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    Our Thoughts

    Tugende Design in Jinja

    Be filled with Joy: Do Something Good for Others!

    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 


    Our jewelry is now available in our online shop, on Amazon and in the Beehive art collective, in Atlanta.

    If you break your arm - buy new underwear & other tips for busy entrepreneurs!

    If you break your arm - buy new underwear & other tips for busy entrepreneurs!

    I have been so lucky for most of my life with only minor health issues and injuries. But, a few weeks ago I broke my arm. Sure it hurt, but, all seemed ok on the Xrays for the past 3 weeks and it was very manageable. That all changed last week when my doctor didn't like how the bone was setting. She highly recommended surgery as she wanted to get the bone (radius) better aligned permanently, with a metal plate and screws to ensure the future mobility of my wrist.
      Not sure what I was thinking, I seriously thought she could do this surgery with some kind of local anesthesia or nerve block...or something. Even after doing some google searches, I was surprised as this was going to be serious. And, on the day of surgery, I got the whole package of modern medicine, at its best, hospital bed, oxygen tubes, fentanyl, anti-nausea meds and the list went on. I even came home with a bottle of oxycontin, another source of stress for someone who hates taking any type of pill and who studies drug use and dependence for a living.
      Today, I’m 5 days post surgery and have an early post-op visit on Monday. My doctor was reluctant to see me that early, as this is a week ahead of the usual treatment schedule. But, I’m traveling with my students to Uganda on Tuesday, so the remaining post-op care will take place there. Terrible timing, I know, but then no one would ever say that there is a particularly great time to get injured and in need of rest and recovery.                                                                                         
      My orders were strict this week, do as little as possible and keep the arm above the heart, most of the time. It’s been a tough week, but here is my list of recommendations, if you find yourself in a similar position and can find a moment to smile.
      1. Buying a set of new and much larger underwear should be a high priority; it makes life so much easier and less is better (do I really need to explain this?)
      2. Writing on a keyboard is so much slower using only 1 hand (seriously, painfully slow)
      3. Accept that you will miss lots of deadlines (for those of us who are type-As, this is terribly stressful)
      4. Surrender to ordering takeout food (yes, you will gain weight, it’s expensive, but, there are also no dishes to clean)
      5. If you have a hard time putting on that favorite dress, there is no way you will get out of it on your own (don’t get stuck, especially when you are home alone)
      6. Makeup is tricky, may be best to go without it (that mascara smudge ended up looking like I had a black eye, not a great look, especially with a broken arm)
      7. Everyone will ask you how you broke the arm, strangers, colleagues and doctors, and all will seem disappointed if you only have a boring story to tell (my version of tripping while hiking in the woods was way too mediocre. I should have gone skydiving or trained elephants or something a bit more exciting)
      8. Enjoy public transportation/being driven to work (I could really get used to this which may have been the best part of my week, skipping rush hour in Atlanta and getting to know lots of Uber drivers)
      9. If you need a man to get you some pads or tampons, send him a picture of what you want (however willing he may be, chances are he will get lost with the many unfamiliar options, styles and types)
      10. Find a TV series with several seasons to watch (I hate to waste that much time, but it helps to rest and get into something)
      11. Get used to asking for help (very tough for those of us who usually don’t)
      12. Make sure the lid to the pain pills have been removed (and that also goes for all the jars and tubes, think shampoo and tooth paste too)
      13. If you have kids, make sure you have taught at least one of them to cook a meal you would enjoy eating
      14. Stay grateful for all the good things, health & happiness!
      15. And, know that everything will get better, especially if you have a sense of humor and can find a reason to smile.                                                       
      On that note, it's time to pack my suit cases, 3-day countdown until I leave for Uganda. Charles is already there, getting ready for us. So, tugende, let’s go! We have work to do.                                         

        Are You Bold Enough to Wear Paper Beads?

        Are You Bold Enough to Wear Paper Beads?

