PAPER TO PEARLS, UGANDA

Paper to Pearls™ was the unexpected outcome of a trip that VFGC president Barbara Moller made to northern Uganda in the fall of 2005.  Barbara went as one of a team of trainers on a U.S. State Department project to create a coalition of local municipal officials and civil society leaders that would lobby and advocate nationally and internationally on behalf of the region. 

During two decades of insurgent activity by the Lord's Resistance Army, the
Northern Region of the country had been torn apart. Eighty percent of the
population of the area had been displaced from their towns, villages and
livelihoods to live in cramped and squalid camps. Where once they were
independent farmers and trades people, they now lived lives of forced
dependence on international relief organizations.

Joyce Laker, one of the participants in the training, invited Barbara to visit two displaced persons camps where she had started a small beading project.  Utilizing a grant she had obtained from CARE International, Joyce had recently brought a trainer from Kampala, the Ugandan capital, to train women in the two camps in how to make necklaces from recycled paper. She thought that sales of necklaces on the streets of Gulu, the local town, would be a way to help the women.  The money wouldn't be much, but it would be something. 

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Barbara, however, saw it differently. What she saw was an opportunity to provide significant income for the women if she could create a market for their work. Two months later Paper to Pearls was born. 

Although starting with no experience in micro-enterprise or retail sales, Barbara saw the initiative as a natural extension of the mission of VFGC―to help give a "voice" to those who have traditionally been silent.  In this case, by helping lift desperately marginalized women out of poverty, it would be giving them a voice in their future and the future of their families and communities.

Paper to Pearls™ sponsored the cooperatives by importing and selling the
necklaces.

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The unique jewelry is crafted from strips of colorful magazine paper that are rolled into beads, secured with glue and then varnished for sheen and durability. The beads are then assembled into necklaces, often with matching earrings. The jewelry is remarkable for its striking appearance....and no one imagines the beads are made of paper.

The story of Paper to Pearls' inclusion as part of an international paper jewelry exhibit in Milan, Italy.

What started with 40 women between the two camps grew to include 100 women
in four camps and two cooperatives in the town of Gulu.

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The income from the sale of the jewelry transformed lives, as the money enabled
the women to buy additional food and medicine and to send their children to
school. With the income they earned, the beaders were not only transforming
their lives but also gaining pride, dignity and hope for the future. They are silent
no more.

From buying better sleeping mats for their huts to better clothes from themselves
and their children, our beaders' income multiplied again and again as it moved
out into the community.  It is not surprising that the entire community anticipated
the Paper to Pearls' "market days," when we bought our inventory. "Everyone
comes to us when they know that Paper to Pearls is here," said one of our beaders. "Everyone is excited."

Barbara’s last market day was in August, 2010. She then ensured that all the
Paper to Pearls beaders were transitioned into other beading cooperatives that
had begun operating in Gulu. The women were able to continue beading and
developing their businesses.