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. 

Living on 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 told Torkin, Ginny and Devin how much she loved to roll beads out of recycled paper, and proudly showed them a bag full of her unique handmade necklaces. She also shared that she had almost 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.

Women all over the world conntinue to make a difference by hosting Bead Parties in their homes or at community events. You too can make a difference by sharing beads with your friends, family and community, learn more about hosting a Bead Party.

 

rock quarry in Uganda

Women working in a rock quarry.

BeadforLife Co-Founders

BeadforLife Co-Founders: Torkin Wakefield (left), Ginny Jordan (center), Devin Hibbard (right).

Beaded Jewelry Party

Women helping women by hosting a Bead Party.