The Beads Project is a staple BOH program. We post and talk about it often, in emails and on social media. But do you know how it really works? Part of purchasing ethically made products is really knowing and understanding where your products come from and how they were made. We want to share some of the behind the scenes with you and explain how the jewelry gets from a small village in Uganda to you! We are so excited to share this process with you and let you into the inner workings of BOH. So next time you put on your favorite BOH necklace, you know exactly where it came from and how it was made!
First and foremost, why the Beads Project? For Because of Hope, the Beads Project was a natural first step. Our partner organization, WOCAP, already had the Beads Project in place but had recently lost their US partner and therefore no longer had a market to sell the jewelry. This is where BOH came in. We started the organization that you know and love today in order to partner with WOCAP and sell the women’s jewelry in the US. One of the main reasons we continue to invest in the Beads Project is that it helps diversify the women's income. Agriculture can be a gamble and has its risks when it comes to rainfall, drought, disease, and other factors. The Beads Project on the other hand is consistent. We usually order 2 shipments per year and the women know that if they participate in the production of these shipments, they will earn income. We are so grateful for the jewelry that allows our women a reliable source of income while they are on the path to sustainability!
As I watch videos of our women creating the jewelry, I am shocked at just how quickly and gracefully their hands move as they create small paper treasures. The creation process is not a quick one and it takes time and skill to create beautiful jewelry from sheets of paper. First, the paper is cut into strips, changing the width depending on how large the beads should be. Then, starting at the flat end of the strip of paper and keeping it centered, the women hand roll each bead around a small stick or sewing needle. After rolling many beads, they string them on fishing line and dip them into a clear varnish. Then they hang the strands to dry. This process is repeated three times before the beads are finally ready to be restrung into jewelry. Mixing these paper beads and small glass beads together, our women use them to string together a beautiful array of designs. The more strands, the more complicated, and some of the designs are so challenging that only a few of our women are able to assemble them.
Once the jewelry is complete, it is ready to come to the US! When we order jewelry, we treat the program as the women’s own business. They set the prices of all the items and we place orders with them. We love seeing them take ownership of their creations and establish prices that are fair to them. When we pay for each order, the Board of WOCAP (which is largely made up of leaders from amongst the women) meets and discusses how to distribute each payment. Usually, 50% of the payment is distributed to those members who helped create the order, based on how much they participated. The other 50% is reserved by WOCAP to purchase materials for the next jewelry shipment in order to keep their business going.
The benefits of this program are numerous and it is rewarding on an individual level for our women and for the BOH community as a whole. The financial benefits include the members getting to profit from their beading skills, and the gross profit from sales in the U.S. provides funding for BOH that further helps the women in Uganda through our programs. However, the Beads Project is not only beneficial on a financial level but also on a relational level. Beading brings women in the community together to build relationships and work together toward a common goal. It also promotes leadership and teamwork as individual women have responsibility for meeting and getting the order finished on time.
Here in Santa Barbara, we organize the jewelry when it arrives and sell it at events and on our online store! All of our jewelry sales go back into supporting our programs and our women. Events have been our biggest source of jewelry sales since we first started and we love getting out and sharing BOH’s mission with the community. Since COVID however, we have been relying heavily on our online platforms, as this is currently our only means of sales. This has been a hidden blessing in some ways. Online platforms allow us to reach a greater audience, and the lockdown has forced us to prioritize making our online store even more successful. So while we can’t wait to get back to events, we are also thankful for the growth that is happening now.
Since the inception of our organization, we have seen so much growth and change and we can't wait to see what is next. With the holidays around the corner, we invite you to empower our women in Uganda through the Beads Project, and give meaningful gifts to your loved ones. Thank you for supporting our women and for following along with our journey!
By Mykaela Schluter, Assistant Executive Director