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Using Paper Beads to Improve Ugandan Lives

This is the VOA Special English Development Report, from | Diamonds may be a girl's best friend, as the old saying goes. But some women are finding a lot to like about colorful beads from Uganda made of recycled paper. The beads are sold by a nonprofit organization in the United States called BeadforLife.BeadforLife began as a chance meeting between three American women on a trip to Uganda and a local jewelry maker. Millie Grace Akena was rolling paper beads near her home. She worked at a rock quarry. She made paper beads as a hobby. But there was no real market for them in her country. Torkin Wakefield says she, her daughter Devin Hibbard and Ginny Jordan brought some of the beads back to the United States. Ms. Wakefield said people liked the beads and asked her where she got them. The three Americans launched BeadforLife in two thousand four. Nearly seven hundred women have taken part. The group says its beaders earn an average of more than two thousand dollars a year in the program. This is five times what they earned before. Torkin Wakefield says the women spend up to eighteen months in the program.She says during that time the women make their regular income and have savings accounts. They begin to plan for launching a business which will continue after they graduate from BeadforLife. Many of the beaders go on to open businesses like restaurants, beauty salons and clothing stores. The beads are sold across Uganda and at the BeadforLife headquarters in Boulder, Colorado. They are also sold online and at jewelry shows called bead parties. Torkin Wakefield says people who buy the beads feel a direct connection that they are helping to reduce poverty. Acrylic plastic is used to harden the paper. The jewelry costs between five and thirty dollars. BeadforLife reported sales in its last budget year of more than three and a half million dollars. It says for every ten dollar necklace sold, the beader gets two dollars and forty-three cents in money or materials.It says more than ninety percent of earnings are reinvested in community development projects in Uganda. Torkin Wakefield estimates that BeadforLife has helped more than eight thousand people this way. So what about Millie Grace Akena, the jewelry maker? Mrs. Wakefield says she has gone on to organize a small group of women who work with her. They sell their beads to a religious group. And that's the VOA Special English Development Report. (Adapted from a radio program broadcast 28Jun2010)
Length: 03:58


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