BeadforLife Turns African Women into Entrepreneurs
Imagine if instead of just donating a few dollars to help out those living in extreme poverty, your money actually helped them gain the skills and resources to get themselves back on their feet. That’s exactly what the non-profit organization BeadforLife is all about. Its goal is to ignite potential while also ending extreme poverty, or living on less than $1.25 a day.
To celebrate its 10th anniversary, BeadforLife added the Young Professionals Program, which encourages millennials to get involved in their mission.
How BeadForLife Started
BeadforLife co-founders Torkin Wakefield, Ginny Jordan, and Devin Hibbard met a Ugandan woman named Millie Grace Akena while walking through a Kampala slum. She sat outside of her mud home rolling small strips of paper into colorful beads. In order to protect her children from being kidnapped by Joseph Kony and the Lord’s Resistance Army, Millie fled to the slums and worked in the rock quarries to support her family. The co-founders brought Millie’s empowering story as well as her beautiful, unique beads back to the United States. People were intrigued by the unique beadwork and the empowering stories of Ugandan women lifting their families out of poverty, and BeadforLife was born.
The Bead System works by providing Ugandan women with a steady source of income throughout the 18 months they’re in the program. There are 3-4 bead-making groups per year, comprised of 40-60 members. Each group receives three months of extensive training in how to turn recycled paper into rolled beads and make beautiful jewelry with them. The program provides entrepreneurial training while teaching business skills in order to prepare these women for long-term success once they graduate. This way, the organization isn’t simply offering temporary relief from poverty, but is enabling a sustainable career long after they’ve finished the BeadforLife program.
BeadforLife found that members increase their income by 7 to 10 times while enrolled in the program. With this extra business knowledge, village women will be able to provide for their families in ways never before possible. By uncovering their true potential as enterprising crafters, their children will be able to eat everyday, have access to health care, and attend school.
The YP Program
Korri Roach, BeadforLife’s Volunteer Department Manager and the creator of the YP Program, says she always had an interest in being engaged and involved with young people. Bridging millennials with their natural instinct to volunteer, she created the Young Professionals program. Roach then selected four Advisory Board members who she describes as “rockstar young women” to kick off the program.
Lindsay Tatera, one of the four Advisory Board members of the YP Program, tells MiLLENNiAL, “I’m so passionate about what BeadforLife is doing and I want other people my age to feel that passion, understand how empowering the programs are and see the difference they’re making in the lives of women.” She says it’s important for our generation to be involved in efforts like this and be aware of what’s going on in the world. She explains being drawn to the opportunity of the YP Program because Korri wants millennials to have the opportunity to be creative and approach the work in unique ways.
BeadforLife’s Remarkable Activist
Roach first got involved with non-profit humanitarian work after spending four months in India for her Master’s program. She tells MiLLENNiAL that it was enough time in a developing country to see the crippling effects of poverty as well as the lack of resources and opportunities for the people. This experience solidified Roach’s desire to get involved in helping developing countries, specifically the girls and women within them.
Roach returned to the United States in pursuit of a Ph.D degree, but soon realized her unsatiable desire to give back would take the wheel. She worked with BeadforLife part-time until deciding to put her Doctorate degree on the back burner and dedicate all of her time toward a full-time position with the non-profit.
She spoke about the highlight of her 8 years at BeadforLife— Teddy. Teddy is a Ugandan woman that went through the BeadforLife program and then, with BeadforLife’s help obtaining a visa, actually got the opportunity to come to the US afterward. “I became closely connected with Teddy. She’s a phenomenal women,” says Roach. Teddy has three daughters who are all now in school. However, her youngest daughter is deaf.
Roach explains Ugandans with disabilities aren’t treated at all like people with disabilities in our country. “Teddy was married when she found out her daughter was deaf, and her husband said to either leave the baby at an orphanage or he would leave her…She left him.” Today, Teddy’s disabled daughter is currently enrolled in the only school for deaf children in the country of Uganda. This woman and many more like her epitomize the fearless, strong-natured woman that BeadforLife aims to help on the road to success.
Every time she goes back to Uganda, Roach makes it a point to see Teddy and her girls. “I want the people involved in YP to feel a connection to the work were doing in Uganda,” says Roach. “I want them to know that they are absolutely able to make a difference in the world.”
Roach ensures that these women are “brilliant, savvy and resilient. They just lack an opportunity, and that’s what we provide. We don’t save them. That’s not our role. They’re amazing on their own.”
Since its inception, 1400 women have gone through the program. “Amazing, successful, bright women that had otherwise been forgotten — here they are having changed their lives,” Roach says proudly. “They have businesses and are respected by family members.” However, at the end of the day, the program only works if these women are willing to put in the hours and be hungry for information. Roach says it’s a partnership from day one and it empowers women to believe in themselves and their skills. “A lot of them don’t even have the capacity to dream as big as we dream for them. We just want them to see their own potential.”
BeadforLife’s intent is not to make a few women really wealthy. If these women earn $5-7 a day, that’s a major success. If their kids are in school, being fed, and the family has assets, that’s a major success.
Roach urges all millennials to take on the challenge of helping the fight against extreme poverty. BeadforLife not only provides this opportunity, but also offers women in developing countries hope for the future. Most women who graduate from the BeadforLife program open 2-3 small businesses. This is truly incredible as the opportunity for success in developing countries is often overtaken by men. Instead of giving handouts, BeadforLife provides opportunity, skills, and resources to become self-sustainable after graduation. “In the end we all become better global citizens,” says Roach.
If BeadforLife’s Young Professionals Program interests you, pursue it at www.beadforlife.org or e-mail Korri Roach at email@example.com. The Millennial Generation is the first one that has the power and resources to end extreme poverty, but it’s not going to happen overnight. Get involved in this revolutionary movement and maybe one day extreme global poverty will be one for the history books.
Syracuse, NYKelly Tatera is an aspiring journalist at Syracuse University who dreams that one day her writing will shed light upon the injustice that occurs worldwide every day. Kelly grew up in various European countries, which she strongly believes contributed to her worldly outlook on life. It also helped her develop decent fluency in French, which she loves to speak to her friends because they have no idea what she’s saying. Her tips for success are: travel as much as you can, respect cultural differences, venture outside of the tourist traps, keep a Dream Journal, become a documentary buff, and always save room for dessert.