Traverse City Record-Eagle

Our Town

November 1, 2010

Bead for Life: 'Eradicating poverty'

TRAVERSE CITY — Based in Boulder, Colo., Bead for Life launched in 2004 with a mission of "Eradicating Poverty One Bead at a Time." The seeds of the nonprofit were sown in Africa when founders Torkin Wakefield, Ginny Jordan and Devin Hibbard admired and purchased handmade beads crafted from recycled paper.

Back in the United States, friends enthused over the creations, and the trio realized beads could make a difference. Women in war-torn Uganda — a country also devastated by AIDS — were lucky to support their families by earning a dollar per day in a rock quarry. Beads could provide an income for the countless struggling single mothers, with western countries providing an eager market.

Wakefield returned to Africa, where she taught how to boost bead quality and make them into jewelry. Back in Boulder, her partners formulated a marketing plan based on parties.

The concept took off. The 2009-2010 Bead for Life annual report noted that 2,850 BeadParties reached more than 175,000 people. Locally, last year's $5,000 event at the Unitarian Universalist Congregation provided enough funding to build two homes in Uganda or, for example, to send two women to nursing school.

"All the funds raised go to the women," said Connie Hoffman, of the Unitarian Peacemaker Needlemakers. "They're not just getting a handout, they're working for what they're earning."

The concept of Bead for Life has spawned a cottage industry in Uganda. Paper beads now are being made and sold to help other nonprofit and for-profit ventures there. Bead for Life also expanded this year to help northern Ugandan women, who make money gathering and processing shea nuts.

Bead for Life's "holistic approach" to ending poverty also has generated community development programs creating entrepreneurs, offering vocational training, building affordable housing and providing health care.

For more information on Bead for Life, see

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