September 2011 – While in Rwanda (a small country located in east central Africa), I was able to spend time with some women who hand-roll beads made from long triangular strips of recycled paper. Some beads are dyed or painted before they are varnished and some are left in their natural state before they are varnished. Each bead is unique due to the hand rolling and the paper cutting.
One of the best parts of my trip was teaching these women about my designs and how I incorporate their beads into my jewelry, Christmas ornaments, bookmarks and other items. They were avid students and some got to try their newly learned skills using the pliers and wire to make the beads into links for jewelry. All had genuine smiles to share and were eager to learn. I give them huge props for trying – a couple were so nervous their hands were shaking but afterwards they felt a great sense of accomplishment which was evidenced by their sighs of relief and big grins.
Many of the women who live and work at Gahaya Links are less-privileged Rwandans who have endured hardships relating to the 1994 genocide. They may be widows or have lost most or all of their family members. Others are receiving medical care for HIV or other medical issues. They receive training in basket weaving, bead rolling and other crafts, and are given assistance in getting back on their feet. Once they have learned the skills, they are able to go back to their communities and continue to work and earn money for their families. Gahaya Links employs around 4,000 people throughout Rwanda who work at home and then bring their completed items back to the city. From there they take home more raw materials to continue crafting.
I really enjoy coming up with new ways to use these beads to make many, many different items. A portion of the proceeds from the sale of the Rwandan beaded items I make will go back to Rwanda in the form of tools or other necessities to help these women continue to rehabilitate and learn their craft.