Our co-founders Torkin Wakefield, Ginny Jordan, and Devin Hibbard met Millie Grace Akena while walking through a crowded Ugandan slum. They were on their way to visit a sick woman when they saw Millie sitting on the ground outside of her mud home; she was rolling small strips of paper into colorful beads in the sweltering sun. Intrigued, they stopped to talk to her. 

Less than a dollar a day

They soon learned that Millie was originally from Northern Uganda, but had been driven from her home by Joseph Kony and the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA). To protect her children from being kidnapped as soldiers, Millie fled to the Kampala slum. To support her family, she worked in a rock quarry crushing stones into pebbles with a hand mallet. In order to earn enough for one meal a day, her children often had to work alongside her in the hot, dusty quarry. For their efforts, the family earned less than a dollar a day. Millie said she loved to roll beads out of recycled paper, and proudly showed Torkin, Ginny and Devin a bag full of her unique hand-made necklaces. She also shared that she had no market for her jewelry.

Paper beads bring hope

Our co-founders admired Millie and bought a few of her necklaces, wearing them around Kampala in support of her handiwork. Immediately, others began to notice the distinct jewelry and asked where they had been purchased. Believing there was a market for the paper jewelry, they returned to Millie's slum. With her help, they met with a hundred more women who knew how to make paper beads, purchasing a few necklaces from each. At this time, they had no way of knowing that their lives, and the lives of so many impoverished Ugandans, were about to change.

Birth of the bead party

Once back in the US, our co-founders shared their experiences with others. Through word of mouth, women across North America began to purchase the beads and were captivated by the stories of resilient Ugandan women lifting their families out of extreme poverty. As suspected, there was a market for the hope-filled, hand-rolled beads and their inspirational creators after all! In September 2004, BeadforLife was officially born. At the time, our dream was to provide opportunities for a few dozen women from Millie's slum. Today, we provided opportunities for thousands. To see how our dream has grown, visit Our Work in Uganda.

I love wearing the beads. They are not only beautiful, they make a difference. The women of Uganda now have means to feed their families while doing work that they enjoy. The bright colors of the beads remind me of hope. My hope in mankind grows when I find out about people who work to make someone else's life better.

Do you know of any fair trade organizations where the sales go back to the artists and crafters?


  1. LOVE this! Thanks for sharing. We buy gifts from Eternal Threads, an organization that has a similar story of giving local crafstwomen an outlet for their handiwork to raise awareness and raise them out of poverty. They have awesome bags made out of crocheted or woven heavy fishing line--colorful and indescructible! Also, this past Christmas, we bought t-shirts from a group called PoverTees. A group that makes custom t-shirts out of scraps of fabric they turn into pockets and sew onto t-shirts. Our kids loved them. The money goes to ministry. And I ordered a skirt and scarf for my daughter from Open Arms in Austin, TX that is refugee women recyclying t shirt fabric into beautiful clothing. These are 3 of my favorites. Again, thanks for sharing!

  2. These all sound great, Kim. I am so glad that women are being recognized for their God-given talents and gifts. I love anything handmade and have spent many years crafting and teaching my girls to create. I'm going to look up the ones you mentioned. Thank you!

  3. Hi Penny! What an awesome ministry! Thank you for sharing about Bead For Life. I visited their website...they are making a huge impact on people's lives.
    So glad to connect from the ACFW blog course! Many blessings as you continue to blog. I look forward to reading more!
    His, Sharon

  4. I love the beads, they are so pretty and I appreciate the hands that make them. Thanks so much for your encouragement.


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