Acholi Beads: Recycled Paper Recycles Lives

Ciona D. Rouse

In Kampala, Uganda, a group of women have recycled their lives by making jewelry from recycled paper.

Acholi Beads from paperWar and violence raged in northern Uganda. Homes were ransacked; and family members were beaten, raped, abducted, or killed. When life became unbearable, nearly two million Acholi people left their homes for the safety of the south, where they expected to find peace and prosperity in Uganda’s capital city. But in Kampala, they have become second-class citizens, living in squalid conditions on a hillside known as Acholi Quarters. The largest employer in the area operates a stone quarry and hires many of these people to pound stones into gravel for less than one dollar a day.

Biola, a widow with grown children, now cares for seven children orphaned by the war. The money she made at the quarry was barely enough for her to eat, let alone to care for seven orphans. To supplement her income, she, like many other Acholi women, learned to make jewelry out of paper beads.

Eco-Fashion Fairly Traded

While living in Uganda, James Pearson, of San Diego, California, realized women were risking their lives in the dangerous rock quarries for little pay and were making almost nothing for their beautiful beads. James decided to work with the women to develop Acholi Beads, a company that sells the jewelry in the United States and provides a fair wage for the bead makers. Now the women can work from home as they create beads out of paper discarded from a local printing company. The beads are exported to the United States and sold in select stores and through individual sellers.

acholi beads hanging2Acholi Beads currently employs sixteen bead makers and hopes to hire one hundred more. “When you employ one of these displaced women and give her the chance to earn a good livelihood, she will, in turn, improve the lives of at least twenty people around her,” said James.

Now, at age 61, Biola works for Acholi Beads and is able to send all seven children to school with full bellies and hearty smiles.

Recycling, Redeeming

Lanecia Rouse, of Nashville, Tennessee, began selling Acholi Beads after visiting Kampala last September and seeing how the company was changing lives for the better. “There was a stark contrast between the lives of the Acholi bead makers and the other people,” Lanecia recalled. “I went into one home that was a dark clay hut with very little light. It housed a family of three, and they had one seat in the whole place. It was really like going into a cave.” The bead makers “had furniture and were able to pay their kids’ school fees. They were sustaining themselves and working in a comfortable, non-threatening way that allowed their children to be around them.”

Lanecia sees the company as an example of resurrection: It redeems the earth through recycling and also redeems the lives of the Acholi people.

“We are co-creators with God,” she says, “and this is a way of using our imaginations to bring new life to people and things that could be easily thrown away and forgotten.”


acholi beads blueDIG DEEPER

Eco-fashion is a way of participating in God’s plan for the earth and God’s hope for humanity. Biola cares for her new family by making beads from discarded paper. James works with Biola and others to grow their business. My sister, Lanecia, sells the beads in the U.S. I buy the beads and wear them. All of us are caring for the earth and for our neighbors. How is God calling you to be a part of God’s plan for creation—both humanity and the earth?

Ciona D. Rouse is a writer who loves wearing Acholi Beads and telling their story.

from devozine (September/October 2009). Copyright © 2009 by The Upper Room®. All rights reserved.

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