From the roadside to Vogue, and beyond: the AfriBeads story.
Rosemary first met the future of AfriBeads amongst the burnt-orange dust in Jinja, a town by the Nile outside Kampala, Uganda. A Ugandan woman sat beside her beads in colours as bright as the jewellery she sold. We all bought plenty of them, exclaiming how they were so beautiful and durable. To us then, they were merely striking keepsakes that highlighted the ingenuity and vibrance of the Ugandan people, with each bead carefully crafted out of paper.
We were in Uganda to help build houses for teachers who worked with Watoto, a charity which takes in widows and orphans and builds them together as safe families and communities. Each day was hot. While we flopped over in exhaustion and ate unbelievably sweet pineapple and kabalagalas (a sort of Ugandan doughnut) from the locals, the Ugandan builders crafted magnificent homes with the funds we had scrambled to produce. It was amazing seeing our donation in action, and much later, the final product.
It’s easy to see the people on the other side of the world as another statistic until you play soccer with them. They thrashed us, but we’re white and unfit, and their fast, agile and healthy. On our second-to-last day we took photos of them and printed them to take back as a parting gift. Most of them had never had a photo of themselves before and their reaction was a magnificently far cry from ours when we see our faces frozen in an awkward smile.
We arrived back in Sydney and it was like reverse culture shock. We are so fortunate where we live, and the gap renders us a world apart far more than just physically. Rosemary was determined to not just let it lie.
We often think of Africa as dry, hot and full of dust and depressed eyes. The Uganda we met was so very different. The people have the warmest smiles and incredible generosity. The soil is vivid and the trees are deep green like rainforest foliage. Everywhere we went was buzzing with life. The streets are often lined with ramshackle tin huts interspersed with white plastered houses and shops. It smells like the earth just before it rains. The people ride on bikes carrying wood slats, bananas and slabs of meat. The buses are busting out, and are trailed by cyclists selling watches. Women walk with baskets on their heads and children bounce balls on the roadside. While their struggle is evident their perseverance and joy is what we saw above all else.
That same year, 2009, Rosemary studied a short course in setting up a small business and contacted April, the travel agent we had used for our trip to Uganda. April put her in touch with Lorna, who had previously worked as April’s housekeeper and had left to set up the Kind Mothers’ Program. Lorna had set up the Kind Mothers’ Program to bring women together to make and sell this paper-bead jewellery so that they didn’t have to leave their children at home for work, and to provide a secure income for their families. Rosemary asked Lorna if she could ship some of the beads to Australia and try selling them to widen their market.
Thus, AfriBeads was born. Currently we support over thirty women and their families, and have shops all over Australia. We have had media coverage in publications from the Manly Daily to Vogue and Women’s Weekly. The point, always though, is the women. As well as supplying them with a regular income, AfriBeads has been able to teach and provide the Kind Mothers with a variety of tools and resources to empower them in their livelihood. We have been able to teach them to sew and supplied sewing machines, donated the tools and fastenings to create the jewellery, the workshop for them to safely work in, and lesson plans and school programs to run for the children. Your partnership and support of AfriBeads enables all this, and allows each family to eat well and regularly, stay safe, and send their children to school so they have a greater hope for the future.