Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Beads for Life

This weekend, I had the pleasure of attending the Azalea Storytelling Festival in LaGrange, Georgia. Returning to the festival this year was master storyteller and perennial favorite, Donald Davis. Also performing were the popular storytellers Carmen Deedy, Eric Litwin, Connie Regan-Blake and Ed Stivender. This group of celebrated storytellers, musicians and recording artists brought their unique voices and stories to the campus of LaGrange College and the excellent performance venue of Callaway Auditorium. Carol Cain, a well known teller in her right, acted as master of ceremonies. Since 1997 the Azalea Storytelling Festival has brought nationally and regionally acclaimed storytellers to LaGrange, Georgia. Folks from near and far gather in Callaway Auditorium to hear stories — stories so good that they seep into the walls and make the building feel better. Laughter proved to be a key ingredient of these remarkable performances. Under the guidance of the Lafayette Society for Performing Arts, the festival was a wonderful experience.

One of the storyteller was Connie Regan-Blake who was invited to visit Uganda by "Bead For Life"(, an NGO helping women lift themselves out of extreme poverty. Many of them are displaced refugees from the horrors and atrocities of civil war in northern Uganda and are dealing with the ravages of AIDS. Connie was welcomed into their homes and hearts as if she was family and she listened to their profound and transformative stories. The video below is Namakasa Rose's story.

These beads are quite beautiful and i encourage you to find out more about them.  To learn more about Connie, go to:

The story of how BeadsforLife began:

BeadforLife began with a chance encounter between women. Our co-founders Torkin Wakefield, Ginny Jordan, and Devin Hibbard met Millie Grace Akena while walking through a crowded Ugandan slum. They were on their way to visit a sick woman when they saw Millie sitting on the ground outside of her mud home; she was rolling small strips of paper into colorful beads in the sweltering sun. Intrigued, they stopped to talk to her. 

Less than a dollar a day. They soon learned that Millie was originally from Northern Uganda, but had been driven from her home by Joseph Kony and the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA). To protect her children from being kidnapped as soldiers, Millie fled to the Kampala slum. To support her family, she worked in a rock quarry crushing stones into pebbles with a hand mallet. In order to earn enough for one meal a day, her children often had to work alongside her in the hot, dusty quarry. For their efforts, the family earned less than a dollar a day. Millie said she loved to roll beads out of recycled paper, and proudly showed Torkin, Ginny and Devin a bag full of her unique hand-made necklaces. She also shared that she had no market for her jewelry.

Paper beads bring hope. Our co-founders admired Millie and bought a few of her necklaces, wearing them around Kampala in support of her handiwork. Immediately, others began to notice the distinct jewelry and asked where they had been purchased. Believing there was a market for the paper jewelry, they returned to Millie's slum. With her help, they met with a hundred more women who knew how to make paper beads, purchasing a few necklaces from each. At this time, they had no way of knowing that their lives, and the lives of so many impoverished Ugandans, were about to change.

Birth of the bead party. Once back in the US, our co-founders shared their experiences with others. Through word of mouth, women across North America began to purchase the beads and were captivated by the stories of resilient Ugandan women lifting their families out of extreme poverty. As suspected, there was a market for the hope-filled, hand-rolled beads and their inspirational creators after all! In September 2004, BeadforLife was officially born. At the time, our dream was to provide opportunities for a few dozen women from Millie's slum. Today, we provided opportunities for thousands. To see how our dream has grown, visit Our Work in Uganda.


Anonymous said...

Pretty cool how a simple gesture of buying some beads can help soooo much!

Peace <3

silvereagle said...

The scope of subject matter in your postings each day is certainly more broad than any other post I read. All the way from Cole Porter, to The Old Rugged Cross, by way of Mardi Gras, to Beads for life!!! You keep our intrest by keeping us guessing! Thanks, and thanks for this informative posting as well.