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Fighting poverty - one bead at a time

Fair trade jewelry helps women in Uganda

A retired New Westminster couple has found a fulfilling way to help lift women in Uganda out of a life of poverty.

Peter and Mary Jo Dawe are community representatives for Bead for Life, a non-profit organization that sells handmade jewelry made from recycled paper. Crafted by women in northern Uganda, the fair trade organization pays women cash for their products and then distributes the wares through volunteers who sell the jewelry and shea butter soaps and body creams.

"It's all voluntary. It's so satisfying," said Peter Dawe. "It's a great thing to do with your retirement days."

Bead for Life, a non-profit and a member of the Fair Trade Federation, aims to eradicate poverty - one bead at a time.

Peter is a retired teacher and high school principal, while Mary Jo is a retired office administrator. They got involved in Bead for Life after receiving a gift from a friend who was selling the products in Seattle.

Peter said it's a good feeling to know that you're doing something that has a positive effect on people's lives.

"Prior to their work with Bead for Life, these women were earning about 50 cents a day, hammering rock into smaller pieces," Mary Jo wrote in an email to The Record. "With Bead for Life, they earn about $100 per month, learn business skills and go on to begin their own local business. Bead for Life requires them to 'graduate' to their own business, so that another woman can get a start. This is their 'leg up', providing them with starting capital for their own business."

Mary Jo noted that Bead for Life uses the profits from the sale of beads to provide scholarships for village girls to attend secondary school.

It's felt that educating girls and women is the most effective way to improve life in a village and keep its people healthy.

People can contact Bead for Life, which sends a supply of beads that people can sell. Unsold beads are returned to the non-profit's headquarters in Colorado.

"They send a stock. We have bead parties - like Tupperware parties," Peter said. "Here in our condo we had a dozen people stop in. That was a good start.

That encouraged us."

By the spring, the couple had so much success selling the beads that they decided they wanted to do it on an ongoing basis. Bead for Life, which is based in Boulder, Colorado, has agreed to provide them with a continuous supply of beads.

"They made us community partners and send us continuing stock," Peter said. "We send the money in and request whatever is popular."

According to Bead for Life, members can make about 50 long necklaces in two weeks.

Last month, the Royal City residents attended River Market's holiday market, which provided a terrific opportunity to spread the word about the jewelry.

"The storytelling is an important as the beads," Peter said. "The beads are all made by women in Uganda who are in extreme poverty."

The women go to marketplaces in Uganda where they buy recycled glossy paper, which comes from magazines and other sources. They later take the sheets of paper, cut them into triangular strips, roll each piece of paper from wide end to the tip and make and preserve a bead.

"They let it dry in the sun," Peter said. "They bring the beads in after a week and make bracelets, necklaces and earrings."

Not only do the women earn money from the sale of the beads, but they also develop business and literacy skill and open a bank account. After 18 months, they go into business for themselves.

"There are now 1,000 women running their own businesses in the villages where Bead for Life operates," Peter said. "It's an incredible organization."

The Dawes have enjoyed meeting people at various events such as markets and conferences, where they explain how Bead for Life works.

"We always have a good story to tell. We are more than crafters sitting there," Peter said. "People look at the beads. We say, 'can you believe they are made from recycled paper?' That opens the conversation."

In addition to jewelry, Bead for Life also sells soaps and body creams that are made from shea butter nuts found in northern Uganda.

"Our bracelets are $6 or $7. Our most expensive necklace is $29 - usually $16 to $21 is the range of them," Peter said.

"The shea soap, which is a beautiful soap, is $5 a bar."

The Dawes are available to showcase or sell the Bead for Life products at private events.

"We have got the beads - we are ready to travel," Peter said.

For more information, call 604-5151569 or email [email protected].

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