I’m a professor of global health. Through my work in Uganda for nearly 10 years, I have sought to find ways to improve the lives of the children and women living in the slums of Kampala. The launch of this business, called Tugende Design, with my partner Charles Chandia, was in response to us both wanting to do more, to help these impoverished communities, and give back in a more concrete way. Particularly, we wanted to empower the hard-working and talented women who provide for their families and who often want nothing more than to get school fees for their children so that they can get a basic education and lead better lives.
After meeting with many amazing women through my research projects and community projects and also visiting the local craft markets over the years, I had come to appreciate their talent in making jewelry and bags from paper beads. We have now developed great relationships with five groups of women that have been hired to make jewelry for Tugende Design. It is amazing to see them work with few tools and resources. It is also daunting to realize how labor intense it is to make these paper beads and jewelry. Some of our intricate necklaces require three to four days of full day labor each to complete.
Using recycled paper and scraps from magazines and print shops, they carefully cut long strips of paper and roll them tightly to make beads. These are then varnished for durability and strung to make gorgeous necklaces. When talking to them about their sales, it was clear that the market place in Uganda is limited and that they struggle to make ends meet despite their talent. It is a country that has not yet blossomed in terms of tourism so their market place is smaller. But, I thought, selling this jewelry, bags and crafts in the U.S. would make much more sense. So while the idea was flickering for a few years, I finally registered the business in 2016. But, it wasn’t until recently, we went full force ahead. And it has been an exciting journey. This summer it is all coming together with a much stronger social media engagement, a new website and store.
We are eager to support more community and women empowerment projects with your help. The idea behind Tugende Design is that the sales of our jewelry, bags and accessories benefit the community directly because it provides a living wage and sustainable income for these women in dire poverty. But, we will also reinvest 20% of the profits into micro financing initiatives and community projects that will support the independence.So buy our products because
But, the most important part, the word Tugende means “let’s go” in Luganda, one of the local languages in Uganda. I love this word and it was one of the first that I learned. It is a word of action, it’s inspiring and it encourages us to move forward.
So, please join us, do something, do more, make a difference. No need to wait, no need to overthink it - let's go!
Monica & Charles