In 2009 I first visited Gulu Uganda as a student volunteer while doing my BA at Concordia University in Montreal. This was my first time to ever visit the African continent, and it was my first encounter with paper beads. I learned that making jewelry from recycled paper was a skill women were trained to do while still living in the
IDP camps during the civil war in Northern Uganda. After the war had ended many of these women and their families still continued to struggle to find paying work or to earn a living through agriculture and other small scale activities. The women wanted to continue selling their paper beads in international markets, but many of the NGOs who started the beading project had either left Gulu with the end of the war, or transitioned to other development projects.
So when I returned to Montreal it was with this request in mind. How to help these women regain this opportunity which ironically peace and the end of the war seemed to deny them. But how to help them, and how to make sure it could be something that would endure and not simply fade away, disappointing the women once again. It was with the advice and guidance of a close friend, Laura Schnurr, who was finishing her BComm, that Beads of Awareness was born. Though we both recognized that as students our time was limited, our resources and knowledge even more so, we agreed that the best way to ensure that the business worked to maximize the involvement and benefits of our partners in Uganda was to build something ourselves.
Three years down the road Beads of Awareness continues to be a small business. In fact Laura and I are still in school, though fortunately both on 2nd degrees, and the majority of others who have joined our ranks in roles small and large have also been students. I believe all of us who are involved are not content to sit idle and wait for change, or wait for doors to open. We prefer to knock on those doors, and take our own hesitant steps towards a future we build together. And as students I think we recognize how valuable this opportunity to learn and experiment is. And I would be amiss to not recognize our members and volunteers who aren’t students are just as implicated in this culture of discovery and learning. Not only do these people offer us invaluable mentorship and wisdom, they are also helping us find ways to grow and involve others beyond students.