Monday, March 15, 2010

Partying with Bead for Life

Bead For Life received a write-up today in Nicholas Kristoff's column for the New York Times. In the column, Kristoff answers the question that so many ask him, What can I do to make a difference? His answer is to throw a party, meaning the bead jewelry parties that women in the states throw to sell the crafts from Bead For Life.

Kristoff talked to Bead For Life co-founder Devin Hibbard on how the charitable business got started.

“It’s not a handout; we’re totally opposed to that,” said Devin, who is now based in Uganda for the project. “This is a symbol for us of women really working hard.”

BeadforLife recruits women who are earning $1 a day or less, and who seem particularly hard-working and entrepreneurial. Once enrolled, they get training in how to cut strips of scrap paper, roll them tightly, glue them and seal them — and, presto, a beautiful bead.

The beads are not painted, and their color comes from the paper itself (with writing sometimes faintly visible). Magazine ads and aid group brochures are prized for their rich colors. Torkin remembers wincing when she saw women making beads from brochures explaining how mothers can prevent AIDS transmission to their babies. “I just hope that someone had looked at them before they were cut up,” she said.

Bead makers earn about $200 per month, half of which is deposited in brand-new savings accounts (one huge problem for the world’s poor is that they lack a safe way to save). The women are also encouraged to trade their beads to the program for antimalarial bed nets, condoms, deworming medicine and family planning supplies.

The centerpiece of the 18-month BeadforLife program is training bead makers to start small businesses. They get coaching in business management, and some learn trades like making jam or raising chickens.

The bead makers get about $600 to open their own shops or start some other small business, and after a year and a half they graduate and new bead makers are enrolled. The aim is not to create lifelong jewelry manufacturers, but to turn women into bustling entrepreneurs.

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