Last Friday, one of my colleagues described me as a positive "force" and that it was impossible to keep up with me. Of course, I don't think of myself that way, but I do know I am very passionate and hard working. I often get asked where I get my energy from. Although, it isn't something I ponder, I suspect it's because I'm very happy about my work and know that it fuels me every day. And, maybe that happy energy comes from helping others. As Jenny Santi wrote for the Time "The Secret to Happiness is Helping Others".
Whether as a professor, researcher or social entrepreneur, I pride myself on supporting others, mentoring my students and anyone really who wants my help, time permitting. But, of all the things that I do, my work with Tugende Design is among the most rewarding. And, that is all about helping communities in need. These communities face such hardships, and most of the mothers just want to put food on the table and be able to send their children to school. It is so simple, yet complex and heart breaking, they just want the basic necessities for themselves and their families.
We work together with 5 groups of women in Kampala and Jinja, Uganda to make beautiful jewelry out of paper beads. Maybe it seems a bit odd, or even crazy. But, that is the story. Together, we design and create beautiful pieces, wearable art really, from almost nothing. There is tremendous power in coming together for a shared vision, a vision of women empowerment. A vision of supporting women who are strong, powerful, full of love, creativity and resilience, but poor financially. This is a vision that transcends cultures, boundaries and languages.
At Tugende Design we are impatient, our goal is to provide the basics for these women and the sooner, the better. Tugende means ”let’s go” in one of the local languages in Uganda. Let's go, let's make a difference and help people in need.
The women in our groups face tremendous hardships, poverty, infectious and chronic diseases and often, they are also single mothers. Some of them distill illegal alcohol, a dangerous job that often result in injuries because of the hazardous conditions. Yet, despite their hardships they find the peace to create and make beautiful jewelry.
Making jewelry from paper beads take time and patience. The paper strips are cut into thin strips and in different shapes depending on the size bead to be made. Then the paper strips are rolled tightly, making sure there is a hole for the string. The beads are varnished 5 times to ensure their durability. Then, finally, there is the creative process of stringing the beads together in various designs, some simple and some quite intricate to make earrings, bracelets, necklaces and bags. It takes incredible talent at each step of the process.
Before I started working in Uganda, I had never heard of paper beads. Now, I see paper beads made all over the world. But, the talented women we work with as part of Tugende Design work with us to come up with really colorful and unique designs for women empowered to wear paper beads. And, in our case, the sales of the paper beads support the women and their families and our community projects.
I wear my pieces of jewelry with great pride because they are beautiful, unique and colorful and they also represent hope, possibilities and women empowerment. So wearing these pieces fuel me with joy every day.
”Set your heart on doing good. Do it over and over again and you will be filled with joy” Buddha