        Have you seen the new jewelry made of paper beads? There are new designs, color schemes and styles in necklaces, earrings and bracelets, popping up everywhere and even in the trendiest pantone color schemes for this spring. And, this will definitely become a new trend worth looking into. That is, if you are bold enough to wear jewelry made from paper beads.

        I first learned about these beads through my work in East Africa where women used paper scraps and old magazines to create beautiful beads. But, I have since realized that paper beads are pretty much made everywhere. Some people have reservations about paper beads, they think they are fragile or difficult to wear. The beads I’ve seen (and those that we sell) have been varnished 5 times, so you could stick them in the dishwasher, wear them in the shower or maybe even drive your car over them (that’s what my youngest son wanted to do to test their durability). I wear my pieces every day and get rave reviews from people who compliment me on my jewelry, but who have no idea they are made from paper beads.

        But, seriously, paper beads are becoming an interesting phenomena in jewelry trends. It has a growing hashtag on social media, reaching over 45,000 on instagram. Of course, this does not compare with most other jewelry categories, at least not yet. And for some women, wearing gold, diamonds and expensive bling is key. I used to wear traditional and very expensive jewelry myself, but not anymore. Now, I want jewelry that reflects my personality, that adds some pizzazz, and that really makes a statement. I also want to wear jewelry with meaning, with soul, and that makes a statement. Jewelry to me is not about showing off my financial worth or whether there is a man in my life.

        Clearly, I’m not alone. It goes without saying that making jewelry out of paper beads is cheap, but it takes a lot of skill, time and patience. The smaller the bead, the more intricate the work.  The two most difficult tasks of making paper beads are cutting the paper strips to size and rolling these strips evenly, maintaining an opening for the string. I have been taught to make these beads by the women in Uganda that work for Tugende Design (my social enterprise initiative) and I see their pride in creating something beautiful from nothing.

         What makes this jewelry even more compelling is that it builds on sustainability and recycling initiatives.  Much of the jewelry that the women make in East Africa and in Uganda specifically, are made from scraps of paper that otherwise would have been thrown away. So, this type of jewelry is a world apart from traditional and expensive gold and diamonds that many girls and women want. So, paper beads are not for every woman.

        While women make jewelry out of paper beads all over the world, to wear for themselves, as gifts and also to sell. It has become a symbol of women empowerment. Women empowerment in that many of the women do so as they have no other means of income or resources (as the women we work with in Uganda) or because it is sort of like magic to create something new, bold, colorful and so very creative. There is power in defying norms and challenging current paradigms of what jewelry is all about. And, finally, it is empowerment for a woman to put on a piece of jewelry, that cost her almost nothing, but that she knows was made by other women, for women and that says something about her. That takes a bit of courage and being bold. So, let me ask you, are you bold enough to wear jewelry made from paper beads?



        Online Shop & Social Enterprise TugendeDesign.com

        Celebrating Our 20K Instagram Followers!

         This morning I logged in to our Instagram account, as I usually do on the weekend, to plan content & strategies for the next week. And, there it was, 20K followers, wow! Not sure how we got here exactly, but at least we have shared lots of posts, colorful content & messages of women empowerment, diversity & opportunities. And, about all things paper beads! 

        Am so excited and grateful for all the people who follow us, comment on our content or just cheer us on -THANK YOU!

        Of course, there are so many people behind the scenes, not just the 5 groups of women that we work directly with in Uganda, but also the gorgeous models from near and far that volunteered to showcase our jewelry and everyone else that has helped us along the way.

        It isn't easy to start a social enterprise, but we have been truly blessed by support from family and friends. And, for those who follow us, you know we do this because of our passion for #womenempowerment because we seek to uplift women in poverty and because we believe in their talent and in possibilities.

        We have big plans for 2019 & will look for more collaborators & partners. Meanwhile, send us your thoughts & comments! And, please help us spread the word about Tugende Design as we're trying to grow on other social media platforms  next (i.e., Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest).

        But, most important of all, THANK YOU for your support to all our instagram followers!