Boulder non-profit is changing the lives of Ugandan women one bead at a time

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All photos by Kate Gibbons.
Jewelry made from BeadforLife beads.
"I was so excited! I just got out of Spanish class and ran down the hallway to meet her. It's like meeting a rock star," says Stella Brown, an eighth-grader at Boulder's Horizon's K-8 School.

Brown was racing down the hall to meet Teddy Namuyiga -- not Taylor Swift. Namuyiga is one of two Ugandan woman who was brought to the United States last week by BeadforLife, as part of its national Opportunity Tour. The Boulder-based non-profit creates sustainable chances for impoverished women to lift themselves out of poverty by rolling beads for jewelry out of recycled paper -- and then selling them in North America and Europe.

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Namuyiga found herself in extreme poverty after the birth of her third child, who is deaf. She was accused of adultery by her husband, who wanted her to take the child to an orphanage. After she refused, he left her and their three children to fend for themselves.

For eight years, Namuyiga scrounged for work. She washed clothes, plowed land and made small handbags out of banana peels to come up with money to provide food, water and school fees for her children. In what she describes as "not a happy life," she earned less than a dollar a day.

Her life changed when a BeadforLife recruiter knocked on the door of her aunt's house, where she and her children were staying. The recruiter was going door-to-door to find individuals for the eighteen-month-long, apprentice-like program. Students are selected based on need, work ethic and entrepreneurial aptitude.

Namuyiga was one of fifty women chosen for her class, which began with a week-long training on how to roll beads, then was immediately followed by educational training.

"Our goal is not make beads forever, but to have them go on and start their own businesses," says Devin Hibbard, BeadforLife executive director and co-founder.

BeadforLife does not provide handouts but opportunities, education and skills, Hibbard points out. She stresses that not only bead-making, but counting and basic bookkeeping are the focus of the program, which has more than 1,000 graduates -- 74 percent of whom go on to start their own businesses.

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Namuyiga shows the class how to roll beads.
Earning an average of $7 a day while in the program, beaders are paid in three ways. Mobile payments are made to their phones, deposits are made into personal savings accounts, and a payment is also made into a business fund for future entrepreneurial ventures.

Continue reading for more about BeadforLife.

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